Are you a spammer? Are you persistent or a pest? Here's a guide to email etiquette


Don't be a spammer! (Source: Getty)

Navigating the choppy waters of email politics is not always plain sailing.

Following up is something we all have to do. But how do we know when our efforts are futile, or indeed even detrimental to business?

Sometimes, persistently following up on an email is the best way to get yourself noticed. A web designer friend of mine, having sent an email to a company and receiving no response, decided to follow up every week for a whole year. One day, out of the blue, he got a call from the head of marketing at the company he’d been chasing, asking him if he would come in to discuss building a new website.

It turned out that the company had just got the go-ahead to redesign the site, and thanks to his regular emails, my friend was front of mind. Clearly, persistence paid off.

Don’t be a pest

But persistence can quickly become pestering if you’re not careful. In some professions, getting labelled an email pest is bad for business, particularly given the power of social media: to be Twitter-shamed for chasing too doggedly is not uncommon.

So, how can you tread the line between tenacity and nagging?

Most of the time, chasing up a contact on an email is completely acceptable. There are 205bn emails sent each day and it can feel like half of those end up in your inbox: it’s easy for emails to be overlooked, so a follow-up is perfectly justifiable. Equally, chasing suppliers or customers for payment is both necessary and acceptable. Never feel embarrassed to chase if your invoice is past due.

Take a hint

Chasing payment aside, if you’ve called 20 times in three days and the person you’re trying to reach is always “away from their desk”, learn to take a hint – you’re not wanted.

Similarly, it’s vital to show you respect a person’s time. Be sure to keep a record of how many times you’ve contacted someone, so you can accurately judge when you’ve done all you can (or should) do.

Mind your Ps and Qs

Always be polite when following-up and resist the urge to write or say something acerbic. Remain friendly but don’t feel like you can’t be direct: if someone has consistently ignored you, ask them outright if they’d rather not be contacted anymore. It’s fine to say something like: “I don’t want to bombard you with emails, so please do let me know if you would rather I stop following up”.

Creative, not creepy

If calling and email has got you nowhere, don’t be afraid to change tack: try reaching out via LinkedIn or Twitter, or commenting on Instagram. Remember, a little creativity goes a long way. Something as simple as an unusual business card, or video brochure, may be a more effective way of getting someone’s attention than sending endless emails.

Or perhaps you could send balloons, a plant, or cupcakes. But this approach requires tact and taste – you don’t want to come off as creepy. Make sure any gift or token that you send is noticeably corporate, and if you’ve reached the point where you’re considering hiring a sky-writer to fly past their office window, you might well be flogging a dead horse.

Treading the line between persistence and being a pest is tricky but not impossible. Give people space to read your emails; don’t be embarrassed about chasing on payments; and learn to take a hint. Ultimately, most of us know instinctively when our repeated attempts to reach out to someone are dead in the water. So, if in doubt, trust your gut.

Alex Fenton is founder and chief executive of cashflow finance provider, GapCap.