Have you ever written an important email, and then…crickets?
For days, you nervously check your inbox. You listen for email notifications. You end up wondering:
- “Did I do something wrong?”
- “Did I say something offensive?”
- “Do they just not like me?”
You’re not alone. I get asked all the time about email etiquette. A well-written, well-timed email can make a professional relationship…and a bad one can break it. Unfortunately, a lot of the advice out there is outdated (or ridiculous — for example, whether you sign off “Best” or “Regards” has zero impact on how your email is received).
I used to be terrible at getting people to respond to my emails. Now that I’m on the receiving end of 1,000+ emails per day, I can see what I was doing wrong.
Today, I’m going to show you two common email mistakes and tell you exactly how to avoid making them. After reading this article, you’ll know how to write emails that get replies and signal your professionalism to everyone you email.
Email etiquette mistake #1: Being boring
A lot of people get hung up on the minutiae when it comes to email, so let me clear up something. Great email is about:
- Understanding the other person’s needs and wants
- Respecting those needs and wants
And no one wants to be bored.
One of my course graduates, Selena Soo, received this email after hosting a webinar for over 700 people:
What’s wrong with this?
At first, this seems like a good email. It’s enthusiastic, it’s complimentary, and it offers Selena help.
The problem? It’s completely generic. This person has guaranteed they’ll be instantly forgotten.
You don’t have to be generic or boring. Three small tweaks can make even your simplest emails worth reading:
- Introduce yourself. What’s interesting about you? You have to make the recipient want to get to know you.
- Say what you do. Prove that this person needs to get to know you. The person above didn’t say HOW she could help Selena. Attaching or linking to samples of your work backs up what you claim your skills are.
- Offer a next step (a “call to action”). If your reader is anticipating days of emailing back-and-forth, they’ll put responding to you on their back burner (if they ever respond). Let them know how to get in touch with you and what time commitment you’re available for.
If I were a marketing consultant writing to Selena, here’s what I’d say:
I’m a marketing consultant who works with online entrepreneurs to reach broader audiences and make more sales. I’ve helped PERSON increase their email list by [X%] in three months, increasing revenue by [Y%].
I got a lot out of your webinar the other day, especially [include something specific that you got out of the webinar].
I have some ideas on how your brand could be marketed to a broader audience. Here [LINK] you can read testimonials from people whose audiences I’ve helped increase.
I’d love to chat over Skype (~15 minutes) about possibly working together. I’m free weekdays 1-6pm ET, and my Skype ID is [your Skype ID]. When’s a good time for you?
The odds of Selena responding to that email are dramatically higher.
Email etiquette mistake #2: Going on and on and on…
Imagine you receive hundreds of emails a day. Or that you’re a hiring manager who starts every day with 50+ new applicant emails. And the vast majority of them are pages long.
Who are you going to remember? The person who embedded 10 different questions in a wall of text or the person who respected your time enough to keep it brief and to the point?
3 questions to keep your email brief:
The next time you sit down to write an email, answer these three questions:
- What do I want to get out of this email? Define a goal and stick to it. This will help you keep it short.
- How can I make myself stand out in a sea of hundreds of other emails? Hint: humor’s tough, especially when you’re writing to a stranger. Go for detail instead (“I’m an ESL tutor specializing in teaching Vietnamese students.”)
- Can I write this email in a maximum of five sentences? The shorter your email, the more likely it’ll be read. Tip: come back to your email draft after a day or two. With fresh eyes, you’ll see the fluff you need to cut.
Doing this will instantly improve your emails and get you more replies.
This applies to any email: trying to reach an influential person, submitting your resume to a hiring manager, or emailing your boss to set up a meeting.
I won’t make you trudge through some of the long emails I get every day, but take a look again at the sample I wrote above. It’s concise, informative, and friendly. You shouldn’t need to spend 300 words convincing someone to pay attention to you — show your professionalism by respecting your email recipient’s time.
One thing to notice about these two mistakes: Neither of them are about tactics. If you Google “email etiquette,” you’ll find thousands of articles focusing on tiny, inconsequential things like whether to sign your email “Best” or “Regards.”
While everyone else distracts themselves with tactics, the pros are studying strategy.
Miniscule tactical tips don’t matter nearly as much as the “experts” would have you think they do. Big wins get you bigger gains every time.
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