T-shirts and Calculators: Email Etiquette for You and Your Small Business

T-shirts and Calculators: Email Etiquette for You and Your Small Business  by Susan Heidenreich

Don’t you love the Reply to All function on your email?  If it weren’t for that little button we would be copying and pasting and sending all day long.  But how much do you love it when twenty-eight people on an email ALL start replying to all?  Uh, no.  Simple guidelines on how to email effectively can save significant amounts your staff’s time, not to mention their sanity.  

There are some helpful tips that you can put into place in your start-up to get email communication moving in the right direction from the get-go.  First, make sure the recipient(s) of your email are correct.  Do you have the appropriate people listed on both the To: and the CC: line?  The To: line should be for recipients that will need to take action or respond to the email.  Conversely, the CC: line should be reserved for people who just need to be kept in the loop of the email contents, but don’t necessarily need to respond.  This is pretty basic, right?  But this is where the Reply to All mistake comes in.  You do not need to reply to all unless everyone on that email needs to take action, which is highly unlikely.  Use this question as a rule of thumb:  Would I pick up the phone and call every person included on this email to tell them this information, or just the sender?  

Next up is your subject line.  In an article from November 2016 in the Harvard Business Review entitled “How to Write Email with Military Precision”, Kabir Sehgal recommends using descriptive words to begin your subject line that gives the reader an indication of what the email is about.  He suggests using words like ACTION, REQUEST, INFO, SIGN and DECISION.  If you are sending your manager an email to ask for vacation time, your email subject line could read REQUEST: Vacation time.  An email with a weekly report that needs approval could have the subject line ACTION: Weekly Report Approval.  You get the idea.  Sehgal notes “These demarcations might seem obvious or needlessly exclamatory because they are capitalized.  But your emails will undoubtedly stand out in your recipient’s inbox, and they won’t have to work out the purpose of your email.”  He goes on to add that “It also forces you to think about what you really want from someone before you contribute to their inbox clutter.”

Last, there’s the actual body of the email.  The main point here is that short emails are more effective than long ones.  How many times have you opened an email to see paragraph after paragraph, then quickly closed the email, saying to yourself, “I’ll look at that one later”.  Consider using bullet points if you can.  Also, Sehgal recommends using the “BLUF” method.  BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front”.  If you need to add some description to your email, start with the bottom line first and then add other information or explanation in a paragraph below.  

So, there you have it…three simple tips to help your start-up get off on the right foot with email communication.