Hi there! I hope you’re doing well.
I hope this email finds you well.
I hope you’re having a great week.
I hope all is well.
Why do people I don’t even know begin emails by inquiring about my well-being? Every time I receive an “I hope you’re doing well” or “I hope this email finds you well,” I want to write back and say something like:
Well, actually, since you asked, I’m feeling some pressure right now as my accordion symphony is still tragically unfinished and my agent is hounding me. The timing is bad, because my hamster has a horrible head cold and I barely have time to make him the medicinal carrot soup he requires as treatment. I mean, physically I’m doing okay, but mentally and emotionally—whew! You could say that the crazy train is getting ready to depart the station. Know what I mean?
Anyone who gets a lot of email is familiar with the stock “I hope you are doing well.” It’s the business email equivalent of small talk that begins with “How are you?” We all know that etiquette requires us to answer with “I’m fine. How are you?” Although this back-and-forth exchange is a rather meaningless part of face-to-face conversation, it’s become socially mandated. In email, however, “hope you’re well” or “I hope this email finds you well,” comes across as extraneous at best and insincere at worst.
As an entrepreneur, editor, and PR professional, I estimate that I’ve sent at least 73,000 business emails over the past twenty years. (A rather conservative estimate, at that.) I’ve seen many an “I hope you’re doing well” cross my inbox. I’ve sent a few, too. (Hey, I’m not proud of it. But live and learn!) Here are my five favorite alternatives to the ubiquitous (but ultimately empty) greeting.
1 Nothing at all
Seriously, just cut to the chase. I don’t have much time to read email, and my attention span is short.
The email app Boomerang conducted a data study and found that emails between seventy-five and one hundred words in length had the best response rates. Although the response rate diminished slowly after that, talk to any busy person and they’ll tell you they prefer emails that are brief and get straight to the point. Cluttering up an email with small talk that the recipient isn’t likely to acknowledge, or will acknowledge only with a curt “I’m fine,” isn’t magically making your email more friendly and civilized. Show that you value the recipient’s time by getting down to business right from the start.
2 Something personal
In my work as an editor, I’ve had people follow me on Twitter or Facebook, commenting on and sharing every article I publish. And, just when I think I’ve somehow earned a fan, I’ll get a letter from them asking me to accept a guest blog post or do some sort of cross-promotional content swap. I have to admit, I admire their dedication to getting to know me, even if it comes with an ulterior motive. And if they pitch something that reflects the knowledge they’ve gained about my style and the topics I care about, it’s more likely to be something I can use.
If you’re writing a high-stakes email that needs to get results, it never hurts to do your homework. You don’t have to stalk someone on social media, but doing a little research can go a long way. Include a sentence or two at the opening of your email to show you’re familiar with the recipient’s work, like this:
There are a couple of caveats here. First, don’t use a personalized opener unless it actually relates to the topic you’re writing about. It would be awkward to congratulate someone on the publication of their recent novel if you were writing to offer them a deal on life insurance. (Unless maybe they write murder mysteries. There may be a hook there.) And also, don’t make your message too personal. Saying you read an article is one thing, but mentioning the beach vacation photos you saw on Instagram will come off as creepy.
3 “I know you’re swamped, so I’ll be brief.”
I love this opener. It, and the number of paragraphs in the email I see before me, tells me that the sender values my time and made an effort to keep things short and sweet.
There’s just one rule with this opener—if you’re going to use it, you’d better actually be brief. Don’t promise to keep it brief and then go on for paragraph after paragraph. The sender may wonder whether you actually know the definition of brief.
4 “We met at ______.”
If you’ve met the recipient before, it never hurts to say so. Perhaps you connected briefly at a conference. Even if the recipient seems unlikely to remember, the fact that you did remember goes a long way toward establishing a rapport.
Once again, this approach works best if your previous meeting is relevant to the topic at hand. If you met at a conference and exchanged words about marketing strategies, and you’re emailing now to ask the recipient to review your new app for marketers, you’re connecting the right dots. That won’t be the case, however, if you’ve only bumped into each other in a coffee shop and exchanged some small talk about the weather.
5 A bit of small talk
If you really think a small talk opener fits your audience best, give it a whirl. Just don’t make it as empty and meaningless as “I hope all is well,” or “I hope you’re doing well.” Try something a little more personal:
The more familiar you are with the recipient, even if you know each other only through email exchanges, the better this works.
In my opinion, the most important rule of email communication is this: don’t force it. If you’re trying too hard to be personable or clever, your recipient will almost always see through your attempts. When I write an email, even if it’s for a mass emailing campaign, I’m always thinking of my intended recipient and their persona. I smile as I write (seriously, it’s a little creepy) and write as though I’m having a face-to-face conversation with them. Just minus the time-wasting small talk.