The average business person receives 121 emails per day. Just think about that for a second…the grind of plowing through so many emails as they ping your inbox thick and fast each day.
This means that most people know the difference between a great email and a poor one. If you are in the latter category, you could leave a wrong impression and maybe even be overlooked entirely.
But it also means you need to stand out from the crowd. If most people receive a thunderstorm of emails daily, you need to figure out a way to shine amongst them and make your voice heard.
Let’s look at achieving that, starting with the tone of voice.
Establish the Right Tone
Before typing out a single word, you need to figure out an appropriate tone of voice. What is your intention with this email? What type of punch are you looking to deliver? Those questions are relevant because it affects the general feel of your email.
If, for example, you are emailing the CEO of a major corporation, it wouldn’t hurt to show a little reverence and offer a small compliment:
“I have admired your remarkable career and now have the pleasure of emailing you for the first time.”
On the other hand, if you are emailing a junior marketing exec at a mid-sized realtor, the same weighty compliment would seem a little strange, wouldn’t it?
You wouldn’t use the same tone with an attorney over a serious legal matter as you would with a close colleague in the marketing department. Similarly, a different style is required to inform, request, or apologize for something.
If you are replying to an email, you needn’t worry about the right tone too much. Just reply using the same kind of tone as the sender.
An appointment-seeking email would take on an entirely different tone from a thank-you email. And by the way, we have a terrific article on how to write a professional thank you email – highly recommended for nailing your most sincere gratitude and well worth a look.
Either way, this is a factor you need to determine before starting a new email. So, first things first, take a moment’s pause to consider the recipient before composing a single word.
Starting an Email
There are four areas of focus when starting a professional email which, regardless of tone, will almost always play out over the same format:
So, the best way to tackle this is to break down each stage, starting with the subject. Let’s delve into that.
1.- Email Subject Line
This seems like a reasonably simple undertaking. We don’t want you to waste an entire morning carefully brainstorming the most appropriate opening sentence, but you need to give it a little more thought than you might have realized.
PRO TIP 🖊️ Keep in mind that a subject line is a call to action. This is the first thing your recipient will see and could be the difference between your email being opened or consigned to spam. So, we need to nail this.
Let’s take a look at some base considerations for the subject line:
Don’t Put it Off
Some people make the mistake of entering the subject line as the last thing they do. There are better ideas than this for two reasons. Firstly, by entering the subject line as your final step in the process, you might take it less seriously and type something almost as an afterthought.
After all, you have done the tricky bit, right? Having labored over carefully selected prose for the email body, it is tempting to slap something into the subject field without much thought.
Secondly, a common mistake is to instantly fire out the email as soon as you have finished composing it, resulting in a blank subject line. Most email programs will hit you with a warning message, but mistakes can still happen, and a blank subject line isn’t a great look.
You only have a little room to play with here, and remember, most emails these days are opened on mobile devices, which means you have just six, maybe eight words (at a push), to grab the recipient’s attention.
In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t very much. Try opening a face-to-face conversation in just six words; it’s harder than you think!
There are a few things to consider which will make it a little easier, however:
- Save the greeting for the first line in the email. Typing out hello John in the subject line is just a waste of space and conveys nothing.
- Be clear. Writing something like could we jump on a call? isn’t specific. If you want to call and discuss an IT glitch, write something like Software Issue, Let’s Talk?
- KILL THE CAPS! It’s rude and a bit shouty.
- Write the subject line in title case with external emails. It conforms to basic AP writing guidelines and looks professional. Lowercase will be fine for internal emails. Title-checking apps are available if you need clarification on which words need capitalizing.
Avoid Marketing Strategies
This article relates to professional business emails. The intention is to be clear, straight to the point, and genuine while at the same time appearing as interesting as possible. What you DON’T want to do is apply marketing techniques geared toward high open rates.
That strategy will work perfectly for a subscriber list or a sales email campaign, but it’s not a great look when emailing a prospective customer or colleague.
For example, if you are blasting out a sales email to a volume list, you might apply action-based verbs so as “Do This Now For Immediate Gains” or “Call Now For Your Free Gift.” Try that technique with the head of marketing at a large company, and you will offend (at best) or be trashed before opening (at worst).
PRO TIP 🖊️Use Action Words
It sometimes helps to instruct the recipient what they need to do – what action they must take. Consider starting a subject line with something like ‘Please Respond’ or ‘Please Confirm’. You will be surprised at what a difference it can make.
Subject Line Examples
Let’s look at a few examples before moving on to the next stage of starting a business email – the email greeting.
👍 Good: Matty Bates – Software Engineer
👎 Poor: My application for the software engineer position
Setting Up a Meeting
👍 Good: Meeting – Thursday Possible?
👎 Poor: I would like to request a meeting this Thursday if you are free.
Confirm Purchase Order
👍 Good: P/O – Please Confirm
👎 Bad: Please confirm the purchase order sent earlier today.
Presenting a Service To a CEO
👍 Good: Possible Advertising Solution
👎 Bad: You might be interested in an advertising platform we have available.
So, armed with the above guidance, safe in the knowledge that this isn’t rocket science, you should be fine. It isn’t difficult to devise a good subject line, and the premise here is less about what you should do and more about what you shouldn’t do.
Keep it short, sweet, and punchy. Avoid anything gimmicky, and you will be ok.
2.- Email Greeting
With a clear, crisp subject line completed, you must knock out a good email greeting, followed by a decent, interesting first line. But first, there is something I want to get off my chest:
I beg of you, dearest reader, to never start an email with to whom it may concern! That has to be the most cliched, stuffy, old-fashioned email greeting known to humankind, and I don’t want you to succumb. Just go ahead and delete it from your mental hard drive right now!
