6 Do’s and 6 Don’ts for Better Business Emails

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You use email every day to communicate with colleagues, prospects, clients, vendors and more.

But are you really making the most of this tool?

More than likely, you don’t think twice about it. Maybe it’s time you did: according to a 2016 University of Maine School of Business study, email can foster highly constructive interactions between senders and receivers.

Researchers found that the 468 emails they collected and studied over 44 weeks fell into three categories that did the following:

  • shared knowledge
  • built interpretations
  • identified/resolved problems

What they ultimately concluded was that email’s unique qualities — its editability, its ease of replication and its asynchronous nature — can significantly enhance face-to-face communication.

So what can you do to make your emails more effective?

Here are six basic emailing do’s:

Do #1: Create a brief subject line

Use the subject line to say what your email is about in as few words as possible. Think of it as a kind of headline for your reader.

Do #2: Get to the point

Write a short (3-5 line) email that gets to the point quickly, especially if you are seeking a yes/no response.

Do #3: Use a conversational tone

Unless you don’t know the recipient (or that person is of higher professional status than you are) there’s no need to use formal titles like “Dr.,” “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.”

But don’t “hey dude” the person, either.

Assuming you have had some previous contact with your addressee, “speak” your email as though you were having a business conversation. First names are usually fine.

Do #4: Know who’s receiving what

Are you sending an email to one person? Several? Make sure you know exactly who will receive the message.

It’s embarrassing to send an email to a group that was intended for only one person in that group…and time consuming to have to send a follow-up explaining the oversight.

Do #5: Proof the email

Run a spell and grammar check. But beware: technology has its limits. A spell checker, for example, can only tell you whether a word is spelled correctly. It can’t say whether it’s being used properly.

An effective old-school way to proof is to read your email out loud — your ear may catch what your eyes can’t see.

Do #6: Limit emoticon use

Cute, colorful and fun, emoticons are all the rage. But they’re also out of place in business communication. Unless you know the recipient well, resist the temptation to use them.

Now here are six emailing don’ts:

Don’t #1: Send an email without a subject line

Never leave the subject line blank. Your recipient may think your email is not important and either trash or ignore it.

Don’t #2: Email when angry, upset or tired

Have your wits about you. Business emails need to remain neutral.

Like drunk texts, emotional emails — or those that could be construed as offensive — can come back to haunt you. You want to get things done…and solve problems, not create them.

Don’t #3: Treat emailing like a competition

Take time to compose an email, especially if it’s important.

And if you receive a group email? Strive for thoughtful responses because you have something to say rather than an “I-win because-I-answered-first” attitude.

Don’t #4: Bring up unrelated topics

Stay focused: one email, one subject.

If you find that you’re talking about more than one subject or going off on a tangent, rein it in.

Remember: the shorter you keep your email, the less likely you’ll be to stray.

Don’t #5: Hesitate to ask for help

Not sure about email tone or clarity? Send a copy of your email to someone you trust and ask him/her to eyeball what you’ve written.

Remember: as the 2016 University of Maine study cited earlier suggests, email is an effective tool for collaboration. Use this strength to your benefit.

Don’t #6: Make recipients work for information

Does your email use acronyms or terms that recipients may not know? Explain them.

Does it refer to something that exists in picture/photograph format? Include the image.

Does it refer to websites? Include relevant URLs/links immediately after the mention: e.g., Psychology Today online (https://www.psychologytoday.com/).

You need to be especially careful if you use a mobile device to send email. Phones in particular can be tricky because the input keys are smaller. This can lead to making more grammar mistakes and sending information to the wrong recipients.

Email is one of the great conveniences of the information age. But to make it work for your business, you need to understand not only what it can do, but the best ways of harnessing its potential.





5 Tips For Business People Who Say They Aren’t Writers

Blog-Post-#11Your daily meat is getting clients, negotiating contracts and doing the work that inspires you.

And writing? A lobotomy has more appeal than working with words.

I have news for you. That attitude just won’t fly in today’s business environment.

Statistics for 2017 show that 51% of Americans prefer to shop online and that e-commerce is growing at approximaely 23% per year. That’s a lot of business!

BUT: if you’re trying to tap into the Internet as a source for clients, it’s nearly impossible to get away from doing “word work.

