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.
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.
- How you got their details, call back and reason for email
- Body Topic 1
- Call to Action
- Body Topic 2
- Call to Action
- Body Topic n
- Call to Action
- Closing line
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,”
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!!!
- 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”.
The body should be broken into three parts.
- Call to Action
You need to repeat these three parts for every topic in your email.
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”
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.
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
Finish off with your signature. This will include some kind of a:
- Kind Regards
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.
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!