Before jumping into the fun and exciting world of digital marketing and entrepreneurship, I worked for corporate America. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting and challenging transition going from working for a corporate company with thousands of employees to starting your own business from scratch. One of the things that continues to stand out to me is email etiquette. I’m so thankful for my corporate experience because it taught me about professionalism and working with other professional partners and networks. I quickly learned the art of crafting the perfect business email.
It’s really taken me by surprise that the entrepreneur/business owner world could learn a thing or two about email etiquette! So I’ve taken my experience and learnings and created 5 rules for a professional email. I think these rules should be standards for any email you send to a business professional, colleague, vendor, etc. I believe it’s always best to air on the side of professionalism and formal especially via email when interpretation is subjective. Here are my 5 rules to crafting a professional email.
Rule 1: Always Include A Greeting
Whether you are sending the first email, responding to one sent to you, or replying for the 15th time in the conversation, always include a greeting to the other person. It can be as simple as “Hi (name),” but always start out with a greeting to the other person or group. It’s sets the tone for a professional email to follow. I don’t like when I open up an email and the person goes straight into the conversation with no greeting. It gives off the air of a rush response without careful attention to the email in which they were replying to. Again I think it’s always best to air on the side of formal and professional to matter who you are talking to. Your professional image is something you never want to jeopardize.
This should go without saying but unfortunately, I have seen this happen too many times (and I’m a likely candidate for it to happen to) but spell the person’s name right! This is so easy to do because 99.9% of people have an email signature with all their information at the bottom of each email they send. Check the spelling before you write your greeting.
My name is spelled Kelsie which isn’t the common way of spelling it. Kelsey is the most common spelling. Hence, my name is spelled wrong more than it’s spelled right. It’s been a lifetime pet peeve and when I see it spelled wrong in an email, this automatically starts off the conversation on a bad foot in my eyes. NEVER assume you know how a person’s name is spelled and ALWAYS double check. That extra 5 seconds of confirmation could make a huge difference especially if you are trying to business with that individual.
Rule 2: Include Thorough Detail and Explanation
This means actually reading the email and responding to all questions asked. How annoying is it when you ask someone a question(s) and then they don’t respond with the information you need! It shows me that they clearly didn’t carefully read my email to address what I needed or asked for. Organize your thoughts and responses before sending an email and make sure you are replying back with the information asked for. Take careful consideration to respond to or at least address what the other person is asking for or talking about. Acknowledging that you read and noted what they emailed you about is better than not mentioning anything at all.
Rule 3: Format Information Into Bite-Size Pieces
No one likes an email response that is just one big paragraph of information with run-on sentences and thoughts all over the place. That makes the information hard to digest. Also, it reflects back on the sender showing they could be scattered, unorganized, or confusing in their communication. As you are organizing your information and responses, separate them into bite-sized sections and group information accordingly. Utilize formatting options like bolding, italics, and underlining to emphasize different categories of information, topics, or follow-up that is needed. However, don’t go overboard on formatting otherwise the purpose is lost. See example below:
Rule 4: Emphasize What You Need & Follow Up Details
When information isn’t organized well, it makes it hard for the responder to know how to follow up. If you need several things or answers from someone, make sure to clearly state what you need as follow-up. Use formatting like mentioned earlier or reiterate what you need at the end of your email so that the recipient knows exactly what you need. The better you communicate what you need, the easier it will be for the recipient to provide it. It all starts with you. Don’t expect the other person to read your mind or be an expert at navigating your chaotic thoughts. If you aren’t organized and clear, it will be hard for anyone to respond accordingly. You have to set the tone.
TIP: Offer to have a phone conversation as a follow-up instead of email. Sometimes, even in this tech-savvy world, a simple phone call can get the job done so much easier. And sometimes people actually prefer phone conversations as opposed to email (and no this isn’t necessarily a generational thing). Offering this as an option shows you are trying to be considerate of the other person’s time and communication style.
Rule 5: Who To Include
Everyone should understand the difference between reply vs reply all yet it still seems to confusion. Before you even start a reply, check to see who is added to the email. Who is CC’d? Are you BCC’d? (if you don’t know what those mean then we have bigger problems – google it!) Think through who needs to be on your reply and who doesn’t. If you’ve received an email with a few people cc’d, chances are the person sending you the email wants them to see the conversation. Consider replying all when you send your response. If you only want a select group or person to see your response because it’s private or sensitive information, DON’T REPLY ALL! I have seen too many people get into embarrassing situations because of this.
If the conversation started out with a group of people but has turned into just a back and forth with one person or has changed topics completely from the original intent of the email, start a private separate email chain with that person/topic. No one likes their inboxes to be blown up from irrelevant responses like a group text. Be sensitive to other people.