The e-mail: freelance friend or foe?

The e-mail has revolutionised business so much so that sending correspondence via ‘snail mail’ has all but become a thing of the past.

However, one of the downsides of the e-mail is that it can be so easily misinterpreted as all you have to go on – in order to interpret the sender’s underlying meaning – are the words in the e-mail. You don’t have the benefit of being able to see and hear other features of the sender’s body language, such as their tone of voice or any gesticulations that they make which will enable you to judge what they are REALLY trying to say.

Many freelancers – in particular freelance language practitioners – conduct a lot of their business with clients who are based in foreign countries. This means that the primary means of communication that most of these freelancers have between them and their clients is the e-mail.  This means that it is vital to interpret e-mails correctly because – if you don’t – a sizeable contract could slip through your fingers.

I’ve put together a number of tips to help both freelancers and others interpret and construct e-mail correspondence correctly.

The salutation

Everyone has their personal preferences – and dislikes – when it comes to how to start e-mails. These options range from the formal ‘dear’, to the informal ‘hi’ and – my personal bugbear – no greeting at all, with merely the recipient’s name at the beginning.

Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to the e-mail based on the way it is started. What I like to do is first to look at the formality of the e-mail as certain salutations are more appropriate in some circumstances rather than ithers. For example,  if the e-mail has come from your lawyer it is more likely to start with ‘dear’ rather than ‘hi’ as the subject matter being dealt with is formal.

Avoid putting a lot of information in the body of thr e-mail

So many people are suffering from information overload and this directly translates into too many e-mails being received on a daily basis.

My suggestion is – if you want your e-mail to be read – to have as little informational possible in the body of your e-mail and if you need to give the reader more information attach this and direct you reader to open it.

The sign-off

As with the salutation, how you sign off an e-mail depends on the level of formality of your correspondence. For example, if you’re writing to your husband you won’t sign off with something like ‘yours sincerely’ but at the same time you won’t sign off – to your biggest client – with lots of love!

Rule of thumb: be very clear who you’re writing to and adjust the formality of your e-mail accordingly.