More About Writing Email

Last week, I talked about email being the only route by which you get to meet every customer and prospect, one on one, in their own space.

When someone comes to your web site, they’re in your place of business. They’re your guests. Hopefully, you’ll be a good host.

But when you communicate via email, you’re a stranger turning up at their home, knocking at the door and letting yourself in.

That changes everything.

First of all, like any good neighbor, you shouldn’t just turn up uninvited. Hence the difference between an “opt-in” list and Spam.

Spam is like a stranger just walking right on into your home and launching into a sales presentation. Not good.

Does this mean that the only time you can ever email someone is if they have invited you? Not necessarily. A little imagination is allowed.

I have a client who wanted to reach a large group of very targeted individuals. The client didn’t have an opt-in list for that group. But he knew someone who did. So our email went out accompanied by an introduction and endorsement from the list owner.

That’s ok. It’s like a friend of yours turning up at your door, coming in and saying, “Hey, I hope you don’t mind me bringing Frank along. He’s a good friend of mine.”

Mind you, even if you’re my good buddy and I’m used to you turning up at any time, I’d appreciate it if you announced your arrival.

“Hey Nick, it’s Larry. May I come in?”

There’s a couple of things you did right here. First, you called me by my name. That tells me right away that you’re not a stranger.

Here’s the email equivalent.

“For Nick, Web Marketing Today Links, Issue 52”

That’s the subject line of an email that I received from Dr. Ralph Wilson recently. And when I look to see who sent the email it says, “Dr. Ralph F. Wilson,”

Dr. Wilson is being a very courteous and smart guy.

He’s announcing his arrival by calling out my name, so I know he’s not a stranger. And he lets me know that the email is from him, Dr. Wilson, a person. A lot of companies would have put the company name in the “From” line.

He’s saying, “Hey, Nick, it’s me, Dr. Wilson. May I come in?” Sure he can, any time he likes. Even if I’m sometimes too busy to read everything he sends me, his email is always welcome in my home.

However, things change. Last year’s good friend may become this year’s occasional acquaintance. So even if I opt in to your list, you should always give me the opportunity to change the agreement, shift the relationship.

That’s why you always say, “May I come in?”

Being a courteous person, you always ask me if it’s ok to come in. We can take a lesson from ClickZ on how to do that online.

First, ClickZ announces itself:


The Internet’s Leading Resource for Doing Business Online

Thursday, February 11, 1999

The masthead says, “Hey Nick, it’s us from ClickZ.”

Then, immediately, follows:


If you’d like to remove yourself from The ClickZ Network Today mailing list, go to and follow the instructions.

This is the email equivalent of asking, “Is it ok if we come in?”

Sure it is. I may not have time for you every day, but make yourself at home.

What has this got to do with writing? The way we write depends so much on where our head is when we sit down to write.

If you write email communications with a view to reaching a large mass of people and selling to them, I think your success will be limited.

But if, while you write, you never lose sight of the fact that you’re reaching someone in their space and owe them a level of simple courtesy, I think you’ll do much better.

You’re never writing to 10,000 people. You’re always writing to one person.

Keep that person in mind as you write and look at what you’re writing – and how you’re writing it – through that one person’s eyes.

And never forget that with email, you’re their guest for only as long as they want. Respect that.

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