I know, I know... for anyone under the age of 30, email is only for communicating with Grandma. As much as we're converting our missives to text messages, email still plays a critical role in business communication. However, even with a highly-tuned spam filter, I still get more unwanted mail than I get email I am inclined to open. I sometimes find myself retrieving an inadvertently-deleted email, tossed out because the subject line was merely "Hey!", and I started thinking of how to ensure that my own emails never get deleted as junk.
The problem with cryptic subject lines arises when we forget the context in which our email will arrive. I may be sitting at my desk, thinking of a discussion I had with a colleague last week, and suddenly remember one more thing I need to tell her. My first impulse might be to fire off an email with the subject line "one more thing", with a brief message in the body of the text such as "Forgot to tell you -- Carol will be at the meeting, too." I know what I'm trying to say - that I'll be bringing someone else with me to our meeting in two weeks, which we scheduled the other day. But the recipient of my terse email may not immediately remember what "the meeting" refers to, and in fact may have deleted my email unread, since I didn't have a distinctive subject line. A better version of this email would have been:
Subject: follow-up on our conversation
Text: When we spoke on Monday, I forgot to mention that Carol Smith will be joining us at our meeting next Friday at 10am. I look forward to seeing you then.
Since email is often the primary way we info-entrepreneurs communicate with clients, it's even more important that we practice good email etiquette. The following are a few other examples of how not to get your email opened.
Subject: please call me ASAP so we can discuss the project
Subject: hospital marketing project update
Text: I have a few questions about the hospital marketing project we discussed on Tuesday. When would be a good time for me to call you for a brief discussion to clarify the scope of this project? I'm available any time after 10am ET on Friday.
Don't use the subject line as a substitute for a complete message. Some email programs truncate the subject line so your long subject line is lost. And, in any event, your client may not necessarily recognize your email address and won't know who is demanding that she call ASAP. Use the subject line to summarize the topic of the email message, not as a substitute for the message itself.
In addition, be sure to give your client a context in which to place your message. "The project" may mean something to you, but your client probably has a number of projects going at one time. Spell out what you're talking about, remind her of when you last spoke, and include any other information you think would help remind her of what you're referring to.
Subject: Re: re: fwd: re: the project
Subject: the hospital marketing project
If you are having a back-and-forth email discussion, it's possible that either your or your client's email software will insert a "RE:" at the beginning of the subject line, indicating that you are responding to a previous email. After a couple of exchanges, your subject line becomes little more than a collection of "Re:"'s. Check the subject line before you reply, and clean out that "Re:" litter.
Sending an attached file without an explanation in the body of the email of what the attachment contains.
Text: John, attached is Bates-Hospital-Marketing.docx, a Word file with the results of my research on hospital marketing programs as we discussed. Please feel free to call me at 303.772.7095 if you have any questions about this report. I'll check in with you on Monday to discuss next steps.
We all know not to open unexpected email attachments. Even though your client may be watching for your report, including a brief explanatory note, with the name of the attached file and your contact information, ensures that he won't immediately delete the attachment as a virus.
And, of course, be sure to clarify ahead of time in what format your client would prefer the report.
Text: I've got a question about our project. Could you call me within the next hour so we can go over a few things?
If time is of the essence, call or text your client.
It's dicey to assume that your client will be checking email every 15 minutes. If you need to communicate in email, work on the assumption that your client may only be able or willing to review her email once a day, and build into your project enough time to allow for a delay in corresponding.
And finally, remember that your client probably receives dozens or hundreds of email messages a day. Keep your message clear and to the point, and always provide context. Your client's time is worth money, just as yours is. Make sure that you make all your interactions with your clients as frictionless as possible.