Whether it’s emailing clients, putting together e-newsletters, describing your services on a company website or writing blog posts, you have to write.

So what can you do to make that job a little easier?

Tip #1: Make writing your new can-do

Your one great strength as an entrepreneur is your can-do spirit. It takes guts to go out there and get those clients!

So why not take that personal asset and also invest it in your writing?

Say, “I am a writer.” Make that your new mantra. Repeat it while looking into a mirror. Say it out loud to your dog. And to the people you know. Do this every day.

There’s power in naming. The more often you say something, the more you naturalize it to yourself.

Tip #2: Speak your writing

Some business people say they hate writing because they just can’t articulate their ideas well. Yet when they talk, many of these people never seem to be at a loss.

More than likely it’s because talking is something all of us do every day. And if we make “mistakes”? Nobody notices. Talking is an approximation of what we’re thinking, and people accept this.

So when you’re at a loss for what to set down, try using a voice recorder.

Or get a voice-activated writing program like Dragon Dictate, which allows you to speak your narratives directly into a Word document.

Tip #3: Love that cut-and-paste

People often think that in order to write, they need be able to start at a beginning that leads them without detour to a conclusion. This is what I call “straight line thinking.”

And you know what? It’s wrong.

Like any creative endeavor, writing is a process. So expecting your writing to come out a completed whole the first time just won’t work.

So get that cursor moving even if what you write is something you won’t use or will later wind up somewhere else in your narrative. It really is OK to move around text as you write.

Tip #4: Use drafts as play spaces

Having preconceived ideas about how you need to write can set up other barriers, too. It can make you think that you have to write in complete sentences and paragraphs, all in one go.

You don’t.

When you’re drafting — and for longer pieces, you will need to draft — just spit it out.

Never mind that what you write looks like some skeletal cross between a list and a poem. You can go back and work out the details later.

A draft is your own personal sandbox. So go ahead, play with those words. Arrange them on the page any way you want. It’s your space.

Better still, because your sandbox is a low stakes zone, your perfection-craving inner critic will be more inclined to ignore it…which will give you the space you need to write, unimpeded.

Tip #5: Strive for good enough

Trying to find the “perfect” words is a zero-sum game and one you need to avoid.

Psychology Today.com writer Robert L. Leahy has identified two forms of perfectionism. In maladaptive perfectionism, people criticize themselves every time they’ve made a mistake. Worse, they ruminate on those mistakes and only to feel even worse about themselves.

Adaptive perfectionism is much better. It allows room for imperfection, yet still lets you aim high and work toward your goals in manageable — even fulfilling — ways.

It’s just like Power of Positive Thinking writer Norman Vincent Peale once said: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

But to get there, you’ve got to work it.

Writing isn’t easy, even for professionals. But with a few adjustments in (1) how you think about writing and (2) how you do it, you can make words work for you.



3 Twitter Elements You Can Use to Help Your Business Branding


Top business magazines like Forbes and Entrepreneur encourage businesses to use Twitter for brand promotion. But what if you’re still trying to define your brand in the first place?

Twitter can throw people. You get exactly 140 characters to “speak,” so whatever you say has to be succinct. And if you want to get noticed, it needs to be creative.

That’s a tall order in such a small space.

But the constraints also force savvy users to get bare bones about who they are and what their brand is about.

Which takes us right back to where we started: brand. What does that term even mean?

One of the best definitions I’ve seen comes from Forbes writer, Jerry MacLaughlin. He says: “It’s what your prospect thinks of when he hears your brand name.”

So what does this all have to do with how you can use Twitter to help define your brand identity?

Element #1: The profile icon

Let’s start with the image you upload to represent your business.

For business-oriented social media platforms like LinkedIn, company logos make great profile icons. A clear image that shows you, the person behind the business, smiling and looking squarely at your audience, also works.

Both tell your audience that you’re a professional. And that you enjoy your work and take pride in it.

But because the Twitter platform encourages a kind of no-holds barred self-expression you won’t see on LinkedIn, you can afford to let your hair down.

Fun images — like the one of you wearing your favorite mirror shades, or the one of that amazing burrito your Mexican eatery clients just love — work as well as (or even better than) more traditional ones.

