Leaving a good impression is essential in a business setting. But while people often remember this for face-to-face interactions, it can be a little tougher when using email.
So how do you make sure you present a professional, efficient, and helpful front when emailing clients, higher ups, and colleagues? Keep reading for common mistakes you may still be making, as well as a few tips you may want to take into consideration before hitting the "send" button.
Mistake #1: Failing to include all the parts of an email
There are four essential parts of any email: the subject, the opener, the body, and the closer. Make sure you include all these parts, especially if you are emailing someone you do not have a close friendship with. A few tips on each of these:
Subject Line. For the subject, choose something that immediately tells your recipient(s) what the email is about. Also consider the amount of communication you’ll be doing around the topic and ease of filtering related emails. If it’s about a particular project, for example, you might use the project name for something simple and/or short-term. But for something more complex or long-term, you should include a little more information. For example, “Meeting Tomorrow” is not an ideal subject; “(Date) Meeting with (Client Name)” may be better; and “(Date) Meeting with (Client Name) about (Issue or Topic)” may work best. Just keep it brief—seven words or less, or no more than 40 to 50 characters.
Opener. In most business settings, a semi-casual “Hi (name)” is acceptable as an opener. Remember, though, that the use of first names tends to depend on culture and hierarchy, and nicknames can be a very personal matter. So address someone as Mr. ____ or Ms. _____ rather than by their first name if your relationship with them is very distant and they are of a higher professional standing than yours. This is especially true if they aren’t from within your company and belong to a culture where respect for hierarchy is emphasized. As for nicknames, it is best to use a person’s first name without shortening it to a nickname until you have been invited to do so.
Body. There are no hard and fast rules about constructing the body, or main content, of your email. But it’s a good idea to stay aware of the length of your email as well as monitor the length and complexity of your sentences and paragraphs. In a pinch, try using the Hemingway Editor and keep the rating down to a seventh-grade reading level or better. If your email takes up more than four or five paragraphs, you may also want to consider sectioning this with topic headers.
Closer. There’s no harm in using cliched closers like “sincerely,” “all the best,” “regards,” and so on before signing your name. These often serve as buffers to keep your email from ending too abruptly. Make sure that when you sign your name you include: the name or nickname you’d like respondents to address you by, any identifying associations or affiliations (like your company name and department), and a means of contacting you. If your company uses a standard signature format, make sure you comply with this and keep your contact details updated.
Mistake #2: Forgetting who you’re talking to—or not knowing in the first place!
If you know who you are emailing, double-check to make sure you spell their name correctly and address them using the name or nickname they prefer. If you are replying to someone, match the tone they take. If they are more casual, so should you be, but you may want to match formality with formality. Also, take culture into account when emailing international recipients. Some cultures prefer to get directly to the point, while others prefer to inquire after personal matters like your family and wellbeing, a recent weekend, etc.
If you do not know who you are emailing, it may be a simple matter to find out. Key members of a company’s staff will often be named online, so take that extra time to research a person’s name and show you are genuinely interested in getting in touch with them. If the name cannot be found, “Dear Sir/Madam” is preferable to “To Whom It May Concern.”
Mistake #3: Lacking clarity
Email is first and foremost a means of communication, and the worst thing you can do is lack clarity in expressing what you want or what you have to offer. If you are initiating an email conversation, be very clear about why you are doing so. If you’re replying to someone, make sure you read and understand what the other person has sent before drafting your reply. Any questions should be answered, any corrections should be made.
Mistake #4: Poor grammar or spelling
Your communications with another party tells them a lot about you, so the care you take in crafting your email can show you are well-spoken, considerate, detail-oriented, and professional. Careless mistakes like poor grammar or spelling can undermine the image you’re trying to project.
There is also never a good reason to use text speak in your business emails, even if you are composing them on your mobile. This always comes off as unprofessional. On one hand, using shortcuts like “BTW” or “TYL” can save time, but it’s also like you’re telling the other person that they aren’t worth your time. And when you are on your mobile, using predictive text and having to review your messages to prevent dreaded “autocorrect” mistakes is preferable to using text speak.
Mistake #5: Being too long-winded
Speaking of shortcuts, you don’t want to craft emails about which people will comment “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read). While it is important to be thorough, it’s also important to be succinct. It’s said time is money; this is true of your time as well as your clients’ and colleagues’ as well.
Avoid repeating yourself. Remember that using the reply function results in an email trail your recipient can refer to for a refresher on past discussions. When writing, also ask yourself if you are expressing what you have to say in the shortest, clearest manner possible.
Mistake #6: Incompleteness
Keeping things short doesn’t mean you don’t have to provide all the necessary information, though! Especially if you are responding to questions, it is very important to address any points or queries your recipient might have. When providing updates to or requiring an action item of your recipient, make sure they have all the relevant information when you email them.
Mistake #7: Wishy-washy responses
Even if you are unable to properly respond to a request or query, you should still be clear and definitive in your language. There is no need to hedge or waffle. If information is not available or a decision is pending, you can let the other person know that you will get back to them as soon as you are able. If you are not the correct person to address, take the initiative to direct them to the correct person they should be emailing.
Mistake #8: Overusing formulaic lines or clichés
Lines like “I look forward to hearing from you” and “talk to you soon” might be a little clichéd, so it’s best to use them sparingly. But it is never a bad idea to thank people for their time or to tell them you are happy to answer any questions they might have. So while these might seem clichéd, take a moment to think about what you’re saying when you use these phrases. That way, when you do use them, it is with purpose rather than habit.
Mistake #9: Robotic or generic voice or tone
Writing in a business setting does encourage a little more formality, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon your personality in favor of bot-like language. You should still sound like yourself, albeit the version of yourself you would present in the workplace rather than the one you show to friends and family. And even though some cultures prefer more personal interaction than others, it is rarely a bad idea to ask someone how they’re doing or wish them a happy weekend or a good day.
Mistake #10: Taking too long to reply
Prompt repliers always win the email game, so make sure you reply in a timely fashion. If an email is sent early in a business day, it should be responded to within the day, even if that response is a bid for extra time. It’s a good idea to set a mental cut-off time in mind. For example, you may make it a rule to answer all emails that come in by 4 p.m. on the day you receive them if you leave work at 6 p.m. Then you can reply to emails that come in after that the first thing the next morning.
If you are delayed in responding, it never hurts to apologize for your tardiness. Again, think about the impression you’re leaving. It takes a few seconds to reply and say, “I will get back to you as soon as I know something” or “I’m compiling data for you; please give me a day or two.” Not doing so tells your recipient they’re not worth even that small bit of time it would take you to reply. Leave them with this impression, and they may take their business elsewhere or leave you hanging when it’s you who needs something from them.