May 22, 2009 by Josh Breinlinger

Email Tips for Freelancers Everyone knows that great communication is essential in any distributed team. I've put together my list of Do's and Don'ts based on the last few years of working in and managing distributed teams. Add your do's, don'ts or pet peeves about email communication.

Do:

  1. Address the email carefully. People that are going to need to act on the email should be in the To: addresses. People that you're just keeping in the loop should be in the CC: addresses. When in doubt, include people on the CC list.
  2. Suggest a call to action. If you need action on the email, state it clearly. Tell me what you want me to do with the email. eg, "Josh - please provide feedback."
  3. Bullet point items. If you have a lot of things to say, try to make a nice bulleted list. Nobody likes reading long paragraphs in emails.
  4. Use highlights or bold type. If you're sending an email to a team and need several people to do different things, call that out. Eg, "Elizabeth - please provide a final draft. Brian - please publish on the blog.
  5. Confirm action. You'd be amazed how far a simple email reply of "Done" can go. If a client asks you to do something, and you respond with "Done" shortly after, there will be a big smile on their face.
  6. Reply immediately. If you can't immediately address the issues, you should still reply as soon as you can and confirm that you're working on it and ideally a provide an estimated completion time / date.
  7. Send weekly status reports. Even if your client hasn't asked you to, she will be impressed if you send a nice bulleted list of actions completed over the past week as well as actions planned for the next week.
  8. Include links and screenshots. oDesk provides screensnap tools, so does Jing and Skitch for Mac. Use them, they're useful and pretty.
  9. Use FYI labels. If you're just sending me an FYI - let me know. Include it in the subject or first line so I know that I don't really need to read it.

Do Not:

  1. Mark an email as Urgent. This is such a flagrantly annoying tag. It should never be used. Period.
  2. Put URGENT in all CAPS. This is just as bad. An annoying replacement for the urgent tag. Look, if it's really urgent and you really know me, give me a call or ping me on chat.
  3. Remove people from the CC list. If I sent the email to a group of people, I probably thought carefully about who should be on the CC list and who needs to stay informed. Replying directly to me probably means I need to do more work to coordinate everything.
  4. Write a novel. Emails should be short, everyone gets a ton of email.
  5. Have a bunch of typos. Some typos ok, a ton of typos is unacceptable.
  6. Send an email with no subject. I hope everyone already knows this.
  7. Send an email with just a link to an article. I am not a mind-reader. Tell me why you're sending me this link. Do you want me to read, bookmark, forward, link?

Josh Breinlinger

Senior Associate at Sigma Partners

Josh joined Sigma as a Senior Associate in 2010, bringing six years of startup experience building exceptional teams, products, and communities. He has a black-belt in online marketing and a strong track record of success in user acquisition and retention. Prior to joining Sigma, Josh was the Director of Product and Marketing at AdRoll, an online advertising company, where he helped grow revenue 4x in… read more

  • http://www.myindiaguide.com Pawan Rana

    Writing a mail is an art which can be improved with these suggestions. Even though, these are minor things but hardly anyone care of them when drafting an email.

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  • http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/MustafaQasim Mustafa

    hmm.. good tips for new comers who needs to establish good personal relation with buyers.

  • http://www.odesk.com Josh Breinlinger

    @tamara - I believe I've been on the receiving end of some of those ;-)

    @julian - Thanks for the comment. Appreciate it and hope it helps.

  • Julian

    Loved this article. Very informative! Will definitely be keeping it in mind for all my future email correspondences.

  • Tamara

    This is so great. And I am soooo guilty of the novel-length e-mails ... Ugh.