OPINION

Are Your Business E-Mails Hurting Your Credibility?

Each e-mail that you send makes a statement. Every recipient of your e-mails forms an impression of you — either a good one or a bad one — and, in some cases, all without even having met you. Since this is the reality, why not make sure that your e-mails, especially business e-mails, are professional and articulate?

There are some major errors that many of us make when sending e-mails. Since the existence of this form of communication is a relatively new phenomenon, most of us are unaware of good e-mail etiquette. Here are some of the more glaring problems I have noticed about e-mails:

Spelling and Grammar

Many of the e-mails that I receive contain spelling and grammatical errors. People just don’t spend that extra few moments to assure the accuracy of their missives. You might ask, “Does it really matter?” Certainly, especially with business e-mails, it does. Why? Because the e-mail must be clearly understood and legible to make a good impression on the recipient.

The simple placement of a comma can change the entire context of a document. In some cases, such a change can have legal consequences that I’m sure you would want to avoid. Remember, most computers come with spell check and grammar check tools. Why not use them?

Clarity

Certainly, good spelling and grammar contribute to clarity. However, something could be grammatically correct, with no spelling errors, and still be quite vague, misleading, and open to several interpretations.

Recently, an acquaintance sent me an e-mail with some business questions. Some of the questions were so poorly worded that I really wasn’t sure what she was asking. I had to call her and ask her to clarify her e-mail.

Before you can clearly communicate an idea or concept, you must fully understand it yourself. If you can’t communicate it clearly, it could be that you have to closely examine what you are trying to say and make sure that you, yourself, aren’t confused.

Group Mailings and Buddy Lists

I never send out group mailings or mailings to people on a so-called “buddy list” unless there is an absolutely critical reason for me to do so. For example, suppose that you were one of ten members of a team that is developing a new marketing campaign. Certainly it would be appropriate for you to send a group mailing to all of the members of your team.

What I’m talking about is group mailings with news items or jokes that are sent and forwarded ad infinitum. I personally think that it is rude and presumptive for anyone to take up someone’s time and energy with such a mailing. This is really just another form of spam.

I invariably respond to the sender of a group mailing with a polite request for them to take me off their buddy list. I tell the sender that I would love to hear from him or her personally, but that I never read buddy list mailings. And, I don’t. If the sender continues to include me on their buddy list, I give one final warning, then I block their e-mail.

If you want business associates to take you seriously, I strongly urge you not to include them on your buddy list. Not only are you making a bad impression, you are also wasting their time with spam.

Appropriate Addresses

I’ve seen some rather weird e-mail addresses from some otherwise professional people. I know an international business consultant who has made a lot of money of late and who, justifiably, bought himself a Ferrari. The man changed his e-mail address to include the word Ferrari.

I was embarrassed for him and can just imagine what his business associates and contacts think of his new e-mail address. Sadly, he’s trying to tell the world that he’s made a lot of money. I can’t believe that this is adding to his otherwise good reputation as a prudent and sound business adviser.

I’ve seen other quite ridiculous addresses — some from investment bankers, who should, in my opinion, convey level-headedness and tact. I’ve also seen some silly ones from physicians. I’m not sure how this goes over with patients unless the physician happens to be a pediatrician and he/she corresponds with juvenile patients via e-mail.

Response Time

Some people always have some sort of an excuse for not responding in a timely fashion. I feel that the excuse is seldom valid. We are all busy, and all of us want to feel important. Nevertheless, a quick response is a polite response. Invariably, I respond to all of my e-mails within 24 hours, 48 hours at the maximum. Even if I happen to be in Europe and am quite busy, I check my e-mail several times a day and respond promptly no matter what.

Misuse of Company Resources

Using company e-mail for personal purposes can be a dreadful mistake. This is simply not a good career move. Make it a point to separate your personal matters from your business matters. Your boss doesn’t appreciate your using the company’s time and money to handle your personal matters. It just isn’t, in my opinion, a good way to impress your superiors.

I believe that the vast majority of us want to make a good impression. Some of us simply don’t realize when we are acting in an unprofessional manner.

E-mail is a powerful tool. Why not use it to your advantage and in ways that will assure your advancement? Good luck!


Theodore F. di Stefano is a founder and managing partner at Capital Source Partners, which deals in bringing small-cap companies public. He also is a frequent speaker on the subject of financial advice for small businesses as well as the IPO process. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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