5 Steps to Structuring A Professional Email

One thing they don’t teach you at university, but which every young professional needs to learn, is how to write an effective email.

Here are five (5) steps to help you successfully structure your professional emails.

Step 1: Start with a greeting

You should start your email with a greeting.

It is important to do this for three (3) reasons. Firstly, it is convention; presumably a tradition carried over from the days when people communicated via telegrams and letters. Secondly, your greeting will help the recipient identify whether the email is intended for her. Thirdly, and most importantly, a greeting personalises your email and increases the chance that the recipient will continue reading. Emails without a greeting are much more likely to be ignored.

Generally, you should include in your greeting the name of anyone whose email address appears in the To field. Although, if you are sending the email to more than three people, you can start with a more general greeting such as:

Dear all,

Hi team,

 

If you don’t know the name of the recipient, or you are sending a bulk email to multiple recipients, you can use various alternatives such as:

Dear shareholder,

Dear customer,

Dear Sir/Madam,

If your relationship with the recipient is formal, and you are emailing the person for the first time (for example, a manager, partner, client on a project, or a professional at another firm), then you can use “Dear” followed by the person’s first name. For example:

Dear Sarah,

If you are exchanging emails back and forth and the recipient has dropped the word “Dear” in response to your emails, or if you feel that some rapport has been established, then you can drop the word “Dear” and simply use the recipient’s first name. For example:

Sarah,

If you are sending an email to a friend, or if you are sending an email to a colleague who you know well and your work culture is quite casual, then you can use a more informal greeting, such as:

Hi Sarah,

Hey Sarah,

Step 2: Open with a compliment, pleasantry or word of thanks

After greeting the recipient, you should open your email with a compliment, pleasantry or word of thanks. This is polite, and will make the recipient more receptive to your message.

If you are writing to someone you don’t know for the first time, then you might open your email with a compliment such as:

I enjoyed your talk about Artificial Intelligence last Friday.

I just finished reading your article about Cryptocurrency. Very insightful!

If you are writing to someone you know, you can open your email with a pleasantry such as, “Hope you are well!” or “How are things?”.

Alternatively, if you are replying to an email, then you should start by thanking the other person. For example:

Thank you for your questions.

Thank you for your prompt response.

Thanks for getting back to me.

Step 3: Communicate your message

The third thing you need to do is to communicate your message.

In doing so, there are five (5) tips to keep in mind.

1. State your purpose:

Start the substance of your email by stating your purpose. For example, you could say “We are writing in relation to …”, “We are writing to enquire about …” or “I am emailing to ask you about …”. By stating your purpose at the beginning, this will help the recipient to understand the relevance and importance of your email, to digest and understand your message, and to take action more quickly.

2. PDS:

Your email should be polite, direct and specific. Language can be ambiguous, and any uncertainty in your email will create stress and waste valuable time.

For example, instead of saying something like “We have a few comments on the documents.” you could instead say “Please see below our comments on the shareholder’s agreement.” (emphasis added)

If you are writing an email to multiple recipients, and some of them need to do something, then you should mention those specific people by name in the email.

3. Highlight key information:

Format your email and highlight key information to help the recipient scan your email and quickly digest your message. You can do this in various ways, for example:

  • Separate each paragraph by a blank line. Large unbroken blocks of text are daunting and hard to digest.
  • Bold key words.
  • If it is a long email, group information under headings.

4. Refer to attachments:

If you are attaching documents to your email, refer to them in your email; don’t just leave them hanging. For example, instead of saying “We have some comments on the business plan.” you could instead say “Please see attached our comments on the business plan.” or “We have some comments on the business plan (attached).”

5. Clarify next steps:

After the recipient has read your email, what needs to happen next? It is generally a good idea to clarify the next steps. Who needs to do what, and by when? For example:

Could you please send me your comments this evening?

Could you please write the article by Friday 31 March?

Please talk to John about the business plan, and then get back to me.

If appropriate, provide the recipient with a range of options. This will increase acceptance and allow you to better control the relationship. For example, instead of saying “We need to discuss.” you could say “Can we please have a call to discuss the shareholder’s agreement tomorrow: 10am-11am, 2pm-3pm, or 7pm-8pm?”

