More Digital blog

20

Apr 2012

The MoreDigital Guide to Communication: Email

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

MoreDigital Guide to Communication - email header.Email is, without a doubt, the most important form of business communication there is in 2012. Forget phones, forget social media or SMS or the postal system – email dominates the workplace, and how we learn to use it can define how efficient we become as employees or business owners. But so many people tend to misuse it, or have clashing email etiquette – it’s not uncommon to send an email written in a formal tone to receive a quick response and a smiley face in return.

One of the things I think a company needs to focus on more than anything else is what I call the “instant image”. When your email arrives in my inbox, and you’re a company, or a journalist, or a PR rep, the word “Gmail” or “Hotmail” will lead me to one of two conclusions; either you are computer illiterate, or you are not willing to invest time, money and effort into your communication. Both of these are serious failings, to me. Let’s look at a potential solution.

Google Apps

I’m a copywriter, and hence, I have a company email account. I also have many other accounts, for shopping, for freelance, and so on – not one of those, bar my required Google account, is free or generic. They are all set up using custom domains, and this is because I want to be able to brand myself, to show people that I am part of a unit that I built, or at least one that does not match your elderly relatives who just needed a cheap, quick email solution.

I’m not knocking GMail (I will knock Hotmail – it’s archaic and, in my eyes, nowhere near as slick as its Google counterpart), by any means – all my email addresses run through the GMail system via Google Apps, and it’s this tool that can help you set up a custom email in no time at all. Let me show you the steps you’ll need to take.

  1. Make sure you own a domain. This will cost you a varying amount dependent on the value of said domain, but an original domain can be as low as about nine dollars a year. If you can’t afford to spend that, you’re in big trouble already.
  2. Second, head over to Google Apps and register. Once you have done so, choose one of their many verification options to prove your ownership of the domain in question, and they’ll start setting up your account for you. Standard includes a wide range of apps, from email to calendar services, and Business (a paid subscription – standard is free) includes additional tools from Google, sitting alongside a considerable wealth of third-party applications.
  3. You’re done! Either use the GMail interface, or enable IMAP/POP to run your email through a client, like Outlook or Thunderbird.

It really is that simple – take it from me, as I set up Google Apps for every domain I have and it only takes me five to ten minutes to get it set up, give or take a while for Google to verify domain ownership so you can finish the registration and setup process. There’s no excuse for a free email account in 2011 if you’re running a business, however small. So once you’ve set up your domain-hosted email accounts, all that’s left is to start using them. Unfortunately, for some people, that’s another obstacle altogether.

Learning to Write

Yesterday, I was digging into a Kindle ebook sample by a successful novelist. The writing was solid, and I was enjoying the work, when I stumbled across the writer’s confusion between the words “role” and “roll”, and which one to use in a particular context. Given that this is a professionally produced work, and I’m planning to pay for it, their job is to make sure I think they can speak the language properly. If you can’t do that, you’re stuffed.

A lot of people claim grammar isn’t an issue, and of course, it’s not, if you’re having a conversation with your friends. However, if I see the following in a business email:

hi Cristos

Just a quick ntoe, need those files for Momday.

Bob

I’m not going to take you seriously if you write like this. There are countless university graduates looking for work, and many of them can write really well. So to have a high-level employee of Company, Inc. write to me as though they’re back in primary school is unacceptable. Would you write a legal contract or a client proposal this way? If I’m a client or a co-worker, taking the time to word yourself properly and check your grammar is a subtle sign of respect that few are aware of – until you don’t bother, at which point, you look lazy. Small businesses who look lazy do not do well.

Can business emails be friendly?

In addition to this, there’s the conundrum of when to let your guard down and be a little more casual in an email after you’ve known someone for a while. I say simply keep it formal until the other person lets their guard down, although this could potentially foster the “you first” scenario where both people are waiting for the person they’re emailing to throw a “heya” or a “cheers” in there at some point, but most will usually relax eventually.

There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a friendly tone, but it’s important to remember that this is generally reserved for people working in roles where being friendly is a job requirement – PR is a good example.

Lastly, don’t do any of these things. I cannot agree with that webcomic enough, and I recommend you frame it and put it on your desk if you are, as an adult, making any of those errors. I wish you the best of luck – setting up an email account doesn’t guarantee you’ll become the next Facebook, but it can’t hurt your chances, either.

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30

Mar 2012

The MoreDigital Communication Guide

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

The MoreDigital Guide to Communication.In 2012, there are more ways to send a client a proposal than there have ever been before. But astonishingly, there are still businesses out there (and what’s worse, some of them are actually web-savvy) that are using @gmail.com for their email addresses. This, my friends, is not how you do professional in the new millennium. So how do you go about making your business communication look a little less thrown together?

