This is one of the topics I get contacted about most. How the heck do you address contacts you don’t know in a business e-mail?
The Simple Answer:
It all depends on your relationship and if or how well you know the person.
The Extended Version:
If you don’t know them at all or very well, always use the highest level of formality Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., etc. Especially in business, you do not want to get too informal too soon. Formalities are in place for a reason as they reflect courtesy and respect for the other side. Both of which are critical to forming long-term mutually respectful and beneficial business relationships. You certainly do not want to provide the impression that respect and courtesy are not something you find important, right?
You will be able to tell if the other side is ready for a more informal tone by how they sign off their response to your e-mail. Follow their lead and you’ll never go wrong!
A huge mistake I see made quite often is assuming how names are spelled. Using my experiences as an example, my name is misspelled when those who don’t know me that well proceed to address me as “Judy.” I even have clients who address me that way and do not even notice the correct spelling of my name in my reply. I’m not a Judy with a “y”.
For the most part, I’m “Judith” but with those who know me very well (family and friends), I sign off my e-mails with a “Judi.” If you knew me well enough to take the liberty of approaching me in a less formal manner — you would know that.
You also want to avoid the first name, last name trap. Some e-mail software applications/programs will insert names for you. When I get addressed as “Dear Judith Kallos”, I know there is an automated process involved and the message is in no way truly personalized to me. Nobody addresses you like that with your first name and last name!
If you don’t know the person you are contacting, your e-mail could be viewed as spam. Make sure that doesn’t happen!
How you address your e-mail contacts will create an initial impression, set a tone and level of formality for the rest of your communications that can lead to positive relationship building. Don’t ignore this opportunity to impress by making sure you are using the proper level of formality and spelling the recipient’s name correctly!