Step 4: Close with polite remarks

You may find yourself working on multiple deals or projects at the same time, all of which have tight deadlines. This can sometimes become very stressful. As a result, it is important to always conclude your emails on a positive and friendly note.

Your closing remarks should make it clear that the email has come to an end, and might also re-iterate your call to action.

It is best practice to conclude with some polite closing remarks and by thanking the reader. Examples of polite closing remarks include:

If you have any questions, please let me know.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Which should be followed by a word of thanks, examples of which include:

Thank you for your cooperation.

Thank you for your help with this.

Many thanks!

Step 5: End with a friendly signoff

The last step is to include an appropriate signoff along with your name.

You can select a professional signoff such as “Kind regards,”, “Best regards,” or “Sincerely,”.

Be careful to avoid casual signoffs such as “Best wishes,” or “Cheers,” unless you are good friends with the person.

If you found this article interesting or insightful, please download “How to Craft an Effective Business Email.” It contains additional information, plus a sample of an effective professional email.

(Image Source: Flickr)

Will Cognitive Computing Disrupt the High-Skill Labor Market?

Striding along Omotesando Street in Harajuku, Tokyo in summer 2 years ago, I came across Pepper, an emotionally intelligent humanoid robot created by Softbank Robotics Holdings Group (SBRH) in one of its more grandiose Softbank Mobile stores. She greeted and guided customers through the shop. She danced to requests and wittily answered customers’ questions on topics which ranged from product information and weather forecasts to their love life.

In January 2016, IBM announced a collaboration with SBRH, which gave Pepper a cognitive computing system named Watson which allowed her to understand sophisticated semantic context through natural language processing and process a humongous volume of data including “dark”, or unstructured, data from social media, video, images and text. With her cognitive capability enhanced, Pepper can now provide customers with in-depth analysis of products and services based on their needs and personal information [See Pepper in Mizuho banks].

To be clear, prior to the collaboration, Pepper already had an artificial intelligence that uses pattern recognition to “read” customers’ feelings through their facial expressions and tone of voice. Pepper is also connected to the cloud where data is processed. This information accumulates as Pepper gains experience. So what, if anything, distinguishes Pepper’s original artificial intelligence with the new capabilities she received from Watson’s cognitive computing system?

Definitions are still being developed in this emergent field, but it would seem safe to say that artificial intelligence is a broader discipline that encompasses natural language processing, social intelligence and machine learning among other tools, many of which a cognitive computing system also uses. The most notable feature that sets cognitive computing apart from artificial intelligence, for now, would appear to be its relationship with users.

As Steve Hoffenberg pointed out: “In an artificial intelligence system, the system would have told the doctor which course of action to take based on its analysis. In cognitive computing, the system provides information to help the doctor decide.” For example, in the healthcare industry, IBM’s Watson is helping oncologists keep abreast of the latest developments in the field by scouring through unexplored research every day rather than telling the oncologists what they should do. In other words, cognitive computing augment human capability and further our expertise.

Any discussion about advanced cognitive technology inevitably leads to the question on whether robots will eventually replace human labor. An Economist report entitled “Lifelong Learning: How to survive in the age of automation”, which appeared in the 14th-20th January 2017 edition, provides useful insights on this question. According to the report, computer science and programming is the second most offered subject on massive open online courses (MOOC) like Coursera and Udacity.

Moreover, 49% of top paid job openings in America require candidates to have coding skills. Even marketing professionals nowadays might need to understand data analytics, SEO optimization or how to develop advanced algorithms. This suggests that many who follow traditional, linear, and “safe” career paths will increasingly feel the pressure to invest in technology skills.

So what will it mean if companies incorporate cognitive computing technology into their business models whereby computer systems generate insightful recommendations, visuals and graphs or process a million pieces of data in seconds? Do we still need to learn how to write code and algorithms if cognitive computing can do the job? Will today’s prudent learners of technology skills be looking for a new niche in the near future?

I recently had the chance to discuss this matter with Jason Wang, a director of Financial Services at Baidu China, after his talk on “Artificial Intelligence Disruption in the Financial Industry”. According to Jason, there are still many hurdles that we need to cross before cognitive computing or artificial intelligence systems will be able to do our jobs. Collecting the huge volumes of data that are needed to train cognitive computer systems, like IBM’s Watson, remains a mammoth task. Data scientists still need to refine unstructured datasets before it can be used. And professionals in every industry will continue to work closely with computers to solve problems for consumers, just like they always have.

