Email Etiquette: The Basics Still Matter

by Becky Gillespie 10. December 2013 11:29

BY MELANIE BERKOWITZ

As a freelance writer, I’m as interested as the next business person in new ways to advertise my services, find new clients, and generally get my name out there.

Assuming it’s the right name, that is. 

For about six months last year, I received the same email message in my business account every couple of weeks from a woman named Heather at a company I’ll call “BulletinBoard.com”    

“Are you a ghostwriter?” asked the subject line. Why, yes, I am a ghostwriter. I opened the first email feeling rather smug that my fledgling website and attempts at SEO had caught the attention of a potential client with almost no effort on my part. Maybe this would be the beginning of a long and lucrative business relationship. Maybe it really was that easy to expand my freelance writing business. 

“Hey Melani,” that first email (and all subsequent ones) began. And that quickly, with the omission of a single “e” at the end of my name, it was all over. 

From what I could gather from a look at BulletinBoard’s website, the company is sort of an online Yellow Pages; type your service need into the search box and up pop profiles from dozens of freelancers and small businesses that want your business. A search for “ghostwriters” resulted in 150 providers supposedly in my area; most were located between 25 and 400 miles away. 

I’m not knocking the service BulletinBoard provides. In this age of electronic marketing and digital communication, similar companies are everywhere, filling a need for small businesses and individuals who may not be able to afford expensive and time-consuming marketing campaigns. But by spelling my name wrong in its message to me, BulletinBoard immediately lost credibility and, thus, my business.

In addition to being a legal and business ghostwriter, I also give seminars on how to build strong relationships with clients and potential customers by improving your writing and communication skills. E-mail can be a powerful (and inexpensive and easy) way to communicate, if used thoughtfully. The most important rule of email “netiquette” I teach in my seminar is that you should treat your emails as seriously as you do other forms of communication. Ensuring that the names of your recipients are correct before you contact them should be a no-brainer.

I understand that “Heather” is likely a computer program that culled the Internet looking for any mention of the words “ghostwriter” and “freelance” in close proximity. But nowhere in cyberspace or in real life is my name spelled without that final “e”.  My email address itself could not be more clear: Melanie@theghostwriters.biz. Removing that “e” from the salutation of the email message would have taken some work beyond what a computer could do on its own.

BulletinBoard did get one thing right: it used a simple, to-the-point subject line that got my attention. It got me to open the email and see what it had to say instead of immediately hitting “delete” when I didn’t recognize the sender. But getting a potential client to open your email doesn’t matter if the message inside is confusing, irrelevant or mistaken. I’m sure BulletinBoard didn’t intend to make me think that it couldn’t make the small effort of copying my name correctly off my website or email address. But that is the message I got, even before I had the chance to see what the company really had to say.  

And that is too bad.   

Melanie is a lawyer who is passionate about writing and a writer who is passionate about the law. After trying "the law-firm-associate thing" (at Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal), the "teaching-legal-writing thing" (at The John Marshall Law School) and "the clerkship thing" (for the Hon. Marvin Aspen and the Hon. Michael Mason), Melanie found the perfect job, combining her labor and employment background with her writing skills as an in-house legal writer at Seyfarth Shaw. Three kids later, she co-founded The GhostWriters legal and business writing practice. She now makes her own hours as she writes, blogs, lectures and generally carries on a torrid love affair with her computer.

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Melanie Berkowitz | Write to the Point

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