How to Use Email

From the Praxis blog.  Amusing note: when originally published, this post probably got more anger and disagreement than any I’ve written.

I don’t care how old-school it may seem to younger people, email remains the dominant form of communication in the business world.  It is absolutely essential that you understand and do it well.  Most young people don’t realize how often they shoot themselves in the foot with poor email use.

Here are ten tips to make you better…

1. Don’t have a ridiculous email address.

Any email address that ends in .edu (unless you’re a professor) or, or really almost anything other than Gmail is prone to make you look unprofessional.  Email addresses that use cutesy phrases or words that have nothing to do with your name are annoying. or @your own personal or company domain (only if that’s a company you want to be associated with longish term) are best, or the simplest variations thereof.

2. Check it often.

I don’t care how available you are on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever other social platform.  Email is used for business, so check it regularly.  Early in your career, when you need other people more than they need you, it should be checked multiple times a day.  No excuse suffices, not even the common, “My computer crashed”.  Get a new one.  Use a phone.

3. Respond ASAP.

There is no such thing as too quick of a reply to an email.  Again, when you’re at the point in your career when you need people more than they need you it is especially important to respond quickly.  If you’re truly swamped or travelling to a remote jungle with no cell signal or WiFi, email back immediately letting people know when you’ll respond in detail.  Silence is deadly and signals you’re not trustworthy or reliable to get stuff done. Some may disagree, but I think within 24 hours is the target, certainly no more than 48.

4. Don’t use other methods unless you have to.

Never reach out to someone via Facebook message, Tweet, LinkedIn, or other platforms unless you want them to treat it as not that important.  It may be fine for social communiques with your friends, but for business, email people.  The exception is if you have no email address for them.  In this case, it’s fair game but always offer your email address and give them the option to switch the conversation over to email.

5. Don’t call about anything that can be handled over email.

One of the most annoying things in the world for busy business-people is the unnecessary phone call.  If you have a simple question, or a list of ideas, or anything that can be handled via email, use email.  Emails may reveal the need for a phone call to discuss further, but then you can exchange preferred numbers and schedule something.  There are few things worse than an unexpected call from an unrecognized number about something email could have handled.  One of the things that’s worse, however, is getting a text or an email that says, “Hey, can you call me?” only to get on the phone and realize it is a simple question that could have been included in the email.

The only exception to this rule is for people who obviously prefer phone or another method.  Always assume email, but if you email someone two or three times, and each time they respond by calling, texting, or Skyping, try that method first the next time around.  But again, email should be the first and default.

6. Know when to CC.

When someone effects an email introduction between you and another party, CC them in your initial response.  They need to know the loop was closed and the connection made.  They risked social capital on you, so put them at ease that you did your part.  The exception is if they explicitly say something like, “You can take it from here, no need to loop me in.”  In this case, they probably mean they don’t want to be CC’d on a long chain of back and forth with you and your new contact, BUT, they should definitely be informed that you did in fact follow up.  BCC or a separate email to them saying thanks and the connection has been made is in order.

7. Don’t make more than one ask.

Don’t email someone to introduce yourself or your idea for the first time and then ask if they’d be interested in speaking at your event, forwarding an attachment to their friends, talking on the phone, doing a guest blog post, and being part of a brainstorm session all in one email.  They’ll be irritated and are less likely to do any of them.  Boil it down to one ask. If communication is well established, multi-purpose emails may be acceptable, but use with caution.

8. Get to the point.

Easy on the paragraphs, bullet points, attachments, and verbiage.  Avoid special formatting.

9. Follow the lead.

If your correspondent is using shorthand, no salutation, colloquialisms, GIFs, lols or other informal techniques, it’s probably OK for you to do the same.  Never start out this way though, even if writing from a mobile device.  Assume the need for proper punctuation, capitalization, full sentences and good grammar unless it becomes an established norm with your interlocutor.

10. Don’t ask people to email a different address unless absolutely necessary.

This means it’s important to use the email address you want to people to send to when you put contact info on profiles, resumes, business cards and applications.  It will drive people mad to respond to an applicant via the email address listed and get, “Sorry it took me so long to respond, I never check this account.”  This also means you should strive to have only one or two email addresses, and probably ensure they all flow into a single box so nothing is missed.