It is time to adjust our mindset and focus on learning how to work WITH these new computer systems and allow them to augment our skills. Jason put it nicely when he said, “it will not be either or but both humans and robots working side-by-side in future decision-making processes”.

Anh Dang is a Master student of Analytical Political Economy at Duke University. Before arriving in America, she studied at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. She also lived briefly in Australia and Bangladesh. She is an aspiring management consultant and likes meeting people.

Why Consulting?

First and foremost I want to address the myth that all high achieving students have about consulting, “You need talent to be a consultant!”. I completely dismiss this notion and would like to replace it with another idea, “You need no special talent, you only need to be passionately curious!”. Curiosity drives intuition and that’s exactly what consultants thrive on – Business Intuition.

Not too long ago, I ditched the daily milkshake that I used to grab on my way to work from a little corner shop near my office. For 3 long years, milkshakes were my daily drug, but all of a sudden I stopped buying them, and so did others. Do you want to know why? Keep reading along.

What a consumer perceives about a product, a company must foresee in advance. A consumer does not necessarily know what they need, and so a company has a unique opportunity to create a need for its consumers. As a result, it is the responsibility of the company to understand the consumer more than the consumer understands themselves.

Going back to my milkshake story, can you guess why customers stopped buying milkshakes and why the company’s sales hit rock bottom?

Was there a new milk bar in town?

Or had there been an unfortunate change to the milkshake’s recipe?

Neither of these were the case.

So, what had changed?

As it turned out, the only change that had been introduced was a change in the design of the milkshake glass. To make it more attractive, the company had created a new plastic glass that was a treat for the eyes but not for hands. It was much heavier than the previous one.

Now, you might be wondering, why is it important to understand the design of the milkshake glass? As long as it looks beautiful, why worry about the weight?

Well, let me introduce you to the world of numbers.

About 67.8% of the total milkshake sales were between 7 am to 10 am on weekdays. Of those who bought the shakes, 92% of the customers were working professionals who took the shake on-the-go, and 73% of those morning milkshake lovers travelled by public transport while sipping their shake. The new heavy milkshake glass made it too inconvenient for people to carry while hopping on and off of trains. As a result, the change in glass design directly affected the customers who bought more than 60% of the shop’s milkshakes.

The company could not figure out the cause of its declining sales until it consulted a leading management consulting firm that performed a customer analysis and identified the needs of the milk bar’s largest revenue generating customer segment.

Was this rocket science? Or was an advanced degree required to fix this problem? I can’t see anything here but simple business intuition and an ability to understand the customer.

Voila! Consulting comes easy. Doesn’t it?

Well, not really! Simple business intuition is something that takes time to develop as you learn about your clients’ vision, their positioning in the market, and the needs of their customers.

So why choose a career in consulting?

Well, if you found yourself curious to know why the milkshakes weren’t selling, then you really might be suited to consulting. A career where you seek solutions to seemingly complex problems which often have common sense solutions; where you have the opportunity to fine-tune or transform a client’s business; and where you are constantly challenged to go beyond your intellectual limits to provide advice on entirely new businesses, products and markets.

If you are attracted to a dynamic yet demanding work environment, then consulting might be the field for you.

Bhavya Gandhi is passionate about solving business problems and creating an impact in the lives of people for both economic as well as human good.

Image: Pexels

It’s time to spring clean your social media customer care strategy

Most young entrepreneurs have a pretty good handle on social media. The same business people most likely have a healthy understanding of customer care. However, put the two together, and the results are not always intuitive. Dealing with complaints and enquiries via social media is a game with its own rules – neither as informal as your personal Facebook presence, nor as mannered as an IRL customer service department. In fact, social media customer care may be more closely affiliated with your marketing strategy than any other part of your business.

So how much thought and research have you put into this fundamental element of your 21st century business? If you’re up and running already, it’s worth returning to the basics so as not to make any daft mistakes. If you’re new to dealing with angry Tweets and snarky Facebook comments, it’s time to take a deep breath. Make sure you approach them calmly and with one eye on the crowd.

