You have a good education and a great portfolio. You’re determined to succeed. So why aren’t the galleries and shows responding to your inquiries? It is very possible that a major obstacle standing in your way of attaining professional success may be a lack of communication skills — specifically, your e-mail skills.
Today, communication by e-mail is a common practice. It is a fast, efficient and cost-effective tool. I receive hundreds of e-mails daily from artists and other professionals, and I enjoy the benefits of it, including the immediacy of reaching out and responding to creative individuals worldwide. It is frustrating, however, that many of the e-mails I receive are written unprofessionally. At their worst, they lack clarity and purpose. I am often puzzled as to their meaning and how to respond — if at all.
In speaking to my fellow art professionals, I know I am not alone. You have only one chance to make a good first impression, and that adage certainly applies to e-mail correspondence. It is essential that we all understand and apply proper e-mail etiquette to avoid the pitfalls that may lead to disaster.
Here are 22 simple guidelines to help you in that direction:
1. Do your research. Obtain the correct recipient’s name, and spell it correctly. Unless you personally know the recipient by his or her first name, use “Dear Renée Phillips.” Avoid flip salutations like “Hey There.”
2. Identify Yourself. Introduce yourself by name and occupation, and write a brief description in the first few sentences.
3. Jog their memory. If you met the recipient recently, say something to remind them: “I enjoyed meeting you at the Whitney Museum reception last Thursday. As you requested, I am sending information about …”
4. Know who you are writing to. If you are writing to a gallery owner, make sure you know the kind of work he or she shows and why your work is appropriate. Avoid questions such as, “What kind of artwork do you exhibit?” A simple search beforehand will provide the answer to your question. It is insulting and a waste of their time if you haven’t done your research and are asking them to do something for you.
5. Set up a professional e-mail address. Your e-mail address reflects a lot about you. Renee@Renee-Phillips.com is more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, do not use your spouse or child’s e-mail address for your professional purposes.
6. Fill out the “subject” heading properly. Think of it as an important headline in a story. Make sure it accurately describes the topic. Avoid red flag headings such as “Emerging Art Star,” “Please Help Me” or “Discount Prices on My Work.” Better choices are “Information You Requested” or “New Paintings Inspired by France.”
7. Adjust your tone. If you are contacting someone you have not met, or have met on a professional basis, keep the tone formal, positive and confident.
8. Follow basic writing rules. As you would in any form of correspondence please use spell check and proper grammar. Skip lines between paragraphs. Avoid using all caps: In cyberspace it is the equivalent of shouting. Avoid cute language; it is reserved for teenagers. 2 day, 4 u, emoticons and all lower-case writing are simply inappropriate and childish.
9. Make it readable. Avoid difficult-to-read fonts, small typefaces, animated art and distracting background colors and textures.
10. Be clear and concise. The average person’s attention span for reading e-mail is very limited. Carefully ponder the purpose of your e-mail. Put yourself in the position of the recipient. What kind of response are you seeking? What will encourage them to respond favorably? How do you meet their criteria and fill their needs?
11. State your purpose. Don’t assume the recipient will guess the reason behind your correspondence. Spell it out clearly: “I am writing to you to inquire about your artist selection process.”
12. Keep it positive and respectful. Don’t write your life’s story filled with your tale of woes, expecting the recipient to solve all of your problems. If you are asking for information or free advice, respect that person’s time and professional boundaries.
13. Organize your thoughts. If your e-mail contains several points that are loosely related, you may number them but be brief. If the points are not related, you may want to divide them into separate e-mails so your recipient can organize each item individually.
14. Watch your language. Write using an international language — avoid slang, jargon, colloquialism, sarcasm and curse words. They only invite misinterpretation and deletion. Write in plain English.
15. Avoid spam. Browsers pick up on bulk mail, and spam frequently gets deleted. If you are sending the same e-mail to several people, hide the other e-mail addresses by using BCC (blind copies) or use a professional e-mail program like Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com).
16. Think before you click. Focus on what you are doing. Proofread your e-mail several times before hitting the send button. Be careful not to click the “Respond to All” button. Keep your cool. Never e-mail an emotional or overly confidential communication that you will later regret sending.
17. Timing is important. Don’t send e-mail to businesses on Friday or over the weekend. Your e-mail will be lost in Monday’s pile.
18. Respond in timely fashion. Be courteous. Respond to e-mail you receive within 48 hours. If you cannot respond within that time period, set up an auto-response e-mail, such as, “Sorry, I am away from my desk until Monday, January 12, and will respond at that time.”
19. Don’t send attachments unless they are requested. In general, attachments take up needless space on your recipient’s computer, take time to download, don’t always translate properly and may carry viruses. A brief description of your work and a link to your Web site is much preferred to JPEGs of your work. If you do include an image, make sure it’s low-resolution and embedded into the body of the e-mail itself, rather than an attachment.
20. Provide direct links to your work. It is rude to provide a link to a massive Web site expecting the recipient to search for your name. Provide the exact URL that will take the recipient to the exact page where your work
21. Close properly. Thank the recipient for their time and attention to your e-mail. Following “Sincerely,” provide detailed contact information. That includes your first and last name, mailing address, telephone, e-mail address and Web site.
22. Ask for clarification. If you receive an e-mail from someone and are unsure of how to interpret it, ask them to clarify. Sometimes, our first reaction may not be accurate, especially if you think you have been insulted. It is better to ask, “Could you please elaborate on what you meant by these words in your e-mail…”
As professionals, you want to create communications people will actually read and respond to affirmatively. Following the guidelines offered here will help you to solidify your professionalism and receive more frequent responses from the other professionals you contact. AC