Categories
Technology

Emailing Awesomely – The Definitive Guide to Email Structure

Email is, and has been for some time an important form of communication. There are lots of tips out there on how to write emails for achieving specific outcomes. There was a great post recently on how to contact market leaders and there are many blogs on how to use email as an effective sales tool. But what about for those circumstances that are too ad-hoc, that you may not see direct value from or just don’t seem important? How do you construct your emails then? Do you have a set format you follow? Do you even need to worry about how you construct them? I think yes.

I feel every single piece of communication I have with anyone is important. Unless they are friends of more than a few years you really should be following a ‘standard’ email format for EVERY email. This is not just with business either, but with every contact you make. Whether you are talking to your accountant, looking to rent an apartment or buying a fish you should follow your standard format. Your standard email format will vary depending on who you are, what you do and what kind of first impression you’re trying to give off, in other words, your identity.

There are a few reasons I recommend having a structure to how you write your emails.

  • It gives you a fall back format if you’re unsure how to handle that particular kind of email
  • It makes your email writing quicker as once you get the hang of it, you wont have to think about how to structure your email before you start
  • And most importantly: It gives the reader an idea of what kind of person you are

Letting people know your identity, what you do and how you can help is super important. You NEVER know when someone you speak with could open up a new opportunity for you. The guy selling the fish could be your next client or boss.

You are definitely going to write many more emails (or waves) in your life, so its fair to say that writing a good email is a necessary skill and one you should take care of – if you haven’t already.

You may also be interested in this: Top Chrome Extensions for Email Optimization

What is a Good Email?

In my day I’ve had many an email discussion with people from all walks of life. Working as a recruiter, and now as an Entrepreneur means I’ve made first contact with people from the strange to the successful. I’ve had conversations with students, scholars and salesmen with clerks, caterers and CEOs and with bankers, builders and beauticians. Out of all the types of people I’ve had email conversations with, there are few that project a professional, educated and articulate image in their writing. It’s not because they’re uneducated or can’t articulate their thoughts, it’s because they don’t put in the effort or don’t think it’s important.

As a high level rule, bankers and salesmen are the best email writers. And they should be, they get trained on how to write an email. CEOs are fairly hit or miss, as are most senior managers in large non-white collar industries. Everyone else, well, they usually suck. This is good news for you tho because it makes it easy to stand out from the pack.

A good email has many variables including your identity, who you’re contacting and why you’re contacting them. But there is a constant that flows with all well written emails and that is structure. How you structure an email says lots about your personality and thus should be taken into consideration with EVERY email you write. Not just first contact.

How to structure a good email?

Below is the general structure for a well written email. I will explain in detail below.

  • Greeting
  • Pleasantry
  • How you got their details, call back and reason for email
  • Body Topic 1
    • Situation
    • Benefits
    • Call to Action
  • Body Topic 2
    • Situation
    • Benefits
    • Call to Action
  • Body Topic n
    • Situation
    • Benefits
    • Call to Action
  • Closing line
  • Signature

Greeting

The greeting is simple. If you know their name “Hi NAME,” or “Dear NAME,” will suffice. If you don’t know their name (in the instance of contacting some businesses or a seller on craigslist open with a simple “Hello,”

Pleasantry

You should ALWAYS follow with a pleasantry after your greeting. EVERYTIME without fail. Ingrain this into your fingers so that you naturally spit it out with each email you write. There is no reason ever why your email shouldn’t have a pleasantry. Even if you are criticising someone (which you shouldn’t do over email anyways) you should still have a pleasantry to give them the sandwich effect. You will never have anything to lose by adding in a pleasantry, you will make people more inclined to read the rest of your email, you will soften criticism, and will hit the positive emotions of a few. Most will simply ignore it, but for two seconds if your time, its definitely worth it.

