There are numerous blog posts out there on effective email communication and I can’t pretend that mine will be groundbreaking or earth-shattering.
I simply feel compelled to express confusion at the people who don’t follow simple “best practices” and do my best to offer up a few tips on how to write great emails that may help you to up your email communication game.
I’m not perfect by any means. I’m sure I’ve fired off multiple poorly written emails during a time crunch although that’s not even a good excuse to skip over basic email communication practices.
Developing great email (and communication) habits are a must for anyone trying to break into the world of working remotely and it’s a good skill to have in general.
This article is written from a client perspective as I write mainly about freelancing but these tips for how to write great emails will come in handy no matter what workplace situation you’re in.
The key thing to keep in mind with all email communication
Whether you are talking to clients or a boss, instead of consuming numerous tips and tricks around the topic of email communication, I’ve found it’s best to simply try to keep one thing in mind.
How can I make this as easy as possible for my client and get all the information I need?
I try to do this in one fell swoop while taking into account that there are going to be some situations that require a lot of back and forth.
That can happen at times, but I like to try and get as much as information as I can the first time. An effective email message will be clear, to the point, and clearly lay out what you need from the other person.
I’ll get more into how I structure all of my email communication later but first I want to talk a little bit about how to think about talking to clients (or a boss or whoever else you email with a lot).
Use a hierarchy of importance when talking to clients
There is an “importance structure” or hierarchy in every interaction, both in an office and remotely, or at least to my mind there is. The same extends to email communication and how you structure things to ensure that the busy people on the other end of your emails feel you’re valuing their time.
My clients value me and treat me as an important asset to their business (or I don’t work with them anymore and go find new clients). Yes, I’m a business owner myself as a freelancer, but in the hierarchy levels, I structure my email communication with them more like I would a boss in a more formalized 9 – 5.
What I mean by that is I treat them as important, value their busy schedules, and realize that they are the key “approver” in many situations. They have the final say.
To show deference to their importance, I structure my email communication to make their life as easy as possible! This in turn makes my life a lot easier in the long run.
Basically, think of it this way. If you want or need something from the other person they are more important. You should be the one structuring everything from a standpoint of “I know you’re busy so I’ve done all the work for you.”
If the other person needs or wants something from you then they should be structuring all of their email communication to make things easy for you!
Teach those who report to you to use the hierarchy also
Now that I’ve gained a lot more responsibility and begun working with numerous people across my clients’ companies, I find myself as the decision-maker for a huge number of email communications on a daily and weekly basis.
In this position, I see myself as the boss, if that makes sense. Not as in, I’m twirling my mustache and thinking of ways to load you down with paperwork on Friday night right as you were heading to happy hour (isn’t that all bosses do?), but as in, I am the more important person in the dynamic.
That is simply because the person emailing me wants or needs something from me, so, therefore, in my mind, they should set up all email communication so that it’s as easy as possible for me to say yes!
It is unbelievable how many people don’t do this.
As a busy person, if I have to re-read an email that’s valuable time wasted.
If after re-reading I’m still shaking my head going, “Wait … Who the F are you? And what do you want? I don’t even understand what you’re asking or why I would work with you?” you can bet that that email is going straight into the trash.
If you are in a position of having a lot of people under you email you, you will receive a lot of craps in the beginning. But you can teach them to get better and it often doesn’t take long.
Link them to this post! Seriously. I’ve often shot new people who will be reporting to me a quick message along the lines of, “Hey, check out this post on email communication, it’ll give you an idea of how I like to be communicated with and what you’ll receive from me.”
A quick message like that upfront keeps you from being on the receiving end of lots of poor s over the coming months.
This also lets people know that you’re not being super brusque in your straight to the point, even blunt email communication. They know you’re just focused.
Great email communication (or lack thereof) will make or break opportunities for you
It’s important that you realize that having terrible email communication can ruin some opportunities for you. Let’s take a look at the dreaded email chain person. I. Can’t Stand. These. People.
In communication with one lady, our back and forth emails climbed to 46 and counting (at the time of this writing we still had to exchange more to get the job done 🤦♀️).
I’ll be 100% honest, if it was up to me alone (but this was for a client), I’d have broken off contact before email 10 and decided she simply wasn’t a good fit for us.
I have found that people who do not use good email communication typically don’t read or follow instructions, invoice on time, stay organized, nor show up for meetings.
That has proven true time and time again. In the case of the chain above, I would email her asking for three things and she would send back one. This made me have to email again following up on the other two. This happened over and over!
Emailing back to follow up on items is something that Party A (the party with the credit card/person in charge) should never have to do! Party B (the person who wants to get paid/person who wants or needs something) should make Party A’s life as easy as possible so Party A will want to work with them again/keep working with them.
So how do you not be a shitty Party B?
Just remember to think “How can I make this as easy as possible for my client/boss AND get all the information I need?”
I know you’re busy …
It’s important to remember that the people working above you are extremely busy people. When I started working with one of my first clients I quickly realized that any “busy” I’d ever known was paltry compared to everything he had on his plate.
