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Like it or not, e-mail is and will continue to form our primary tool of communication. Well, at least when it comes to business correspondence. It doesn’t matter how social the Internet is becoming, it is very unlikely for an alternative communication tool to surface anytime in the near future.
Being the important communication tool that it is – and one that we use day in day out – there are some protocols and etiquette that improve the effectiveness of your e-mails when observed.
START YOUR EMAIL WITH A PROPER GREETING LINE
There’s a reason it’s called a greeting line. If you call someone on the phone, you always start with a greeting too. That being said, there’s no need to inquire about their heath either. Say “Dear …” and dive right in.
BE COURTEOUS AND PROFESSIONAL
Emails and texts are worlds apart. An email is an official piece of business correspondence that may very well be forwarded and shared multiple times. You’ll really want to come across at your best. And don’t use abbreviations such as “ty”, “u”, “br”, and such. Trust me, the time you end up saving doesn’t amount to more than a second or two. So not worth it!
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE!
Typos and grammar errors are not okay! Computers come with tools to prevent those. Make sure they’re turned on. If you’re not comfortable in English, it’s perfectly okay to write in Arabic. And if you find yourself in the situation where you have to use a tool such as Google Translate, add a short disclaimer at the end of your message to that end.
KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE
Ideally, the message you are about to type should fit entirely in the preview pane. People stopped opening messages years ago. Scrolling down is also not something people enjoy. If it doesn’t fit in the preview pane, it’s too long and you may want to consider attaching a report instead.
USE SHORT SENTENCED AND BREAK YOUR E-MAIL INTO MULTIPLE PARAGRAPHS
Keep in mind, most of your e-mails today are being read on mobile phones. So the easier you make it for people to read what you write, the more likely they will do so.
BE STINGY WITH YOUR RECIPIENTS
Don’t go ballistic in sending your e-mail to everyone you can think of. If you want people to keep taking your e-mails serious and read them, don’t send stuff to people who don’t really need to be involved.
USE “TO”, “CC”, AND “BCC” FIELDS FOR WHAT THEY WERE INTENDED
“To” is where you add the people you are addressing directly. “CC” is for people who should be aware of what’s being discussed, but aren’t really expected to take any particular action. “BCC” should be used when you send something to a large number of recipients, and you want to prevent an email flood (most of them clicking on “reply to all” to confirm their attendance to your invitation for example).
DON’T RELY TOO MUCH ON YOUR AUTO-FILL FUNCTION
Your e-mail client may think it’s smart, but you could very easily send your message to the wrong recipient. Always check the names before hitting that send button. You’ll be surprised by how many times you will prevent mistakes that could be quite embarrassing.
START A FRESH E-MAIL THREAD FOR EACH TOPIC, AND DON’T RECYCLE
Even if you are working with the same group on multiple topics, start a fresh email for each. This will generate a clearer thread (trail) when people need to go back and read what’s previously been written. If you mix multiple topics, it could become really difficult to go back in time. For the same reason, don’t recycle old conversations just because you already have all your recipients conveniently in there. People do it all the time and irritate others who wonder why an old topic is being opened up again.
GIVE THEM A HEADS-UP
Although not really necessary, it’s a good idea to indicate in the first line what you expect from the recipients. For example, you can write (in red) “Urgent message. Please respond by no later than end of business …”. At the same token, you could write (in normal color) “FYI only”.
DON’T REQUEST READ RECEIPTS
Some people get really irritated by these. If it helps to put your mind at easy, request a delivery receipt. It won’t guarantee your message has been opened, but you’ll know it made it to the recipient’s inbox.
TAKE IT EASY WITH THOSE ATTACHMENTS
In general, attachments that exceed 4-5 MB are annoying. Although most inboxes allow for 10 MB+ e-mail messages, they still take time to download, form a load on the inbox, and are especially annoying and costly for people with slow connections. You can send 100 MB attachments if you have to, but use a service like yousendit.com or shared folders so people can download your stuff when they are on a fast connection.
DON’T INCLUDE YOUR EMAIL SIGNATURE IN REPLIES
People know by now know who you are. This will make sure the email trail stays clean and easy to read from the start through where it stands today.
DUMP THOSE USELESS DISCLAIMERS
People know what you’re sending is confidential, and they certainly know that they are opening your attachments at their own risk. And most likely, when you ask someone not to read an email that’s not intended for them and to destroy it, they’ll only get curious and open it anyway.
SOME ADVERTISING NEVER HURTS
In context of the previous point, instead of that disclaimer, write a line or two about your organization (or you). Your vision, mission, or even that special deal that’s currently running are perfect examples for that.
ACKNOWLEDGE RECEIPT WHEN APPROPRIATE
Sometimes, the sender really needs to know if you received their e-mail message. For instance, someone sent you a resume after a telephone interview. Don’t keep that person wondering if you got the CV or whether it’s sitting comfortably in your junk folder. A quick reply with “Well received, thank you” will suffice. You don’t even need to include a greeting line in this case, although it won’t harm you.
WATCH THAT FONT
Comic Sans MS for example is not a suitable font for business correspondence, regardless of how cool some people might think it looks. A 16-point font size is also not the best choice, as is an 8-point one. Times New Roman is passé. Your best bet would be Arial. It’s clear, clean, and it’s easy to read. And it’s pre-installed on every device you can think of. And no, your custom font is a really bad idea. It’ll show up as Times New Roman (or Calibri) on the recipient’s computer because they don’t have your font installed on their machines.
