Business emails 101 – or SOS?

Grabbing email readers’ attention via email – even when you’re not selling anything – gets harder and harder as every year goes by, as you know. Here are some ideas to convert from what may be your concerns as SOSs, into 101s.

business emails on HTWB

Don’t forget that not all email clients show your email in monochrome.

Below are some tips on how to get that attention you need now in the present climate of 2017, without lifting readers out of their very short, sharp comfort zones … then making your points effectively … so you have the best possible chance of getting the reaction you want/need.

Business emails #1: one point at a time

As I said in this article back in 2016, people in a hurry tend only to grasp one key point from a business email – the first one. This notion has not changed. In fact if anything, it has become even more relevant in today’s business flurry of scores if not hundreds of emails most people in business receive every day.

In my experience, a bit dozy though it may seem, if you want to get a recipient to act on what your email conveys, still stick to one point at a time. 

Send the next, unconnected point, in a separate email.

If your recipient is like me and many others, they may be using their Outlook or other email client as a filing system so if you communicate with them on a one-thought-per-email basis, you will be helping them (and should get an answer sooner.)

Business emails #2: don’t be too scared of using capitals

If what you want to do is attract attention, bend the rules.

Everyone on the internet says you must get a slap on the wrist if you use capital letters, because in online terms that amounts to “shouting.”

Well, so be it. If – and only if – you have something really important to get across to the recipients of your email, go ahead … use some if not all words in capitals. Because the rest of us are being good little soldiers and not using caps unless strictly necessary, if you do it you will get noticed.

The key? Use caps ONLY when it’s crucial. Too many caps and your email subject lines will be banished to the dungeons of King Spammery…as well into oblivion. Less is more.

Business emails #3: use colour for your text (in places)

Don’t forget that not all email clients show your email in monochrome.

Yes, thank you, Apple … mostly your read-back interpretations occur in absolutely bald, nude text with any accoutrements banished to some also-ran little text file somewhere. However in the rest of the online world, most emails are able to use and enjoy colour!

Assuming a reasonable proportion of your email recipients use Outlook and similar platforms …

If you want to whack people across the nose with your email message, try colouring a few key elements in your favourite hue, emboldened.

It will look really sharp and should get attention from any of your recipients whose email clients can display it. If their email client can’t, however, you’ve lost nothing as the coloured section will just revert to monochrome.

Colour is also a very useful, additional way to highlight key points, words and phrases, in addition to bold characters and the slightly sensitive use of capital letters (see above). And underlining is seen as a bit cheesy and old-fashioned, although it works.

For more help with all aspects of writing emails for business and other purposes, click right here on #HTWB

Business emails #4: don’t try to be arty with background colours

Following on from #3 above, be aware that artsy-f*rtsy dark email backgrounds with even darker text may look amazing on a graphic designer’s 48 inch desktop screen, but on someone’s smartphone on a bus at night it will just be a mess.

To be on the safe side in readability terms, by all means use a coloured background but ensure that it is pale, and that your text is dark enough to contrast sufficiently.

And whatever else you do, forget even attempting reversed-out type (very light text on a very dark background.) Not only will it curdle on small screens, but also it tends to make people’s eyes water after about 50 words – anywhere.

Ditto should anyone try to talk you into using reversed-out text on your website, but that’s another story…

Business emails #5: don’t use tiny font sizes

Does your default email system send out stuff in a font which is only, say, 8, 9, 10 or so in terms of “point size?”

Much as it’s fashionable for websites, emails and other content to use smallish fonts, the harsh reality is that not everyone’s eyesight is that good even with glasses, and not everyone has time to fiddle around changing the display on their phone/tablet/desktop just because you think an 8 point Calibri font looks cool.

In recent times I have been plagued by two clients who only ever answer what I write in the first couple of lines in an email.

When one admitted to me that she has astigmatisms and finds it difficult to read a lot of text on a screen, a little bell began to ring for me.

Since then I always change the email font to 14 point for her and the other client who was in the same boat. I am now able to make more than one point per email although I still tend to do one at a time for reasons above … but the larger font does make a useful difference.

Business email #6: don’t use fancy fonts

And a final point about, er, point sizes and fonts leading on from #5: avoid using a font that’s flamboyant, because you never know how a recipient’s email client will interpret it. Sometimes, if your font isn’t recognised, it will be changed into a monstrosity.

Boring though it sounds, stick to the well known fonts like Calibri, Arial, Tahoma (sans serif – without fancy tails) or serif  typefaces like Times New Roman, Garamond and Georgia.

Even on the weirdest of email clients, those fonts are likely to be interpreted reasonably well.

So – business emails: is it 101 or SOS?

In most cases it’s merely a case of using your common sense, and understanding your audience (where else do I bang on about that, huh!)

Understanding your audience in this case isn’t just about “what’s in it for them” or what keeps them awake at night, although those are important points to remember. It’s also about appreciating the various different circumstances in which your business emails will be read (and, you hope, acted upon) … and unfortunately that means working upwards from the lowest common denominator.

You never know when, how or on what your business emails will be read. So to be on the safe side, make sure yours will be readable – and pleasantly readable, if possible – on absolutely every device there is, in whatever circumstances.

How? By keeping them simple, strong, direct, visually readable and textually understandable.

What advice can you add about making your business emails easy to read and act upon?

Please share!