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If you want to be a kick-ass project manager you have to know how to talk the talk as well as walk the walk. Forget stock phrases and overly formal emails to your clients – you need to chat to them like you’re their partner and that you’re helping them build their business.

This way of writing isn’t what we were taught at school and it’s not how we imagined talking to our customers when we entered the world of work, but it’s the best way to develop long-lasting positive client relationships. Email etiquette is where it’s at.

Here are my top no-nos in writing emails to clients. Banish these from your professional emails and watch your client relationships flourish.

#1. You need to do more than believe

I believe that is correct. I believe we spoke about that in the meeting. The development team believe it is possible to do.

You might put the word believe into a sentence thinking it’s making you sound professional and positive but actually it’s making you sound a little detached and more like the messenger than the person in the know.

Why not simply say, “Yes, that’s correct.” Or, “The development team can do that.” You’ll sound far more confident and reliable.

Sometimes you need to let clients know that you’re not 100% sure in order to set their expectations. Instead of relying on one little word to convey that, just say it: “The development team have looked into it and first impressions are positive. I’d recommend we provide half a day to investigate the solution and ensure it’s possible before we commit to stakeholders.”

Write a professional email. Take a position
Take a position and you will sound far more reliable and professional.
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#2. Stop guessing, start knowing

I think we will over burn on this project by 20% unless we take corrective action. I guess we’ll have enough resource to do that. I suppose we can fit that in the timings if we rethink our approach.

This trio of words – Think, Guess and Suppose are on my blacklist. I’ve seen project managers’ reputations fall on saying that they ‘guess’ things. It sounds harsh but when a client has committed several thousand dollars to a project and you’re responsible for delivering it, the smallest things can make them nervy.

Saying you think, guess or suppose can come across in one of two ways. The first is that it comes across noncommittal or as though you’re putting all of the risk and decision on your client.

The second is that it comes across that you don’t really know what you’re doing or talking about so you’re taking a best guess at the situation. Neither of these are going to paint you in a good light.

Next time you find your fingers typing these words into professional emails why not try words like estimate, forecast, or the phrase. ‘We can complete X in the timings if we’re willing to descope Y.’ This shows you’ve spent time considering the situation and have a professional recommendation to make, based on facts – not guesses.

Write a professional email. Stop guessing
Don’t make your clients feel doubtful about your professionalism.

#3. First impressions

Just like first impressions, first words in a professional email matter. Those first few words are just as important as your email subject line — it’s what the email recipient sees before anything else. Get this wrong and the whole tone of your email will be off. It’s hard enough to have someone read an email and take it exactly how you meant it – so why make it any harder on yourself with an opening line which puts them on the back foot?

If you’re not sure how an opening could be bad think about emails you’ve received which immediately put you in a bad frame of mind. Some of my favourites are ‘Hi Janet et al’ when I’m in with the et al. Definitely not feeling the love there.

Another favourite is the email which just starts, ‘Peta,’ and launches straight into content. No hi, no hello, just straight to business. I suppose that person is just really busy and I’m lucky to have a moment of their time … thought no client ever.

And lastly, ‘Hey Peta’. This one would be fine, but remember those thousands of dollars invested – ‘Hey‘ doesn’t fill a client with confidence that you can slay this project.

Keep it safe when starting professional emails, stick to a ‘Hi [name]’, or ‘Hello [name],’ or ‘Hi both,’ Hi all’, if there’s more than one person in the email.

Write a professional email. Say hello
It doesn’t need to be fancy. A simple, “Hello” should work.

#4. Don’t tell me how obvious it is

This word is obviously another no-no of the email world.

See what I did there. Using the word obviously is usually done to try and reassure clients or downplay something.

But think about it, do you feel more calmed reading the phrase We obviously spoke about this in the last meeting? Of course not. It comes across as aggressive and defensive. Do your emails a favour and banish this word altogether!

Write a professional email. Ban the word obviously from your client emails
You should ban this word. Obviously.

#5. Setting the right tone

Happy Friday!

Urgh. Most clients are not ready for this level of peppiness on a Friday morning. But even worse is when this chipper phrase is followed up by explaining a project is delayed, over budget and not going at all well.

Nothing tells a client more quickly that you don’t care about their project and you’re only interested in getting the weekend started than cringeworthy stock phrases that clash with the message you need to get across. So take care when setting the tone of your email.

Write a professional email. Set the right tone
PM: “So, your project is delayed, but, Happy Friday!” Client: “Cool.”  – Said no client, ever.

#6. Being the boss

The last phrase to get rid of from your professional emails is;  “Let me confirm with…”

How annoying is it to ask a question only for the response to be not a response at all? Imagine trying to reserve a table at a restaurant and to hear back from the Maître ‘d that they will have to check with the chef to confirm your booking. Yes, it takes a village to raise a project (at least I think that’s how the saying goes) but the village still needs a chief and as a PM – that’s you. So check with whoever you need to but don’t give your client a running commentary.

Write a professional email. Provide the answers.
Provide the answers. Be the boss.

Writing a better professional email

Chatting face to face and calling to talk to clients is the best way to get to know them and their business but don’t let all that hard work go to waste by sending emails that don’t portray you as the rock star PM that you are. Put an end to these unprofessional email blunders and watch your client relationships grow.

Creating a project communication plan will also help you make sure that your emails get to the right stakeholders at the right times.

What Do You Think?

Do you have any email gremlins that you would like to see banished? What are your tips for professional email etiquette for PM’s? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

By Peta Kennett-Wilson

Peta is a digital project manager with almost 15 years of experience, and the founder of Digital Rev, a UK based digital project management consultancy and training firm. She has delivered project leadership training to DPMs and delivery leads from the UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, the USA and Australia. She’s also spent years working in digital agencies and in-house delivering complex, large scale projects. Peta believes in running projects to be commercially successful, meet real business objectives, build collaborative teams, and of course create digital magic which delights end-users.