Business Email Etiquette Basics
Professionals communicate professionally regardless of the mode of communication. If you are a consummate professional, you know that putting your best foot forward with every touch is just what you do.
When it comes to your business email communications, you need to make an impression that can prove that you are a credible professional enterprise. In addition, you want to be viewed as a partner who will make communications easy and a pleasure to do business with.
You have only one chance to make a first impression invaluable to building trust and confidence. So how do you do that? Read on.
The Business Email Etiquette Basics You Need to Know
Here are the critical Business Email Etiquette issues that should apply to every commercial email. These are the issues business owners, their employees, and Netrepreneurs need to be aware of in their day-to-day online communications to ensure the best possible results.
Professional Behavior on the Job
Using your email, company email address, or employer’s technology is a serious issue many underestimate. However, part of your job performance responsibilities is not to waste valuable business time on distractions.
For example, you send non-business-related emails, jokes, forwards, or commentary on company time. Doing these things reflects a lack of professionalism.
Or visiting websites that are not necessary to your job responsibilities will reflect a lack of respect for your employer. While on company time, do not assume you have any privacy when using company resources and equipment.
The Subject Field
The Subject field is the window into your email. What you type in this field can determine if the recipient will open your email. For example, based on a request through your site or otherwise, new contacts want to be recognized as important and worthy of your time to respond to their demands.
Visual judgments are made when we scan our inboxes. I bet you do it too. Craft a relevant Subject: field to help avoid being misidentified as spam. A short Subject that clearly indicates that your email is a response to their inquiry.
Typos, all caps, or all small case can lend to an unprofessional impression. Or that you may be a spammer.
Level of Formality
Avoid the prevailing assumption that email, by its very nature, allows you to be informal in your business email communications. Only time and relationship-building efforts will determine when you can offer a more relaxed tone in your business email.
PRO TIP: A good rule of thumb is to communicate at all times as if your email is on your company letterhead. This means black text and standard fonts. No acronyms, and typing total words and sentences as well. (For example, u vs. you.)
After all, this is your business image you are branding.
Initially, address new contacts with the highest level of courtesy: Hello, Mr. Anderson, Dear Ms. Jones, Dr. Osborne, etc. At some point, they may very well comment, “call me Andy” or “you can call me Diane.”
You also will be able to pick up clues as to when you can have a more relaxed tone. Again, this is easy to do by noting how contacts approach you and how they sign off.
Most business people do not mind being called by their first name. However, in a global economy, that can be perceived as taking premature liberties in the relationship if used too soon.
To:, From:, BCc, Cc Fields
In the To: field, type your contact’s formal name. John B. Doe – not john b doe or JOHN B DOE. Use proper case and punctuation.
In the From: field, note your full name formally typed. Example: Jane A. Jones. Not: jane a jones or JANE A JONES. The latter two give the perception of a lack of education or limited experience with technology.
BCc: use this field when emailing a group of contacts who do not personally know each other. It is considered a breach of privacy to list an arm’s length list of email addresses in the Cc or TO fields of contacts who do not know each other or have never met. When you do this, it is conducive to publishing their email address to strangers.
When forging partnerships, visibly listing an email address with a group of strangers is a subtle indication that the sender is unaware or concerned about privacy issues. What other privacy issues do you not respect or understand?
Cc: use this field when a handful of contacts are involved in a discussion. They all need to be on the same page.
These contacts know each other or have been introduced. Therefore, they will have no problem exposing their email addresses to the parties involved.
Suppose you are not sure if a business associate would mind their address being made public, don’t. Contact information is an important commodity. One you want to make clear you will value and respect.
Reply to All
Use this button with great discretion. Carefully consider whether “all” really need to be aware of your reply to conduct business.
Never use this button to CYA or e-Tattle on a coworker or colleague. This approach only serves to have you appear petty. Not a good look.
Refrain from using formatting in your day-to-day business email communications. For example, don’t do it when emailing for commercial gain unless you would type something in bold crimson letters on business letterhead.
