From the June 2000 issue of Startups

Are you phoning when you should be e-mailing something? Would an overnight package be better than a 25-page fax? Ask yourself these six questions to determine if you're making the best use of your time and your clients' while corresponding.

1. Are you simplifying everything you write? When a two-paragraph e-mail will do, stop there. Brevity is the key to effective communication, so be concise and get to the point immediately. Think in terms of an inverted pyramid. The first level has the "meat" of the correspondence; subsequent paragraphs are less important. If your correspondence is cluttered with unnecessary words, future missives may be ignored or given lower priority.

2. Do you know the recipient's communication preference? One of my clients asked all her vendors to send information to her by standard mail rather than by fax because she figured she wouldn't have to take action immediately. Instead, she could wait a few days before she had to do something with the materials they sent. Before you e-mail, fax or send information overnight, ask the recipient how he or she would like the information transmitted. (Personally, I find e-mail the most efficient way to communicate. I no longer waste time playing phone tag, rarely run to the post office, and can send a message any time day or night and know that it will arrive almost instantly.)

3. Is the information relevant? Before you write anything, ask yourself these questions: 1) Is this information useful to someone else? and 2) Have I discussed this with them already and am just repeating myself? Wasting someone else's time once can be excused. If you continue to waste others' time, however, you'll soon find they'll no longer give you the time of day.

4. Are you striving to educate or impress? Instead of using words that no one knows or ever uses, find other, more common words. Without realizing it, your attempt to impress others could backfire. Instead of showcasing your knowledge, you may be sacrificing your credibility. Make a point of educating and communicating with others without intimidating them.

5. Is your letter, e-mail or fax easy to read? Use bulleted points and bold and italicized type to emphasize key points. You'll help the recipient save time reading a lengthy message and immediately direct that person to the points requiring his or her attention.

6. Do you make it easy for the recipient to respond to your memo, e-mail or fax? Include your phone number, address, fax number, e-mail address, pager and even cell phone number on your business cards and stationery. In an attempt to design stationery with a clean look, some companies go too far and leave out contact information. Clean is good. Stark is bad.


Home office expert Lisa Kanarek is the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com and the author of Organizing Your Home Office For Success (Blakely Press) and 101 Home Office Success Secrets (Career Press).