When you own a business, you have to learn a variety of skills you probably didn’t anticipate. Perhaps one of the biggest things we have to learn is how to effectively communicate with people—and this becomes especially important when dealing with clients and customers.
One of the biggest forms of daily communication, regardless of what you do, is email. The advantage? You can take the time to refine what you write to be sure it captures what you really mean. (Oh, and also, no one can hear your screaming toddler in the background.) The problem? Emailing isn’t always the quick, simple way to communicate we want it to be.
Subtle shifts in wording and approach can make a significant difference, and knowing your own bad habits makes them easier to catch before you hit send. Here are a few of the biggest offenders in business emails, and how to ditch them so you can sound like the business-savvy momma you truly are.
Example: “I just wanted to see if you had a chance to review my proposal.”
You might not even notice you do this, but this is one I see all the time (and can be guilty of myself).
Using the word “just” is wimpy. It sounds like you’re making an excuse for following up, like you are actually afraid you are bothering someone. No, momma. Be more confident than that.
The fix: “Have you had a chance to review my proposal? Let me know if I can answer any questions.”
Now you’re being direct and helpful. You’re projecting an air of confidence that “just” doesn’t bring.
Pay attention to subject lines
One of the best things you can do for your clients is to give your emails a relevant subject line. This helps them determine its priority when they see it pop into their inbox. If they need to refer back to the email, it’s also a lot easier to find.
To create better subject lines:
- Keep things short
- Be specific
- Don’t use words like “IMPORTANT!” unless it’s really, truly that important
The fix: “Progress update: Week of 9.19”
That subject line is concise and clear. Imagine how much better that looks in your client's inbox.
Ditch slang + texting lingo
Example: “OMG, I totally meant to send this to you yesterday. Here you go.”
The exact degree of professionalism required in your job is dependent upon your industry and your brand. In most cases, when dealing with clients you want to avoid sounding like you’re chatting with your girlfriends over drinks. Yes, a conversational tone is fine, but that doesn't mean you can go completely casual. The appropriate language helps your clients to think of you as a professional.
This becomes especially important when you make a mistake—because eventually, you will. We all do. If you can handle it professionally, your clients are more likely to forgive you and move on.
The fix: “I’m so sorry that I didn’t send it yesterday. It’s attached here.”
Apologizing when you mess up? Totally appropriate. But promise me you'll follow this one:
Don’t apologize when you're not sorry
Example: “Sorry to bother you.”
The time to say sorry is when you are actually sorry. (And, sidenote, when you’re sorry, it’s better to pick up the phone than to send an email.) If you aren’t making an authentic apology, don’t say it. It’s hard to take your message seriously when you apologize for it, for yourself, or for any part of what you say. An apology makes you seem like a nuisance, even if you aren’t.
The compulsion to apologize is a bad habit us women have picked up, and it goes far beyond emails. I love Sloane Crosley’s New York Times op-ed on the subject, where she says:
“It’s not what we’re saying that’s the problem, it’s what we’re not saying. The sorrys are taking up airtime that should be used for making logical, declarative statements, expressing opinions and relaying accurate impressions of what we want.”
If you really struggle with this one, there’s a Gmail app that will catch the offenders for you. And—bonus—it also catches words like “just”. Once you catch this issue in your emails, pay attention to how often you apologize throughout your life—because chances are there’s no need for that, either.
The fix: Are you really sorry to bother the person? If you aren’t, skip the bogus apology and get right to the point. If you really have a concern that your email will be intrusive, say something like “I know your time is valuable” to acknowledge the interruption.
Re-read and edit
Take the extra minute to read each email before you hit send. You’ll find more than just typos- you’ll catch yourself being vague, realize you forgot to include an important point, and give yourself a chance to make a stellar impression.
Email isn’t always the quick-and-easy solution to client communication, but if you give it the attention it deserves, you’ll develop great habits that will help you build a strong business with happy, devoted clients.