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Business Email Etiquette 101

Tim Knox -- Why should you worry about how your emails are reviewed by their recipients? Because your emails may be seen as a direct reflection on your personality and your business' credibility.

I am a huge fan of email. In fact, if you do business with me the bulk of our communication will not be through the telephone, but via email. Email gives me an electronic record of my communications with clients, employees, and vendors; and makes it easy for me to refresh my quickly-aging memory by referring back to our electronic conversations.

As someone who receives and sends a couple hundred emails a day, I have to tell you that I am constantly amazed at how bad and unprofessional most business emails are. Most business emails don't even contain full sentences. They are often replete with spelling and grammatical errors or typed in all capital letters, and sometimes virtually illiterate.

Why should you worry about how your emails are reviewed by their recipients? Because your emails may be seen as a direct reflection on your personality and your business' credibility.

As an entrepreneur, you are constantly being judged by your customers, your employees, your investors, your partners, and your peers. If your business emails give the impression that you don't put much thought into the composing of the message or that you're too busy to at least use a spell checker, what do you think that says to the person on the other end?

OK, you're busy, I understand that, but too busy to project a professional image? Email is quickly becoming the business correspondence medium of choice, and if you don't take the time to learn how to effectively use email in a professional manner, it will come back to haunt you.

There are rules that should be followed when sending business emails. The Web site Email Replies gives 32 tips for email etiquette. Culling from that list and adding a few of my own, here's Tim's Top 10 Rules of Email Etiquette that every entrepreneur should follow.

1. Make it short and sweet

Don't make an email longer than it needs to be. Remember that reading an email on screen is harder than reading printed communications and a long email can be very discouraging to read. Try to keep your sentences to a maximum of 15-20 words. If a person receives an email that looks like a dissertation, chances are that they will not even attempt to read it.

2. Use proper spelling, grammar & punctuation

This is important not only because improper spelling, grammar and punctuation give a bad impression of your company, they may also fail to convey the message properly. Emails with no full stops or commas are difficult to read and can sometimes even change the meaning of the text. And, if your email program has a spell checking option, do yourself a favor and use it.

3. Include a signature block in every email

A signature block in an email is no different from the signature block you would use to end a letter. You should include your name, title, business address, telephone number, email address, and Web site address.

4. Reply quickly

This is especially important if the email is from customers or contains time-sensitive information. Customers send an email because they wish to receive a quick response. If they did not want a quick response they would send a letter or a fax.

Therefore, each email should be replied to within at least 24 hours, and preferably within the same working day. If the email is complicated, just send an email back saying that you have received it and that you will get back to them. This will put the customer's mind at ease and usually customers will then be very patient.

5. Read every email before you send it

There's no better way to embarrass yourself than through a hastily sent email. A lot of people don't bother to read an email before they send it out, as can be seen from the many spelling and grammar mistakes contained in emails. Apart from this, reading your email through the eyes of the recipient will help you send a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate comments.

6. Do not discuss confidential information

Sending an email is like sending a postcard. If you don't want your email to be displayed on a bulletin board, don't send it. Moreover, never make any libelous, sexist, or racially discriminating comments in emails, even if they are meant to be a joke.

7. Don't send emails in ALL CAPS

IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITALS IT SEEMS AS IF YOU ARE SHOUTING. This can be highly annoying and might trigger an unwanted response in the form of an angry reply. Emails should be written in standard sentence style. Turn the Caps Lock off.

8. Avoid abbreviations and emoticons

In business emails, try not to use abbreviations such as BTW (by the way) and LOL (laugh out loud). The recipient might not be aware of the meanings of the abbreviations and in business emails these are generally not appropriate. The same goes for emoticons, such as the smiley :-). If you are not sure whether your recipient knows what it means, it is better not to use it.

9. Don't use backgrounds or silly graphics

I actually received an email from a fellow entrepreneur that had an animated smiley face waving a gloved hand in his signature block. If the email had come from Walt Disney I wouldn't have been shocked. Coming from a small technology company, I had to wince. Not much to smile about there.

10. Remember that email is a formal business communication

You wouldn't send a letter to a customer that lacked a salutation, a well-thought out body of text, and a signature. You should use email in the same manner. A proper business email should be structured like a short letter. It should have a salutation, the body of the message, a sign off, and a signature.

If your company doesn't have a formal email policy, you should.

Here's to your success.

Tim Knox as the president and CEO of two successful technology companies: B2Secure Inc., a Web-based hiring management software company; and Digital Graphiti Inc., a software development company. Tim is also the founder of, an ebusiness dedicated to the success of online entrepreneurs. Visit: and for more information.

© 2007 Tim Knox

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