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7 Essential Rules for Consultants’ Emails

Quick quiz! Which of the following is more useful: reading about how consultants should write emails, or listening to a flight attendant instruct you in buckling a seat belt. You’ve practiced both activities roughly a jillion times. But even if you’re strapped in tight, chances are your emails need some help.

Consultants mess up emails all the time and, as a result, dampen their odds of winning business and delighting clients.

Let’s chat about a few ways you can make your emails work harder for you.

Stay Right-Side Up

Right-Side Up Thinking is at the core of successful consulting. It’s the realization that consulting is about them—the clients—not you. That principle holds true in emails too.

Even if you think your email is about you, it’s not. Consulting is always about the client. We are enablers and helpers. We give our clients a boost over their obstacles or up their ladder of achievements.

Make your emails Right-Side Up by thinking about what the client’s purpose is for your email. You know what your purpose is, but what is theirs? When your email is built around your client’s needs and wants, you’ll compose a valuable email that builds trust and rapport.

Start with Them

How many of your emails start off with an “I” statement? Consulting clients are more interested in themselves than you. If you launch your emails with “you” statements, they’re more likely to read through your missive and stay engaged.

“I” Opening “You” Opening
I enjoyed meeting you… You were delightful to meet…
I have some great news… You’re going to love this news…
I hope you’re not buried in snow… Have you escaped the snow?
I’ve enclosed a box of chocolates. If you don’t eat all the chocolates, send some back!

Write from Sunshine

If you’re frustrated, angry, fed up or stressed out, you’re likely to say things you’ll later regret. Especially if your consulting client is the one frustrating you or causing the stress. Don’t hit “Send” quite yet.

Yes, responsiveness rules in consulting; however, when steam is whistling from your ears is not the time to whip out a fast reply to your client. Wait an hour (or a night) until your blood cools and you have a smile on your face.

Clients can sense your goofy grin or your angry scowl in your writing. Which do you want them to picture?

Write to Rain

What if you’re brimming with sunshine but your client is madder than a hornet? Since there’s no way to anticipate your client’s mood, assume they’re angry.

Leave out anything that could be interpreted negatively (like sarcasm) and lean toward a friendly, conciliatory tone.

Get Shorty

Long emails look daunting and uninviting. Even long emails about cacao products. If you have a lot to say—a proposal, for instance—attach a document.

Invite a 3rd Party

For important emails to consulting clients, shoot a draft over to a colleague for input.  No matter how good you are, another perspective can make your email more powerful, compelling and effective.

Respect Their Style

Emails from your consulting clients tell you oodles about their preferred style. Do they start with niceties or get right to the point? Are they loose and sloppy with their grammar, salutations and spelling?

You don’t have to mimic their style—tight, well-written emails rarely go astray; however, follow your clients lead in terms of tone.

What other rules do you recommend for emails? Or, alternatively, what really aggravates you about email? Please share your thoughts below.


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31 Comments
  1. Alain Jordà
    December 27, 2017 at 7:05 am Reply

    Very good! I use to apply all this rules but I never thought about them. So, thank you, David to do this job for all of us.

    • David A. Fields
      December 27, 2017 at 7:23 am Reply

      We all use email so often that it’s almost inevitable to occasionally stumble into into “Oops, I shouldn’t have done that” territory. Fortunately, it sounds like you stumble less than most people, Alain!

      Happy New Year, and thanks for joining the conversation.

  2. Janet L. Falk
    December 27, 2017 at 7:23 am Reply

    David,
    Your reference to “Start with Them” struck a chord with me. A consultant taught that every email and letter begins with Thank You, Congratulations, You or Your. (See what I did there?) It’s always helpful to be reminded of best practices.

    Janet L. Falk

    • David A. Fields
      December 27, 2017 at 7:30 am Reply

      You’re right on the money with that advice, Janet. Thank you for contributing, and kudos to you for the cleverly constructed comment. (It’s tough to overdo the you-centered language.)

  3. Ara Jeknavorian
    December 27, 2017 at 8:53 am Reply

    Great advice, David. The majority of my communications with clients is through email. Often, I will repeat back an email sent to me to clarify client’s intent so as to avoid running off and performing a task that I may have misunderstood from the client. Also, timeliness of response I have found to be key. I try to offer “on-demand” responses to my clients who sometimes have an urgent need for information. Moreover, I rarely ever let one day pass before responding to a client’s email.

    • David A. Fields
      December 27, 2017 at 9:15 am Reply

      Responding quickly and asking for clarification are two excellent additions to the list, Ara. “I thought you meant…” are the most common words behind most consultant/client disagreements. Ensuring you know what the client wants before you leap into action is a smart idea.

      i appreciate you adding to the list, Ara!

  4. Ruth Winett
    December 27, 2017 at 9:54 am Reply

    Great advice, David,

    Also, be careful when cutting and pasting old messages for new clients. Make sure the message fits the new client. Customize each message.

    Don’t bombard people with email messages. That is the best way to be consigned to junk mail.

    If you are tired, stressed, or angry, save the message, and reconsider it the next day.

    .

    • David A. Fields
      December 27, 2017 at 10:12 am Reply

      Three terrific tips, Ruth. Using templates and cut-and-paste can make your email writing much more efficient, but it’s also easy to slip and forget to customize correctly. Formatting the customizable parts in boldface or red (or both) can help prevent those slips too.

      You’re also totally right about keeping your clients’ email load light. Do they really need another email from you to know you’re good at what you do?

      I appreciate your additions to the discussion, Ruth.

  5. Debbie
    December 27, 2017 at 10:03 am Reply

    What a great way to end and kick off the New Year.
    Clients received so many emails. One way to be right side up in our thinking is to be concise and get to the point early on in the email.
    To get in that frame of mind, before writing, I think … if I were running to catch a bus, what few words would I say to grab someone’s attention and start from there. For example… “Here’s one to save you time”
    Wishing all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2018!

    • David A. Fields
      December 27, 2017 at 10:17 am Reply

      What a great, mental prompt, Debbie. (Of course, I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t start every email with, “Give me a second to catch my breath… man, I’m out of shape!”)

      Seriously, your point is well taken: if we want to engage our clients, we first need to consider what phrase will break through the roar of conversations in their heads when they open our emails. Thanks for suggesting a method for putting that concept into action.

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