A top-down shot of a person holding a smartphone with one hand and gesturing to it with the other. The phone displays an email symbol and the word "inbox".

Infiltrating the inbox: 4 strategies for writing effective business emails that help your bottom line

June 16, 2022

June is Effective Communications month in the business world; a time to reflect and learn new strategies for better communicating in the workplace. As many businesses continue to navigate the era of the remote and hybrid work environments, there’s bound to be places where communication issues arise and information flow breaks down. According to one study, miscommunication costs companies of ~100 employees an average of $420,000 per year.

With that in mind, let’s examine some of the most common email pitfalls you might be falling into, and how to take steps to avoid them.

Less is more—keep it short, simple and direct

Experts generally agree that the average person sends and receives ~120 business emails every day. Combine this torrent of information with increasingly shortened attention spans and you’ll find most people quickly lose interest in information that is not clear or concise. This confusion also costs your business money in the form of time wasted looking for clarification, reading unnecessarily long emails and through costly misunderstandings.

Focus on your key messages and the specific information that your audience will need to act on. Note these down in point form, then write your email to deliver these points with as little prose as possible. If the information you’re delivering is particularly important or sensitive, having a colleague proofread and edit the material before sending will go a long way in ensuring your messages are clear and not muddled by unnecessary wording.

The subject line is your best friend

Any email you send is competing with thousands of others for space in your audience’s inbox, making the subject line your first—and sometimes only—chance at getting it read. Whether you’re sending a sales pitch, requesting payment for an invoice or reaching out to build your network, a dull or confusing subject line can be sometimes be the difference between making or losing you money.

While there are many different strategies for crafting the perfect subject line depending on your goal, some of the key points to keep in mind are:

  • Keep it short: We already mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating. A short and sharp subject line is key; experts say it should be no more than 9 words or 60 characters
  • Indicate your intentions: If you’re asking you’re the recipient to do something specific, let them know! A good practice is to put a ‘Action Required:’ at the start of your subject line so they know right away it shouldn’t be ignored
  • Make it personalized: There’s a reason that email marketers are using personal information in their campaign emails these days—it works. Working your recipients name into your subject line is a good way to grab their attention and make it the message feel directed

It’s also important to write your subject line as though it will be searched later—because it will be. Using keywords or numbers are great ways to make sure any search function can find your email quickly.

The Inverted-Pyramid

As a business leader, you’re always looking to increase both employee and client buy-in. One of the most effective ways to ensure your audience understands and is on board with what you’re asking of them is delivering information in the most digestible form possible. When writing any business email, consider using the inverted-pyramid style of communication:

Popularized by journalists after the invention of the telegraph to condense material and reduce costs, the inverted-pyramid is a metaphor for prioritizing and structuring information in writing. This style focuses on delivering the most crucial facts up front—the who, what, when, where, why and how—followed by supporting details descending in order of importance.

Adopting the inverted-pyramid style will keep your emails concise and to the point by design:

  • Opening Line: Present your main message in the first line or two of the email, grabbing the reader’s attention and building anticipation about your offer or request
  • Body: Support your key information with additional (but not superfluous) details to convince them to take action
  • Call-to-action: Finish your email with a short, compelling call-to-action that gives clear, simple steps for the recipient to follow or items for them to deliver upon

Could that email be an IM, call or quick chat?

Sometimes knowing when to send an email is just as important as knowing how to send an email. Knowing which medium to use in which situation is not only essential in the digital workplace, it also keeps your inbox clutter-free—leaving more real estate for important emails from clients and customers.

Thanks to the proliferation of collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack, most emails can now be replaced by an instant message, team channel post or virtual meeting. Using a flowchart, such as the one below which outlines the best uses of email vs instant messaging, can be helpful in narrowing down which communication method to use:

A graphic flowchart outlining when to use email versus messaging in communications. Chartered Professional Accountant BC.

Image: team.biz