Pleasantries can include the following:

  • I hope you’re well
  • I hope all is well
  • I hope the day/week is treating you well
  • I hope all is well since we last spoke

Once a conversation has started:

  • Thanks for that
  • Thanks for getting back to me
  • Thanks for your response
  • Thanks for your quick response

This is also the line where you can start to display some of your personality and identity. You can add in your super-awesome-fun-exclamation-mark-loving personality or your polished articulate self.

  • I’m super excited you got back to me, thanks!!!

or

  • Thank you kindly for your prompt response, it is most appreciated.

How You Got their Contact Details, Call Back and Reason for the Email

This portion of the email will vary depending on the purpose of the email and how you know the person. Use your common sense to determine what to put here but here are a few points that should cover most circumstances.

How you got their contact details

This is only necessary at the start of a conversation. But adding in a line such as “I found your details on xyz website or social media platform” gives the reader a sense of where you are coming from – this is important for first contact.

Call Back Content

If you got their contact details at a networking event, party or some other scenario where you had an interaction of some sort, built some rapport and made plans to stay in contact – this is a great place to add in what I call call back content. If you spoke about a sporting event, a ski trip, kids, whatever – add a few lines in this portion of the email. This will firstly help them to remember who you are and further built rapport. It will also give them some content to bounce off making it easier and more enjoyable for them to respond.

Reason for Email

A reason for the email should be included in every new conversation, even if you’ve spoken to the person before.

  • I wanted your opinion on xyz
  • I have a proposition/opportunity I think you may be interested in
  • I have a few things I think we should catch up about
  • I have an update on xyz project or report
  • I have some news I think you should hear

This should be brief as you will explain it further, but should give the reader an idea about what they’re in for. This is important when contacting busy people. Also, if the email has multiple topics (discussed below) outline them here.

“I wanted to give you an updated on xyz project and see if you were available to catch up with George on Tuesday”.

You may also be interested in this: Process Street the Ultimate Business Productivity Tool

Body

The body should be broken into three parts.

  • Situation
  • Benefits
  • Call to Action

You need to repeat these three parts for every topic in your email.

Situation

This is what is happening, the reason for the email in more detail and what needs to be done (basically what most people write in a normal email).

“I’ve just received the report back from John and we need you to look over it. It shouldn’t take too long, just need you to check the final figures and make sure the portions that relate to your team are worded correctly. We need it back by lunch tomorrow”

Benefits

The father of self help Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People states the only way to make someone do something is to make them want to do it. Unless we are communicating with friends, chances are we want something out of every email we send. The way you make people want to do something, is by explaining the benefits. You can always find a benefit for why someone should do something.

In the above example “I’m sorry for the short timeframe, but BOSS MAN is coming down hard on me to get this finished and your section is the last one we need.” – The benefit here is that he will either avoid getting in trouble by BOSS MAN if he does this on time, or he will get emotional gratification for getting you out of trouble with the boss.

Most interactions will have some kind of mutual benefit. If you’re trying to get a job, buy, sell or share something, chances are you have some type of value to offer. If you’re really stuck for a benefit you can always “owe them one” or “buy them a beer”.

Don’t forget to highlight the benefit.

Call to Action

Once you’ve told them what needs to be done, and what they’re getting out of it, you need to put in a specific call to action or next step.

In the above example: “Please confirm via email that you will be able to complete this for me by lunch tomorrow. If I haven’t heard from you by 4pm today, I will give you a call.”

Here are some other examples:

  • Please contact John on this number at this time
  • Please send this report here on this date
  • I will call you at 4pm on Monday to come see the fish
  • Please start this as soon as possible, I will call you on Tuesday at Lunch to see how things are progressing

This step assigns accountability, adds a timeframe and a specific follow up action to get things moving straight away without additional emails back and forth.

Remember: rinse and repeat these three steps for each topic in your email.

Closing Line

This is a simple line, almost a second pleasantry. Something like:

  • Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or issues
  • I will follow up shortly to check your thoughts
  • Thanks so much for helping me out with this
  • I look forward to your response

Signature

Finish off with your signature. This will include some kind of a:

  • Regards
  • Kind Regards
  • Thanks
  • Cheers

Plus your name and additional contact information such as phone number, website, social media profile etc.