We can do better than that, so let’s see how.
There is a range of greetings that can be used in all emails. You just need to select depending on the context.
Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss Surname
For a very formal email only! In over 20 years of emailing, I am struggling to recall when I started an email with “Dear Mr” because it is so awfully formal. You obviously wouldn’t use this email greeting with a familiar acquaintance and would likely only require it when the message is serious.
Dear First Name
For a slightly less formal email than the above and one of the more common salutations that cover most contexts. You can use this greeting with new and old acquaintances, colleagues, or any contact outside of family and close friends.
Hi Name or Hi There Name
That’s better! This generic greeting applies to almost every email, and is the safe bet of greetings to use with everyone, from clients to acquaintances. Handy when you are unsure of the email recipient’s name.
Hello Everyone, Hi Everyone, or Hi Team.
This is the go-to greeting for group emails. You can’t start an email with Hi followed by 17 names, so just go with the common sense approach of using everyone or team.
PRO TIP 🖊️How to Start an Email Greeting?
Let’s not overthink this because, in truth, the salutations/greeting is relatively easy. Or at least, it shouldn’t be!
Be polite and brief, and use common courtesies as your greeting, and you will be fine.
Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening
This one lends itself to important internal announcements. It comes in handy if you email someone on distant shores in a different time zone.
A simple Hey or Hey Name
Reserved for familiar acquaintances only. Fine to use, providing there is just a drop of casualness between you and the recipient.
F.A.O (department Manager)
You want to email a particular representative but have no idea of the person’s name? Simple. Just go ahead and greet with an F.A.O (for the attention of). For example, F.A.O Marketing Manager.
3.- Write a Good Opening Line
The opening line is a simple, one-sentence precursor to the primary email body and is pretty much an extension of the greeting.
Opening lines are used only with the first email between you and the email recipient. Don’t use an opening line if you get into an exchange of multiple replies – unless a duration of, let’s say, a few weeks has passed since you first emailed them.
The standard opening line, and almost certainly the most common, is hope you are doing well, or similar variations of that.
PRO TIP 🖊️How to Start an Email With a Question?
It’s pretty simple. Just focus on being transparent and polite. Here are a couple of examples:
I would appreciate it if you could…. Is there any chance that you might…. Could you please let me know when would be the best time to….
Other Good Opening lines:
- Sorry for emailing you out of the blue.
- I hope your day is going well so far.
- It’s been a while, I hope you are doing great.
- I hope you had a lovely weekend (Obviously, this applies to Mondays only).
Opening Lines In Reply
In reply to an email, you can open it with something like this:
Thanks for reaching out/contacting me/the email.
- Great to hear from you.
- Thanks for your time earlier (if you are following up on a phone/video call).
- Thanks for the prompt reply (assuming there was a quick response)
Use your Imagination
Things get interesting, however, when you commit to a richer, more intriguing opening line and use it as a hook. Use a compelling opening line to encourage engagement.
PRO TIP 🖊️What Is a Good Start to an Email?
Think outside the box a little, and have them wanting to read more. Stick around for just a little longer because I have a great example of how you can use your imagination to blast out a compelling opening line!
4.- Example Email
Using a real-world example, let’s take a look at an example of an imaginative opening line, together with a short, punchy, attention-grabbing email body.
I was once hired to create an email for a recruitment company that wanted to cold-email the HR chief at a software company. My client wanted to fill engineer positions for them and needed a great email to stand out so they could win a meeting to pitch their services to this prospective customer.
The company produces software that helps with safety for college students, with various features designed to protect them in multiple ways.
I thought about it and created two opening lines based on intrigue and emotion, followed by a couple of punchy paragraphs getting to the point:
I applaud you guys over at (company name).
Seriously. I want you to imagine me standing over my desk, actually applauding your company for creating this app.
As a father of two daughters at college, I feel safe knowing that this kind of app exists for campus students. I think parents and students everywhere should know of your service, and have mentioned it to everyone in my circle – I wanted to do my bit in spreading the word!
I run a recruitment agency specializing in software engineer talent and have one or two candidates who might be perfect for your company. I understand you might be looking for new engineers and I would love to discuss this quickly if you have five minutes spare.
PRO TIP 🖊️Get Straight to the Point!
It’s usually a good idea to nail someone’s attention by throwing an action grenade into the first opening sentence. In other words, try and crowbar your main point into the opening line, so the email recipient is clear from the start and does not have to read through a bunch of filler and waffle to get there.
With those two opening lines, I created intrigue. By defying convention and going outside of the norm a little, you are guaranteed to make an impression and stand out. A good opening line (or two) like that naturally encourages the email recipient to continue reading.
The email body then compliments the recipient for creating an excellent app and asks for a quick chat. It’s simple, brief, engaging, takes less than 30 seconds to read, and encourages an immediate response.
Of course, you will need to complete the email with a solid, well-crafted ending, and we have a great article that helps you do that right here. It’s worth looking for those who want to leave a good impression!
Writing a business or work email is shockingly tricky if you are new to it, but with practice, you should find it easy. Remember to be polite and straight to the point, avoid fluff or filler, and don’t treat it as a marketing email! Be polished and professional; it will soon become second nature to you.
This is important to me because many people take the basics for granted. Hopefully, this article has helped improve that. And If I missed anything, go ahead and let me know in the comments!.
Are you interested in further emailing guidance? We have a brilliant article covering how to write a professional email with some handy tips and advice, which is worth checking out!