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How to Start and End a Professional Business Email

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Over 89 billion business emails are sent each day according to recent statistics published in Mashable. That's not even including the over 55 billion personal emails sent each day.

Email is an important part of the way we conduct business and our lives. Yet, few people know the right way to start and end a professional business email to get the best results.

In this tutorial, I'll show you the best way to start and end a professional business email. I'll also explain email style and discuss the importance of identifying your target audience.

How to Write a Business Email
Email writing (graphic)

1. Know Your Target Audience

Before you can write an effective start and ending to your email, identify the target audience for your email. A target audience is who you are trying to reach with your email. It can be a specific individual or a group of people.

For example, a web developer writing a business email to a company to see if they need web development work done has a target audience of the hiring manager. In contrast, an email written to your friend to see whether there are any openings for a web developer in the company where they work has a target audience of your friend.

It's important to know who you are trying to reach with your email. Your target audience affects your email writing style including your email beginning and ending. Here are the two most common email target audience distinctions:

  1. known audience versus unknown audience
  2. individual versus group

Known Audience Vs. Unknown Audience

It's a good idea to learn as much as you can about your target audience. If you can, address your email to someone known to you within the business organization you are writing to.

If you don't know anyone in the organization, try to learn the name and title of the person you are writing to and use them in the email. People are more likely to respond when addressed directly.

There are times when you may need to send an email to an unknown audience. For example, you may be answering an ad for a freelance gig and the ad does not include a person's name. Despite your best research on the company, you can't figure out who to address the email to. In these cases, it's usually best to start your email with a generic, but friendly, opening such as "Hello." 

Avoid "To Whom It May Concern" which sounds too stiff and formal.

Your audience also affects the style and tone of your email. A professional business email you send to a friend can be less formal and more personal than a business email you send to someone you barely know or someone you have never met.

Individual Vs. Group

Whenever possible, address your email to an individual. But there are some business situations where you may need to send a group email. Here are just a few examples:

  • email to a group of customers about changes in their service
  • email newsletter promoting your business to interested subscribers
  • email to a professional team you're working with

I’m sure you can think of other examples that apply to your own business.

If you're sending an email to a group, it's a good idea to picture common characteristics of the group. That can help you decide how to address your email and what tone to use.

For example, an email sent to a group of lawyers would be more formal than an email sent to a group of college students.

2. Choose Formal or Informal Email Style

The style you use to write your email affects how effective your email will be. Also, the start and end of your email will be different depending on the style you choose.

There are three things you need to know about email style:

  1. When to use a formal style.
  2. When to use an informal style.
  3. Watch your tone.

Let's take a look at each email style issue.

Formal Email Style

Years ago, all professional business emails were sent using a formal style. You may have been taught to use a formal style to write all your business emails.

The main problem with many formal email greetings is that they sound stiff.

Do pay attention to the conventions in the organization you're writing to. Today many organizations prefer a casual, informal email style even for professional business emails.

Informal Email Style

While a formal email style works with many businesses, some businesses prefer a less formal tone. Here are some signs that it's appropriate to use less formal language in your email:

  • All the emails you receive from individuals in the organization are less formal. Pay particular attention to how emails from those in authority, such as emails from your boss, are written.
  • The recipient directs you to be less formal. For example, if you address your email to "Dear Mr. Brown" and he writes back "Mr. Brown is my father, call me Bob,” then take a less formal tone.
  • You know the recipient well. If you write to a friend or a colleague who is well known to you, use their first name. Addressing the email with a title such as Ms. or Mr. can seem awkward or unfriendly.

Watch Your Tone

One of the biggest problems with emails is that the recipient can't see your body language. This can cause misunderstandings.

For example, I used to write what I thought were professional emails. I got right to the point after addressing the recipient and only addressed the topic I wanted to cover. I was shocked when one of my clients wrote back and asked me why I was being so unfriendly in my emails. I had to rethink the way I wrote emails. 

For emails to that client, I added a friendlier sentence at the start of each email, such as: 

  • I hope your day is going great.
  • I trust your week is off to a good start.
  • I’m excited to connect with you again.

Which resulted in a positive response. Keep in mind though, you should avoid opening phrases that feel too stiff, like: 

  • I hope this email finds you well.
  • Please be informed that…
  • This email concerns...

The goal is to connect with the recipient before jumping into the topic of your email.

3. Perfect Email Beginnings

How to start a business email? Your email beginning is the first thing a recipient sees. A good beginning means that you leave a good impression. A bad email beginning could mean your business email goes straight to the trash.

Here are the three elements of a good email beginning:

  • subject line
  • salutation
  • the first sentence

Let’s look at each element.

Subject Line

Most email recipients scan the subject lines in their email inbox to decide which emails are important and which can be dealt with later or deleted. If you want your professional business email to be read, a good email subject line is vital.

David Masters has great advice on crafting high performing email subject lines: 

Masters points out that good email subject lines are relevant to the audience, specific whenever possible, and are personalized. Also, email subject lines that try too hard to grab the reader’s attention, often fail. Exclamation points don't equate to higher open rates. And never send out an email with a blank subject line. Many email systems sort messages with blank lines to the Spam folder.