Check out Wisestamp – an awesome free Firefox Plug-in that adds HTML signatures to any web email client such as Gmail. It includes integration and cool little icons for blogs and social media profiles.

Adding this information is important because if you’ve made a good impression in your email and sparked some curiosity it allows people to go off and find out more about you.

Conclusion

This may seem like lots to integrate into every email you write, but as I mentioned, having a structure for your emails will actually increase the speed you write them once the structure is internalised. Having this kind of structure will also give people a strong first impression. Not only that you are kind, formal, structured, put in effort and courteous – but the body will be a relief for people who deal with large volumes of emails as it is telling them exactly what needs to be done. There is nothing more annoying than receiving an email that you need to respond to asking for more information before you can action it.

I hope this helps you build an email structure – personalised to your own identity – that will lead to rewards in the future. Remember, some people will not remember when you write an email well, but they will certainly remember when you write on badly. So make it a habit to write awesome emails!

Categories
Technology

Blog Moving to Abstract-Living.com

As you can probably tell from the title,  I have decided to move my blog (wordplaywithvinay.com) to Abstract-Living.com. If you’ve noticed anything weird going on here over the last day or so, this is why.

I decided on this move for two key reasons:

Personal Branding

I created this blog to document my changing lifestyle and to build my personal brand. I’ve been reading lots about personal branding over the last couple of years (great simple resource to get you started is Colin Wright’s free eBook – ExileLifestyle.com). One thing I’ve found about this blog is that the domain isn’t very receptive to any keyword… there are some famous Indian dudes named Vinay and there is no way I am competing with them. Plus the domain doesn’t really give any feel to the type of blog I am trying to represent.

I have changed my personal branding page to a Posterous page with a domain of my full name vinaypatankar.com. This is already ranking second under my LinkedIn account and above my FaceBook page. I did this as more of an experiment but it seems to have paid off. I now control about half the front page of Google for the keyword “Vinay Patankar” – this blog ranks 43.

Its true that I do have a unique name which makes it easier and I was lucky that my domain wasn’t taken but its still nice to know that the front page is basically controlled by me. We are all going to have more and more of our lives posted on the internet. It is already becoming normal for potential employers to Google you. When I applied for the TEDxBKK event (which I was accepted for but couldn’t make it to) they asked me for a public online profile. Its happening so you better get used to it. At some point, some person / organisation / institution is going to post something about you on the net, be assured of it. If that happens to be a negative comment having control over the front page of Google may save you lots of stress.

Building the Blog

This hasn’t really been a serious blog. I’ve been traveling extensively and had other projects to work on. As mentioned above it was more of a personal branding thing. I have however decided to make a move to build this blog into something a little greater. It took me a while to decided exactly how to brand what I was interested in writing about. A sort of combination of travel, lifestyle design, technology, life hacking, social hacking, personal development and loads of other things. But I decided that I’m interested in these things because I am on a quest to build myself an abstract lifestyle. A life that is different form the standard template of life. A life of travel and exploration. Of failures, leanings and successes. A  minimalism empire builder. A life where I can drink with the rich, eat with the poor and dance with the nasty. A life of EXPERIENCE.

Abstract-Living will be about the things I learn on my journey of experience. Glad to see you here! M7TETTS8W5UV

Categories
Technology

Tools to Build you a New Life

I came across a post about a week or so ago by Rob at http://thelifedesignproject.com. Its an excellent collection of all the resources he’s found since starting his Lifestyle Design journey. The list includes books, blogs, and tools both functional and research based.

There are heaps tools way to many in my opinion to hit at once so I wanted to highlight a few that I like most and add in a few I use that he didn’t mention.

My Favourites:

Evernote: This tool is amazing. It allows you to manually enter notes from your PC, iPhone, Blackbery or Web Browser in voice, photo or text. It then syncs all your devices together and stores them on the web. You can search, tag, group and do a whole bunch of stuff. There is a plugin for Firefox so you can dump straight from web pages, great of off-line reading. It also has image scanning capabilities to scan text from photos of business cards or receipts. You get a free 40mb upload per month, which is loads if you mostly use text but can fill up quickly if uploading high-res images or voice.

