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Carville’s advice to Romney applies to email writers, too

Democrat James Carville delivered debate advice to Mitt Romney when he addressed FPA Experience 2012 on Sept. 29, 2012. It was advice that I could have shared earlier that day in my FPA Experience presentation on “Writing Emails and Letters People Will Read.”

“Don’t go there and try to make it about five things. Make it about one thing.”

Any communication that focuses on one thing works better than a scattershot communication. This applies to emails as well as presidential debates.

Bring your questions and writing implements to my FPA Experience session

You’ll get the most benefit from “Writing Emails and Letters People Will Read,” my September 29 presentation, if you bring your questions, writing implements, and a printout of my handout.

I will ask you to write down some things so you can work on them in our interactive session. People learn best when they apply new information right away.

Meanwhile, feel free to post your email-related questions here. I may use your questions to jump-start my session’s Q&A. If I don’t get to them in the session, they may inspire blog posts.

Looking forward to meeting you at FPA 2012

If you have trouble commenting on my blog, you may find it easier to comment on my Facebook page. I’d like to hear from you.

Don’t make this mistake in your email subject lines!

A quirky email subject line made me think my husband was spamming me. He graciously allowed me to use his example to remind you to choose your subject line’s first words carefully.

Bad email subject line

Here’s the email subject line as it appeared on my screen:

Can you see why I was concerned that my husband’s email account had been hacked?

The problem: Your subject lines get cut off

Most people don’t see or absorb your complete subject line. Why?

  • Email software typically shows about 50 characters of your subject line on a PC
  • Mobile devices shorten subject lines even more than computers
  • People pay the most attention to your email subject line’s first words. This is why I suggest that you:
    • Put the most important part of your subject line first
    • Put an action verb near the beginning if you’re asking the recipient to do something for you. For example, “Please tell me if you can attend July 11 meeting.”
    • Start with an informative noun if an action verb isn’t appropriate. For example, “FYI, next committee meeting is August 22.”

A better subject line for my husband

I’ve been mulling over better subject lines for my husband’s email. I think the following would work better:

  • Shredder question: Does yours use oil or lubricant sheets?

YOUR subject line questions

What questions do you have about email subject lines? Your questions will help me prepare for my email presentation at the Financial Planning Association’s conference in San Antonio this fall.

Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak at freedigitalphotos.net.

5 Things to Stop Doing in 2016

To improve your communications in 2016, I propose five things you should stop doing. If you’re making New Year’s resolutions, consider some of the items on my list to improve your relationships with clients, prospects, and referral sources.

1. Sending emails with missing or poorly written subject lines

For starters, never send an email with an empty subject line. People like me often delete those emails, assuming they’re spam. Another subject line “don’t”: keeping the same subject line even after the topic has changed.

If you’re writing to request an action, put that action in your subject line.

If your email is simply an FYI, say that in your subject line.

Whatever the purpose of your email, communicate that in your subject line.

For more on emails, see “Top four email mistakes to avoid when you’ve got a referral” and “4 reasons your emails don’t get results.”

2. Publishing or sending any written communication without proofreading at least once.

Example of typo that I'd like to eliminate as part of my New Year's resolutions

Sigh. I missed this typo.

Mistakes, especially stupid mistakes, make people wonder about your intelligence and attention to details.

Even writer geeks make mistakes. I am the poster child for that. I was so excited about finding a Strunk and White grammar rap video, that I posted it to my blog without proofreading my post. Oops! An obvious typo sneaked in.

3. Not blogging because you think your writing isn’t good enough

If you have a valid reason to blog, you can find a way to make it work. Keep your blog posts short. Use audio or video, if you’re more comfortable in those media. You can improve your blog post writing skills with my financial blogging class.

4. Avoiding social media

Social media isn’t going away. Dip your toes in the water. Get on LinkedIn and connect with as many people as possible, even if your Compliance Department limits your activity. You may be surprised by what you discover. Already on LinkedIn? Check out Twitter. Here’s how I built my Twitter following, which currently consists of more than 11,000 followers.

5. Ignoring your most common writing mistakes

You have lots of company if you’re making “Bloggers’ top two punctuation mistakes.” If you’ve moved beyond those mistakes, you may benefit from my favorite online resources for grammar, punctuation, and word usage help.

Thank you, Dorie Clark for inspiring this post!

Clark’s “5 Things You Should Stop Doing in 2012” is a good read. What are your New Year’s resolutions related to writing and communications?

This blog post was edited on June 11, 2012 to correct a typo and in Dec. 2015 to update the post, which was originally published in 2012, for 2016.
Image courtesy of Prakairoj/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

NAPFA Genesis email example and top lessons

Click to compare the two versions side-by-side

NAPFA Genesis members and friends, thank you for participating in my recent webinar about writing effective emails! I have two things for you in this post.

  1. An example, with practical tips, of how to rewrite an email contributed by one of your NAPFA colleagues.
  2. A listing of the top lessons that you and your colleagues learned from my webinar. Scroll to the bottom of this post, if this is what you want to read.

