Using e-mail to communicate with companies

When it comes to communicating through e-mail, you need to make a positive and professional impression. Below are 10 tips for ensuring a positive impression.

  1. Subject field

    The text in your subject line can determine if your e-mail will be opened. If this is your first contact, be sure to have a short subject line that clearly states the topic of the email. Never be misleading. Typos, all caps or all lower case can give the impression the email is spam.

  2. Level of formality

    Never assume an informal position in a business e-mail. Only time and relationship-building efforts can be your guide regarding when you can be more informal in your writing style. Your e-mail shows the type of person you are and how you conduct business. What is the business image you are creating for yourself? Keep it businesslike and formal at the beginning of a relationship.

  3. Addressing contacts

    Address your new contacts with the highest level of courtesy: Hello, Mr. Smith, Dear Ms. Jones, Dr. Osborne, etc., until your new contact gives less formal direction, "call me Mike" or "you can call me Diane". Watch to pick up clues from your contacts' approach and tone. Most business people do not mind being called by their first name; but don't assume this is acceptable. Start with a more formal greeting.

  4. Using the right e-mail fields can make or break you

    • Send your e-mail from a more professional sounding e-mail address (meaning not something like cutiepie45@gmail.com).
    • Bcc: use this field when emailing a group of contacts who do not personally know each other. Placing a list of e-mail addresses in the "CC" or "TO" fields (who don't know each other), is publishing their email address to strangers. This is a privacy issue and may make them wonder what other privacy issues you may not respect or understand.
    • Cc: Use this field when there are a handful of people involved in a discussion that requires all be on the same page. These business people should know each other or have no problem with their e-mail address being published to the parties involved. If you are not sure if each person is willing to have their e-mail address made public, use the Bcc field or ask them.
  5. Formatting

    Use only one font in each e-mail. Use a standard font like Arial or Times New Roman to ensure your e-mails are readable. Remember that special formatting may not display the same for everyone.

  6. Attachments

    Do not send contacts a large PowerPoint presentation or other file that they didn't request. It will fill up their inbox and may cause subsequent business correspondence to bounce as undeliverable. And, if they don't have PowerPoint (or whatever software you used) they won't be able to open the file. If you need to send a large file, ask the recipient first, and confirm they have the appropriate software to open the attachment.

  7. Using old e-mails for new correspondence

    Don't give the perception of laziness by finding a previous e-mail from the contact and hitting reply and begin typing on a separate subject. Always start a new e-mail for a new subject.

  8. Edit your replies

    Don't just hit reply and start typing. Editing is a skill your recipients will appreciate as it reflects a respect for their time and clarity in your communications. Removing parts of previous e-mails that do not apply to your response including e-mail headers and signatures will remove clutter. In addition, make the effort to reply point by point to keep the conversation clear and on track.

  9. Common courtesy

    Hello, Hi, Thank You, Sincerely, Best Regards. All those intros and sign-offs that are a staple of professional business communications should also be used in your e-mail communications. Always use an opening greeting and sign off every e-mail professionally.

  10. Signature

    Keep your email signature to no more than 3-4 lines. Try to limit your signature to your name, email address and phone number.

    When beginning relationships, the level of professionalism and courtesy you relay in your e-mail communications will gain the competitive advantage. When it comes to business, regardless of mode of communication used, professionalism and courtesy never go out of style.

Additional tips and reminders on e-mail etiquette

  • Thoroughly re-read your e-mail before sending
  • Use spell check
  • Use appropriate grammar and punctuation
  • Don't use ALL CAPS
  • Ask permission before forwarding an email to others
  • Avoid use of acronyms in emails (i.e. ur for "your", BTW for "by the way")
  • Take the time to make sure you are proud of the messages you send
  • Don't type hastily — remember, never put anything into an e-mail that you don't want the world to know
  • Don't waste the recipient's time — make the message short and meaningful
  • Always edit out unnecessary information before responding
  • Always minimize, compress or "zip" large files before sending
  • Maintain professionalism
  • If in doubt, use a more formal approach