Last November, the Oxford Dictionary announced 2015’s word of the year. Turns out, it wasn’t a word at all, but an emoji.
In a world where communication often consists of texts, Snapchat, Instagram, and emojis, it seems almost quaint to celebrate National Letter Writing Week. (One almost expects to pick up a quill and an ink blotter.) But every year, in the second week of January, we pay homage to almost-forgotten art of letter writing.
When it comes to business, email has replaced “snail mail” as the formal communication of choice (which begs the question: “Will the next generation be sending business-related texts?”), but the technique is the same. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a 9-to-5 employee, knowing how to write a business email is a vital skill.
Why Should I Improve My Business Communication?
Ever since its start on cave walls and papyrus scrolls, the written word has been a part of human history. And it’s not going anywhere. Even though emails are vastly more popular than letters (210 billion sent vs. 141 billion sent, respectively), that doesn’t mean that language is going down the tubes. In fact, email’s ubiquity means that effective communication is more important than ever.
In your parents’ time, employees would pick up the phone or wander down to someone’s office when they needed to talk, but now, we just send emails. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 28% of a worker’s time is spent dealing with email. But certain things, like tone, can get lost when you’re only writing (or typing) information rather than discussing things verbally. Which means “writing a quick email” calls for more thought and effort than simply walking down the hall.
Whatever your purpose, there are certain sacred writing rules.
- Know your audience. There are very few one-size-fits-all communications (after all, this is an email, not a Christmas card). So think about your recipient before you type a single letter. Who are they? What is their day like? Do they prefer direct questions and information or do they like to exchange pleasantries first? Catering your message to whoever is receiving it is not only polite, it helps your email get opened.
- Keep it short and sweet. There’s nothing wrong with a little background or a few pleasantries, but no one likes a long email. Get to the point as quickly and politely as possible without sacrificing the point of your message. Their time (and yours) is too valuable.
- Check your grammar and punctuation. (You knew I was gonna say it.) You can’t get your message across if your message barely counts as English. So make sure you’re following basic grammar rules so you can’t be accused of miscommunication.
- Practice proper email etiquette. I’m defining “etiquette” as “treating others with courtesy and respect.” It’s not about outdated rules, but showing someone that you respect them enough to consider their feelings and make them feel comfortable. Don’t type in all caps and be mindful of your tone.
- Include a Call to Action. As a small business owner, you’re likely emailing customers rather than your boss or coworkers, so make sure your email has some form of Call to Action in it letting your readers know what you want them to do. Is it “Buy now”? “Subscribe to our feed”? “Call us for a free quote”? You might think that just reminding them you exist will translate into business, but the best tactic is to just ask.
Types of Business Emails
There are many different types of business emails, but they all fall into two main categories: those that provide something and those that ask for something. However, your tone, word choice, and format will differ depending on what you’re requesting or providing. For example…
Ahh, money! It keeps the world (and your business) going.
Odds are, you’re not sending emails offering money (although, if you are, ours is email@example.com), but you’re asking for money a lot. Maybe not in so many words, but if you’re selling something (food, lawn care, jewelry, whatever), you’re asking for money.
Marketing emails that promote your products or services can be a great way to stay in your customers’ radars. But you also need to remind them (even loyal, long-term customers) what benefits they get from giving up their hard-earned money. Don’t gloss over it; don’t let them “read between the lines”; don’t assume they remember how great their last order was. Get on that soapbox and keep selling.
Not every business email is a marketing email, however. Sometimes you need to collaborate with coworkers, subcontractors, or your website company (wink!) by giving and receiving information.
Unfortunately, with no body language or tone of voice to decipher, miscommunication issues can pop up faster than a pre-Prom pimple. (Say that five times fast.) But one benefit of email is that everything is in writing. Use this to your advantage by being as straightforward as you possibly can upfront. (Imagine that your words will be held against you in a court of law.) Is “do this soon” too vague? Say “please complete [specific tasks] by Friday” instead.
Of course, if it really appeals to you, there’s no harm in writing a formal business letter. After all, email may be the go-to method of business communication, but nothing screams “official” like a letter.
Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. You should send your grandma a letter. Yes, a real one. In the mail. She’ll love it.