Firstly, do you own a domain? Yes? If so, why aren’t you using either hosted email, or if it’s just a domain with no hosting, Google Apps? That’s right – all the functionality of GMail, but with your @mybusiness.com email address, not to mention a synched calendar and other tools that Google provides for free. No, really, free. Nada. No money.

The reason you shouldn’t use an email address that isn’t generic and very obviously free is simple: you look cheap, and you don’t stand out from your crazy Aunt May who also happens to have an @gmail.com account. I really do mean that – the two of you look about as professional as each other if I have your email address alone to judge you on – which a company often does, if that’s your first point of contact with them.

There’s also the issue of phones. If you’re working from home, that’s fine, but give out your landline number – personally, I always find it somewhat disconcerting to be offered nothing but a mobile number unless myself and the person I’m due to meet or do business with is actually on the move on the day of the meeting. A landline gives the image of permanence, and it’s also cheaper to call in some contexts, too, which can be important for other small businesses like yours who will want to keep costs down.

There’s also the more subtle forms of communication that a lot of people don’t seem to consider, such as:

  • How easy-to-interpret your website is.
  • The quality of communication on your social networking accounts.
  • Email signatures.
  • Language within an email.
  • Your domain name quality.
  • Your site/page summary as it appears in a Google search.

There are many more, but these are the first six that came to mind. I see countless small business websites – all of us do, and the ones that grab me are clear, concise, neat, modern, and if or when I want to get in touch, there’s a custom email address and a variety of social media options available to me. Once I contact that business, they respond with a well-written email, I’ve got a signature with their details in it, if I Google them to check up before we proceed I can see great summaries which points to an SEO-tuned brain somewhere in that business… There are so many factors at play here, and it’s vitally important that the first impression you make is good. Otherwise, how will you progress from “small business” to just “business”?

Now, without providing step-by-step and deep-thought examples of what I’m talking about, you’d have the right to say I’m just making demands of small businesses that are either unfounded or unreasonable. So, in order to prove to you that these things matter, I’m going to go into depth. A lot of depth. Starting this week, I’ll be publishing a series of articles on communication, starting with email.

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6

Sep 2010

Are businesses communicating properly?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

I know what you’re thinking. “We use email, social media, instant messaging – what else do we need?” Well, for starters, if you’re one of those offices comprised of fifteen programmers spread across the world who communicate and organise themselves and their projects digitally, you’re at a disadvantage. Working physically alongside people can often be beneficial, but sometimes, the closest we can get is through video conferencing.

Credit to www.dannyok.com for the graph.

In the first 24 hours after Google’s VOIP service launched, one million calls were placed. Of course, most of these were probably test calls placed so people could go “hey, Tony! It’s just like Skype, but with a different logo, and in Gmail, right?”, and then hang up. But it proves a point – Google experiments, but will very rarely launch something it doesn’t have the utmost faith in. Voice calling is dominated by Skype, with telephones being manufactured and built into keyboards specifically for this. In fact, it’s probably why 99% of office workers who aren’t receptionists are buying headsets.

But does that mean we’re communicating well? Do we lose the tone of voice, or the ability to physically show someone an architectural model because we’re using webcams instead of sitting there in the office with them? Some things tend to get lost in the transfer, and unfortunately it’s usually the personal side to a business. Businesses, large ones at least, are not the most personal of entities to deal with. Large, faceless corporations, often have an automated telephone network and a bored set of people on the phones. If we apply the same “once removed” strategy to our internal communications, are we really a team, an empathetic, tight-knit motley crew of people able to hit the big numbers?

I find that although I can show someone a design for a website, or a bit of content, over the web, it doesn’t always mean they’re entirely following what I’m saying. Technology is fallible, and if we return to the example of the network of programmers, what happens if the Skype network goes down? No VOIP, no face-to-face or voice-based communication, and half the meaning in human speech is lost the second their thoughts hit the keyboard. Unless, of course, they send little vlogs to one another by YouTube, but if that ends up being the case they’re probably doing more video editing than programming at that point.

VOIP is a useful tool – it doesn’t require our fingers, and this means we can often keep working, take down notes, or surf to the site they’re telling us about without having to avoid multitasking. However, if we continue to rely on communication via digital channels and phase out the good, old-fashioned phone call, doesn’t all business conducted become less human? I agree it’s a rather philosophical concept for a Monday afternoon, but realistically we need to take a look at the way we’re talking to each other. I speak to a client on the phone, or face-to-face. We understand each other better, there are no mixed messages. This is preferable when you’re meeting for lunch on a work day, but if you’re meeting to discuss a £5m contract, it’s crucial.

I’d love to try the Google VOIP system, though I’ll be waiting a while as the UK aren’t getting free calls unless it’s to the US or Canada. However, when it does go free, and it will have to if it wants, in true Google-style, to stomp the competition flat and dance on its digital corpse. Skype must be shaking in their boots right now, either that or they know something we don’t.

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