Love it or hate it, you can’t leave it – email is the nervous system of business life all over the world. Companies may declare e-free Fridays or add newer media like instant messaging or social networks for basic communication but you probably still find that your work life centres on managing your inboxes.
The volume and omnipresence of email in your life gives you the opportunity to accomplish your immediate and long-range goals or screw up both. This chapter shows you how to make the most of this powerful medium and sidestep the traps.
Of course, another communication channel may replace email soon, but it hasn’t happened yet. In any case, the guidelines in this chapter apply to whatever comes next, maybe with minor adaptations to formatting and style. The essentials of good communication hold steady.
Fast-forwarding your agenda in-house and out-of-house
If you’re wishing for a way to show off your skills, judgment, competence, and resourcefulness and have decision-makers pay attention, shazam – email is the opportunity and challenge.
Everyone nowadays is overwhelmed with getting too much email and wants most of it to go away. There are usually two reasons why: it is unrelated to readers’ interests and needs, or the content is badly thought out and poorly written. Take a look through your own inbox. You’re likely to find that most of the messages you find there falls into one of those two categories – or both.
Then browse through your outbox. Ask yourself (and be honest) how many emails you carelessly tossed off without any content planning or editing. You may feel that this is the nature of the medium – here one minute, gone the next, so not worth investing time and energy.
But email is the tool you depend on to get things done, day in and day out.
It has become the delivery system for many forms of communication. Compared to the earlier times when you’d write a cover letter to a company or send a résumé today you deliver it electronically. Anyway, no matter how it’s delivered a cover letter for a job application is still a cover letter and a short business proposal sent by email still needs to be very well written. Even though time is money, you should resist the temptation to write such material in an off-the-top-of-your-head fashion.
Well-written emails bring you the results you want. Even more, writing effective emails every time brings you fantastic opportunities to reach the people you want with a message about you: how intelligent, resourceful and reliable you are, for example, and how well you communicate. Even those humdrum in-house emails contribute incrementally to your positive image as an efficient professional and give you a long-range advantage way past accomplishing your immediate goal.
Send direct, well-written emails that have a clear purpose and respect people’s time, and you get respect back. People notice and respond to well-written messages, though admittedly, most do so unconsciously.
The higher you go in an organisation’s hierarchy, the more people tend to recognise good writing and value it because they see so little of it these days. Executives are acutely aware of what badly written emails, even on mundane matters, can create:
- Misunderstandings that generate mistakes
- Needless dissent among employees and departments
- Inefficiency, because countering unclear messages demands much more communication
- A staggering waste of collective time and productivity.
Smart leaders are even more aware of how poor email messaging can affect an organisation’s interface with the world at large, resulting in:
- Weakened company image and reputation
- Disaffected customers
- Missed opportunities to connect with new customers
- Long-term damage to relationships with the public, investors, suppliers, lenders, partners, media, regulators, and donors – all of which directly affect the company’s bottom line.
Take email seriously, and it will give you many happy returns. Decision-makers in your workplace who value clear communication will value you all the more. Also:
- Email offers huge opportunities to develop relationships in the course of doing business. To build and sustain a network of trusted colleagues and contacts in-house and out can only benefit you over the long term.
- Email gives you access to the loftiest heights. Fifteen years ago the idea that you could directly write to your CEO or the hiring manager of your dream employer, was unthinkable. Now you can, and she may read it and even respond – if you make your message good.
- Email is your entrée to reaching people all over the world. Without it, international trade would depend on mail systems and faxes for making initial contact. Surely email is the unsung hero of globalisation.
If you’re an independent entrepreneur, consultant, freelancer or outside contractor, recognise that emails can make or break your enterprise. Written well, emails can help generate what you need: in-person meetings, opportunities to compete for business, new agreements, relationships of trust, and ways to promote what you do.
This is an edited extract from Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor, published by Wiley