writing

How to write emails worth stealing.

Some people write news articles. Some write novels. Others write poetry. And some people write blogs. But you? You write emails. Big difference right? Maybe. Maybe not. There are actually millions of people who write stories and poems and articles, but there are relatively few who we all know. Why is that? There’s a good bit of luck involved, but there’s a great deal more work involved. People who practice writing are much more likely to become known for their work than those who only do it when they have to.

I’ve gathered a few of my favorite quotes from writers I admire and then added a couple thoughts after each about how they can be applied to a business setting. Take a read and let me know what you think. Tell me in the comments below about what you struggle with when it’s time to sit down and write. Tell me about your successes. Tell me about your (perceived) failures. Tell me anything you want to, just write something and then keep going when you’re done.

 

"I will tell you something about stories. They aren't just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don't have anything if you don't have stories."

Leslie Marmon Silko (Native American poet & novelist)

There is a place in business for storytelling. Executives use them to open meetings. Entry-level employees are often asked to relate an experience or two they’ve had that they could draw on to find success in a new position. So don’t be afraid to start an email with a story.

Just make it quick, make it relevant, and make it compelling. Use it to capture a reader’s attention and give him a reason to keep reading.

 

"What isn’t said is as important as what is said. In many classic short stories, the real action occurs in the silences. Try to keep all the good stuff off the page."

Colson Whitehead (novelist, poet, essayist)

Don’t overwrite. Write enough to get someone interested, and then get out. If you give your reader everything she needs to make a decision right then and there without ever talking to you, it’s very easy for her to decide on “no" or not now, which is as bad as no. Tease her by letting her know that she’ll miss something really juicy if she doesn’t call. But then make sure whatever you’re holding back as juicy really is.

 

" 'Very' is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen. For example, would you rather hear the mincing shallowness of 'I love you very much' or the heart-slamming intensity of 'I love you'?"

Florence King (novelist, essayist, and columnist)

Some words are just overused. You can distinguish yourself and your product or company by not using them. Stay away from words like very and amazing and incredible and…the list goes on. Spend a few minutes making a compelling argument instead of lazily telling your reader that your offer is amazing and expecting him to believe you.

 

"Write every day. Don't ever stop. If you are unpublished, enjoy the act of writing—and if you are published, keep enjoying the act of writing. Don't become self-satisfied, don't stop moving ahead, growing, making it new. The stakes are high. Why else would we write?"

Rick Bass (novelist, short stories, essayist)

Communication only works when it is ongoing. Have you ever let a client relationship slip only to try and pick it back up three months later? What does that email or phone call feel like? It’s awkward. You have time that you have to account for. The very act of getting in touch is an acknowledgement that you haven’t been in touch for some time. It’s best to always be finding a reason – a good reason – to be in touch with your clients. Doing this will make you much better at it than the competition.

 

"In my own experience, nothing is harder for the developing writer than overcoming his anxiety that he is fooling himself and cheating or embarrassing his family and friends. To most people, even those who don’t read much, there is something special and vaguely magical about writing, and it is not easy for them to believe that someone they know—someone quite ordinary in many respects—can really do it."

John Gardner (novelist, essayist, critic and professor)

“I can’t write." Or, “I’m not a good writer." These are what are known as excuses. Don’t lean on them. If you can fool yourself into thinking this, what can others fool you into thinking? You CAN write. You just have to pay attention and be committed to it.

Let everyone else think they can’t write, but you know what the number one skill is that almost every employer is looking for these days? Communication. Your ability to speak and write well is critical to your success. If you were always in the same room with your clients, email wouldn’t be necessary. But you’re not.

Technology has enabled us to broaden our wingspans and work with people from a great distance. But it has also focused a bright light on the importance of being able to communicate well.

 

"I wish you good writing and good luck. Even if you've already done the good writing, you'll still need the good luck. It's a shark-filled lagoon out there. Cross your fingers and watch your back."

