by Rachel Smith
10 January 2020
Updated January 2020
I had a call from an old friend and colleague the other day. “Can you help me draft an email to a tricky editor?” she asked. “I’m just too close to it and I want to hit the right note.”
We hashed it out. We batted phrases back and forth, tweaked sentences and changed a word here and there. Finally, she sent it and later contacted me to say it got the desired result.
I was happy to help because it’s a request I’ve made of her – and other colleagues, and my dad – when I’m doubting an all-important work email. Language and tone is everything and a second opinion before you hit send can be invaluable. In fact, like the journalist check-list we wrote about on the blog, it could be that many of us need an email check-list as well.
But really – who has time to deliberate over every email? That’s why I think honing your email skills so you can send the right message most times (and get the response you want), is crucial to being successful as a freelancer. And if you get into the habit of cultivating a warm, personable email style, and learn to say and ask for things in the right way, you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. Here’s how.
People are busy. Some studies suggest we receive around 147 emails a day so make your editor or client’s life easier with an informative subject. If it’s a story pitch, say so: ‘Story pitch: Why stay at home dads are on the rise’. If it’s a client project, state which one and whatever your email’s about: ‘XYZ Project | New copy for review’.
Studies show that sending emails between 6-7am or around 8pm at night were the best times in order to get a reply. Early mornings are good because you’re probably at the top of the person’s inbox and they’re fresh. Other research suggests sending after lunch can also work in your favour because the boost in blood sugar levels can mean the person is more receptive to your email.
Regular readers will know I loathe the impersonal ‘hi’ that many people use in professional emails. Personalise it! According to this study, reading your own name triggers specific brain activation and engagement. And isn’t the whole point to engage people who could potentially hire you? So if you’re sending something like a letter of introduction (Lindy Alexander has a ripping post about LOIs here), make sure you send it to the right person.
Again, a bit of a no-brainer, but some of the phrases you could consider sprinkling through your emails include ‘please’, ‘thank-you’, ‘of course’, ‘I’ll get onto that right away’, ‘let me sort that out for you’, ‘let me look into that for you right now’, ‘my pleasure’ and so on. (If you need specific scripts you can copy, get sorted with our 25 Scripts for Freelance Success ebook.)
I know, I’m stating the obvious again – but nailing the language you use is so important. So phrases like, ‘that won’t be a problem’ may sound perfect, but even mentioning the word ‘problem’ may leave your client anticipating a problem. Keep it as positive as possible.
If you’re in the process of negotiating with a client over a project – particularly a skittish one – be careful using phrases like ‘I charge’, ‘You can pay me via this account’ and ‘let’s talk money’. Couch your money discussions in neutral terms, such as, ‘I ask for X percent of the overall sum up front’ and ‘my estimate for this project is $XX’ plus the all-important, ‘did you have a budget in mind for this project?’.
According to numerous studies, economy of language helps to build trust – and let’s face it, no one has time to wade through paragraphs of waffle. Keep it short, sweet and succinct.
Do you agree? We’d love to hear your email strategies for keeping editors and clients happy (and landing more work!).