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5 critical business email etiquette principles you need to know

3rd Oct 2018
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Business communication has evolved to integrate collaboration and project management tools like Slack and Trello.

However, for most professions, email continues to occupy a majority of the workday. By the end of 2019, Radicati expects the worldwide email users to grow to over 2.9 billion.

You are not getting away from reading and answering hundreds of business emails every day. So it makes sense to work on your email etiquette and ensure that people are happy to correspond with you. If you send an email with errors, then the recipient might consider you as less intelligent, conscientious, and trustworthy.

Don’t ruin your professional relationships because of sloppiness. Let’s go beyond the primary email fails like “reply all” and “bcc,” and look at the top 5 email etiquette principles you should know as a professional.

1. Get in your audience’s shoes

You might have read rules like “never use emojis in professional communication” and “avoid salutations.” The best strategy for writing an email, though, is the copywriting 101 principle - understanding your audience.

You need to find out the kind of language your recipient likes and uses in their daily life. Are they extremely polite? Do they like superheroes? Do they love emojis?

For instance, if you’re emailing a standup comic for booking a corporate show, then you don’t need to “keep it formal.” Indeed, an informal tone might work better for persuading them to work with you.

How can you communicate in your recipient's language? If you have a past relationship with them, then you understand their personality and the kind of words they use.

What if you’re cold-emailing?

Then, you should try to personalize your message by researching relevant information about them. You will find traces of their life and how they communicate on social media platforms.

If you are short of time, then you can use a tool like Crystal. It offers personality insights about your recipient from the public information they have shared.



2. Don’t commit this mistake when emailing bigwigs

Influencers, executives, and big shots are generally open to networking with professionals that can improve their business and everyday life. However, they receive hundreds of emails every day.

To get their attention, double checking the spellings, grammar, and punctuation in your email isn’t sufficient. The stakes are much higher. You need to prescribe to their email guidelines before pressing the ‘send’ button.

For instance, Tim Ferriss publicly declared that he’s taking a break from investing in new startups. Moreover, he’s no longer accepting pitches and introductions. As a professional, it’s discourteous now to send your 10-page deck in his inbox.

Similarly, Neil Patel has laid down on his contact page that he doesn’t respond to emails on product launches, advertising opportunities, and the like. He’s even given specific instructions stating your message shouldn’t run beyond a paragraph. You need to respect these guidelines.

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If you are emailing a senior executive at your company, then you can research them through your colleagues. Maybe, they attended an industry conference and shared an anecdote from their favorite speaker. You can refer to such updates to personalize your communication.

Also, before you connect two influencers, it’s courteous to ask them separately if they are open to an introduction.

3. Keep your emails short

In their analysis of 40 million emails, Boomerang found that emails between 75-100 words got the highest response rate (at 51%).

Generally, an email tends to extend your recipient’s to-do list with your task. If you use 1000 words to describe how your agenda is beneficial to the recipient, then you weaken your argument. By keeping it crisp, specific, and direct, your message will stand out in the sea of poorly written long emails.

If you are only updating your manager about a task and it doesn’t require her response, then you can state the same. You can end your message with “I don’t expect a response,” and save an overhead for both of you.

In certain situations, it makes sense to clarify your pitch and write long emails. For instance, Laura Lopuch sent long cold-emails to scale her copywriting business by 14x. However, her emails were super relevant, targeted and personalized.

4. Email is not a real-time communication medium

In his book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown shares the importance of setting boundaries to prevent your time from getting hijacked.

With email, there’s a tendency to respond immediately for fear of being judged as an unprofessional.

However, unless you’re chasing an urgent project deadline, you don’t need to respond to emails right away. Depending on your existing relationship with the sender and the nature of the message, you can take between 12 hours to 24 hours.

If your manager emailed you a question, you might feel an urge to send an immediate answer. Remember, though, that it’s on you to set expectations on the timescale of replying. Delaying your response gives you the opportunity to prioritize and work on the important tasks over urgent.

5. It always makes sense to take it offline

Email is majorly a textual communication medium and devoid of emotional undertones. You can use emojis and bold words for conveying emphasis, but the scope is limited.

As per research, your electronic audience might not comprehend the sarcasm in your email because they “hear” it differently. Indeed, most people overestimate the effectiveness of their text communication.

What’s the solution?

Set up a quick meeting offline.

When dealing with strangers, a face-to-face request is 34 times more likely to convert over email.

Before you send your next email, ask yourself if it’s possible to meet offline. Else, try to schedule a 5-minute phone call.

Even when sending an email for internal business purposes, you should request a physical meeting. For most professionals, email is a supplement to the knowledge work they pursue. So treat it as a supplement that enables efficient workflow.

In the end, email is not the ideal medium to communicate your ideas.

However, it need not hurt your credibility. If you follow simple principles of clear and effective communication as outlined in the article, then you can use it wisely to get more work done.

Note: Neil Patel was a past client of the author.

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