It’s hard to imagine a communications strategy that doesn’t include email these days.
Beyond internal uses, 41 percent of small businesses nationwide now use email to market to their customers, a nearly 25 percent increase from last year, a 2013 survey by AT&T shows.
But managing email can be a major time sink — and if the messages you send aren’t clear, concise, and compelling, your efforts are unlikely to get the desired results.
Here are seven simple techniques for making efficient, effective use of your email time.
Use Subject Lines as Headlines
A well-thought-out email subject line grabs the recipient’s attention and sets up the topic that’s covered in the body of the message. It also increases the chances that your email will be handled in a timely fashion.
If you regularly cover the same topic, such as “Weekly Customer Report,” it’s helpful to add the date of each missive to your subject line. If you expect a response, add a deadline for that, too, along the lines of: “Please reply by Oct. 27.”
Try “EOM” Subject Lines
In some cases, the subject line alone can convey all the necessary information, so your recipient doesn’t even need to open the email, because all of its contents are readily visible.
Try putting your whole message in the subject line. When you do, end it with the letters EOM. This stands for “end of message” and lets your recipient know that there’s nothing more to read.
One Topic Per Email
All too often, a recipient will respond to one part of your email but forget another. Prevent this by limiting each email to a single point. This allows a recipient to refer and respond to everything separately, on a timely basis, and without confusion.
This approach is particularly helpful when one topic needs only a short reply and another requires more time and effort to answer.
If the single topic you’re covering in an email is complex, consider numbering your paragraphs. This helps your recipient respond specifically to each and every point. Without numbers, you’re more likely to get a general response that overlooks or ignores some aspects of your original message.
Keeping emails to one topic each has at least two advantages:
- It helps focus your attention as you write and your recipient’s attention as he or she reads it
- It allows for improved sorting and separating email information on various projects and tasks
Specify Your Preferred Response
You’ll get better responses to any email when you indicate how you’d like the recipient to respond.
Make clear whether you want to receive a return email, a phone call, a document, a visit, or something else. While you’re at it, be sure to include the appropriate contact information — phone number, Skype handle, street address, etc. — so your recipient can comply quickly and easily, without unnecessary confusion or extra effort.
With most email systems, you can include this kind of information automatically by creating a signature file that your email system appends to every message you send.
Use Return Receipts
Many email systems allow for “return receipts” that indicate when recipients have opened your email. You can add these to individual messages, as necessary, or have them automatically attached to every email you send.
This is particularly helpful when you send important emails that require time to answer. When the “return receipt” arrives in your inbox, you can relax in the certainty that your recipient has opened your message, even if it takes him or her a few days to respond.
Read Before Sending
It’s easy to dash off an email and hit Send. But all too often, rapidly composed messages contain glaring errors: omitted words, spelling errors, poorly constructed phrases, and even confusing or conflicting thoughts.
Because emails don’t relay tone of voice or body language, they may inadvertently convey an emotion like sarcasm, disappointment, jealousy, fear, or anger. At best, this is less than ideal.
The lesson here: Take time to re-read your finished emails closely and correct any problems before you send them.
Delay Your Emails
You may find it useful to set up a “delay before sending” feature on your email account. After all, how many times have you sent a message and then immediately wished you could have it back to edit what you’d written?
By including a short automatic delay in your email’s outbox, you give yourself a second chance to fix any mistakes, improve your messages, and make your emails as effective as they can possibly be.