Email Writing Perfected

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Every day, the typical professionally employed adult sends and receives an avalanche of emails. In response, dozens of articles that address the challenge of email management have appeared in business targeted media outlets. Those articles are all somewhat helpful but my feeling is, when emails are effectively written fewer of them are written, because writers express themselves clearly and recipients understand how to respond.

As luck would have it, an amazing and highly organized polymath named Kabir Seghal, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, former Vice President at J.P. Morgan, Grammy Award-winning producer (Afro-Latin Jazz) and author of seven books in both the children and adult genres including Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How its History Has Shaped Us (2015) has stepped up to guide mere mortals in the fine art of email writing. Seghal applies lessons he learned while in the military when advising us on how to write the ideal email communication.

Subject line

Subject lines are crucial. They can determine when or even if your email is opened. The wrong subject line can result in your email being ignored or deleted. A powerful subject line communicates the purpose of the email and the action the writer would like the recipient to take. A sampling of subject line verbs include:

Action                                 Meet

Decision                             Request

FYI                                      Sign

ACTION:  The recipient must do something, usually within a certain time frame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         frame.

DECISION: A decision must be made by the recipient, or a decision that impacts the recipient has been made.

FYI: For Your Information messages keep the recipient in the loop. Action is not required (choice of the recipient).

MEET: Consult your calendar and reserve time.

REQUEST: The writer seeks approval or permission from the recipient.

SIGN: The recipient must read and sign a document and return it with a certain time frame.

Bottom line up front (BLUF)

Begin the body of the email with a short statement that concisely answers Who, What, When, Where and Why to explain the purpose of your email and what you’d like the recipient to do. The BLUF distills the message and allows the recipient to easily digest the information you share and how s/he will be impacted. Seghal suggests that the writer lead with the heading Bottom Line to call attention to your email’s core messages.

Active voice

Seghal recommends that we use the active, rather than passive, voice when composing emails. It’s important to be clear about who has or is taking action, or who will be required to take action (and when) and the impact of that action.

Cut to the chase

Short emails are preferred by military personnel, but sometimes longer communications are unavoidable. Should your email exceed three paragraphs, follow-up your Bottom Line (BLUF) statement with bullet points, so the recipient can quickly focus on critical information.  Rather than adding files as attachments to the email, embed hyperlinks to the files and enable faster access.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Typist, circa 1930s.


So You Want To Write A Book?

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago and learned that she is in the process of writing her fourth book. She’s not a great writer and she addresses only one topic but she self-publishes, which guarantees that her books will always be available as long as she has the money to bring them to the page and she even sells a few, mostly to people who know her and likewise have an interest in that topic. I laughed and said that I would never write a book. And yet…..

For business owners, business executives and of course Freelance consultants, writing a business book is good business. A business book is a the ultimate self-marketing tool and it conveys much respect. If you’re looking to wear the crown of credibility, write a book. If your book addresses its topic cogently and is reasonably well-written, you can dine out on the self-promotional benefits for the rest of your life.

Business authors recommend that you treat your book like a new venture launch. A business book has the potential to broaden your audience, raise your stature and notoriety, help to get you quoted as an expert in business-themed articles, get you invited to give interviews and host webinars and best of all, generate leads that bring in more business. You probably assume that writing a book is a tremendous and all-consuming process and I’m told that is correct. However, business owners and executives only need to write one book and their reputations will be set.

Be prepared to work enormously hard to research, outline and write your book. If you have money consider hiring a ghost writer, who will interview you and put your insights and anecdotes on paper. Be prepared to spend several thousand dollars to self-publish, because unless you have a national or very strong local reputation, no publishing house will sign you.

Finally, brace yourself for low sales and expect to buy dozens of copies of the book yourself. Give signed copies to good friends, family members and clients. Here are a few items that will help you evaluate the decision to become an author:

Subject Your biggest challenge may be choosing the subject. Content matters and one is advised to have something relevant to say to potential readers. Moreover, you are advised to choose a subject that you enjoy and will not mind speaking about ad nauseum, because you must promote the book and its topic and when you use the book as a way to get speaking engagements, the topic will be the center of your talk. There are two basic subject options:

  • A creation story, an inspirational memoir that tells how you either overcame adversity or bounced along on good fortune and quick wit and used your competitive advantages to launch and sustain a successful enterprise. The first is sincere and compelling, the second ought to be humorous and fun.
  • A how-to book shares your special expertise and shows readers how they can become better marketers, sales people, customer relations managers, public speakers, business financial managers, Freelance consultants — you get the idea.

Publish Expect to self-publish your book. Hire an experienced copy editor, so that you won’t embarrass yourself with grammatical or continuity errors. Most self-publishing houses will offer these services at an additional cost. Hire a graphic artist to design the cover and a professional photographer and make-up artist to ensure that you look wonderful on the (front, back or inside) cover.

Promote Even if you manage to persuade a traditional publisher to accept your book proposal, do not expect the company to promote your book. You must develop a proactive marketing plan that will get your book noticed and validated as worthwhile. Consider hiring a public relations specialist to help with book promotion, if you have the budget. Create a website and/or a Facebook page for your book as well as a podcast that features you speaking about the book (maybe in an interview format). You or your PR specialist will approach the local cable access station and inquire about you appearing on a program that includes segments about local business people; ditto for radio stations (think Sunday morning radio); and local newspapers and magazines to interview you about your business and the book.

It is not an easy task but if you decide to move forward with the concept, becoming an author will emerge as one of the most significant achievements of your life. The book will become your ultimate business card and will give readers an impressive introduction to you and the enterprise that you created and lead. Publishing a book is an event known to bring prestige and momentum to your business and brand.