How do I know? He gave me access to his calendars and my mind was blown. I then got delegate access to his email and my mind was blown further! It was a wonder he ever responded to anything I needed.
From then on I decided to make all of our communications as short and sweet as possible and vowed to try and make each of our conversations a maximum of four emails, two on each side. I’m happy to say that most times we simply have two. I write to him with what I need and he responds. Done and done.
How to write great emails: 3 simple steps
1) What’s the purpose of your email communication?
Know exactly the outcome you want to achieve and structure everything in your email communication in a way that makes it easy for the person to scan, process, and respond.
Do they need to approve something, sign something, buy something, etc.
Have a super-clear focus for what you need out of the email message.
2) This is not the time for open-ended questions
I try to structure almost every ask so that it can be answered with: yes, no, approved, or do this instead.
When a client opens my email I want them to know that they will just need to scan my requests and can then shoot over a quick reply.
I credit this with often getting replies in under an hour while other people’s emails sit unanswered for days. (I know, I see them sitting in my clients’ inboxes.) Sometimes they sit in mine because I. Just. Can’t. Deal.
I also get quick responses by often using numbers to list items out. That way, the recipient can use those same numbers in reply.
I get a lot of emails back that look like this:
And I love it. I don’t have to read a lot or ask for clarification, because I did the work of structuring the email communication clearly upfront.
I often start the line items with YES | NO to make it even easier for them to see exactly the answer I need. Most people can provide a yes, no on the spot when the ask is succinct and well thought out. If not, they just let me know they need more time to think about it.
Keeping things structured in this way is a key part of how to write great emails.
3) Include the possible variations that you can think of and provide easy instructions for them so they can still answer clearly and quickly
Imagine this scenario:
Hi Bob, I just noticed we’re running low on handouts that we used at our last conference in Los Angeles. Am I OK’ed to order more?
Yep, go for it.
OK, so after I sent you that I realized that we’ve been talking about making some logo changes. We don’t have time to decide on something that big before the conference. Did you want to use the same ones we did last time or just go with a text logo version? Also, use the same CC as the last purchase?
Good point. Text logo is fine.
I edited the previous design to make that work. Please take a look and let me know what you think.
Looks good. Thanks
Same credit card as last time OK?
That might not seem like we said a lot; the emails are pretty short to be sure, but that type of email communication exchange drives me up the wall!
It’s completely unnecessary and makes me wish I worked outdoors with my hands and had never heard of email! Here’s how I would actually do that same exchange …
Hi Bob, I just noticed we’re running low on handouts that we used at our last conference in Los Angeles.
1) OK to order more?
2) If Yes, should I use the same CC you had me use last time?
3) We’ve been talking about making some logo changes but nothing has been decided. Did you want to use the same handouts we used last time with current logo or just go with a text logo version?
NOTE: Option 1 attached is the old version we used. Option 2 is a quick mockup I created using our text logo.
2) Same CC
3) Option 2
This makes my heart happy! Instead of a bunch of email communication back and forth, a little upfront crafting of the email means we’re all done.
Sure, they may say go with Option 1, and then technically I would have wasted the time creating Option 2.
But as you work with clients you get a feel for what they are likely to do and it’s highly doubtful the time is truly wasted.
It took 5 minutes and I can easily envision a scenario where we are working with a consultant to redo our brand design and they ask for some of the marketing materials we’ve used or considered in the past and presto! Who should jump up but Option 2?
Unfortunately, when I pause for two minutes to think of who regularly sends me great email communication like that … the answer is almost no one.
There aren’t a ton of people who have grasped this concept of making the recipient’s life easier, and thereby getting what you want. It’s mind-bogglingly simple and seems like it would be a no-brainer in the remote work circles I now run in but it isn’t.
Here’s the truth: email communication makes people cranky.
Except for way back before sexting when it was exciting to get a spicy email from the new hottie in your life, when have you ever wanted to open an email?
Now they’re like regular mail, they just represent bills, stress, and people who want something from you.
That’s why it’s so important to craft your email communication so that it feels like a breath of fresh air.
These great emails leave your recipient feeling good, even if they don’t realize it. And here’s the thing, they probably won’t. You will likely never get thanked for being such an awesome email communicator. In fact, this stealth email’s whole goal is to be so unobtrusive and the opposite of a bother that the client is unlikely to notice.
But here’s the thing, your emails will get a better response rate than just about anybody.
Subconsciously as your clients skim their overflowing inbox and see, name, name, name, name, YOUR NAME, name, name, they’ll be more likely to click on yours.
Why? Because they know yours will be easy!
If you were scanning through your mail and saw bill, bill, bill, bill, blue envelope with your name handwritten on the front, bill, bill, which would you open first?
(I’m sorry to say but the blue envelope is a fake-out. It’s totally a sneaky piece of junk mail from your local Toyota dealer advertising insanely low rates but hey, they got you to open it first didn’t they?)
Did you find this post on effective email communication useful? If so, reach out and say hi on Instagram! I love chatting with readers there. And please trust me when I say that if you can learn how to write great emails like this your clients will love you forever!
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