The age of the long essay is over.
The age of quick, effective communication – for better or worse – is upon us.
Email grew out of snail mail but has evolved into a new beast.
It now has less to do with traditional mail and far more to do with Facebook, Skype, text, Instagram and all those lightning quick flicks of the finger that speed us across various apps and services on our smartphones.
Think about it. How do you check your emails? Chances are you’re not sitting at a desk. Chances are you’re driving (oh, admit it), or channel or web-surfing or both. You might be on a date, in bed with your partner, chowing down some Panda Express or pumping away on the LifeCycle at the gym.
Email? Text? Facebook message? It doesn’t make a difference.
It’s all just communication and it comes in fast and furious.
Which can be enormously painful and frustrating to you, especially when you have something important to say or ask.
You want people to pay attention to your message. You want them to answer you. You want them to prioritize you. You want them to find you likeable. Your job may be on the line, or your income, or your home or your relationship.
And yet, you might be waiting, biting your nails, hoping for a reply that takes days to come, or worse, it never comes at all.
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Sending emails that get no response can not only be devastating to your personal and professional plans – it can also be humiliating. You might wonder if that person doesn’t like you – when in fact, it might simply be that the way you wrote your email feels like a burden to them and has put them off, one way or another.
So let’s a moment and learn the secrets of creating a powerful, effective email that gets your desired response quickly and decisively.
1. Start With a Clear Outcome in Mind
Everyone important is busy (although not everyone who is busy is important)!
So if you are going to contact someone and make a request of some sort, start with the “keep the end in mind rule” and know exactly the action you would like them to make before you write your email.
Steven Covey made this rule famous in his great work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. If you are unsure of what you want, the reader is likely to be left confused as well (1).
To do this right, borrow the most effective trick of infomercials, which is the “call to action” and decide on what that is before you begin…
You’ve heard it a thousand times: “Call now, while supplies last.” Or “pick up your phone and call now…”
So decide before you start what you’d like your reader to do. Would you like a simple yes or no? Then the whole email should carve a bee-line to that action.
Do you want them to send you something by return email? Say it. Would you like them to attach it? Give them a Dropbox link to make it easy. Do you want to set an appointment? Offer the ease of a ScheduleOnce.com link or something similar – or ask them to send you their scheduling software link.
Start with your desired action – then work backwards.
Now, let’s look at where to begin…
2. Make Your Header Count
Just as the opening scene of a movie establishes the tone and theme of the whole film, so should your header grab attention and rivet it so that the reader has to know what’s next. Here are some that have worked well for me…
About last night…
There’s something I forgot to tell you…
You said something that really stayed with me…
She picked her teeth with what?
The purpose of an email header is to get the recipient to go ahead and open the email and read it (2).
Leave the thought unfinished. Be suggestive. Provoke them. Intrigue them.
Rule of thumb? Don’t be boring.
3. Open with a (very short) human touch
People are busy, but people are also emotionally grounded in their connections.
David Rockefeller, the wealthiest banker on Earth, used to travel with a gigantic rolodex the size of a clothes dresser filled with details of everyone he’d ever met.
He’d know birthdays, life events, what their kids were doing, who got sick – everything.
And would open every meeting with a personal question or comment or touch…
With the help of Facebook and social media, you can keep up on the people with whom you want to do business. Open your email with a quick, personal line…
“Hope this finds you thriving…”
I saw your trip to Hawaii on Facebook – your kids look so happy”
“Love the updated website – powerful choice of images!”
That small personal touch makes the reader feel more personally connected to you and more likely to respond.
If you have no previous connection – use the name of the person who connected you.
4. Cut to the Chase
After only a single line of personal connection, get right to the point. Don’t go into a story about yourself or something off point (3).
Introduce your subject by focusing on their interest and their benefit and their good…
“I’m writing to you because I know you are always looking for the best marketing systems…”
“I’m writing you because I remember that you said you were looking for a second stream of income…”
5. Then Keep Them Tuned into wwi.fm
It’s often said that people listen to one radio station round the clock – What’s In It For Me, or wiifm.
If you are offering or pitching something – keep them focused on the simple, clear benefits of what you’re offering or requesting – and not on promoting or marketing yourself.
First things first.
For example, when people ask me to mail dating advice or fitness offers to my sizeable email list, what I want to hear is (1) How do I know the advice is quality, so who recommends it among the people I respect, and (2) Does it convert well by email, because otherwise, there’s no point in me promoting it.