In the first place, the most important principle is to not ignore such complaints. When somebody makes a rude or hot-headed comment, it can seem sensible to think you shouldn’t rise to it. Well, indeed you should not be provoked – but if this is a customer rather than an out-and-out troll, you need to take control of the situation. Even if you don’t have time to address the issue fully right away, it is important that you acknowledge the complaint and give some indication of when you will be able to deal with it. Otherwise, the customer is likely to become further frustrated, Tweeting and commenting more bad publicity in your direction.

When you do respond, keep it friendly but informal. Use first names (both yours and theirs) if possible, but don’t forget that this isn’t your Facebook friend – it’s a paying customer, and others are watching. Use humor with caution.

Try to take the discussion out of the public eye as soon as possible, but don’t be too pushy. Suggest you switch to private messaging, or see if they have a number you can call. A human voice can be more sympathetic than the glowing black text of the tweet. If you’ve ever read the comments on a YouTube video, you’ll know that people soon forget that they’re talking to another human while online.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Social media actually gives you lots of opportunities to turn bad feelings into good publicity. Resolve a complaint politely and with humility, and others will see yours is a well-meaning business and you are able to own your mistakes. Be sure to share positive outcomes to tricky situations with your followers.

Another advantage of social media is that you can stay ahead of the issue. These days, when customers gossip among themselves, you can tune in by searching your business name and finding where people are tweeting about you. If you stumble on a problem, address it. If you find praise for your service, consider sharing it.

This new infographic provides a complete rundown on how to spring-clean your customer service approach online. Keep it handy, and make tending to your social media presence a part of the daily routine of your business, for a better shot at keeping your customers happy.

John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

Management Consultancy 101: How to navigate your first application

So you’ve decided you want to be a management consultant? Congrats, you’re now one of thousands competing for the same job! And there’s your first problem: how do you stand out? The first step is always the hardest and sadly the most important, so here’s my guide on how to tackle your first consultancy job application.

Step 1: Why you?

To be able to convince employers to hire you, first you have to convince yourself to hire you. Understanding what you are good at is vital to answering later questions of why you would be a good consultant and why you want to be one. After all, employers often say they want to hear your passion and enthusiasm for the job – if you don’t really understand why you’re applying, how can you expect them to know? What I did first was research what a consultant actually does and the skills required. The key skills I found are as follows:

  • Problem solving
  • Understanding of businesses/organisations
  • Research and data collection skills
  • Being able to analyse the info collected
  • Presentation skills
  • Being able to manage projects
  • Leadership and teamwork skills

Now you know what you need to do, the next question to ask yourself is: can I do it and what evidence do I have to prove it? Under each skill, write down an example of when you demonstrated said skill. Try to use a variety of examples- you don’t want to seem like you only ever achieved one thing and have done nothing else since then! More recent examples work better too for the same reason. You don’t need to have done loads of work experience or have been the president of 3 different student societies – you just need to show that you have carried out that skill well. If you can find a list of the firm’s values, make sure you can demonstrate that you adhere to these values through your examples too.

Step 2: Why them?

Once you’ve understood what a consultant does and why you would be good at it, next you have to ask why you WANT to do it. You could be the perfect candidate for this job but if you’re not passionate about it, then what’s the point in even trying? The question pertains to both why you want to be a consultant and why you want to be a consultant for that particular firm. First, make a list of all the reasons why you want to be a consultant (aside from the obvious reason of money because that’s TOO obvious). This should be relatively easy – if it’s not, then maybe it’s time to rethink that career choice.

Next it’s time to do research on the consultancy firm you’re applying for. Try to extend your research to more than just the firm’s website – though it’s important to know the firm well, there are many things that the website will say that is a) Convoluted media spiel and b) Not applicable to you. You’re applying for the experience of working there, so talk to current employees at careers fairs, look at online forums for what people have said about their experience and look at profiles for the firm that have been written by someone outside the firm. Plus, all of this will show that you have thoroughly researched the firm and so you must really want to work there! Make sure your reasons for applying pertain to your own priorities and interests – employers are shopping for you too.