Thanks for reading,


Headline Hooks That Reel In Readers

Whether you’ve written an email,  blog post,  newsletter,  white paper or press release,  your primary job is to persuade your intended readers to read what you’ve written.  Anyone worth writing for is buried in potential reading material.  Prioritizing and skimming are the norm.  Use yourself as an example.  When sorting through business or personal reading material,  what persuades you to stop and read?  The headline!

The headline is the hook that reels in readers.  Dull headlines do not grab attention.  They do not resonate with or intrigue your intended readers.  They do not communicate the value of the content that you’ve spent time to research and write.  Package and sell your content with a headline that makes your intended readers know that your content,  email or press release contains valuable information.

Headlines alert intended readers to subjects of interest.  Attention-grabbing headlines cause us to read even articles that we may conclude are a waste of time and which we may abandon,  but the subject line was like a siren song to our eyes.  Consider what would be most appealing,  or alarming,  to your intended readers and also descriptive of the content.  The perspective from which you must create your subject line / title is from the intended reader’s ultimate vetting question,  “What’s in it for me”?

The right headline gets you more attention,  more readers,  more buzz and more results.  Keep these headline categories in mind as you create the headline for your next important communication:

I.     How-to headline

Content that instructs and informs will benefit from a headline that motivates intended readers to take action

  • Cold Calling Dos and Don’ts
  • Five Tactics Guaranteed To Make You A Better Networker
  • Headline Hooks That Reel In Readers

II.    Challenge headline

Headlines that pose a question that intended readers are presumed to want answered,  because they likely grapple with the predicament that the content addresses

  • Is Your Business Model Still Relevant?
  • Will Producing Content Take Over Your Life?
  • Would You Like To Scoop Your Biggest Competitor’s Biggest Client?

III.  Targeted headline

Needless to say,  targeting is the basis of marketing and customer outreach and the more specific the headline is to the interests of the intended readers,  the greater the probability that the content will be read

  • Financial Management Tips for the Finance Phobic
  • PR Strategies for Cash-Strapped Start-Ups
  • Teaching Brings Cash and Credibility to Freelance Consultants

IV.   Warning headline 

“Shock and awe”  headlines put intended readers in a head lock and drag them in,  often times even if they would rather not.  Many newspapers and magazines specialize in such headlines

  • What Your Clients Won’t Tell You About Your Sales Pitch
  • Why Your Advertising Budget is Only Money Down the Drain
  • You Can’t Retire On Less Than $2 Million

V.      Story headline

Entice intended readers with a headline hook that communicates the theme of your compelling narrative

  • A Back Bay Grande Dame Celebrates Her 125th Birthday
  • The Client Wore Black
  • From Living in a Car to Living at the Taj: An Uncensored Story of the Entrepreneurial Life

Thanks for reading,


Proposal Writing Primer

Periodically,  a Freelance consultant must write a proposal.  Some organizations,  especially government entities,  will publicly announce that a project is available and request bids that must be submitted in proposal form.  Occasionally,  one may receive a direct request for a proposal  (RFP)  from an unknown party.  Experience will eventually teach you to not respond to a surprise RFP.  Invariably,  an unexpected RFP is sent by a phantom client who is either fishing for pricing information,  or seeking to obtain additional proposals when it has already been decided who will be hired for the project in question,  but company policy mandates that a certain number of proposals must be reviewed.

Submit proposals only after you’ve spoken with the decision-maker and received an invitation.  If you’ve set it up right,  the proposal will serve as a confirmation letter that spells out project details that have been previously discussed and agreed-upon.  See my March 26, 2013 post on unsolicited RFPs

A proper invitation to write a proposal is an opportunity for you to shine.  Showcase yourself,  your brand and your expertise and write a powerful document that reveals your analytic ability,  writing ability,  practicality and creativity.

Study the requirements

If there is a written RFP,  study the requirements and make note of the submission deadline.  Is the project a good fit for your organization?  Do you have time to write a worthy proposal? If you meet with the client to discuss the project,  take good notes and confirm that you understand the goals,  specifications and expectations involved.  Do you have the expertise and resources to do the job?  Can you achieve the goals within the time frame?  Can you do the job within the budget?  Must you subcontract work out and if so,  will you be able to make a profit on the project?

Confirm the desired outcomes

Interview the client and confirm the desired and expected outcomes of the project and assess what achieving the project goals means to the organization.

Evaluate your proposed solution

Make sure that your approach to producing the deliverables will please the client.  What is the primary criterion for the proposal?  Is it speed of completion,  price,  or something else?  Present a methodology that reflects what means most to the client.

Outshine competitors

Be advised that a proposal is a sales document.  Highlight your strengths in the context of project goals and address any potential reservations that might prevent your proposal from being accepted.

Proposal must-haves

Some proposals specify that a certain format must be followed.  If there is no such rule,  include the following elements:

  • Give an overview of the current situation that has given rise to the need for the project.
  • State the goals of the project,  expected outcomes or deliverables.
  • Describe why you and your organization are uniquely qualified to successfully complete the project.
  • Describe your proposed methodology for achieving the aims of the project.
  • Explain the timeline and cost  (the justification of your proposed fee).
  • Describe the benefits associated with achieving the project goals,  outcomes,  or deliverables.

Finally,  make sure that your proposal addresses all elements of the RFP or client needs.   Check your spelling and grammar.  Go on-line and view examples of proposals;  find a format that visually communicates you and your brand and make that your template .  If hard copy must be submitted,   print your document on good paper stock.

Thanks for reading,