How to write emails to clients that manage expectations & make them adore you
Have you ever had a client relationship go bad?
(Every entrepreneur in the world raises their hand.)
Needless to say, you’re not alone.
And when you’ve got an online business, it can sometimes feel even harder to make sure there’s no miscommunication because you’re mostly restricted to communicating via email.
You can’t exactly walk down the office corridor and ask a question if you’re stuck on your client’s project.
That means you need to know how to write crystal clear emails that your client can’t possibly misunderstand – because misunderstandings go south way too quickly. Misunderstandings equal miscommunications, missed expectations, and unhappy clients.
And no one wants an unhappy client.
Good client emails help you stay on message, keep projects running smoothly and make your clients think you’re a brilliant investment. When that happens, it’s infinitely easier to get referrals to keep your client pipeline full too.
Here’s how to email, how not to email, and a few great templates to get you started.
The Most Common Email Mistakes
Unfortunately, many of the worst email sins are universal. These include things like:
- Bad spelling
- Bad grammar
- Silence (i.e. the void of no email responses)
- Non-specific addressees (i.e. To Whom It May Concern)
- Mismatched formality
- Marking emails as unnecessarily urgent
- Late night emails
- Emotional emailing
- Rambling emails
Some mistakes, like bad grammar or spelling, are basic. Attention to detail matters, especially when you’re trying to impress a client.
If you can’t be bothered to run spell check, why should a client trust you to execute a project for them?
Bad spelling doesn’t mean you’re incompetent. You could deliver the best project the client has ever seen. But bad emails will set the client’s teeth on edge and they’ll open the project disinclined to trust you.
Non-specific addressees and mismatched formality vs. casualness are similar. They’re not dealbreakers per se, but they make clients uncomfortable. It sends the message that you’re not reading the room (er, email) and making sense of the situation in a way that matches the client’s expectations.
Clients want to hire someone that they can trust to deliver the results you promise. And these basic email mistakes lead to miscommunication, projects the client doesn’t like, or just plain frustration.
The Secret to Better Client Emails
The first thing to understand about client emails is that, well, they’re client emails. In translation, they’re not about you.
Sounds pretty basic, doesn’t it?
The problem is that too many people write emails thinking about what they want to say. But client emails aren’t about what you want to say–they’re about what you want the client to hear.
Instead of thinking about whether an email makes sense to you, think about whether the client can easily understand what you’re trying to say.
For example: jargon. You know what it means, but that doesn’t imply that your client knows what it means. Save yourself the gamble and don’t use jargon. Instead, think about the client and write an email with the client in mind.
If you do need industry-specific jargon, make sure that you know your audience enough to provide the appropriate context. Again, it’s about knowing your client.
A universal rule: don’t repeat jargon. If they don’t understand it, half the sentence is gibberish. If they do understand it, it’s annoying.
Remember: writing client emails is about writing emails for clients, not yourself.
4 Tips to Improve Client Communication
Like its predecessor (snail mail), writing a great email is an art.
Okay, maybe not an art (we’re not writing the Next Great American Novel here), but you certainly know a good email from a bad one if you read it.
I could write a novel about how to compose a client email, but most of it boils down to the same point: be clear.
Don’t belittle your client’s intelligence, but don’t assume they’re telepathic, either. Instead, spell it out clearly and succinctly and you’ll be on the right path for success. And if you need more tips, here are four that will help clarify your communication.
1. Never Assume
It’s so easy to think that the things that come incredibly easy to you will also be clear and easy to your clients. But they’re definitely not as clear as you think.
And if things aren’t clear, you’re staring down a recipe for disaster.
Don’t assume that the client will know what such-and-such terminology means, especially if they’re new to the field or not part of your field. Explain it to them. It helps them see you as a professional and builds trust in your expertise.
People who do done-for you services, like copywriters, designers and developers, can suffer from this one a lot. We can tend to assume that clients will inherently respect our expertise and never question us. But that’s rarely true.
Let me use myself as an example.
A little known fact about writing bullet points in your web copy is that the brain is trained to remember the first, second and last thing on the list. In other words, you want to have the most important bullet points at number 1, 2 and last position.
But if I do that for a client, will they automatically know that? Nope.
They may wonder why one of the most important bullet points is last on the list & ask me to move it to the top. (It would also be doing them a disservice to just “follow their orders” without explaining the value behind why I’ve done it that way in the first place.)
I could save a bunch of time by not assuming the client will inherently trust my professional expertise (and bullet ordering skills) and give her a reason to trust me. And that can be as simple as a quick note that explains where we want the most important ones to appear on the bullet points list.
2. Explain Your Thought Process
This follows on from #1 above.
Don’t assume that they’ll understand why you did something in a particular way. Use the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and clarify what you’ve done and why.
Pretend for a moment that you’ve just hired a web developer to help build your new website.
How would you feel if your developer changed something that you’d agreed on and just sent it to you with a quick email that said something like, “Here it is”?
