Writing Excellent Client Emails

A partially blurred email being composed in Gmail. Visible text includes "sir or madam", "per our conversation", "To whom it may concern", and "please kindly see my response."

I’ve now spent more than 12 years writing emails to clients. Email is, in fact, my preferred method of communication for most tasks. I’ve learned a lot of things that work when writing emails, and a lot that don’t too. Nobody is perfect and I admit to not always following every personal best practice (sorry, clients!), but I still work really hard to write excellent client emails!

Here’s my list of tips.

Build relationships

  • Reply within a day or two, even if it’s just to say “Thanks for being in touch, I’ll get back to you in {good faith amount of time}.”
  • Start with a warm greeting and close with a warm sign off. Do this especially if it’s the first email you’ve sent the person in a while or if you know they’re having a hard time or are extra busy. There’s a living, breathing person on the other end of every email with a life and thoughts and feelings. We live in a world together, and adding humanity to your emails helps us all remember that and feel seen and heard.

Write to be read

  • Use all the best practices you would when writing for the web. (Because you’re writing for the web.) Use short sentences and short paragraphs. Don’t use jargon unless you 1000% (not a typo) know the other person knows it. Break up your emails with bolded section headings—unfortunately Gmail doesn’t let me write with real headings. Use bulleted and numbered lists. End with action items and clear forward paths. (Notice how this blog post is written? It wouldn’t make for a horrible client email…)
  • Write descriptive subject lines!!! When you are searching or browsing for an email in 6 months, what will help you find it? Write that as your subject line.
  • Stick with one email thread per subject. Definitely don’t introduce a new topic as the 17th email of a thread. This is a recipe for losing track of important discussions. Don’t be afraid to read an email from someone and immediately compose a new message back with a new subject line rather than replying.

Help people act

  • Show. Don’t tell. Include screenshots and mark them up. Make short videos or animated GIFs. There are tons of great tools out there, so figure out what works best for you. I primarily use the Windows Snipping Tool for screenshots, LICEcap for animated GIFs, and the Windows screen recorder and Loom for screen recording.
  • Link everything. (Just like that last point.) If you’re discussing a video or article, link to it. If you mention an organization, book, or business, link to it. Even if you’re linking to a page on their own site, link to it! That’s respectful of the other person’s time, and it also encourages engagement. You’d be surprised how much linking prevents misunderstandings too.
  • End an email with clear next steps, especially if the email is long. You can also consider bolding or highlighting action items, though make sure to tell people you’re doing that if you do. But also…
  • If your email doesn’t need a response, call that out! You can save someone time and allow them not to reply. If you know someone is busy or even out of the office, make it clear you know that and you won’t expect an immediate response.
  • Include full contact info in your signature. That means your full name (and pronouns), email, phone number, and website. Just like a website footer, tons of people know to scroll to the end of an email to find the key details they need to get in touch with you.

Know when to take it out of the inbox

  • Start every new client relationship with a conversation about communication styles. Do they like details or just want the highlights? Do they prefer calls over emails? Share your own preferences too and find the best solution that will lead to clear communication.
  • Offer phone, video, and in-person meetings. Email isn’t great for complex technical information, high-level strategy, or important decision making.
  • Let people schedule meetings with you without using email. I use Calendly to let people pick available times on my calendar and schedule a Zoom meeting. It has been an incredibly popular tool with my clients because it empowers them to find a time that works on the first try. I also love it because it means I only ever schedule things in time slots that work for me. (Mom, you can feel free to call any time; no need to schedule.)
  • Email can be a collaborative project management tool, but be clear if that’s the case. In fact, I usually find it’s the best one for me and my clients. But that said, use whatever tool the client is most comfortable with to collaborate. Whether that’s Trello or Asana or something else, project management tools require buy-in. If a client is already bought-in to a tool, use it.

If you think I missed anything, let me know in the comments!

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