The Google Suite: I’m not going to go through all the Google tools, but if your not using them, use a fool! Gmail, Docs, Analytics, Adwords, Calendar, Apps, Webmaster Tools, Reader, Picassa etc… I’m sure there are plenty of resources on how to make the most of these tools. They will save you loads of time and stress. Check em out.

The Four Hour Work Week: This book simply kicks ass.

Elance/oDesk: Outsourcing sites. Ebay’s for services. I haven’t tried oDesk, but I hear good things.

My Additions:

Dropbox: Dropbox is an application that creates a folder on your computer where you can save any kind of file. It then automatically syncs everything in that folder to the web, giving you a real-time backup of your files. You can access these from any web browser or from your iPhone. This app really gives me peace of mind and the great thing about it is once its installed, you don’t have to do anything! Its just like using your documents folder. plus you get 2 GB of storage for free!

Shopify: I currently run my online store using Shopify. Its a great site, really (relatively) simple to use and removes the most difficult and technical aspects (besides finding customers!) of running an online store. It has great support, loads of marking help, integration with many apps and tools such as Google Website Optimiser and Google Product Search.

LinkedIn: I talk about LinkedIn here and here. Its a great tool for personal branding, networking and marketing.

Amazon Kindle: This thing is awesome. Its an eBook reader. It allows you to store 1500 books and download new books from Amazon in over 100 countries. Bookmark, highlight and take notes, its a library in 6″. And its really easy to read. I don’t like reading books on a computer, but this is like a normal book. You can also read pdf’s and word docs on it. There is lots of hype around the iPad becoming a Kindle killer, but the iPad has 10 hours batter life and the Kindle has 7 days. Hard to compete if you want to use it to read books and not watch YouTube videos.

What are your favourite tools?

Categories
Technology

The Coolest Bachelor Pad Toy Ever!

Recently I was in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. It was great, the city had an excellent buzz and lots of records were smashed. Canada won the most gold medals for a Winter Olympics ever, not just for the host country. They won their first gold in Canada. And of course beat the US in men’s Hockey to take home the gold. Possibly the biggest sporting game in North American history.

But aside the actual games, there was lots of other cool stuff happening. I mentioned in my earlier post about the houses showing off loads of cool virtual stuff. This was in conjunction with sponsors Sony, Acer, Panasonic and Samsung. Some of the biggest names in electronics and gadgets.

This brings me to the coolest bachelor pad toy ever. In the Russian house, which was a converted Science World, they had one of the coolest gadgets I have seen to date: Behold the floor projected indoor football field. (I don’t know who makes it or what it was called, but I assume it has a cooler name)

I’m disappointed with the turnout of my photos of this thing. It was quite difficult to catch as it naturally projects shadows, but it was seriously cool.

It’s a projector, mounted to the ceiling that displays a football field, with goals at each end and a ball in the middle. A camera (presumably infrared?) is mounted next to the projector to track interactive movements with the display. Basically, if you kick the projection of the ball on the ground, it will move. No controllers, no battery packs, no broken vases.

It’s so simple, but I can easily imagine having hours of fun with that thing. It’s like twister on steroids. Straight to the top of my Amazon (if I ever settle down again and live a normal life) wish list.

Categories
People Technology

The Definitive Guide to LinkedIn Recommendations

LinkedIn is the biggest business social network in the world. It allows you to post up a snapshot of your career and connect with relevant professionals plus a whole bunch of other cool stuff. If you don’t have an account, you should get one today.

There are many different ways LinkedIn can be used to further your business or career. This post focuses on recommendations.

What are LinkedIn Recommendations?

LinkedIn has a recommendation system that allows someone to send you a recommendation and have it displayed on your profile to the public world. This system is great and can be used in the same manner as either a reference check or a testimonial only better.

