More and more people rely on email for inexpensive, convenient business communication. Here are some standard email practices that will help you to present you and your business in a professional way in electronic communications.
- People should be able to recognize your email username as belonging to you. Otherwise your message may be deleted without being read. The easiest approach is to use your real name as your username for business email. First names are fine if your email address refers to your business, for example, susan @ doctorgeek.biz
- Write a subject line that clearly describes the content of your message.
- Have a professional-looking email address. Whether or not you have a business website, get a business email address and use it only for business communication.
- For professional looking business email, it's best to use an email services that does not insert their own advertisement at the bottom of YOUR message.
- You can buy a custom business email address (email @yourbusiness.com) without a website. If you follow that route, be certain to check what your domain (yourbusiness.com) looks like.... it may have advertising.
- For not that much more money than a custom business email address, you can have a simple, informative one-page website that gives web visitors a good idea about you and your business – for example Aaron Cole's realtor site.
- Use an email signature (sig) at the bottom of your message so people know who you are and how to contact you.
- Your sign-off/signature should include your full name, title, company, and business telephone number.
- Although your email address is on your message, some people believe that your email address should be in your signature too.
- You may include a fax or cell phone number, website address, Skype username, instant message username and/or company tag line - if valuable to your your business communications.
- Your snail mail (conventional postal service) address should be included when needed. In a signature, your entire address can be on one line, with comma separators for example:
your street address, suite number, city, state, zip code
- Show restraint with the size of your signature - it should be smaller than most messages that you send!
- Set your email program to automatically include your signature on all outgoing business email. You may want to have more than one signature option, for example a short signature for people at your company and a longer one for "outsiders".
- Reply to email in a timely manner, generally within 1 to 2 business days.
- If it will take longer, send a timely reply acknowledging the message and indicate when you will be able to respond more fully.
- When away for an extended period of time (for a vacation, conference, illness, etc. where you will have limited or no access to email), set up an auto responder on your business email account.
- Use a separate email account for personal email. Good bets are free email services like Yahoo Mail or Google's gMail or your commercial Internet Service Provider.
- For your business email account, never use a high level spam blocker that only permits messages from email addresses in your address book. A new client will probably not be in your address book.
- Many people view spam - unsolicited email sent to large groups of people - as a nuisance.
- If you send business messages to a large group of people, include information at the bottom of your message about how to be removed from your mailings. This is good practice even if people sign up to receive email from you.
- Distinguish between networking and spamming with publicly available contact information. It's probably networking to send an infrequent message to members of YOUR chamber of commerce; if you do, use the BCC (blind carbon copy) feature of your email, not the CC (carbon copy) feature - unless there is some reason that you would want one of your chamber buddies to "reply to all."
- Try not to use all capital letters in your subject line and message UNLESS IT'S REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT. All caps are like shouting. If you have a critical message for one person, the telephone is more effective and reliable than email. For a group message, one word in caps is often effective.
- Avoid sending large unsolicited attachments, for example a large PDF. It is best not to send any unsolicited attachments. To send large solicited attachments, consider using a free trustworthy service like dropload.com.
- Sometimes email is not the best form of communication because the medium can be perceived as offensive (i.e., impolite, discourteous, bad-mannered and disrespectful). Official replies to a serious letter, proposal, or application received in regular mail should be sent through "snail" mail, on letterhead paper. Obviously, this is particular true for sensitive and/or distressing messages. (Thanks to K.M. @ UCLA for pointing this out.)