People want to know what’s in it for them and want to hear the benefits fast and furious. Give hard numbers to back up your enthusiasm.
Remember, they aren’t inclined to join your fan club till after they understand and accept the value you offer.
6. Make Every Word Count
I’ve been a short story writer and I’ve been a successful film writer. And as every film writer knows, there is a crucial difference…
Fiction is an art. You can take all the time you want to mull over a strawberry, a lover’s lips, the purpose of life and the universe.
But film writing is a craft, just like a potter’s or a carpenter’s. Everything serves a necessary function. Because of the expense and tradition of film, anything that does not serve the story line is edited out before shooting – even though those may be the loveliest touches.
The rule is: does X, Y or Z move the story forward?
Use the same rule for your emails. Does every word move your purpose forward – does it “count” in getting the reader to your “end in mind”?
Avoid getting into “stories” that may be interesting to you, but take your reader off the point – meaning, away from the specific action you want them to take.
7. Ask Yourself: wwtd? What Would a Texter Do?
I remember when my kids stopped picking up their phone when I phoned them, and they just texted me back with, “Zup?”
They weren’t being rude, they were of the times.
Most of us check our emails on our phones along with texts and Facebook messages and don’t want to type back lengthy responses. In fact, like many people, I don’t type at all – I speak back my responses.
So if you can make it easy for your reader to answer you with a quick, simple response, you’re more likely to get that response.
8. Write Conversationally…
The days of high diction, of ten-dollar words and complex grammar are over.
Because of the speed at which we burn through emails and other electronic communications, anything that stops the flow of the eye stops interest.
You don’t query or inquire, as you might have 30 years ago, you “ask”.
You don’t seek a time that is “mutually advantageous” – you “find a time when we’re both free”.
Contracts are still formal.
But with the peeping-tom flavor of the selfie culture, where our lives are private shared with millions, we expect each other to be more natural, comfortable and transparent.
Without making assumptions about your reader or using street language, be informal and conversational, as if you were talking over a sandwich, sitting in the park.
9. No Screaming
No one likes to be yelled at – and as most people realize by now, capital bolded words are like yelling.
Sure, you can use an occasional bold or capped word when needed for unusual emphasis, but avoid capping whole phrases or more than one or two words per email.
Use easy to read font in a standard size and black.
Similarly use uniform spacing – otherwise distracting.
10. Make All Actions Easy For the Reader
Not only should you make responding to you easy for the reader, make everything easy.
If you refer to something online where they really have to go and see something – include the link right there in the text.
If you refer to a person or an image or a piece of real estate, for example, something you want them to remember to visualize – include a photo that is fully displayed right there in the email. Don’t make them click out.
Also make reading easy by using bullet points when
possible or by keeping paragraphs to 3 lines, tops.
11. Make a Clean Ask
As we said in the beginning of this article, end with a very clear Call to Action…
People tend to take an action when they are told to do so directly!
So end your brief email with a clear call to action such as…
“Thank you for replying today. A simple “yes” and we’ll shoot out the packet by morning. If “no” not a problem, and we’ll catch up soon”.
“Thanks for considering my proposal. If you’d like to talk further, just hit this link – and it will schedule a brief call for us automatically”.
“If this idea sounds good to you, must shoot me back an estimate of how many hours it will take to complete – such as 5-10 hours, 10-15 hours or 15-20 hours – and I’ll give you a call at noon sharp tomorrow so we can get started”.
When it comes to your Call to Action, specificity is your friend. Vagueness is your enemy.
Separate your request into a separate paragraph at the end so they can see that there is a specific request that they can quickly respond to.
12. Don’t Forget The P.S.
Finally, if appropriate – you are free to add a personal note in the P.S. It provides that extra layer of personal warmth.
“When this is all over, let’s grab a drink together and just catch up.”
In the end, any communication is from a person who has a whole life, full of love and pain and hope and joy to another person who has a whole life full of all those same things.
So wrapping up your short email with a personal end-note not only creates warmth and connection, and makes this world a more humane place, it also makes your reader more likely to answer you. Because you answer your friends.
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Tips For Writing Effective Emails
- Start with a clear outcome in mind
- Make Your Header Count
- Open with a (very short) human touch
- Cut to the chase
- Then keep them tuned into wwi.fm
- Make every word count
- Ask yourself: wwtd? What would a texter do?
- Write conversationally…
- No screaming
- Make all actions easy for the reader
- Make a clean ask
- Don’t forget the P.S.