One last word of advice, and perhaps the most important one; keep in mind that when communicating by e-mail, you are missing out on two critical communication elements; body language and tone of voice. Therefore, that quick e-mail you just dispatched in a hurry to make it home for dinner in time may be perceived as a plain abrupt or even rude.
Pinnacle Business & Marketing Consulting is a results-driven boutique consulting firm that specializes in providing clients with practical and pragmatic solutions to their business and marketing challenges. For more information about us, please visit our website.
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There’s probably nothing cooler in your professional career than starting your own business. It’s a dream a great many people pursue for all their life. The idea is that you get to be your own boss and you basically have nobody to answer to. (Well, almost. There’s always someone you’ll have to answer to, foremost all your customers.)
Nonetheless, now that you’ve established your independence and ditched the corporate world, you’re free to pursue your dreams and do what you love doing the most; running your very own business in the way you – and only you – see fit.
As much fun and joy as you’ll have though, there are some tasks and chores that you can never stop doing, even when the business is your very own. The following are some of the activities that often fall between the cracks at the expense of others, and which can ultimately lead to stagnant or even faltering businesses.
Marketing is a function that is often neglected and only attended to when there’s “time”. But since there’s never enough time at a start-up, there’s hardly ever any substantial marketing that gets done.
This is wrong in so many ways. Whatever you do in life, marketing yourself and your products/ services is always your first priority. Marketing is not only about promotions. It’s more importantly about continuously understanding your market and target audiences through research, designing new products and services that will be needed and wanted, pricing and packaging those so they can actually be sold, and marketing those at the right places through the most effective channels.
To make sure you don’t fall into this common trap, make it a point to set aside a given number of hours per week that you dedicate to marketing activities. Two hours per day is ample of time and should get the job done.
This goes hand-in-hand with marketing. Of course, the more effective the latter is, the less you have to do of the former. But working on developing and building long-lasting business relationships that are profitable is a function you will never able to put aside as an entrepreneur.
Moreover, many limit the concept of “business development” to recruiting new clients. This is not the case at all. What’s even more important than bringing in new clients is “retaining” those. In specific, this refers to your efforts in generating repeat business from people who’ve already made a purchase with you and as such – have a much higher level of trust in your brand and its values.
As is the case with marketing, an average of two hours per day is a reasonable allocation of time. Keep in mind that this includes searching for leads, holding meetings and pitches, writing proposals, and negotiating deals. So it’s not all that much when you consider the load of work that comes with this function.
This is why you got into business to begin with; to provide clients with products and services that are better than what’s available on the market. Yes, you probably have a small team of professionals working with you now, but you always have to make sure all are in line with your vision and produce the kind of work that made you go your own ways to begin with.
Do some reading on the late Steve Jobs for example. As large as Apple grew, Steve always spent an enormous amount of time and effort in working on designing new products and services. There must’ve been hundreds of technical people working at Apple that were much more qualified, but the most successful products Apple ever produced (i.e. iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, etc.) were all creations Steve had an ever-lasting imprint on.
This should take about half of your daily time available. Even if there’s no shortage in resources, you need to stay involved so you keep developing and advancing your very own skills in your area of speciality. Amongst many others, your continuous involvement in this area will also shape the direction of your marketing, business development, strategic thinking, and recruitment needs.
This is a trap many entrepreneurs fall into once things pick up and business starts to boom. They become complacent and think it’s going to stay that way. They stop worrying about the future and think they’ve finally made it.
Again, wrong! Just as you came out of nowhere a few years ago and claimed your stake in the market, someone else will do the same and claim a stake out of your market now. This is why you’ve always got to stay ahead in the game and make sure your brand and products/ services remain in the lead.
The best time to do this is during the early hours in the morning as you exercise. Even if you listen to music at full blast, let your mind wander off into new and unexplored territories and unleash your creative thinking juices. The only thing you need to be worried about is not letting your mind wander off in the wrong direction and start thinking about various administrative problems you may be having at work. This is definitely not the right time and place for those.
Your most important function as an entrepreneur is to be on the constant lookout for people that are smarter and better than you. This is the only way you will be able to build a substantial company; by hiring the right people that can get the job done and then some more.
A very successful CEO once said – when asked about what he perceives as his most important role in the company – that his sole job was to find and hire people that were smarter than him. Think about it; how can your company grow beyond a startup without smart people? And what’s the point in having an army of people that need to be told what to do and how? It might feed the owner’s ego, but certainly not the company’s profits and value.
If you’re spending enough time on marketing and business development, your path will keep crossing with individuals whom you’ll learn to admire and appreciate. This doesn’t mean that you can go and poach people from your clients, but as you meet more and more interesting people, give it some thought about how they’d fit into your team and the value they can contribute. And the beauty of this is that you don’t really need to slice out any time for this. Constant headhunting is a “default” function just as a heart keeps beating without any intervention needed by the brain.
This is a really boring part of running your business, but one that has to be meticulously attended to nonetheless. You are after all the legal guardian of your baby (your business), and such the burden of making sure that all laws, rules, and regulations are observed at all times falls on you.
This includes chores such as filing taxes on time, complying with legal paperwork, obtaining vocational and licenses in a timely fashion, making sure social security payments are made in time, and so forth. And since you’re personally liable and responsible for several of these financial and legal commitments the company has gotten into, you’re really watching out for your very own best interests as well.
All in all though, many of these chores are of an annual nature and won’t take much of your time. Plus, you’ll probably have outsourced most of these functions so all you really have to do is remain alert and monitor what’s being done and by when. But to completely rely on external resources may become a fatal mistake that could potentially cost you a lot of time, frustration, and money.
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