How to email busy people

There are numerous blog posts out there on this topic 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 that may help you up your communication game.

I’m not perfect by any means. I’m sure I’ve fired off multiple poorly written emails during a time crunch — not that a crunch is a good excuse. Developing good 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.

Instead of consuming numerous tips and tricks I 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 be normal, but I like to try and get as much as I can done the first time.

There is an “importance structure” in every interaction, or at least to my mind there is. 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) so I tend to communicate with them 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 final say. With deference to their importance, I structure my communication to make their life as easy as possible!

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.

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 something from me, so therefore, in my mind, they should make it as easy as possible for me to say yes! 

It is unbelievable how many people don’t do this.

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.

The same goes for someone who hasn’t researched the company at all and is asking bad questions that show it. Or someone who is relatively “small potatoes” and asking an arm and a leg while providing little to no value in return. Or, worst of all, 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 (we still have to exchange more to get the job done 🤦‍♀️). I’ll be 100% honest, if it was up to me alone, I’d have broken off contact around email 10 and decided she simply wasn’t a good fit for us.

I have found that people who can’t communicate well 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 asking for 3 things and she would send back 1. This made me have to email again following up on the other two. This happened over and over! The saying is far overused but there is so much truth it simply begs to be used here, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

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 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? 

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 him with what I need, he responds.

Basic keys to getting this:

1) Figure out what you want 

Know exactly the outcome you want to achieve and structure everything in the email in a way that makes it easy for the person to scan, process, and respond.

2) This is not the time for open-ended questions

I try to structure almost every ask so that it can be answered with: yesnoapproved, 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 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 communicating up front. I clearly spelled out that these were items I needed. I typically 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.

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:

Me:

Hi Client A,

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?

Them:

Yep, go for it.

Me:

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 last purchase?

Them:

Good point. Text logo is fine.

Me:

I edited the previous design to make that work. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

Them:

Looks good. Thanks

Me:

Same credit card as last time OK?

Them:

Yes

That might not seem like we said a lot; the emails are pretty short to be sure, but that type of 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 …

Me:

Hi Client A,

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 so, 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 text logo.

Them:

1) Yes

2) Same CC

3) Option 2

This makes my heart happy! Instead of the back and forth, a little up front crafting of the email means no back and forth.

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 past and presto! Who should jump up but Option 2?

Unfortunately, when I pause for two minutes to think of who emails me like that … the answer is 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 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 its so important to craft emails that are a breath of fresh air. Emails that leave your recipient feeling special, 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 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. Subconsciously as they 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?

(Originally published on www.mashonward.com.)


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