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Mastering Business Email Etiquette: A guide for small businesses

You’re diligently working on landing a major client for your business. After weeks of negotiations, you’re finally ready to send the detailed proposal via email.

You told them they’d have it by 5 pm. It’s 4:55!

In the rush, you accidentally include a typo in the client’s name and forget to attach the proposal.

The client assures you that it’s not a big deal. But you know it damaged your reputation at least a little, and created a small hurdle that shouldn’t be there.

This little slip-up highlights how critical business email etiquette is in maintaining professionalism and trust in professional communications. In fact, email interactions are as much a part of your branding as your website, business card, or presentations.

Every interaction you have with your customers and prospects is an opportunity to build your brand. That’s why email etiquette is so important.

Business email etiquette for human writers

We know that some of you are thrilled to use AI to draft important emails. But here’s the thing—AI can only get you so far. Written communication can make or break professional relationships. We want to help you build a strong brand, so we put together a guide to help you navigate the nuances of business email etiquette and avoid those cringe-worthy mistakes.

Start with a clear subject line

The subject line is the first thing your recipient sees and can determine whether your email gets opened promptly or overlooked. Make your subject line concise and relevant. It should give the recipient a clear idea of the email’s content. For example, instead of “Meeting,” try “Meeting Request: Marketing Strategy Discussion”.

Subject lines also help people find your email in a busy inbox. Think about the search terms your recipient might use to find your message in the future—include these in the subject if you can do so naturally. Think of it as a little SEO for email!

Use a professional and friendly greeting

The greeting sets the tone for your email, but a greeting that’s overly formal can make your email look like spam from the preview. What was once considered a professional salutation—”Dear [Name],” or “Hello [Name],”—has become commonplace among spammers. We generally prefer “Hi [Name]” as a standard greeting. If you’re unsure of the recipient’s preferred name, check his or her LinkedIn profile.

Be concise and to the point

People are often inundated with emails, and a sad truth is that long ones are frequently scanned or skipped altogether. Clearly state the purpose of your email within the first few sentences. Avoid lengthy introductions or unnecessary details. Focus on one main point whenever possible. Avoid covering multiple agenda items in one email.

Maintain a professional tone

The tone of your email should always be professional, regardless of the recipient. Avoid using slang, emojis, or overly casual language. Ensure your message is polite and respectful, and avoid humor or sarcasm, which can easily be misinterpreted.

Use proper formatting

Proper formatting enhances readability. Use short paragraphs and bullet points to break up text and make your email easier to digest. Ensure your email is visually appealing by using a standard font and avoiding excessive use of bold or italic text. Avoid underlining text in emails as it may be mistaken for a link.

Proofread before sending

Always proofread your emails before hitting send (I need this reminder as much as anyone else out there!). Check for spelling and grammatical errors, and ensure that your message is clear and concise. A well-written email reflects professionalism and attention to detail. We love the free version of Grammarly for its ability to spot typos and spelling errors.

Include a clear call to action

If your email requires a response or action from the recipient, make this clear. Use direct language, such as “Please confirm your availability for the meeting,” or “Could you provide the requested documents by Friday?” A clear call to action helps avoid any confusion about what you want the recipient to do.

Use a professional signature

Your email signature is an opportunity to provide additional information about yourself and your business. Include your full name, title, company name, and contact information—including your email address. If your recipient forwards your email, and then it gets forwarded again, your email can be stripped out of the header data. Adding it to your signature ensures any future readers can easily find you.

You can also add a link to your company’s website or social media profiles. You may wish to use your email signature to promote a piece of content or new service, but do so sparingly. Ensure your signature is professional and free from unnecessary graphics or quotes.

Respond promptly

Timely responses are a sign of professionalism. Aim to respond to emails within one business day, even if it’s just to acknowledge receipt and indicate when you’ll provide a full response. If you need more time to address the email’s content, let the sender know you’re working on it.

Respect privacy and confidentiality

Respect the privacy and confidentiality of your email recipients. Use BCC (blind carbon copy) when emailing a group of people who do not know each other to protect their email addresses. Additionally, be cautious about sharing sensitive information via email, as it may not be secure.

Know when to use Reply All

The “Reply All” function can be useful, but most people agree that it should be used sparingly. Only use it when your response is relevant to everyone on the original email. Overusing “Reply All” can clutter people’s inboxes and annoy recipients.

Avoid excessive follow-ups

While follow-ups are sometimes necessary, avoid excessive emails if you haven’t received a response. Give the recipient a reasonable amount of time to respond before sending a follow-up email. Stuff happens in life; try to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to email management. If the matter is urgent, consider using a different communication method—such as the dreaded phone call.

Handle attachments with care

When sending attachments, ensure they are appropriately labeled and in a widely accessible format (e.g., PDF). Mention the attachment in your email body and briefly describe its contents. Avoid sending large files that might clog the recipient’s inbox; instead, use cloud storage links (e.g. Dropbox or Google Drive) for large documents.

Be mindful of your email’s tone

We’ve all been there—it’s so easy to misinterpret the tone of an email. Aim for a courteous and professional tone. If you’re discussing a sensitive topic, consider whether a phone call or face-to-face meeting might be more appropriate to avoid misunderstandings.

Set up an out-of-office reply when you’re away

If you’ll be unavailable for an extended period, set up an out-of-office reply. Include the dates you’ll be unavailable, the reason (optional), and an alternative contact person if applicable. Your OOO message informs senders of your absence and provides them with another contact option.

Get help mastering business email etiquette

Mastering business email etiquette is essential for small businesses aiming to develop and maintain professional relationships and build a strong brand. Clear, concise, and respectful communication can significantly enhance your business’s reputation and effectiveness.

At Brighter Messaging, we understand the importance of effective communication in building successful business relationships. We also know it can be hard to send important emails. That’s why we created a set of common business email templates to save you time, and to stop the overthinking cycle.

You can use the templates to help you:

  • Make a good impression
  • Get your message across clearly
  • Set the tone for constructive communication
  • Achieve your desired outcome

Click here to get all of the email templates for free.

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