Email critique: The original, unedited version

Here is the original email. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Hello George and Caitlin,

I truly enjoyed catching up and talking with you both at the girls softball game on Wednesday.  Kristen was excited to see Amy and Sophia and Melissa was excited to see Jason!  I’m going to have to keep an eye on my youngest one.

We talked about many things related to your financial well being and truly only scratched the surface.  All the items we touched on from estate planning and trusts to your age differences, college education funding to retirement or financial independence as well as taxes and investments are all interconnected when it comes to building a comprehensive financial plan.  By design, it is a holistic approach that combines the disciplines of investment management, financial planning, and consulting into a personalized solution for you and your family.  Another thing I think would be prudent for us to consider now is re-financing your mortgages given that we’ve hit nearly 40 year lows on longer term mortgages and all time lows on short term mortgages.  A 1% reduction in your mortgage rate could free up significant cash flow for other goals and save an enormous sum over the life of the mortgage.

Please find attached an initial meeting questionnaire that can assist in stimulating thought about things you want and need to address and help set the stage for our initial discussions.  If you have questions about the questionnaire, please do not hesitate to email or call and I’ll be glad to clarify.  The only other items you need to gather for our meeting would be your last two years of tax returns, most recent portfolio and retirement statements and your estate documents if you can easily put your hands on them but if you can not we can touch on that subject later.

My schedule opens up around the second and third weeks of October on Wednesday the 12th or Thursday the 13th  or Tuesday the 18th or Thursday the 20th in either the morning or afternoon on any of those days.  I can only imagine George that your schedule is probably tight, so I am open to meeting whenever might be more convenient for you even on a Saturday or Sunday morning over coffee at your home and I’ll bring the bagels. I look forward to hearing from you soon.  Take care.

Email critique: Revised email

Hello George and Caitlin,

It was great to catch up with you at the girls’ softball game on Wednesday! My girls enjoyed seeing your Amy, Sophia, and Jason, too.

You mentioned some concerns about your finances. Would you like to schedule a mid-October meeting to discuss how we could relieve your worries? It’s difficult for individuals to sort out complex issues—such as age differences, college education funding, and retirement—on their own. This is why many people like you turn to financial advisors who combine the disciplines of investment management, financial planning, and consulting into a personalized solution for you and your family. You may also find unexpected savings. For example, we could look at refinancing your mortgages now that rates are at or near all‑time lows. A 1% reduction in your mortgage rate could save an enormous sum over the life of your mortgage.

Below are some dates when we could meet during the business day. However, I am also open to meeting whenever it might be more convenient for you, even on a weekend morning at your home. I can bring bagels.

  • Wednesday, Oct. 12
  • Thursday, Oct. 13
  • Tuesday, Oct. 18
  • Thursday, Oct. 20

I will call you next week to follow up.

Take care.

My comments on the original and revised emails

STRENGTHS OF THE DRAFT EMAIL

I like that the email writer

  1. Emphasized where he knows the recipients from and showed that he knows their children’s names
  2. Showed knowledge of the recipients’ specific challenges
  3. Suggested how he might save money for the recipients
  4. Suggested specific dates for a meeting
  5. Showed flexibility about when to meet with the recipients

SUGGESTIONS

  • Streamline the polite social chat, so you can hit the action item quickly. For example, naming the recipients’ children is more important than naming your own.
  • Put the action item at the top of your email, immediately after your streamlined social chat.
  • Emphasize the WIIFM—What’s In It For Me—for your email recipient.
  • Shorten sentences.
  • Don’t overwhelm the reader with information. I fear the readers may feel overwhelmed by receiving the new client questionnaire. Send it after they make an appointment.
  • You’ll have a higher success rate over the long haul if you call to follow up than if you wait for your readers to call you.
  • Keep your emails as short as possible. My changes cut the email from 388 words to only 211.

 

Your top lessons from my email webinar

In response to my question, “What’s the most important lesson you learned today?” you typed the following lines into the GoToMeeting question box or in your email to me.

Consider inputting this link into your calendar, with a reminder to check one month from now to see if you’ve improved your emails.

  • The best item I learned was how to simplify what I am writing.  As a detail-oriented person it is not easy to leave out details, but they may be unnecessary!  This is something I will work to improve on.
  • What I learned – Use fewer words per sentence and write shorter paragraphs.  Use simple language.
  • get rid of the “to be” verbs!
  • Firm name in subject line and email signatures. Thanks!
  • Good tip on self-editing to be more concise.
  • What I learned: keep it simple, straightforward, and focused on the reader’s interests
  • Importance of short and direct emails
  • What I learned – you start losing your audience at 42 words per paragraph, 14 words per sentence and 2 syllables per word.
  • Do not assume what is important to you, as the advisor, is the same thing that is important to the reader.  Narrow your importance and simplify the message.
  • WIIFM, 14 14 2
  • Lessons learned: Thinking about WIIFM is an important lesson to consider. I usually understand what I want out of the client, but typically fail to think of how the request will be received and perceived. I also like the idea of [Sorry, this answer was cut off]
  • Learned great tips about simplifying sentences
  • My best take away was keeping Paragraphs and Sentences short.  Also the words not to use.