Step 3: The CV and cover letter

Writing a good cover letter is essential to make sure you stand out and allows you to bring all the research that you have done together. I tend to structure my cover letter like this:

  1. Short introduction – who are you, what are you studying etc
  2. Why you want to be a consultant
  3. Why you would be a good consultant
  4. Why you want to work for this firm
  5. Thank you and goodbye

Since you already have all the information on hand, all you have to do is turn that information into coherent and grammatically correct sentences. Make sure your sentences aren’t too convoluted and long – graduate recruitment have to read hundreds of these letters, so make sure your writing is succinct and to the point. Remember, your cover letter only needs to be a page long! When you’ve finished, read it out loud to see if it makes sense and that you have got all your points across clearly. Hold it away from you and look at the page – is it just one solid block of text or have you clearly signposted your main points through indentations/your paragraphs? Before you send it off, make sure at least one other person has read it. It’s easy for you to miss spelling and grammar mistakes and it’s useful to get a second opinion from someone who probably has more experience applying for jobs than you.

Usually firms will ask you to send your cover letter along with your CV. The same rules apply here – hold it away from you to make sure your points come across clearly and make sure someone else has read it. CVs pretty much all follow the same set structure, so look online to find out what this is and set it out accordingly. The only thing you can do to stand out here is through your relevant work experience and extra-curricular activities – the same examples you have used in your cover letter but reduced to several bullet points.

Once you’ve sent it off, you’re done! (for now). Now comes the sweet torture of waiting to hear if you’ve progressed to the next stage. What comes next won’t be easy, but that’s another story for another time…

Vivien Zhu is a student studying History at the University of Oxford and is considering a career in Management Consultancy. She currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is a regular contributor to student publications such as Spoon University and the Cherwell.

(Image Source: Pexels)

5 Classic Marketing Mediums That Still Work in 2017

Life has changed drastically over the last several years, yet human beings have stayed inherently the same as they were thousands of years ago. The same things stimulate and excite our brain as they did when we were cavemen.

In a time where we have 24/7 news websites and free information literally at our fingertips, why do a lot of people still go out and buy magazines and newspapers? When every company’s information can be Googled and thoroughly researched online, why do we often peruse brochures, hold onto cards or attach flyers to our fridge?

We do this because, just as we always have, we bond and respond to physical stimuli.

1. Branded Products

The easiest way to to place your brand directly into people’s hands is through promotional items. There are an infinite number of product choices and designs you can use to advertise your company, so think carefully about the demographic of your customers and what items they are most likely to appreciate and utilise for many years.

There are quality products such as mouse pads, usb sticks, mugs and many more that are not only practical but double as great advertising. There are products you can use around your own and your clients offices, products suitable for tradesmen, chefs and more. Whoever your target clients are, there’s a product you can brand to suit them.

2. Competitions

Nothing rounds up enthusiasm like a good competition.

Asking people to share your company website for example, or to refer a friend, are great ways to drum up more business whilst creating positive hype for your brand. If you think carefully about the marketing of your competitions and incorporate a sales pitch for the product you’re presenting, you’ll not only draw in new customers, you’ll create a desire for the product or service you’re offering.

3. Direct mail

Traditional forms of advertising like business cards, banners, stickers and brochures are the staples of advertising. They can be as informative as you like and targeted directly into your client’s hands. People are more likely to peruse information that is presented to them on paper so it’s still a valuable marketing tool.

Direct mail has proven easier to mentally process, and companies test better for brand recall when handed a paper copy as opposed to online. The reader has a hard copy they can keep, share, and browse over and over again.

4. Sales

Using marketing techniques such as sales, rewards programs, discounts for bulk orders and coupons will not only draw in more clients immediately, they are a great way to create lasting impressions and form business relationships. Creating a sense of urgency is a common marketing tool to draw in attention, because psychologically it works.

5. Self Expression

Use your own knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to sell your company.

Offer workshops on business, cross sell with other services, attend trade shows to promote your business or offer to talk on radio about your area of expertise. Not only will this create an opportunity for you to discuss your business, it is also an opportunity to learn.

Depending on your style of business and marketability, things like company logos, slogans, advertising jingles, even company mascots are a great way of endearing customers to your brand.

Whatever field you’re in there’s many styles of marketing to best promote your business. Taking a multi faceted approach and employing as many tactics as you can afford to, will ensure your name imprints on the customer’s mind. With a bit of creativity, passion and carefully targeted campaigns you can snowball your brand name into something that grows for many years to come.

Rebecca Harris is a writer living in Melbourne with expertise in creating witty, insightful and engaging content.  Her articles have been published widely and she is a prolific contributor on social media platforms.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)