Saturday, October 24, 2015

Structure Your E-mail Messages for Maximum Impact

Today, Email is an essential part of doing business. People use it to communicate daily. Some organizations have policies in place that treat E-mail as a business asset, not a personal asset. Thus, from a legal perspective, E-mail is admissible in court. Therefore, it should be given the same attention as traditional forms of correspondence. Let’s face it, for many business people Email has replaced traditional correspondence.

As a writer, it’s important for you to treat all your outgoing messages as if you're writing professional correspondence. Everyone judges you on how you write to them. They expect you, as a professional writer, to uphold the standards of grammar and sentence structure, no matter what the subject of the message.

And when you’re writing to a client or editor, it’s even more important. In most cases, the only way editors get an impression of you is through your Email messages.

Previously, freelance writers sent queries and text by regular mail, then sat back and waited for a reply. Today, using Email, replies come a lot faster. And while an editor may take a few days to reply to a query, it beats waiting weeks or even months for it. However, there are a few editors out there that still cling to the old ways. One editor of an online magazine insisted writers still send quieries and manuscripts by regular mail.

Follow these tips to make your Email messages communicate clearly:

    1. Address one topic per E-mail message.
        Many people reply to E-mail as they read it, so it’s easier to respond if you discuss only one topic per message. If you introduce several topics, they may postpone responding until they can address all the topics covered.
    2. Write an informative subject line.
        Phrase the subject line so that it tells the reader what to do in addition to what the message is about. A subject line may read "Send a copy of your  latest issue." A precise subject line can prompt a reader to read your message before others.
    3. Avoid long messages.
        Organize your message so that the most important information fits on the first screen. Try to avoid having the receiver scroll to read the remainder of the message.

    4. Make it easy for your reader to respond.
        Word your message so that the reader can get back to you with a "yes/no" answer or a short response. Where possible, use questions instead of statements. Instead of saying, "Let me know your thoughts on my article," ask "Are you going to publish my article?"
    5. Include the context of a message in your reply.
        Even if you read a message and respond to it quickly, your colleague may not read your response immediately. The topic may no longer be fresh in his or her mind. The "reply" feature on most e-mail systems allows you to reply to a message and attach the original document. OR, if it’s a longer message, copy section at a time and include your answer directly below it.
    6. Change the subject line to reflect a new topic when sending a new message from an old one. 
        Your Email program will automatically include “RE:” in the subject line of your reply. Should you click on a person’s previous message to send a new message, be sure to change the subject line to reflect the new topic. There’s nothing worse than going round and round with multiple “RE:’s” from previous messages. Changing the subject line to reflect a new subject also will help you and your receiver to catalog your messages.

    7. Don’t forget to follow-up if you receive no reply.
        Sometimes E-mail does get lost or dumped into an anti-spam folder and deleted. Allow a reasonable time to pass–hours or days–then send a second message, including a copy of the first message (forward your first message and add a brief note before the message. This is particularly important with time-sensitive material.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Communications for the 21st Century

Times have changed. Technology has changed. Communication has changed. And that means a lot to a writer since communication is the focus of any writing business. However, even though writers write to communicate with their readers, some find it hard to know which form of communication to use when communicating with their editors and clients.

For years, the only forms of communication were the telephone and the letter. Both worked well but they had their limitations. Then came fax, which allowed you to send documents and contracts over phone lines.  Businesses embraced fax as a way to send documents instantly.

When Email first appeared along with the Internet, it was basic—used for short messages between researchers. Students embraced Email as a way to exchange cryptic messages. They thought it cool to be able to communicate with one another in a language on they understood. But this wasn’t the way to communicate as a business owner.

Phone communication, while still a talking medium, has now become a text messaging medium. And while you can use this for personal communication with friends and family, you shouldn’t use text messaging for business communications. Cell phones now give you the ability to call anyone from anywhere. They also enable people to call you any time, anywhere. With cell phones dawned the era of instant communication. So how do you take control of phone communications.

Remember, you don’t have to answer the phone just because it rings—no matter how tempting. Voice mail, caller ID, and answering machines allow you to take control of your incoming calls.  In just about any business, Mondays are the busiest days for incoming calls.

Prospective clients shopping for services may choose whomever they reach on the phone, so you might miss an opportunity by not calling back. That thought is brought about by the convenience of a cell phone. You carry your cell phone on your person—it’s instantaneous. And while you may have the urge to answer every call, doing so will seriously eat into your writing productivity.

Also, answering every call no matter where you are at the time will seriously interrupt your life, as well as put you in potential danger if you do it while driving your vehicle.

When you talk to new callers, be sure to get their direct-dial number so you can save time going through the whole series of numbers for different departments—press one for this, press two for that—if you have to call them back.

Your outgoing message on your voice mail or answering machine should be your calling card to everyone who calls you. Make a good impression and elicit important information from your callers with a “power message.” This is a message you script, rehearse, and deliver with enthusiasm. Type up all the messages you use and keep them in a folder in your computer, then they’ll be available whenever you need to record a new message.

Finally, call editors when it’s absolutely necessary. They’re busy people. If you don’t hear from an editor in a reasonable amount of time or if your situation has changed and you can’t get the job done by your deadline, then do call your editor. Don’t send an Email since your editor may not read it in time. Another trick is to call during the lunch hour when your editor may be out. This way you can leave a detailed message that he or she will get when they return but not take up their valuable time.

Next Week: I’ll be taking a look at Email and electronic communications and how they fit into today’s business communications.