Less is more in this case. You want your message to get across without distracting formatting or unnecessary embedded images. All of which can increase your potential spam score.
Even something as simple as using a different font could make your emails more challenging to read. Did you know if the other side doesn’t have that particular font you designated for email on their system, it defaults to their system’s font?
This is why it is a good idea to stick with your email software’s provided default font. Those font selections are based on what is universal and user-friendly.
To display that you understand technology is part of forming an online business partnership. For example, a misstep such as sending a 10M PowerPoint presentation that your contact didn’t request. What if you fill up their inbox? What about their data resources?
If they do not have PowerPoint, they probably won’t be able to open the file. It is wise not to assume your potential customers have the software or data allowance that you do. Ask first to confirm.
When emailing a file (or combination of files) over 500,000K in size, use a zip or compression utility to minimize the download size. It’s straightforward to do.
Want to make an impression? Reflect uncommon business courtesy by asking first before sending large files. You can also confirm they have the same software and version you do at that time.
Then, ask what the best time of day to send the file(s) is. And then follow through.
The last thing you want to do is send large attachments without warning, on weekends or after business hours. Unless, of course, you arranged to do so in advance.
Using Previous Email for New Correspondence
To provide the perception of laziness, find a previous email from your contact and hit reply. Then proceed to communicate about something utterly irrelevant to the old email’s subject.
You always want to start a new email for a new subject. Get in the habit of adding your contacts to your address book so you can create a new email with one click.
PRO TIP: When ongoing conversations change direction, change the Subject field to reflect the new topic focus.
Down Edit Your Replies
Avoid hitting reply and then start typing. This is referred to as top-posting. We want to down-edit.
Down-editing is a skill those you communicate with will appreciate. It lends clarity to your communications while showing you respect for their time.
You remove clutter by deleting parts of the previous email that no longer apply to your response (including email headers and signature files). In addition, Down-editing allows you to reply point by point, which keeps the conversation on track with fewer misunderstandings.
Hello, Hi, Good Day, Thank You, Sincerely, Best Regards. The intros and sign-offs that are a staple of professional business communications should also be integrated into your business email communications. Not doing so could have your messages be misinterpreted as demanding or terse.
Always include a salutation and sign-off that displays your name with every email. Here again, think business letterhead.
Courtesy also mandates that you make an effort to communicate as an educated adult. Type in complete sentences with proper sentence structure. Not all caps, not all small case.
Proper capitalization and punctuation are a must so that you appear to be an educated professional. All caps or small case smacks of either lack of education, tech/business savvy — or laziness.
None of which is positive for instilling confidence. Or encourages others to want to do business with you.
Keep your signature files short and sweet. No more than 5-6 lines. We don’t want to be viewed as egocentric. Therefore, limit your signature to your name, website link, company name, slogan/offer, or phone number.
That’s why you include a link to your website. The recipient can get all your contact information from A-Z there. That is what your website is for.
PRO TIP: Include the “HTTPS://” when typing your Website address within emails and your signature file. This ensures the URL is recognized as clickable regardless of the user’s software or platform.
You should do your best to respond to your business communications as quickly as possible. However, do not underestimate this vital customer service touchpoint.
By not responding promptly, you seem unorganized or unconcerned. Worse, you risk being outperformed by your competitors who understand the importance of appearing efficient and on the ball.
Rise Above the Majority
These fundamental issues will undoubtedly allow your business communications to rise above the majority who do not take the time to understand and master these topics.
While texting isn’t email, I have an article for you to review since more and more business folks use texting in their business communications.
READ: Business Texting Etiquette: 10 Tips for Professionals
When forging new business relationships and solidifying established partnerships, the level of professionalism and courtesy you relay in your business email communications will always gain clients. Especially when compared to your competition, that may be anemic, uninformed, or just plain lazy in this area.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out my eBook on Business Email Etiquette & Proper Technology Use for the full scoop to have on hand to reference as needed. eBook sales go directly to supporting this website.
Regardless of the mode of communication used, professionalism and courtesy never go out of style when it comes to business. Instead, it goes to your bottom line.