The Freelancer's Guide to Email Etiquette

This post originally appeared on my old blog, Ellipsis. It's still an important topic, especially for new freelancers and those just entering the industry. 

I started freelancing in August 2013. It's been a solid 3 years of freelance, through which I've learned a lot. I don't freelance enough to, say, quit my job and take a full-time run at it. But I do a respectable trade. Freelance writing is one of the best things I've ever done for myself. It's the best way for me to use my talents and be fulfilled at the same time. The thrill of being able to help people start businesses, or advance their businesses, thanks to my writing skills and marketing knowledge is one of the best int he world. 

That being said, there are some things to freelancing that I've learned the hard way. Mostly, if you are doing freelance writing over the Internet for a company or person very far from you, rules of email etiquette. Here are my top 5 rules. 

1. Reply quickly. 

Business owners, social media coordinators, and marketers are busy people. They don't have time to sit around waiting for an email response. If they email you, asking you to write for them or pitching a project idea, reply as soon as you can -- even if you're reply is: I'm at the grocery store, I'll write a longer reply in 15 minutes! It matters... really. 

2. Email as often as you need to, but know when to stop.

Early in my freelance career, I was contacted by a woman launching a new website. She wanted me to write some materials for her and rewrite parts of her website. It was really exciting. I wrote an article for her, sent it along, and... no response. I sent her an email. She replied that she would get back to me. After a few weeks of hearing nothing from her, I sent her a certified letter (per our contract) requesting payment and the materials I'd written to be destroyed due to non-response. Here's the thing: a polite nudge ("hey, if you want this project completed on your timeline, you need to edit the materials I sent along") is one thing. Having to babysit someone who is paying you for a service is totally different. After she received the letter, she sent me a scathing email about how I was "barely 1/4 as busy" as her, how she didn't have time to do such tedious editing work, and she'd expected more from me. It all made me wonder why she'd hired a copywriter in the first place. I used to think I should have just sent her another reminder email, but it's not my job to motivate any owner to do their job. Also: I never got paid for the 40 hours of writing I did. 

3. Keep your emails short.

Sending a potential client a long-winded response to their project proposal isn't a great idea. They don't have time to read you wax poetic about it for 3 paragraphs. I try to keep my emails to one paragraph long--and only three sentences. I read an article about how the average email is too long and that most people stop reading after 3 sentences. So if you have something important to say, say it fast.   

4. Don't pester.

You know how I said to email as often as you need to? Yes, that's true. But don't pester people. You should reply ASAP to proposals... but if you don't hear from someone in three hours, that's not an excuse to send them another email. Remember: they might be busy, just like you, and just because they aren't as good at replying to emails doesn't mean they haven't heard you. Now, if it's been a day or two, email again asking for a quick reply to confirm they've gotten your previous message! 

5. Be polite. Always.

People will be rude sometimes (a lot of times). Don't return the behavior. If you get shorted on money or someone cancels a project halfway through, if a client doesn't like what you've written or acts like a crazy person... it's no excuse to be rude, even if they are! Be polite, be genuine, and accept the things you can't change about people. Taking the high road always makes you seem more professional and that is a positive impact on your reputation! 

cDo you have any email etiquette tips for freelancers?