They’ll tell your audience that you’re a professional who’s not afraid of being yourself. Better still, they offer your audience a more intimate glimpse into who you are and what you (and your business) value.

For a long time, super-successful freelance writer and entrepreneur Carol Tice used a cartoon drawing of herself as her Twitter icon. I use a Bitmoji image.

We both value playfulness and humor…and want our respective audiences to know that.

Whatever you do, ditch the egg profile image placeholder that comes with every new Twitter account. And do it post-haste.

Otherwise your audience will assume that you’re not serious. Or that you just don’t care.

Element #2: The bio

Unlike the Twitter tweet space, the Twitter bio space has 160-character limit. But don’t go spending those extra 20 characters all at once.

Entrepreneur Neil Patel offers excellent advice for how to generate a great Twitter bio. He suggests you use one word — I say up to two or three — to describe your:

  • profession – “entrepreneur,” “psychologist,” “vegan caterer”
  • target niche(s) – “online marketing,” “mental health,” “food”
  • favorite pastime – “globetrotting,” “wine-drinking”
  • best accomplishment to date – “NYT bestselling author”

In addition, you should also find a few words that:

  • say something intriguing about you – “tree-hugger,” “argyle sock-collector”
  • show you are connected (via the @ sign) to another social profile – “@HuffPost contributor”
  • are unusual/memorable in and of themselves – “paleontology freakasaurus”

Twitter offers a separate space where you can upload URL information for your professional website. Use it. Your website address should repeat either your Twitter name or your @handle.

If you have a second website, don’t waste bio space on it. I made that mistake, only to realize later on that it was TMI — too much information.

Shoot for brand unity, not information overload. And don’t feel compelled to use all 160 character spaces the Twitter bio allots. The pithier you are, the better.

Truthfulness is also important. Too Many fakes live on Twitter: estimates put the number at between 5 and 10%. You don’t want to be taken for one of them.

Element #3: The tweet

This is where a many people — and especially Twitter newbiesstumble. Trending hashtags and the never-ending tweets coming from your connections can distract and make it easy to forget why you’re even on Twitter to begin with.

Suddenly you find yourself tweeting about politics. Or playing hashtag word games. Or uploading pictures of the cute thing your dog did with his squeaky toy this morning.

These kinds of tweets are OKso long as they’re not stealing the spotlight from your business. Show you’re a real person, but be balanced. And strategic.

You need to foreground your business first. Use your 140 characters to:

  • call attention to new company blog posts
  • share useful links to content about your indusry
  • mention noteworthy company news
  • advertise specials/promotions/webinars/podcasts
  • talk about Twitter connections important to you/your company
  • solicit opinions about some aspect of your business that you want to improve

Mix it up. Intersperse word-based tweets with imaged-based ones. Most people use Google images or smartphone shots/videos. Unsplash is a great resource for high quality, unique, totally free photos that can help make a great impression on your audience: I use it all the time.

For retweets, make sure the content has something to do with your business or what you and your business believe in. Or shows your involvement with others who have businesses/professional interests similar to yours.

Twitter is social media, after all. You’re part of a community not a lone ranger.

To sum up: because of how the Twitter platform operates, what you say and do has to be more strategic than on other platforms. But more strategic thought and action can mean more success in defining your brand.





5 Tips to Get Your Blogger’s Groove Back

YoImage - Blog Post #9u’re pumped. You’ve finally got your company blog running and put up a few — or maybe even more than a few — amazing posts.

Then you hit a wall.

You just can’t seem to come up with anything new to say. And the topics you do come up with? They sound as appetizing as last week’s reheated leftovers.

Before you completely lose it, consider these questions: are you tired or putting too much pressure on yourself? Are distractions in your life eating away at your focus?

According to Psychology Today blogger Susan Reynolds, no matter how busy your life is, you absolutely have to carve out time to relax and recharge those mental (and physical) batteries.

She also suggests that dealing with your major stressors first is actually more productive than trying to do everything — including writing — all at once.

Once you’re done and back to blogging, that wall may not seem so daunting.

It may even vanish altogether.

If you’re still having trouble with what to write about next, here are five reminders of  what you can do to jump right back into the blogging groove.

