email communication

Avoid the Spam Folder: Make a Proper First Impression When Using Email to Communicate with Clients and Prospective Employers

Email is used every day to communicate with friends, family, colleagues, and clients/customers.

Spam Folder Image

Unfortunately, every day, email users make mistakes that family and friends may overlook or excuse but customers, clients and colleagues may take exception to the fact that you didn't put the effort into the content you are sending them.

Here is a quick list of important email etiquette to review before sending emails to people who may hire you, pay you or refer you:

1. Use the From Field Appropriately

When I open my Inbox to see what new emails are waiting for me, the first thing I see is who sent me an email and then, I look to see what the email is about (subject line is discussed next). The From field is supposed to clearly identify who sent the email. It is one of your first impressions, especially if you are cold emailing.
Your From field should show your first and last name, or company name, written in a proper format using correct spelling and grammar.
For example: my From field contains the words 'wordstock documents' with 'wordstock' inputted in the First Name section and 'documents' inputted in the Last Name section.
If you are applying for an employment position, I should see the same first and last names in your From field as written on your resume/cover letter.
For example: if Sheila White is applying for a job, I should see the name Sheila White in the From field, as well as written at the top of her resume/cover letter.
I should NOT see in the From field:
- SHEILA WHITE (all caps represents yelling and laziness)
- S WHITE or S White (unclear who is sending the email)
- Sheila & Steve (unprofessional - a lot of couples combine their names when using their personal email; I recommend creating a new email address when job searching and/or contacting clients for your business)

2. Write a Clear and Concise Subject Line

Take a minute to tell your reader what the content of your email contains. Your Subject Line should contain a few words/phrases only; leave the majority of your content to the body of your email.
For example: Pete's Automotive - Brake Quote Requested OR Follow-up from Last Week's Chamber Meeting. Both of these examples are brief but detailed enough to know when I click on the email, what the body content should include. 
For job seekers, I encourage clearly identifying what position you are applying for in the Subject Line. For example: Application for Full-Time Office Administrator Position (ID #5698740). Double-check the job posting before sending; sometimes it will outline what content the employer wants you to include in the Subject Line.
The Subject Line also helps me to identify the level of urgency for an email. Do I have to open it now or can I take a look at it later today?
Remember, the Spellcheck or Spelling and Grammar tool in email programs does not typically apply to the content in the Subject Line. Ensure you use proper spelling, spacing, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc.
Finally, leaving your Subject Line blank or with content such as Fwd: or RE: will typically land your email in the receiver's Spam/Junk folder. Without appropriate identification and details, the recipient may overlook your email or simply delete it.

3. Clearly Address the Person You are Contacting

By addressing a person by name, it creates a connection and starts to build a relationship. Regardless of why you are emailing, be respectful and address each person appropriately based on the type of interaction.
For example, if you are applying for an employment position and have never met the hiring manager, I recommend keeping it objective and professional:
Mr. Smith or Ms. Smith or Angela Smith
It can be off-putting for some people to receive a job application directed to just Angela when you have never met this person before. 

Using To Whom It May Concern or Dear Sir/Madam means that you didn't take the time to do a little research. By taking a few minutes to identify the right person that you are sending an email to goes a long way. Go onto a company's web site, search through the directory, call the company, etc. It can help you stand apart from another applicant.

When networking, it is easy to ask a person for a business card. You have their name and contact details, so use them.
When following up, it is assumed you have personally interacted with them; so in this situation, you can direct the email to the person using their first name, if you choose.

4. Remind the Reader of How You Met/Know Each Other (if applicable)

The title says it all. Use the first few lines to remind or re-engage with the reader:
Hi Angela,
My name is Jodi and I own a local company called wordstock. We recently met at last week's Chamber meeting, and I am just following up from our conversation about your bookkeeper.

If this is a first introduction or cold email, you need to introduce yourself and explain why you are contacting them. Be clear and concise.

5. Be Mindful of the Content Length

Get to the point! Everyone is busy and everyone has multiple emails to go through in a day. 
I should be able to identify who you are and the purpose of your email without scrolling (general rule for smartphones).
Keep your email to two paragraphs (unless your reader is expecting a detailed and lengthy email).

6. Be Respectful of the Size of the Email

By sending multiple attachments, it increases the actual size of your email. All email programs have limits, even Google, and the size of your email can impact the actual length of time it takes to send your email, whether the recipient has enough available space to receive your email, and/or whether you have enough space to send your own email.
There is a difference between attaching and embedding documents and (especially) images. 
I personally recommend attaching vs. embedding because it keeps your email size smaller and allows the recipient to choose the option of downloading an attachment vs. being 'forced' to view it upon opening the email.

7. Include a Call to Action

As mentioned above, people receive multiple emails a day. If you don't tell me that I need to follow-up with you, I likely won't. 
By including a Call to Action, it can help communication continue between both parties. For example, tell your reader if you need a response by a certain day or explain how to sign-up for an event or at the least, how to contact you if they have any questions.

8. Create and Use an Appropriate Email Signature

Think about who you are contacting, why are you contacting them, and what email address you are using to send the email. Now, think about how you should end your email. Is it informal and only requires your first name - such as sending an email to you friend? Or are you applying for a job and should sign off with your full name? Or are you communicating with a potential client and should sign off with your name and business contact details?
Always remember your audience and identify what level of professionalism you need to include.
Also, remember that hiring managers and potential customers may not be impressed by you including a cute animated GIF or famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote at the end of your email.

9. Proofread and Edit Your Content Before Sending

Just because you are done writing the email does not mean you are ready to hit the 'Send' button. Take a few minutes and review your Subject Line and content.
Double-check for spelling and grammatical errors. Read the email content out loud.
If submitting a job application, did you follow the application guidelines? Did you attach your resume? Cover letter? Have you addressed the email to the correct email address?
If emailing a quote to a potential client, did you remember to attach the quote? Did you address the email to the right person?
Forgetting to include an attachment and sending an email to the wrong person are the top two mistakes that people make when emailing. These errors can be prevented by reviewing your content before sending. Don't rush!

10. Avoid Landing in the Spam Folder

You have one chance at sending an email and making a positive first impression. Follow the suggestions above and your email should avoid the Spam folder.
As a back-up, you can always follow-up with the recipient within 24 hours to ensure they received the email.
Please don't call within 15 minutes of sending your email. Technology can sometimes take longer than 15 minutes to process your email, plus the recipient may not be at their desk at the time that your email is sent. Be patient and respectful, BUT do make sure to follow-up!

Email is an important medium that we use to communicate multiple times a day. By identifying your audience and purpose of your email, you will be able to structure your email and include the appropriate content to fit each sender.

Good luck and happy writing!