Almost every freelancer has sent an important, time-sensitive email out to a client… only to be greeted with silence.
Now, we can’t control others’ actions – in email or in life – and we never know the entirety of our client’s given circumstances (maybe they intended to write us back, but, um, their fingers fell off?).
With that being said, adding a few key structuring elements to even the most casual emails ups the chance of a quick client response– and it only takes a moment.
Aim for concise
Unless you are writing a long, lovelorn email (nobody minds a looooooong paean to how beautiful and special and adorable they are), shorter is better.
Since I assume you are emailing clients and not Romeo, try to be concise. People tend to read emails very fast – often on a mobile device, while juggling a hot beverage.
Use Hemingway as a model, rather than Dickens; trend towards short, powerful sentences instead of verbosity.
Writing a to-the-point email ups your chances of being answered in a timely fashion – especially if you can steer your reader towards an option for a quick, painless response.
For example, I was wondering how you were currently feeling about the assorted graphic options for the campaign? is much less effective than Are we a yes or no for Option 3?
One is yes or no, and guides them towards a particular choice. The other requires much more input.
Join Freelancers Union for more quick tips (it's free!)
Formatting is your friend
The eye likes differentiation. If you need need need a client to see a particular detail or question, formatting is your friend (observe my handy-dandy examples).
That being said, use with care. Overuse of graphics, bolding, italicization, or capitalization not only takes away the efficacy of the same, but also tends to look, ah, crazy.
If EVERYTHING is emphasized, nothing is emphasized – and your email heaves with pressure and anxiety.
White space is your best friend
Big blocks of text tend to blend together on the aforementioned mobile screens. White space makes email more readable.
If I ask, “Are you reading this now?” it makes far less impact than if I ask:
Are you reading this now?
Bullets and lists can also help you structure your emails, and are an easy way to shape the white space. If you need to really emphasize a key point, isolate it.
It’s harder to ignore a single pointed phrase than a chunk of text.
Subject lines – use them
Marketers know how to use email subject lines effectively; that’s why your inbox is constantly full of clever taglines and tempting offers.
Too often, however, we send out emails to clients with subject lines like “Hello” or “Checking In.”
Now, “Checking In” is a perfectly fine subject line. It does not, however, impel a client to open or answer an email fast.
Subject lines needn’t be flashy or catchy. They should be relevant and substantive, and action-oriented when possible. If you need information from a client in order to progress, this is doubly true.
Think of the subject line as a soundbite for your longer email
If they were previewing the content on the 9 o’clock news, what would the reporters say? What would make viewers stay tuned? Your subject line is a valuable tool to make a client click through.
Again, you cannot MAKE a client open an email or respond promptly (and in a pinch, nothing is more effective than a quick phone call).
But adding a few simple structural elements can increase your chances of a fast turnaround… so you can get back to work!
Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.