Update dones

Maybe you’ve just become a sponsor for a local Habitat for Humanity project. Or launched a new promotion at your hair and nail salon. Or made plans to attend a professional conference, even if it’s happening outside glamour zones like New York or LA.

Don’t keep the good news all to yourself.

Your readers want to know that you’re out in the world, doing and achieving. So tell them about it.

Get human

The personal side of your business offers great material for blog posts.

If you’re on your own, how do you manage to meet the demands of clients and have a personal life, complete with partner, kids, and PTA meetings? What do you struggle with, what are your successes?

And if you own a company, introduce the people — from the business partner who never miss her Tuesday night tango lessons to the cool-headed receptionist who always knows what to do in a crisis — behind your firm’s success.

People love to read about other people, especially if they’re interested in what those individuals can do for them.

Think trend

Your business — or the industry that business is part of — is affected by social, cultural or economic trends. If you’re a real estate agent, for example, what do increasing interest rates mean for clients who want to buy a home?

Maybe you’re a caterer who specializes in gluten-free cuisine. Looking at healthy eating trends could yield blog topics that help demonstrate just how your business is relevant to people, here and now.

Doing occasional pieces like this tells an audience that you stay on top of currents. That marks you as someone who’s wide awake and aware.

Offer tips

You have knowledge that can make the lives of your audience better, more fulfilling or more productive. So share it.

If you’re a wedding planner, what advice could you give brides to help them avoid the jangled nerves that go along with prepping for that long walk down the aisle? If you’re professional organizer, what step-by-step guides could you offer prospective clients so they can create more order in the spaces where they live or work?

A willingness to offer expert advice shows you want to help and scores major points.

Show fellowship

Maybe your business is working alongside a local non-profit or supporting some community initiative. Blog posts about service projects are excellent ways to build audience trust.

Let’s say you’re a pet shop retailer or vet. You could write about that fundraiser at your local Bassett hound rescue society. Or introduce your readers to a few special cats from the community animal shelter that need forever homes.

The most important thing to remember when you hit a wall is that a rested mind is an inspired mind. And when you’ve got the inspiration, there’s no barrier you can’t overcome.

You’ve got this. Really!


From Meh to Mad Hot: 4 Formulas for Smoking Headlines


Hot MaeBombshell headlines, like attractive content and images, are a blog must. Think of them as a form of seduction: your aim is to get your audience to swoon and sigh in anticipation of the services you can provide them.

The way you do this verbally is “proposition” your audience. In more polite rhetorical contexts this form of address is called an appeal. But I call it just another way to tease and excite. It’s the way you turn your audience on to all those usefully sexy ideas you want to share.

Give ‘Em Lists to Hang Their Hats On

Readers love lists like some people love to keep their hats on…regardless of whatever else they might be doing. As neuroloscientist Walter Kintsch observed almost 50 years ago, humans can process information more easily when it’s broken down into simple, specific, digestible units.


“5 Secrets to Eating Tacos With Style”

“7 Ways to Get a Hungry Elephant out of Your Room”

What’s great about this format is that you can translate each of the numbered points into equally provocative subheads that help keep those eyeballs moving down the body of all that glorious information. You can also introduce your list with a tantalizing lead-in statement set off by a colon.

Please with a How-To

Your readers are looking results that satisfy. So don’t just ask them to come see you sometime. Hit them with headlines that make them feel empowered do something for themselves. After they succeed, they’ll be dying take you up on your offer later on.


“How to Master Speed Eating in 1 Week”

“How to Be Everyone’s Favorite Party Animal in 5 Easy Steps”

“How to Get Hubby to Stop Snoring and Save Your Marriage

Do X, in Y amount of time. Or do X, get Y. Or get Y by doing X. Just plug in the desirables…and va va voom: you’re ready to rock.

Whisper Promises of a “Before” and an “After”

Well-told stories, which almost always involve character change, captivate. Sketch out a transformation in your headline that piques your audience interest. Then sate their curiosity with a narrative that fills them in on all the juicy details.


“How I Went from Wimpy Weakling to Buff Babe-Magnet”

“6 Ways to Transform Geekiness into Dating Gold”

Titillate with a Question

Readers not familiar with or have thought about your topic themselves will immediately be drawn in by a question. Think of this kind headline as a verbal come-hither. Make your audience wonder with a question mark. There’s nothing more alluring than a mystery.


