In today’s information-crazed, e-mail-driven global economy, how you use this powerful, immediate and addictive tool can mean the difference between market leadership and upward mobility or business and career disaster. These tips apply whether you write white papers, RFPs, engagement letters or e-mails.
Therefore, before you hit “send,” consider this story. An accounting firm had a 20-year association with a manufacturing company. The relationship’s longevity was grounded in the close relationship between the CEO and the firm’s top CPA. When the accountant retired from the firm, another employee took over the account. Her introductory e-mail to the CEO began, “Hi Bob!” Upon receipt, the client called and said, “Bob? I do not even know you! How dare you assume we have a relationship? I am ‘Mr. Jones’ to you.” It was all downhill from there; relationship, reputation and related services nearly destroyed with two words.
These time-honored tips that can help prevent brand meltdown or career disaster.
1. No one has the time to read long documents.
Is research, data analysis, critical thinking not important? Are people’s attention spans shorter? Absolutely not! But people are on information overload. They can only take in so much data at one sitting. Learning how to synthesize information in a short, concise document will go a long way to making you a valuable employee. It will also make your customer grateful for your clear thinking.
2. Critical thinking equals success.
Disciplining yourself to concisely put your thoughts on paper does everyone a favor. First, it forces you to extract the essence of your idea, plan or project, thus providing valuable think time. As you tighten up the document, you are compelled to work through your ideas. Second, it makes you more valuable as an employee or as a supervisor. Sharp and short memos, e-mails or reports that you generate will be read. Who knows, even intangible results like respect can come from your effective writing and thinking.
Last, what you want to happen will happen when your customer receives your document. Readable and crystal-clear writing gets results.
3. A client’s time is more precious than yours is.
If you think you work at warp speed, remember so do your customers! Many business documents are wordy, disorganized, vague or slow to get to the point. Writing crisply will make your documents stand out. If your customers have to wade through worn out or weary sentences, you are asking too much (20 words maximum). If they have to reread your writing to make sense of it, you are on thin ice. In addition, if they are working too hard to read your document-formatting helps-they will stop reading.
4. Be clear in your responses.
Mention pertinent facts and information that will specify exactly what you are writing about. Example: I talked to them about it the other day, and they want to see the other one before they make up their minds. How would you know what this e-mail is about without threading or having specifics from the body of the text? It should read: I talked to Company A and they want to see the RFP before they make a decision.
5. Actionable and informative subject lines save time.
A recent study found that by writing actionable and information subject lines saved a corporation thousands of hours in time lost trying to decipher how to categorize and/or respond to a message. Summarize the message in the subject line to communicate your content. Repeat the subject within the body of the e-mail to reinforce your message.
6. The reader reigns supreme.
Sales people know this truism: If you know your customer, you can deliver the goods. It is always about your readers – their wants, needs, headaches, concerns – it is never about you. Think about what is important to them in your message. Then write it clearly and concisely.
7. Formatting increases readability.
Make your messages easy on the eye. Format your e-mails with white space, bullets, bolding, headers, lists and appropriate indents. San serif fonts (Arial, Helvetica) are easier to read on the screen, while serif fonts (Times Roman, Courier, Palatino) work better in lengthy documents. Remember, it takes 25 percent more time to read something on screen than on paper.
8. Proofread like crazy.
No excuses for spelling, grammatical and factual errors in e-mail messages-each should be read several times to ensure accuracy. Turn on the spell checker and use it. Important messages should be printed out and read as hard copy.
9. Know when e-mail is not the appropriate vehicle.
Though it’s tempting to use e-mail to communicate bad news or criticism, this non-confrontational approach is inappropriate. These issues need to be addressed in person.
Poorly composed documents can have negative consequences that compromise the bottom line of any growing business or personal brand and do not deliver winning outcomes. Conversely, well-written messages can be a powerful tool to reinforce and enhance valuable customer relationships; solve urgent user problems; deliver information; market products and services; earn market leadership; and demonstrate authenticity, professionalism, and polish. Therefore, customer satisfaction and loyalty will thrive and referrals for new business will flow generously to your door.
About the author:
Dr. Julie Miller, founder of Business Writing That Counts, is a national consultant and trainer who helps professionals reduce their writing time while still producing powerful documents. She and her team work with executives who want to hone their writing skills and professionals who want to advance their careers. Some of her clients are Microsoft, Washington Mutual Bank, Verizon Wireless and Cisco Systems. For more information, call 425-485-3221 or visit http://www.businesswritingthatcounts.com.