The reason this system is better than traditional testimonials plastered over your website or a letter from a former boss is the reference is connected to that person’s profile. So whoever is interested in your recommendations can track them back instantly and see who recommended you and how respectable they are.

Another great thing about LinkedIn recommendations (as with other benefits of LinkedIn) is that they will last your whole life. A little work now will go a long way later.

What about Fake Recommendations?

When I talk to people about LinkedIn recommendations, a constant response I get is “don’t people just make them up or get their buddies to recommend them? How valuable are they really?”. To this I answer, “yes, they probably do”.

Here’s the catch. The recommendation system of LinkedIn reconciles itself. If I recommend you, it is displayed on my profile that I recommended you. If I’m trying to build my personal brand and you’re a total douche bag, I’m not going to recommend you.  Yes, some people may get recommendations that are illegitimate, but you can usually sus them out. Here are some situations that may raise suspicion:

– 5 people in similar positions, all recommended by the other 4.

– Recommendations from people with inactive or incomplete profiles.

– All recommendations on the same or close dates

If you have recommendations from over 20 people, most who work in respectable jobs and who have something to loose from a negative personal brand, chances are they are going to be legitimate recommendations. Even if all those 20 people are your friends, you still must be a decent person to have 20 respectable people like you enough as friends to recommend you. And in that alone I believe there is merit.

Now if you can get recommendations from super valuable people, even better. How do you think traceable recommendations from Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Donald Trump would look?

P.S. If anybody knows them, tell them to hit me up!

How do I Get People to Recommend Me?

There are two key ways I have gotten recommendations.

The first, is basically working with the buddy system I talked about above. These are people I had a good working relationship with at some point and asked them if we could swap recommendations. I knew I was good at my job, I also knew they were good at theirs so it was mutually beneficial to swap recommendations.  A cheeky message of “write me a recommendation and ill write you one back” is easy to do and is win-win. But remember, you’re putting your personal brand on the line, so don’t ask people who you genuinely don’t think are good at whatever they do.

The second way, and the more effective way is to ask someone for a recommendation as soon as you deliver some sort of value to them. For example, if you are a designer or freelancer and you deliver a good project to a client and they are happy with it, ask them for a recommendation. Make sure you do this straight after you deliver the work as it will still be fresh in their mind.

For me, I was a head-hunter, so every time I placed someone in a job or found a client their perfect candidate, I would ask for a recommendation. You won’t get them every time you ask, but if you have done a good job, and they are happy, it’s not a big favour to ask.

Here is the structure I use to build my connections and ask for recommendations.

When I first interacted with someone new for work, whether on the phone, in person or via email I would send them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.

(Quick tip: you can send a message to someone with a free account by sending them an invitation with a short note attached. This saves you from having to pay to upgrade your account to send ‘inmails’ to people who you are not connected with)

“Hi xxx

It was great meeting you / speaking with you today.

I would like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

Look forward to working with you in the future.

Regards,

Vinay”

Keep it simple, and non-specific. But making sure you have everyone you’re working with on your network, the ones you do add value to are already there so asking for the recommendation down the line easier.

Once you have delivered value of some sort, bring up a recommendation in a meeting. Here is an example of a conversation I’ve had after delivering value:

XYZ: Vinay, I just want to say thanks for finding me this job. It’s working out really well.

Me: No problems, XYZ, glad to hear you’re happy there. I want you to make sure you call me if there are any problems or if there is anything I can do to help.

XYZ: Ok no problems, I will talk to you soon.

Me: Oh, XYZ, there is one thing I thought of just before you go

XYZ: Oh what’s that?

Me: Well… I’ve done a pretty good job helping you out right?

XYZ: Yes of course!

Me: Well I was wondering if you could do me a small favour. It will only take a few minutes.

XYZ: Sure

Me: I was wondering if you could write me a recommendation on LinkedIn. We are already connected and it would really mean a lot.

XYZ: Sure Vinay, no problems. Give me a few days and I will send one out.