“How Much Is Too Much When It Comes to Changing Your Underwear?”

“Are Your Ingrown Toenails Ruining Your Sex Life?”

“Does Your Dog Really Understand You?”

What you’re doing with your headlines — and your posts — is whetting your audience’s appetite to learn more about you. The smoother and bolder your headlines, the better your chances at finding clients who won’t just want you for your gorgeous content, but for all your business can do for them.


A Quick & Dirty Guide to Brand Storytelling

Image - Blog Post #7People who create successful business identities are those who understand that behind every brand is a compelling story. Virgin founder Richard Branson says it best: “[e]ntrepreneurs who make a difference are, in fact, professional storytellers.”

In “4 Ways To Integrate the Storyteller’s Art Into Your Business Writing,” I talk about ways that businesses can use storytelling techniques for everything from blog posts to company reports.

Now I want to offer techniques to help you develop what may be the most important document you will write for/about your company: the brand statement.

But you’re skeptical. “Why should I do that?” you ask. “It’s in my head.”

Or you say: “Writing takes time and I hate doing it /have too much to do (fill in your excuse).”

Writing isn’t a chore. It’s a form of thinking that takes a form you can actually see. Looking at your ideas as they emerge onto the screen — or paper, if you’re old school — will make it easier for you to shape what you say until it’s just right.

So relax, have fun and let those creative juices flow.

Step #1: Company narrative (1-2 pages)

Tell your company’s story from the beginning. Use the following questions to help you get started.

  • Who are you?
  • What interest/passion/pursuit drove you to create your business?
  • What does your business do?
  • How has that business changed over time?
  • Where do you see it going in the future?

As you write, you need to remember that a story is a living thing and not a bloodless recitation of chronologically ordered events.

To animate it, add colorful anecdotes or unusual known facts. Think of yourself you as a guide offering a “magical history tour” of the coolest place you know.

Step #2: Mission statement (1 paragraph)

Your mission statement lays out company goals and the values that underpin what company is and does. It identifies the spiritual core and beating heart of your business.

  • On what belief(s) did you found/build your business?
  • What does your company value the most and why?

Of course, missions are nothing without the people who inspired them. So another question to ask is: who does your business serve and why?

As you write, allow yourself to be inspired by what you do and your words will bear the mark of that inspiration. This in turn will ground them — and your business — in the authenticity that attracts audiences and ultimately, clients.

Step #3: Purpose statement (1 paragraph)

With business history and mission statements in hand, the next thing you’ll need to do is craft a paragraph that defines the purpose of your company.

This is a place you can show your audience that you understand the needs/desires of your client base.

Some areas to think about as you write could include:

  • What matters the most to your target audience/clients?
  • What does your company do for the community/communities it serves?

Step #4: Brand story (1 page)

Now you’re ready to merge everything you’ve written into the story of your brand.

  • Out of what dream/vision did your brand emerge?
  • What does it seek to do/whom does it seek to serve?
  • How is that brand evolving?
  • What distinguishes it from similar brands?

For the final point above, you may find it useful to list a few adjectives you associate with your brand. Do you own a small business that prides itself on getting to know every client? Think “personal” or “individualized attention.” Are you a successful entrepreneur that thrives on risk-taking? Then think “bold” or “fearlessly innovative.”

Your final product should be succinct, which is why I suggest keeping it to one page. Remember Seth Godin’s advice about the purple cow and focus on details that make your company stand out from similar businesses. Originality — and even quirkiness — is all good. So is a friendly, conversational voice.

Above all, don’t be afraid to let others see through to who you are. Your company brand is ultimately an extension of yourself, and (potential) clients will always want insight into that interesting, driven person behind the curtain.Image - Blog Post #7

Maximizing Interest in Your Company Blog: 3 Tips +1 Case Study

Company blogs are like online megaphones.

Over time, they can transmit information that (1) gets your company noticed (2) converts readers into brand adherents and (3) transforms brand adherents into clients.

One of my earlier posts offers simple techniques to help make blog articles more attractive to roaming reader eyeballs.

