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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
Just a quick ntoe, need those files for Momday.
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.