There’s a remarkable amount of complexity and nuance to the world of email, particularly in the business world. After all, you’re often trying to negotiate deals and build professional connections, but without the tone and context of in-person meetings or spoken conversations — that means a tiny miscalculation can snowball into the irrevocable breakdown of a discussion.
And while there’s no set formula that will always prove effective (everyone communicates slightly differently, and you can’t fully account for taste), there are certain elements that tend to work well in business emails, and many more that are only ever likely to make things worse.
In this piece, we’re going cover 5 things that you should include in your business emails and 5 other things that you should avoid. Let’s get started.
Include exclamation marks
We’ve all seen what the abuse of punctuation marks can do to a piece of text, and we often fear the expression of any kind of enthusiasm because we worry that we’ll come across as unprofessional or overly eager — but the tasteful use of exclamation marks is incredibly useful. Not only does it help to differentiate the significance of certain parts, but it also shows that there’s a living person on your side of the conversation (showing humanity is vital).
If you’ve drafted a business email and you’re going in for a final edit, look for natural opportunities for exclamation marks. Are any of the points particularly surprising, encouraging, or interesting? Use an exclamation mark! The important thing is to get the tone right, as we’ll touch upon to a greater extent later. The context should always be positive.
Email chains between friends can drag out hugely —- between business correspondents, they can last weeks, months, or even years. This isn’t generally personal, or even intentional. Business people have inboxes packed with fresh demands (requiring work to get them under control) and numerous priorities to juggle. It might sometimes feel like you’re being ignored or overlooked, but if you’re patient, you’ll typically find that there’s a good reason behind the delay.
But you can only achieve a positive resolution if you’re patient, and that means you mustn’t make demands. Demands will usually serve to push people away, sour their perception of you, and sap their interest in whatever business you’re pursuing. If something is incredibly pressing, you can let them know that without commanding or demanding anything. “Is there anything holding you back that I can help you with?” works far better than “Get on with it”!
Include simple emoticons and emojis (when appropriate)
Now, this does depend very much on the person you’re emailing, but with mostly everyone owning and using a smartphone, emoticons and emojis are widely accepted these days at all levels of the wider business community. It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll encounter someone who objects to the use of a smiley face, for instance 🙂
If used at appropriate times, emoticons and emojis can be incredibly effective in building a connection with a contact, reintroducing some of the vital tone that’s easily lost in text. You can commiserate with someone’s hardship, share your joy, and make light-hearted comments about shared frustrations. Just don’t overuse them, avoid anything confusing, and be very careful about positioning – it’s easy to read passive aggression into extensive congeniality.
Avoid slang terms
Think about how a smiley associates with a conventional meeting. You’d smile and laugh and be expressive in an old-fashioned business setting, so it makes total sense that you’d mimic that in some sense in a business email. But something you wouldn’t typically do is use slang terms. Informality is one thing, but leaning heavily on colloquialisms is not only likely to cause confusion (standard terms might seem dull, but they’re broadly understood) but also going to give the impression that you’re not taking things seriously.
Beneath any email jocularity, the person you’re dealing with needs to fully believe that you’re equipped to handle whatever matter you’re discussing in a mature and professional way. If you happen to share interests or experiences, you can use some niche terms, but slang terms only really become viable when you’ve known and worked with someone for a long time — and even then they’re not particularly useful.
Include useful links
As noted, business people are pressed for time. While you may be able to explain something in great detail, you can often get a point across faster by linking to a specific resource (whether of your own creation or from an external site), and people will generally appreciate that. They can save the link for later (avoiding having to read it right away) and get to the crux of your email more quickly.
And if you are able to link to resources or tools that aren’t directly relevant but might be useful to the recipient, you should definitely do so. It will add value to the email, making them more likely to read your subsequent emails, and demonstrate that you’re not just looking to get something out of them — you’re also happy to give something back.
Avoid large attachments
It can be despair-inducing to see an important business email appear in your inbox with an attachment, because you never know what people will try to attach. If their email software or organization has a file size limit, you can be protected from the worst-case scenario, but it’s still irritating. Something that will download in seconds over Wi-Fi can become a torturous trial when you’re using a cellular connection in an area with weak signal.
It also tends to suggest laziness or incompetence. In a time of free cloud storage, there’s really no reason not to upload a file to the cloud and just link to it. When it comes time to submit that massive report you’ve been working on it, put it in OneDrive or a comparable system first.
Include first names
“Dear Mr Smith” is needlessly formal, even if it’s the first time you’re communicating with someone. The rise of social media and the existence of digital profiles have left the entire online world on a first-name basis by default. Sticking with a title and a surname will probably make your email feel like spam and suggest that you haven’t done any research about the recipient.
“Hi John” is perfectly fine in just about any scenario (assuming the person’s name is John, of course!). It’s to-the-point and relaxed without being too casual. And you should continue to use it when necessary, though keep the total number fairly low. Using it every couple of sentences will come across as overly familiar — and on that topic…
Having the technology and information to extensively and automatically personalise your business emails doesn’t mean that you should do it. Yes, you can achieve a lot using email automation, but more isn’t the same thing as better. It’s all about using the data in a tasteful and effective way that is useful to the customer and doesn’t come across as invasive or manipulative.
Imagine that you’re sending a B2B introduction email, for instance, with the goal of connecting with a prospective customer and convincing them of your value. Telling them that a page they follow on Facebook gave you the idea that they might be interested in your company is absolutely fine, whereas using their full name and discussing the relevant social media activity of their family members is far from fine. You don’t know them, so don’t push too hard.
Business emails are far more likely to be lengthy than their everyday equivalents, because they’re not just about having a chat or making social arrangements — they have report information to get across, specific points to discuss in detail, and often comments from numerous participants throughout an extended thread.
That makes it incredibly important to structure your business emails sensibly. Break up your copy with subheadings and it will make it so much easier to read and digest. In subsequent exchanges, you’ll be able to refer back to specific sections instead of telling them to search for a certain phrase (or directly quoting the entire thing).
Avoid aesthetic clutter
While you can include too many subheadings, that isn’t the main issue you’re going to encounter with formatting and structuring: that would be aesthetic clutter from the inclusion of too many disparate style elements.
You should use one font throughout each email, using bold and italic styles where they’ll add clarity and reflect importance, and keep the colour scheme very simple. You should also use consistent font sizing. Few things suggest a lack of professionalism more than a business email containing six fonts, eight sizes, five colours, and mixed elements.
So there you have it: 5 things you should definitely try to include where useful, and 5 things you should make a strong effort to avoid. Get the tonal balance right and you’ll achieve a lot of success with your emailing. Good luck!
Many thanks to Victoria for this post
|Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who always makes sure to check business emails before sending them! You can read more of Victoria’s work at her Victoria Ecommerce blog|