Every time you communicate, you’re making an impression on your audience—about your skill level, your professionalism, and when that audience consists of clients and prospects, your worthiness for more business. In today’s world, virtually all professionals conduct a substantial portion of their daily communication electronically. They type out a message, and send it instantly to their recipient. This form of communication—via email, social media, chat platforms, and more—is such a ubiquitous part of our lives that professionals can fail to see it as a discipline related to the marketing of themselves and their practices. The truth is, however, that professionals undertake this activity so often, with so many different contacts, that it has a very large influence on the way that others perceive them—and their suitability to take on business.
This form of communication is such a ubiquitous part of our lives that professionals can fail to see it as a discipline related to the marketing of themselves and their practices.
We were pleased, then, to see that Above the Law has covered some basics on communicating by email and chat in its “Beyond Biglaw” series by Gaston Kroub. Both posts we excerpt below are worth reading in full. The first, 4 Tips for Writing Good Emails, notes:
[W]hen you are emailing a busy or very important recipient, you should aim to get back as short a response as possible—especially when you are making a request. That usually means you did a good job, saving them time and energy.
Kroub’s point is that those who are “serving” others—whether an associate writing to a partner, or a partner writing to a client—should tee up the subject matter and/or decision points of their emails with extreme clarity, and frame them in a way that requires the recipient to expend as little effort as possible when replying. Conversely, those who are in the position of making requests—partners to associates, clients to their lawyers—should also demonstrate the courtesy of making their requests clear. (“We all hate needing to respond to requests with requests for clarification of the request,” Kroub says.)
He goes on with more fundamental pointers nonetheless worth repeating:
[W]hen a senior person requests something from you, let them know that you received the request and give them a time frame for the response, if it is something that can’t be addressed immediately. Substantive emails also need to be as brief as possible, particularly because so many emails are consumed on mobile devices these days. At some point your reader will lose interest in scrolling down interminably.
A second post, on the topic of “chats,” is worth a read for professional services firms that are making increasing use of chat forums for internal conversations as well as those with clients. (At HC, we recently moved to the Slack platform.)
Kroub, an IP litigator, says this about chats:
“[S]ubstantive” communications with clients are still best done by email or memorandum. Additionally, it is important not to let the “ease” and relaxed nature of chat influence the professional nature of communications with clients, or even colleagues. As with email, the better approach is to not write anything you would not want read aloud in a courtroom. We have also noticed that it is easy for chats—especially when an important issue is being discussed, or when there is a difference of opinion—to go “off the rails” and become unwieldy. Our way of dealing with the problem is to use a “safe word,” which when invoked is a warning to immediately cut the chat and get on our conference line. That approach works for us, and reflects our experience and understanding of the limitations of chat as a communications tool.
The safe word strategy might be unnecessarily cloak-and-dagger. (“Lets discuss offline,” would seem to do nicely.) Otherwise, these tips are worth remembering.
Most importantly, professionals should keep in mind that their electronic communications are marketing messages in addition to everything else.