Tl;dr: Make startup email better. Here is a template memo to send to all staff on email etiquette. This will make parsing emails far easier and result in you spending less time reading emails.
Emails suck! We don’t have the best of relationship. I imagine you are the same? Whilst you can’t control how your contacts communicate with you, you can at your own company.
When I was in M&A we had a formal method of communication which involved a ‘code‘ when emailing. Unfortunately, we weren’t spys and didn’t get cool toys like Bond to destroy. The code was how we wrote in the subject header of emails and the structure of how we wrote to one another.
The benefits of the code were:
- Dramatically easier to parse emails and decide what to respond to (or not)
- Far shorter and to the point emails, which were well structured
- Clarity on who had to do what
- Less emails due to less responses
- Less reply alls for no reason
I wrote a formal memo on this and thought to share it with you so you can benefit too in improving your startup email.
Download the internal startup email memo now!
What are the key changes to how you communicate?
- Every email subject has a prefix: If it’s about cash, you write FINANCE:, if it’s about a client you write SALES:. Cool, right. Filters. Also, if it’s important you write URGENT, if it’s an article to read you write… READ:
- Cut the niceties: No “Dear John,” at the start and “Hugs and kisses” at the end. This all takes up email space and the first line in views in your email client (phone)
- Structure: Write in bullet points and no fluff. Enough said there
- Clarity on who and what to do: If you adress someone write @John. If @John needs to do something, write clearly ACTION: @John do that something
- Use distribution lists: This makes sure everyone gets the memo
How to use the internal startup email memo
- Download the template
- Edit the template so it looks like yours
- Search for [STARTUP] and replace with your startup name
- Check your name is replaced in the footer too
- Below ‘Memorandum’ change the name to yours and your title (assuming you send it)
- Change the template email signature to yours at the end of the email
- Change the 50Folds logo to yours
- Rewrite the language so it fits your culture. I’ve used formal language, you might like to lighten it up
- Change the definitions in the subject line section depending on your business model (e.g. do you care about ‘sales’?) as well as the examples if need
- Change the distribution email lists to the ones you have, or set some up! It’s a good idea and not enough people have lists
- Write an email to @all staff with the ACTION: to read the memo and start using it. Don’t forget to attach it!
People may resist your authority (Insert Cartman joke), so remind people to use the etiquette when it’s not done. This should really benefit everyone so it’s in their interest though. They’ll adopt it and use it like I did!
The text in the memo (FYI)
Ref: Email protocol
The following are reminders regarding [STARTUP’s] protocols for internal email etiquette, formatting, etc.
This does not apply to external communication, in which case be friendly and professional.
Begin the subject line with a keyword, all capitalized, followed by a topic. Examples of keywords include:
- Prospective sales to client: S – GOOGLE:, S – TWITTER:, S- FB:, etc
- Active projects: P – API – ASANA:, P – VOICE – SKYPE, etc
- Function: ADMIN:, FINANCE:, HR:, IT:, MANAGEMENT:, MARKETING:, NEWS:, PRODUCT:, SALES:, etc
- Priority (Use as an operator in front of other where need be): URGENT – S – BOAML:, LOW – NEWS:
- Information sharing: READ:
After the keyword, please insert the subject message, such as “URGENT – P – API – ASANA: Revised proposal to send to client” so the content of the email is clear.
This allows everyone to parse emails rapidly to prioritize emails to action on, or not.
For external communication, it can be useful to use: [STARTUP]:. For example, “[STARTUP]: Sales proposal for Serena”
Intro line / Salutation
An intro line should only be used to ensure that the intended recipients understand that the message is directed to them, i.e. that there is clarity between those listed in the “To” section and those who are listed in the “Cc” section.
There is never an occasion to begin a message with “Dear All, Team, Guys, etc.” This uses up a line in the iPhone and preview screen and is unnecessary.
Whilst formalities are nice, they are not conducive to productivity at scale.
Body of text
- Write in bullet points where possible (Ideally no more than 5).
- If you are addressing someone in particular write: @John
- If you are addressing all, write: @all
- If there is a task to be done, write: ACTION:, before the task. For example, “ACTION: @James write up the draft and send to me by 5pm this Friday”
- If no response is needed, write: “No response needed.” This saves emails
Please do not use a closing other than an occasional “Thanks” (avoid closings such as Best Regards, Sincerely, etc). This adds nothing to internal emails.
Standard email etiquette
- Keep all messages as brief as possible minimizing the reading time for recipient;
- Avoid communicating through e-mail on a sensitive subject that should be addressed in person;
- Communicate confidential information in another form other than e-mail;
- Avoid the use of typing a message in all capital letters;
- Be careful not to use the ‘Reply All’ function when not intended, i.e. system wide distribution;
- Currently there are 5 distribution lists for [STARTUP]. Additional ones will be added over time as we add new countries and more complex team structures. These are:
- [email protected][STARTUP].com – This is reserved for management ([Sanjay, Chin Xun and Alexander]) announcements company-wide
- [email protected][STARTUP].com – This is for Singapore specific announcements and communication as applicable. You may use this list in your best judgement.
- [email protected][STARTUP].com – This is for UK specific announcements and communication as applicable. You may use this list in your best judgement.
- [email protected][STARTUP].com – This is for the sales team to share internally as they require.
- [email protected][STARTUP].com – This is for the product team to share internally as they require.
- Emails are informal, but please assume they are kept forever (Google keeps everything).
- [STARTUP]’s company language is English. We are building a global company and the language needs to be common. It is perfectly fine to communicate peer to peer in your preferred language for efficiency. Any broader communication needs to be in English.
- Formal communication in letter and memo form must be produced in standard [STARTUP] formats. Letters and memos are used for 1) ALL outside communications (emails only for admin and “instant” communication) and 2) formal internal communication.
- Unless you have an established relationship with the recipient, always use formal address when sending correspondence to people outside of the firm.
- Your default signature should always appear in the form below
Download the internal startup email memo now!
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