Now I want to talk about thinking and writing strategies that will help your posts stand out in the media oversaturated environment of the Internet.

Tip #1: Focus on creating connections

Think of your company blog as a bridge between potential clients and your company/brand.

This makes you a guide who will lead them across that bridge your solution happy place. To do that, you always need to bear in mind that the members of your audience of flesh-and-blood people with problems that cause flesh-and-blood pain.

Tell relatable stories about your product or service. Offer persuasive arguments why readers should come along for the ride and how they’ll benefit from your solutions.

But don’t see yourself as just a content provider. Fall into that mindset and you’ll create perfunctory posts your readers will ignore. Or —if they bother to read any part of what you’ve written — that they’ll forget as soon as they hit the next website.

Tip #2: Look for the purple cow angle

In his bestselling book, Purple Cow (2003), entrepreneurial guru Seth Godin reminds readers of marketing Ps that include: product, pricing, promotion, positioning, publicity, packaging, pass-along and permission.

Then he adds one more: purple cow.

The essence of a purple cow is that it must be something “remarkable” (2).

“[And] something remarkable,” he goes on to say,” is worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting. It’s a Purple Cow. Boring stuff is invisible. It’s a brown cow.” (3)

What Godin implies about the need to “think different” is easily applicable to your blog posts. It’s also how you can escape the catching the last train to dullsville in your writing.

Maybe you’ll decide to tell a story so unusual or outrageous people will want to read your post just to see how you connect the dots. Or maybe you’ll decide to show them a new — and useful — way of looking at their problem(s).

Aware that his audience would be entrepreneurs seeking insight into twenty-first century marketing, Godin turns to the purple cow, a metaphor that seems to make no sense within a business context.

But within the first two pages of his book, Godin successfully shows how it absolutely makes sense…while leaving a lasting impression on the minds of his target audience.

Tip #3: Bring on the details

The details you put into your posts need to be lively and compelling. They should also resonate with your target audience.

With this in mind, don’t just tell your audience “my product/service is great.” Actively show your audience that what you sell is the best.

Say you own bakery that specializes in pastries.

If you talk about your gourmet green apple tarts, tell your readers about the how the smell is to die for. And that the melt-in-your mouth butter crust and fruity filling are so explosively rich, it’s scandalous.

In other words: appeal to their senses.

It’s the details that will do your selling. They are the secret ingredients that induce the emotional states that make readers more receptive to your product or service.

So: make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them crave your words like they would a gourmet fruit tart.

A case study

One of my clients, a restaurant that specializes in barbecue-style meals, wanted a blog post that showcased why they were so popular.

I could have created a “brown cow” blog post that began like this:

“Billy Bob’s BBQ (not the company’s real name) is a crowd-pleasing, family-style restaurant.”

Then I could have added a few more lines that briefly demonstrate how Billy Bob’s pleases its family-loving patrons.

Instead, I used data from satisfied customers to do the talking for me:

“Billy Bob’s BBQ looks ordinary on the outside. But inside? That’s something else entirely. As José S. from Dallas said in his February 27, 2017 Yelp review, “[it’s] a great spot…for Coca-Cola nostalgia.” Debby H. from Fort Worth seconded José on March 6 with a remark (complete with pics!) about how much she just “love[d] the Coca Cola stuff” that hangs from our walls and “rustic décor.” It’s all part of the wholesome, family-friendly atmosphere that Billy Bob’s takes pride in creating for all our guests. When you walk off the street, we want you to feel like you’ve come home.”

This second example not only highlights what’s exceptional about Billy Bob’s — the purple cow angle. It also uses concrete details like:

  • names (of the restaurant and actual clients)
  • where client reviews appear/when they were posted
  • unique interior features
  • how the ambience makes visitors feel

A people-friendly focus also helps maximize interest in your blog. My case study, for example, uses reactions from real patrons to make the point that eating at Billy Bob’s is like dining in the comfort of your own home.

Can’t eat at home because you’re too busy or tired? Or are you just looking for a down-home place to chow down with the family? Billy Bob’s understands and has you covered.

You don’t have to be a professional writer to make your words come alive. BUT: you do need to pay attention to convincing readers that you (1) care about them (2) know what you’re talking about and (3) want to help.

And don’t forget that purple cow.