You’d probably be confused about why it changed and potentially be a bit annoyed. “We already agreed on that, buddy! Why are you changing it?!”
Compare that with how you’d respond if the developer sent you an email like this:
I’ve been working on that XYZ that we agreed on, but I’ve found an alternative solution that may make it easier for you to maintain it on your own.
If we do it that way we originally planned, it’ll look great visually, but you’d have to get me to make changes for you if you ever want to change it. That’s fine by me, but it would add to your ongoing website maintenance costs.
On the other hand, if we do it the way that I’ve demonstrated in the attachment, it’ll look a bit different than we had planned, but you’d be able to maintain it on your own. Changes would take you less than 2 minutes to make and you could make changes as often as you need.
Naturally, it’s up to you. But I strongly recommend we go with this new approach, especially since I know you want to be able to maintain the site on your own as much as possible.
Happy to hear your thoughts.
That kind of email builds a lot of respect for your expertise and helps get the client on board with your proposed approach. Plus, it shows that you respect her opinion, which clients love. It makes it feel like you and your client are on the same team.
If you’re ever thinking, “hmmm not sure what the client will think of this,” then take the time to explain your thought process. They’ll respect you for it and it’ll be much easier to bring them around to your point of view.
3. Map Out the Next Steps
One of the biggest mistakes I see is that people send a client an email that simply says something like, “here’s that deliverable you paid me for.” And that’s all the email says.
Let’s imagine that you’re a graphic designer and you’ve delivered a client’s logo options via email. Don’t just write an email that says, “here’s your draft logo.” Take the opportunity to provide some clarity and map out the next steps.
So, what’s the next step for the client?
If they have to pick one version to move forward with, tell them that.
If they need to get their feedback to you by Friday, remind them of that.
If they get two more rounds of revisions, remind them of that too.
It’s incredibly hard to keep projects on track if you’re NOT constantly reminding your clients of the next steps. And the longer a project goes, the harder it is for you to start on and complete the next one.
You may have mapped out your process or your project milestones in other places, but you need to constantly remind the client of what they have to do and what’s next, every step of the way. They won’t remember what they read in those other documents after weeks have passed and the project has moved forward.
4. Always Take Responsibility
You’re a professional and that means you’ve got to take responsibility for your client projects. Even if you’re dealing with the most annoying client of your life, never point the finger at them.
It always ends badly.
You probably know from personal experience that when you’re struggling with someone and they blame you for it, you see red. It often ends in a battle of the wills: “You think this is MY fault?! What about ABC that you did? You’re the one that screwed everything up!” or “I did ABC because you did XYZ. None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t screwed that up first!”
Ugh. What a total waste of time.
Be a professional and don’t try to lay the blame. Stay as neutral as possible. Graciousness goes a long way.
Following these tips also helps prevent you ending up in a situation where miscommunication has happened so frequently that it just feels like you and your client are adversaries because you aren’t on the same page anymore.
Example Email Templates to Steal
If you hate writing emails, take a deep breath. No worries!
The good news is that many good emails borrow the same form and style from each other. You may be working toward different things, but the same principles of clarity and directness will still bolster your email.
Here are three example templates to steal for designers, coaches, and freelancers.
An Example Client Email for You to Steal if You’re a Designer
Here are 3 potential options for your draft logo. As you know from your client welcome pack, you get to pick one of these to move forward with and we’ll do 2 rounds of revisions to get it just right for you.
To keep the project on track for your launch date, your feedback is due on Friday. After that, I’ll have the second round of revisions back to you in 3 working days.
An Example Client Email for You to Steal if You’re a Coach
Great progress today. Congratulations on all the hard work you’ve put in to get to this point. You should be really proud of yourself.
As we just discussed, your focus areas to cover before our next session are:
We’ve got 2 more sessions left and you can book your remaining appointments using this link…
If you get stuck on anything between our sessions, you can always email me and I’ll talk you through it. You’re not alone.
An Example Client Email for You to Steal if You’re a Freelancer
Here is the draft of your blog post, “15 Ways to Make Your Clients Happy”. As you know from your client welcome pack, you get two rounds of edits to make sure you get exactly the post you want.
In order to keep your post schedule on track, your feedback is due on Thursday. After that, I’ll have the second round of revisions to you in three working days.
The Easier Way to Write Emails
Do you find it hard to write emails that manage your clients, set boundaries and keep your client projects on track?
I have a little secret that helps me keep my clients happy and keep my projects on track all at the same time.
It’s client email templates.
I have all my standard responses to the typical things that happen written up and saved in my canned responses in Gmail. So whenever something happens, I don’t have to faff about trying to figure out what to say. I just go to the template and edit it to suit the current situation – which takes soooo much stress out of the situation.
I have all of my email scripts available for you too if you want to implement the same approach and save yourself some hassle.
It’s a digital toolkit called, How Should I Say That? 15 Email Scripts for Hassle-free Client Relationships & Keeping Projects on Track.
Click here to learn more about the client email scripts.