Margaret Atwood (poet, novelist, critic, essayist, activist)

Not every email is going to help you set new sales records. No matter how much hard work you put into your writing, there’s always more to do. Not every message will hit the mark and not every email will get a response. Learn from the ones that do and study some of the reasons why they worked.

It’s a continual effort. Practice practice practice.

So is there a difference between writing a book and writing an email? I suppose there is, but mostly that difference lies only in the final product. Ask any of these (still living) writers mentioned here and they’ll gladly tell you that even they can only write one word at a time. Which is absolutely no different from you.

Happy writing.

Writing Strategies: Part I

Everyday I’m cc’ed on ezines and emails from salespeople who are delivering value to their customers with Ace of Sales. They’re answering customer questions and delivering ideas, updates, and success strategies. They’re experts in their industry, just like you. However, there’s a big difference between them and you. Their customers are aware of their expertise and are repaying them with their loyalty.

Are you writing to your customers?

If you think you don’t have enough time to write, allocate more.

If you feel you have nothing to write about, switch to an industry that ignites your passion. If you don’t think you’re a good writer, you just need confidence and some pointers.

Here’s the winning hand of tips to improve your writing:

Ace of Hearts: Follow great content creators. To see how bloggers and expert article writers do it, use www.alltop.com to find popular blogs regarding topics you’re passionate about. Or, find your favorite magazine’s online version. Digest and examine their free content to grow your writing skills. I frequent wired.com and dwell.com.

King of Hearts: Improve your diction. Remember vocabulary tests from grade school? For most people, learning new words stopped about the same time. If you have a smart phone, get Dictionary.com’s app and turn on the “Word of the Day" feature. Each day, you’ll learn a new word like, “perspicacious." To retain the word, force yourself to use it that day in conversation.

Queen of Hearts: Use more precise words. No one is expected to speak with Elizabethan eloquence, but it would behoove you to swap more general, common words with more fitting synonyms. The word “discover" is better than “find" and the term “aesthetically captivating" is more informative than “interesting." Using a more accurate word makes you appear more educated while improving your customers’ engagement and comprehension.

Jack of Hearts: Break your sentences down. If your paragraph feels awkward, chances are you’re trying to cram too much into one sentence. Split unwieldy sentences into two or three and you’ll find your words and ideas will work themselves out into a more flowing arrangement.

Ten of Hearts: Don’t reuse words too often. A quick way to sound pedestrian is to recycle the same words over and over again. Everyone has pet words, but when they appear too often in your writing, your readers may view them as a crutch for your inability to communicate clearly.

Cliches: Avoid them like the plague! Er...

avoid-cliches

Leaning on a cliche to convey meaning works against you as a self-marketer, salesperson, and relationship builder. This is especially true in your emails, marketing materials, and sales presentations. You know what cliches are, right? They're common analogies and expressions that have become dull and meaningless due to overuse. And when it comes to sales and marketing communication, meaningless is not your aim.

Here are 5 tips to avoid cliches: (Titles are for your amusement.)

1. The writing on the wall. Say what you mean, without flowery, superfluous language. Be specific. Clear, precise wording creates impact. Rather than starting your email or PowerPoint with the title, "You Have To Spend Money to Make Money," you could write, "The 2 Investments Every Business Owner Must Make Now." Which lead-in would keep you reading?

2. Haste makes waste. Cliches are relied on because they require little thinking. Thinking takes time. Most people, like your competitors, are lazy. (Maybe you are too.) Hard workers, who are smart, use their mind to their advantage. When you fail to inject knowledge and notion enriched thought into your writing, customers will interpret your words as twaddle. Take the time to re-think and replace cliches with mindful verbiage.