Salutation

The salutation of an email is who the email is addressed to. In more formal emails, it's often preceded by the word “Dear.”

Some example openings of formal business emails include:

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Mr. Brown
  • Dear Ms. Lopez
  • To Whom It May Concern
  • Dear Dr. Smith

"Dear Sir" and "Dear Madam" used alone could be offensive if you don't know whether you are writing to a man or a woman. Try “Dear Sir or Madam” if you want to use this greeting.

"Hello," while less formal, is also less likely to offend and is a good way to start an email when you don’t know the name of the recipient.

When writing to someone who is either in a position of authority or older than yourself start the email with "Dear Mr. Jones," "Dear Ms. Lopez," or "Dear Dr. Smith." For example, "Dear Dr. Smith" would be a respectful way for a student to start an email to a college professor. Avoid using “Miss” or “Mrs.” Since marital status is not usually relevant.

When using a person’s first or last name, always double-check the spelling of the name. A misspelled name leaves a bad impression.

If the organization encourages less formal emails, it could be appropriate to start an email with a simple “Hi.”  If you know the person’s first name, include it. For example, “Hi John.”

Be careful, though. While informal greetings are perceived as being friendlier, you can be too casual. If you're uncertain, it’s better to be slightly too formal with your email salutation.

There is such a thing as being too informal with a business email. Most experts agree that text messaging abbreviations are not ever a good way to start or end a business email. Here are some examples of text messaging greetings you shouldn't use in a professional business email:

  • Hey
  • Yo
  • Sup or Whassup
  • ? (Opening an email with a question mark)

First Sentence

The first sentence of an email determines whether the recipient will continue reading. A good first sentence is how to start a professional email. I can’t begin to tell you how many emails I’ve deleted because the first line told me the person had no business writing to me.

Here are some examples of bad opening lines and how to fix them:

  • "You don’t know me, but..." Pointing out that I don’t know you is unnecessary. Get to the point instead. “I’m writing to you today to invite you to the annual company meeting on July 5."
  • "My name is Lisa Lopez and I’m a…"  Starting an email off this way makes the email about you. Try asking a question of interest to the reader instead. “Did you know that 50% of all Americans don’t have any retirement savings?” Introduce yourself after you’ve gotten the reader’s attention.

When writing to someone you don’t know but have a connection with, refer to that connection. For example, you could say “I enjoyed your presentation on usability at last month’s [organization name] meeting” or “I read your recent article on [subject] in XYZ publication.”

Caution, don’t pretend there’s a connection when there isn’t. If you didn’t attend the recipient’s presentation or didn’t read their article, it will be easy for them to discover. As a writer, I often get emails from people who claim to have read my article, but further discussion with them makes it obvious that they only looked at the headline.

4. How to End an Email

Did you ever get to the end of an email and feel unsure about how to end it? You're not alone. The closing of an email is also important. That’s one of the reasons why Envato Market has dozens of professional email signature templates that include all the elements of a good email ending. Here is an example design from the black email signature template

Black Email Signature Template
Black Email Signature Template. Includes 30 layout variations with HTML & Photoshop files.

I remember being startled a few years ago by a client who closed his email to me with the words “Love Ya.” I had just finished a huge rush job for him, but I didn’t actually know him well. It turns out he was just grateful that I’d been available to do such a big job on such short notice, but his too familiar ending made me slightly uncomfortable at the time. 

Here are the elements of the right way to close an email:

  • Closing words. As I illustrated above, your final words to your reader are important. If they are too familiar or informal, you may make the reader uncomfortable. “Best” or “Best Wishes” is generally considered a safe closing statement for a business email.
  • Signature. Unless you are well-known to the recipient, use your first and last name. If the recipient is well-known and the business email is an informal one, it’s okay to use just your first name.
  • Title and company (if applicable). In a formal business email that you write on the company’s behalf include your title and the name of the organization you work for.
  • Contact information. Include not only your email address but other means of contacting you such as your social media contact information or phone number. If this is a job inquiry, include your LinkedIn information.
  • Link to your business website (if applicable). If you have a business website, a link to it in your email signature could be important.
  • Photo (optional). It’s acceptable to include a photo with your signature but never replace the text of your name with an image. Some email systems won’t display images. In those email systems, if you don’t include text your recipient won’t know who the email is from.

As with the opening section of the email, text message terms aren’t acceptable in a business email. Here are some examples of closings to avoid:

  • CYA (short for see you [later])
  • L8R

Learn More About Email

You can create effective professional business email starts and endings. To sum up what we’ve learned, start and end your professional business emails by:

  • identifying your target audience
  • choosing the right email style
  • paying attention to the opening elements
  • ending with the right closing elements.

Learn more about writing professional emails in this comprehensive tutorial: 

Or check out our Learning Guide (series of tutorials) on: Writing Effective Business Emails

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