Posted by Rebekah McLain on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - 06:30
It’s hard to imagine a day at the office without business email. And because it’s become such a routine part of the workflow for most financial professionals, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of proper etiquette in business writing, especially electronic correspondence.
Communication is a key soft skill and a crucial leadership trait. But there’s a special art to getting your point across professionally or conveying a new company policy, via email, and it’s important to perfect that skill if you want your audience to clearly understand your message. Whether you realize it or not, the format of your business email makes an impression on your coworkers and clients — especially those you’ve never met in person. It can also influence the results you receive in your job.
Here are five ways you can set yourself apart from other finance and accounting professionals by mastering the art of the strategic business email.
1. Begin with a compelling subject line
Keep in mind that your message is competing with myriad others for attention. Be sure your subject line is succinct, grabs recipients’ attention and conveys the most salient point. For instance, try “Request for approval of quarterly reports,” rather than a vague “Quarterly reports?” Think: What action am I requesting from the recipient? And be certain before you hit “send” that there is no ambiguity in your subject line. Be kind to your recipients so they are able to open, read and respond appropriately and on deadline.
2. Be mindful of length
The function of business email is to efficiently convey information. Make certain every sentence in the message is carefully constructed so that it politely conveys the necessary information — nothing more, nothing less. Colleagues and clients will appreciate you getting to the point and sparing them lengthy missives. They’ll also be more likely to read the entire email, rather than skim.
3. Don’t abuse priority flags
Inboxes are cluttered venues, and flagging an email as high priority when it’s not distracts people from more pressing matters. Carefully consider the importance you place on your emails before sending. This not only helps others prioritize their communication, but it preserves the purpose of flagging messages as “urgent,” as well as your integrity as the sender, for legitimate purposes.
4. Respond in a timely fashion
It’s easy to procrastinate in responding to emails you don’t feel like dealing with. However, you don’t want to leave your colleagues with the impression that you don’t respect their roles or inquiries. While there’s no need to answer every email immediately, you do want to respond in a reasonable amount of time. A good rule of thumb is to budget a small part of every morning and afternoon to respond to emails, so colleagues and clients know you’re being attentive.
5. Proofread your business email
Your email reflects you. If your messages are full of spelling and grammatical errors, you’re falling down on the communication job. Finance jobs require a keen eye for detail. If you don’t take the time to edit your email before you send it, your boss or clients may wonder what else you’re missing.
And by all means, before you choose email to convey your message, remember there are other forms of communication. If your concern can be addressed with a quick phone call or a stop by a colleague’s desk, deliver or get the information you need that way.
Workers wondering where their time goes should look at how they manage emails, new research suggests. In a Robert Half survey, chief financial officers (CFOs) said 17 percent of the time they spend on work email is wasted.
Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.