3. Cheaters never prosper. Cliches are essentially copying. Remember my most retweeted tweet: "The only company that ever succeeded by copying was Xerox. Be an original." I could have saved the fifteen minutes I invested to craft that quote and re-used the cliche, "Don't be a copy cat." However, I wouldn't have received the same windfall of retweets. (Follow my "cliche-free" tweets: @andyhorner)

4. Too much of a good thing. "He was dead" delivers more force than "He was dead as a doornail". Verbose descriptions diminish the significance and potency of your ideas and stories. Brevity is an attractor of admirers and an attribute of wisdom.

5. Throw them a curve ball. Alter a cliche to give it new meaning and capture your reader's attention. Instead of saying, "What goes around comes around," say, "What goes around doesn't have to come around." Now that you've piqued your reader's interest, elaborate.

BONUS TIP: There are no stupid questions. Think "Jeopardy." Phrase your cliches in the form of questions to give them new life, engage readers, and prompt reactions. The cliche "Let us do the heavy lifting" doesn't carry the same weight as "How much can you lift?"

When you're tempted to reach for a cliche, try one of these tips. It'll return to you - not in spades - but in respect, responses, and revenue.

10 Tips for Writing Proper Emails to Prospects

Take a moment to examine the everyday volley of emails between you and your customers, coworkers, and colleagues. What you'll find is uglier than the texting of teens. It's a sloppy mess of fragments and misspellings. It's an endless crime against punctuation and capitalization. But somehow...it's OK!

Why? Because such emails are between friends who share an established respect. In the day-to-day mode of getting work done, what matters is communicating as rapidly as possible.

The emails between you and your prospect, however, require a higher level of writing. When a fledgling relationship hangs in the balance, sloppiness can motivate your prospect to award the sale to a more eloquent competitor. Do your prospect emails communicate that you're professional, articulate, and intelligent? Or do you leave your recipient wondering if you're smarter than a fifth grader?

Email writing tips

Consider these ten guidelines before composing your next prospect email:

1. Triple check spelling and grammar.

If your email or proposal contains typos, you're dead. Many say "write once, read twice." It should be, "read thrice." If you struggle in these areas, you may need an online service like grammarly.com. It's an automated service ($100/year) that will instantly evaluate your text for many forms of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and even plagiarism violations.

2. Use commas correctly.

Even grammar checkers can't tell you how to use commas and other forms of punctuation correctly. If you slept through English class, use lousywriter.com as your righthand reference aid.

3. Use a proofreader.

Enlist a receptionist, assistant, friend, coworker, or your spouse to help you by proofreading your mission-critical emails and proposals. They'll be well worth the Mocha Frappuccino you'll buy to thank them.

4. Use words accurately.

For most smart people, hearing others use words improperly is like fingernails scraping a chalk board. If you're not sure how to use a particular word, use dictionary.com to look up its meaning and thesaurus.com to find a better fit.

5. Write in full sentences.

Sentence fragments like, "Is a requirement" appear as though you're rushing or a poor writer. Always write in complete sentences with prospective customers by including a subject and verb. "It is a requirement."

6. Title long paragraphs.

Your recipient will scan your email first. Paragraphs with more than three of four sentences may overwhelm and prevent them from reading your message. For longer paragraphs add a short, bolded title to give them a hint about the paragraph content. If it's relevant to your prospect, they'll read it.

7. Use emoticons.

The smiley ":)" and wink ";)" emoticons work wonders to represent your intended inflection in an email. Be careful though. Less common emoticons like ":P" can appear adolescent.

8. Don't capitalize full words.

It looks like you're SCREAMING! Don't do it.

9. Don’t indent paragraphs.

In email, indentations can cause odd breaks between paragraphs. They’re not as easy to control as they are in print. Separate paragraphs with a double return.

10. Use proper formatting.

Avoid running your salutation, body message, valediction, and signature all together.

Here's an example:

"Susan - Please find my proposal attached. I look forward to hearing from you! Cheers - Tom."

Instead, format your email like this:

"Susan,

Please find my proposal attached. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cheers,

Tom"

Follow these guidelines and you'll see that the value of a proper email is more sales and signed proposals. Ignore them and you may actually find yourself as a contestant on "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"