Writing a business letter has evolved over the years from the use of a terse business tone to a more friendly and relatable one. This is because the idea of what a business letter can do is changing in itself. Business letters are useful when communicating face-to-face, or making a phone call is not possible. Additionally, sending a business letter allows you to put in more information as opposed to what you could manage in a phone conversation or in-person meeting.
Similarly, a business letter helps you reach out to new customers that your business has not had access to before. It is a form of outreach and community building. It’s not just a dump of information. Plus, any kind of mail that is friendly and delivers good news nowadays is such a welcome change from 2020’s slew of bad news.
A business letter needs to be professional, but this doesn’t mean that it cannot or should not be amicable. People can easily misconstrue written communication, especially if you choose to use strongly-worded sentences. Even if you mean well, your communication may be taken out of context, causing you to lose a valuable client or potential business. Therefore it is essential to maintain this balance in tone right from the introduction.
Consider using some of these friendly tips and tricks used in everyday business communication.
1. Focus on The Basics
What is the purpose of sending the business letter? Is it a marketing letter? Are you writing to existing customers to inform them about a new product? Are you reaching out to new customers? Be very clear about who the recipient of your business letter is, and what the purpose of drafting the letter in the first place was. Usually, when writing to existing customers, you may use a more relaxed but professional tone, whereas when reaching out to new customers, you should consider a more business-like tone that is friendly, but not overly-familiar.
An example of an introduction to an existing customer could be:
“As one of our most loyal customers, we at Cat Food Direct are happy to invite you and your furry feline friend to participate in our newest cat food flavor trial.”
Once you have identified the purpose of the letter and who the recipients of the letter will be, then you are well on your way to drafting a friendly business letter.
2. Craft a Friendly Greeting
Every business letter must begin with a greeting or salutation that is professional and friendly without being too casual. There are various greetings that you can employ, such as ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello.’ Now, these may not be the most creative, but they are simple, relatable, and acceptable. In other words, you don’t always have to start with ‘Dear ___,’ or ‘To Whom It May Concern:’ — but definitely don’t use slang. Use common sense.
Unless otherwise specified from a prior meeting, you can address the recipient by their first name. Make sure you spell their name correctly to avoid an awkward start. Additionally, avoid using any nicknames, especially those that you may have pulled off their social media accounts as you scout for their contacts. A winning business letter does not start off by offending its recipient.
3. Your Tone
From the greeting or salutation, down into the body of the letter, maintain an upbeat, positive, and engaging tone. Using exclamation points in the right place, drawing your recipient in by asking questions in the body of your text, and using second-person all serve to create familiarity with the reader. Similarly, when your business letter is a reminder about a missed deadline, you can use a friendly tone rather than offer ultimatums. A gentle reminder is sometimes more effective than a slap on the wrist.
Your introduction for a deadline reminder can go something like this:
“I just wanted to send you a friendly reminder that the three articles you have in your queue are due by the end of the day. I know it’s been a busy week, so please let me know if you need any assistance or don’t think you’ll make the deadline. I’ll arrange to have someone take the assignment off your hands.”
You should also avoid using an accusatory tone or blaming the recipient of your letter for an error, even if the blame lies squarely on their part. Put yourself in your client’s shoes and try to envision their reaction before employing a certain tone. Instead of blaming them, offer them solutions and a way to correct the situation.
4. Proof-read the Letter
Nothing screams unprofessional like spelling and grammatical errors. Read through the letter and use spell-check to double-check your grammar and punctuation. Having someone else look over your letter for errors is also a great level of proofreading security, so to speak. Proofreading will also help you remove any repetition and words that could send the wrong impression. When you’re too close to something you’ve written, it’s not uncommon to lose sight of your goal, to be friendly yet professional.
5. Avoid Being Casual
If you’re not too careful with your tone, you could end up being too familiar or friendly. Starting off your letter with a joke or a bit of sarcasm may not be the best idea in a business letter, especially since once the letter is out of your hands, it’s entirely up to interpretation.
You do not want your introduction to sound like this:
“This letter serves to remind you that you have to come into the office this Saturday because there’s nothing more you’d rather do with your time than come back to work on a weekend — not!”
People consider familiar humor casual, and it should only be used if you know the recipient personally. Similarly, there could be a cultural divide between you and your clients. What may be funny to one culture may be entirely inappropriate to another. Consider this before using any colloquialism in your business letters.
6. Pitfalls to Avoid
If you’ve received an email, use your discretion before replying to all the addresses on the letter thread. Sometimes, the reply you are sending could only be relevant to one person, and courtesy would dictate that you leave everyone else out of it. Nevertheless, if you keep your tone friendly and business-like, a reply all shouldn’t become a problem.
Do not send an email or other business letter when you are upset. Your emotions are bound to shine through. Take a moment to gather yourself after a particularly stressful day before writing your business letter.
Putting in the effort to make your professional letter friendly will definitely pay off and will be appreciated by your clients. Remember that written communication will always leave a trail. Be sure that the trail left behind will not be one you will regret for years to come.