Saturday, August 3, 2013

E-mails: writing and replying

As freelancers, communication and networking are an essential part of our strategy; getting it right is key to our professional image and success.
Whether you’re contacting potential clients or networking with new colleagues, writing and replying to e-mails (or other messages) is routine in business; I would like to share my top tips and insights about this (only apparently) simple and straightforward task.

- Do your research. Be informed about who you're addressing: this lays the foundations for your communication (and reputation, too: you cannot build trust if you don't care enough). Also, say you appreciate what they do.
- Address people by name. If you’re pitching to a prospect and want to stand out, you certainly shouldn’t treat them as if their name didn’t even matter. Starting a conversation as if the recipient were someone anonymous or random is annoying to who’s actually reading. And looking up a person’s name is a basic sign of respect. It also takes just a few seconds: most “Contact” pages also list staff names and positions in the company.
Be careful with names that may refer to both male and female: take a few minutes to check elsewhere, for ex. social profiles or articles about that person, to find out (I had to do this recently).
- Be concise but relevant. If it's your first message, a few lines are really enough to introduce yourself, state why you're writing, and indicate what they shall do (contact you if interested? Answer a specific question? Collaborate on a project?). Don't put in too much information, its not necessary at this stage and it wouldn't get the attention you're hoping for. You need to be able to select the appropriate relevant info to appeal to your contact, then leave them with the option to reply and find out more.
- Don't sell just quality, sell benefits. You're an oustanding translator/proofreader and that's fine - that's a must actually. But people often remember that we exist only when they actually need something translated (urgently, of course), or they don't even know they need our services, for example they have a badly translated website or other material that needs editing without them being aware. State why and how your services should benefit their company.
- Thank the person for taking time to read your message. This is is not just a formality for me - it is something very important. I believe that acknowledging each other's contribution makes everything nicer and healthier.

That said, let me take the whole issue to the next step: we all write and receive e-mails, but what about replying?

My opinion is that when an e-mail is properly written, i.e. it's kind and respectful, it is a matter of politeness and professionality to reply and to do it accordingly (that is, being equally kind and respectful). No matter your interest or availability – a "Sorry to say no [we don't need your services / it doesn't fit our budget or schedule right now / I don’t have the answer to your inquiry / whatever], but thanks for your time and interest" is perfectly fine and, in my opinion, way better than no reply at all. If someone takes the time to show interest in you/your company, then they equally deserve the time of a couple of lines. How long does it take after all? You don't have to do it immediately; we're all busy and we all need to organize our daily schedule and prioritize. But I am sure we can all squeeze in a few seconds within a reasonable timeframe - some days are still ok if the matter is not urgent.

As for myself, I value very much people who do respond and I am much more willing to work or keep in touch with them, for a simple reason: they prove to be polite, open, and reliable. Three qualities I am daily committed to, and that - in turn - I would really like to see in others too.

In a very interesting SDL webinar called "Conflict and Resolution:unreasonable customers and tricky situations", linguist Judy Jenner pointed out that replying or not replying may also depend on culture; for example, her twin sister and business partner Dagmar finds that not replying as a way to say (or, to avoid saying!) "not interested" is much more common in Europe than in the USA, where – Judy says – it's more likely that the person had actually forgotten about the message and even appreciates a reminder.
I am European and I must say Dagmar has a point here: it often happens. Still, it never fails to surprise (and disappoint) me.

It would be interesting to hear more perspectives on this. Any comments? Share them here!