Give them 1-2 days to write the recommendation. If they haven’t done it after 2 days, go into your LinkedIn account, into recommendations and send them a “request for recommendation” message. A default template will come up, just use that. If they still don’t do it after a few days, you will need to use your judgement to decide how much you will chase them. If they are a super busy important high value person, probably best to give them a significant amount of time. Like I said, use your judgement.

The “request for recommendation” message will stay highlighted in their account until they action it. I have had recommendations come through months after I sent the message, so it really is a case by case basis.

So I have recommendations, now what?

Recommendations are the most powerful tool LinkedIn has to offer if you chose to use your profile for sales pitches or as your central web profile. One you have obtained recommendations from respectable people, your profile becomes a powerful tool to give people a positive first impression of you. This is useful for job interviews, sales pitches basically any-time you meet a stranger you want to get something out of.

As an example, I recently applied and was accepted to attend TEDxBKK. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend due to a last minute schedule change, but in the application process they asked for an online profile that would teach them something more about me. This was before I had my blog up and running so I used my LinkedIn profile. I’m almost certain this is what got me the invite to the oversubscribed event.

So what are you waiting for? Recommend me for my recommendation to get recommendations!

Categories
Technology

Why LinkedIn is Awesome and you Need an Account Today!

It only takes one person to change your life.

Plenty of people dont see the value of LinkedIn. They Say its crap and they never use it because they cant post photos of last weekends dress up party where they attended as a “tranny in custody”.

LinkedIn has many benefits, and yes, it’s true it may be more useful for certain professions such as sales, recruitment and entrepreneurs. But there is one undeniable benefit that should make it mandatory for everyone with even a smidgen of ambition: Networking.

I know that sounds dumb. After all it’s a networking tool. But many – especially 20 something’s – don’t see the potential.

Think of LinkedIn like a retirement fund. The earlier you start the more valuable it becomes.

Take a hypothetical case study:

You’re 21 and in your first job. In your department, there are 15 people you interact with on a regular basis.

You open your account and connect with those 15 people.

Legend:

  • Blue men = Connections
  • Red man = You

During your time at this company (average 2-5 years) the people you work with start to move on to different companies – presumably in a similar industry. After a few years, your network will look like this:

Now you have contacts in 8 different companies (including yours) that you can use as referees, for market information or to help you get a job in their new company (more on how to use your connections in the future).

Pre-LinkedIn you may have stayed in touch with a few colleagues, but inevitably some would drop off your radar and become unreachable.

After 4-5 years you decide to move on.

You take a job at Company I and start working with 15 shiny new colleagues who join your network.

As the years move on these people leave and join new companies. While that is happening, colleagues from Company A are still moving about.

Suddenly, you have contacts in 17 companies. Remember, these are people you have worked with and know on a personal level. Even if you don’t speak with them for a couple of years, it’s easy to reinitiate contact. You will have their email and the company they work for. You can easily call reception and get transferred.

Trying to track all these people without LinkedIn is starting to become difficult, even for the most socially proficient individuals.

Then, as time moves on, you take your third job.

Another 15 shiny new connections join your network.

During this time, your previous colleagues continue to move in their careers, taking promotions and joining companies you may have never heard of.

Here’s where it becomes messy.

Are you really going to bother to track movements of all of your past colleagues? I know I wouldn’t, even with the knowledge I have. LinkedIn does it all for you.

The best part? Using it in a simplistic capacity like this is about 5 hours per year of work.

Adding new colleagues to your network and updating your profile with promotions and job changes. That’s all. 5 hours per year for a lifetime network. You’d be a fool not to…

Now consider adding your friends, peers from university, 50 colleagues per company and you change companies every 3 years for 30 years.

The numbers start to inflate. People change countries and industries. You build yourself a global network. Happy days.

Remember, just because you are not ‘using’ it doesn’t mean it’s not valuable and the longer you wait, the more likely those early connections will slip through the cracks.

So what are you waiting for? Join today! And while you’re at it, add me as a connection.

http://www.abstract-living.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/1.jpg