Your business hinges on effectively communicating through a variety of documents. You send out emails, business proposals, memorandums, legal agreements, and all sorts of other serious documents. There are many businesses out there sending out the same kinds of messages, some of which may be competing with you. To help your docs rise to the top of the heap and get noticed, you need to put that little extra “something” in them that will emphasize your absolute professionalism.
And that’s why we’ve put together this list of no-no’s in business communications. By making sure you avoid the pitfalls on this list, you’ll be effectively communicating across all types of documents, and your prospective customers are sure to notice.
Here’s a look at what not to do.
1. Hitting “reply all” at the wrong moment
You’ve probably had your own small-scale “reply all” fiasco by now. We all have. But in business settings this can be a really bad idea.
I know a contractor who received an email request for proposal (RFP.) Not realizing that the sender had carbon copied (CC’d) every other competing contractor in a tri-state area, the contractor inadvertently told all of his competitors his price in one action: hitting “reply all” carelessly.
Don’t let this one happen to you. Once you train yourself not to send business communications without checking to see if you’re replying all, or just replying, it becomes a habit.
2. Getting spiteful with the CCs
Speaking of CCs, those can get you in trouble in business emails in other ways than simply the old “reply all” conundrum.
Forbes has a story about a pair of web designers in disagreement. After several email exchanges between the two, one co-worker decides to escalate the entire email chain to their supervisor. The boss was not impressed. In fact, he took the action of putting the emails “on blast” for what it was: immature.
Use the “CC” button on a need-to-know basis, and don’t use it to put others on the spot.
3. Saying “You’re Fired” – via email
You’ve probably heard the horror stories of people getting fired or laid off via email. It’s a big faux pas, if you ask us. Though some big companies have been guilty of doing it, you still want to avoid this kind of thing.
A broader message to take from this is: “Don’t deal out bad news lightly.” In the digital realm, it’s easy to slip into being impersonal about delicate matters because you may never see employees, coworkers, or customers, in person. If you have to tell someone bad news, and you only interface with them online, at least try to do it on Skype.
4. Seeking instant confirmation
You send out an urgent email needing immediate attention. You wait five minutes. Nothing happens. You wait ten minutes; still no response. At the 15-minute mark, you say, “Okay, that’s enough,” and rattle off a hasty follow-up email to confirm receipt of your earlier message.
That’s not a good idea; however, it is something that happens all the time. A better course of action is to call first to let your recipient know that you are about to send something over so they will be watching for it. Then give them a respectable amount of time to respond.
Of course, there are better options for sending documents that will let you know when they are received, opened, commented on and signed, without all the follow up.
5. Sending out memes, chain mail, and jokes
Don’t you just hate getting a daily influx of lame jokes in your email from your second cousin twice-removed?
Here’s a tip: your business associates hate that sort of thing, too. What makes this an even greater offense is the fact that, often, what might be humorous to you is “off-color” to someone else. And that can open up a whole other can of worms.
In business, it’s best to keep it strictly business, and definitely don’t forward out those annoying, (un)funny chain messages to your entire office. It’s a real nuisance, trust us.
6. Sending messages to the old email address
Haven’t updated your email contacts lately? One way to get no response at all is to send out messages to an out-of-date email address. As people move from one inbox to another, they often stop checking the old one. It’s important to keep your contacts up-to-date, to avoid this annoying no-no.
What’s worse is sending an email to one address, and then flipping to the correct new address for follow up. Your recipients will find that especially unnerving.
7. Dispensing with the pleasantries
You know who doesn’t add a salutation to their communications? Callous, self-important people, that’s who! If you don’t want your readers to think the same of you, you’ve got to address them with “Hello” or “Dear,” or some other professional salutation.
This is not just important for emails. Cover letters, executive summaries, and other documents benefit from a proper greeting.
Likewise, it’s nice to add some sort of valediction to your messages. If you just taper off, plop down your name or initials, while all of those things are okay in personal communications, they’re big no-no’s in the world of business documents. “Thank you!” or “Looking forward to hearing from you!” goes a long way.
8. Saying too much
A business document is no place for long, drawn-out text. You want to get to the point, and that means cutting down on unnecessary parts. You have a call to action in mind when writing any document. The whole document should be shaped around that action, with it fixed centrally in the message.
If any part of the message does not facilitate that action, give it the axe.
Here’s what you should avoid:
I wanted to see if you needed 3 mock-ups of that design we talked about on Tuesday. Do you need more?
Also, did you watch the game last night? I can’t believe the ump said Rodriguez was safe at the tail-end of the second inning, can you? That guy should really get his eyes checked!
Who do think will win next week?
As you can see, the above message mixes business with pleasure, but not in a beneficial way. While Glenn might be building some rapport, he’s unlikely to get a reply related to anything other than baseball.
Don’t be like our friend Glenn: don’t say too much and keep what you do say on topic.
9. Using excessive abbreviations
In the world of text (or rather “txt”) messages, it’s easy to catch yourself using abbreviations and other “text” conventions. One of the worst we’ve seen is a document, sent to a major government agency, that was titled “re: rfp for dine room refurb,” in reference to a request for proposal for the renovation of a grand ballroom in a historic building. That was not quite the level of attention to detail that the situation called for, as you can imagine. Needless to say, that was one bid that was lost to the competition.
Remember, your readers don’t always know all the same abbreviations that you do. Plus, CAPITAL LETTERS MEANS YELLING, so saying “as soon as possible” is a lot kinder than ASAP aka AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
And, of course, when writing on your phone, double-check the work that auto-correct did for you.
10. No signature, nobody knows who you are
Remember when you’re in school and there would always be this kid who forgot to put his name on his quiz? Lastly, here’s another big mistake that we see all the time. It seems that people who create documents sometimes spend so much time creating said documents that they forget to put their name on them before they dispatch them. At the very least, failure to include a signature line appears to be an absent-minded oversight. Worst case scenario: the recipient has no idea who to respond to.
Don’t leave off your signature – otherwise, you may be wasting your hard work spent in creating brilliant, actionable business documents.
What shocking business document mistakes have you seen? Have there been any side-splittingly amusing ones? We’d love to hear your stories of email blunders and document dunces in the comment space below.
Photos: Flickr Creative Commons