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Business Email Etiquette: The Manual


"There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact
with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts:
what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it."

- Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) American Educator

With business, you need to care about the type of impression you make that can determine if someone will do business with you - or not. A past online survey that was run on this site reflects I am not alone in wanting to make sure onliners understand the importance of using technology properly to help ensure that the online world does not degrade to a point where folks no longer want to participate.

Based on requests to write an article that was in "Top 10" format (sorry, I actually have 12 items and will continue to add to this article as the need arises) solely targeted at Business folks and e-mail, what I thought I would offer here is a brief on the issues business owners minimally need to be aware of in their online communications. Mastering of your e-mail skills goes a long way towards forging the most professional perception you can with any potential customer you may communicate with via e-mail.

So, by request, here are the Top 10 12 Business E-mail Basics - although these are not the end all be all - they can ensure you avoid lost opportunity due to improper e-mail habits:

  1. Prompt Responses: I get e-mail daily from business people concerned about the fact that their e-mails are not being responded to. Not responding promptly to incoming business e-mail can leave an impression that you are disorganized or that you do not consider the sender's e-mail of any importance. Want to give a negative perception--ignore your e-mail responsibilities!

  2. Subject Field: Many folks determine even if they are going to open an e-mail by the SUBJECT: field. If this is your first contact with an associate based on their request through your site or otherwise, be sure to have a short and sweet subject that indicates clearly what the topic of the e-mail is. Never be misleading in this regard. Be sure to type the SUBJECT: always using proper upper and lower case noting specifically what your e-mail is about.

  3. Level of Formality: Never assume a position of informality in your business e-mail. Only time and relationship building efforts can guide when you can informalize your business relationships. And, in some cases that time may never arise. If for commercial/business reasons, one should communicate as if e-mail is on their company letterhead at all times. This is your business's image you are branding.

  4. Addressing: How do you address your new contacts? I would suggest you assume the highest level of courtesy: Hello, Mr. Anderson, Dear Ms. Smith, Dr. Osborne, etc. Until your new contact states, "call me Andy" or "you can call me Diane", keep it formal until it is clear the relationship dictates otherwise. You will also be able to get clues by how they approach you and their tone.

  5. To, From, Bcc, Cc and Reply to All fields can make or break you:

    • In the TO: field be sure to have your contact's name formally typed. John B. Doe - not john b doe or JOHN B DOE.
    • In the FROM: field be sure to have your name formally typed. Example: Jane A. Smith. Not: jane a smith or JANE A SMITH. The later two give the perception of lack of education or limited experience with technology.
    • Bcc: use this field when e-mailing a group of contacts who do not personally know each other. If you are listed in the BCC field you are not expected to reply to the Sender. By listing an arm's length list of e-mail addresses in the Cc or TO field of contacts who do not know each other or have never met is publishing their e-mail address to strangers. No matter how great the list of people may be to you, never make this decision for others! This is a privacy issue!
    • Cc: This field is used for when there are a couple of folks involved in a discussion that requires all be on the same page. These business people know each other or have been introduced and have no problem having their e-mail address exposed to the parties involved. If you are not sure if a business associate would mind their address being made public, ask! If you're listed in the Cc: field you are being FYI'd and a reply is not mandatory unless you have something relevant to add to the conversation.
    • Reply to All: Use your better judgment when using the Reply To All feature. In many instances, your comments may not be appropriate for "all" or "all" may not be interested in your comments.

    SIDEBAR: Keep in mind when sending e-mail while on company time, that the content and tone should reflect the level of professionalism your employer would expect.

  6. Formatting: Refrain from using formatting in your daily business communications. Unless you would type something in bold crimson letters on business letterhead, you don't do it when e-mailing for commercial gain.

  7. Attachments: All e-mail accounts have capacity limits. Do you think your relationship with a potential new customer is enhanced when you send them that 5M Power Point presentation they didn't request and you fill up their inbox shutting down their e-mail causing subsequent business correspondence to bounce as undeliverable? Nope. And, if they don't have Power Point they couldn't open the file anyway! Don't assume your potential customers have the software you do to open any file you may arbitrarily send.

    Also keep in mind attachments use the recipient's resources. Sending unnecessary, unexpected attachments reflects a lack of consideration for the person on the other side.

    If you ever need to send a file over 200,000 in size you need to compress it or zip it up. And, even then, business courtesy dictates you ask the recipient first if it is O.K. to send a file of that size, confirm they have the same software/version you do and what is the best time of day to do so to ensure they are available to download the large file and keep their e-mail flowing.

    Never send large attachments without warning on weekends when the recipient won't be there to clear out their e-mail box and keep their e-mail flowing. One cannot discuss attachments without bringing up Viruses - give a client a destructive virus and your chances of forming a positive relationship will be minimized. [See my article: ]

  8. Using Previous e-mail for New Correspondence: If you want to give the perception of lazy, find a previous e-mail from the party you want to communicate with, hit reply and start typing about something completely irrelevant to the old e-mail's subject. Start a new e-mail and add your contacts to your address book so you can add them with one click.

  9. Down Edit Your Replies: Don't just hit reply and start typing. E-mail editing is a skill that takes time, diligence and effort to master. And, this is a skill those you communicate with will appreciate as it lends to reflecting a respect for their time and clarity in your communications. Removing parts of the previous e-mail that do not apply to your response including e-mail headers and signature files removes the clutter and keeps the conversation on track with fewer misunderstandings.

  10. Common Courtesy: Hello, Hi, Good Day, Thank You, Sincerely, Best regard. All those intros and sign offs that are a staple of professional business communications should also be used in your business e-mail communications. Always have a salutation and sign off with every e-mail. Here again - think business letterhead.

  11. UCE or Spam: Never ever send anything to anyone that they did not request you send. No matter how great you think your product or service is you must use legitimate practices to market yourself online and sending UCE (Unsolicited Commercial e-mail) is certainly not one of them.

  12. Signature files: Don't have overly long signature files of more than 6 lines (including your signoff and name) as this is viewed as a bit egocentric. Keep your signature file at around 4-6 lines, Web site link, company name, and slogan or phone number. Include a link to your site that the recipient can get all your contact information from A-Z including all your awards and associations - that is what your site is for. [See my article: ]

The above Top 10 12 will certainly allow your business communications to rise above the majority who do not take the time to understand and master these issues. When forging new business relationships and solidifying established partnerships, the level of professionalism and courtesy you relay in your business e-mail communications will always gain clients over the competition that may be anemic, uninformed or just plain lazy in this area.

When it comes to your business, regardless of mode of communication used, professionalism and courtesy never go out of style.

About the Author:
Judith Kallos is an authoritative and good-humored Technology Muse who has played @ for over a decade. Check out her popular and eBook : .

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Business Email Etiquette


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