7 Essential Rules for Consultants’ Emails

Quick quiz! Which of the following is more useful: reading about how consultants should write emails, or listening to a flight attendant instruct you in buckling a seat belt. You’ve practiced both activities roughly a jillion times. But even if you’re strapped in tight, chances are your emails need some help.

Consultants mess up emails all the time and, as a result, dampen their odds of winning business and delighting clients.

Let’s chat about a few ways you can make your emails work harder for you.

Stay Right-Side Up

Right-Side Up Thinking is at the core of successful consulting. It’s the realization that consulting is about them—the clients—not you. That principle holds true in emails too.

Even if you think your email is about you, it’s not. Consulting is always about the client. We are enablers and helpers. We give our clients a boost over their obstacles or up their ladder of achievements.

Make your emails Right-Side Up by thinking about what the client’s purpose is for your email. You know what your purpose is, but what is theirs? When your email is built around your client’s needs and wants, you’ll compose a valuable email that builds trust and rapport.

Start with Them

How many of your emails start off with an “I” statement? Consulting clients are more interested in themselves than you. If you launch your emails with “you” statements, they’re more likely to read through your missive and stay engaged.

“I” Opening “You” Opening
I enjoyed meeting you… You were delightful to meet…
I have some great news… You’re going to love this news…
I hope you’re not buried in snow… Have you escaped the snow?
I’ve enclosed a box of chocolates. If you don’t eat all the chocolates, send some back!

Write from Sunshine

If you’re frustrated, angry, fed up or stressed out, you’re likely to say things you’ll later regret. Especially if your consulting client is the one frustrating you or causing the stress. Don’t hit “Send” quite yet.

Yes, responsiveness rules in consulting; however, when steam is whistling from your ears is not the time to whip out a fast reply to your client. Wait an hour (or a night) until your blood cools and you have a smile on your face.

Clients can sense your goofy grin or your angry scowl in your writing. Which do you want them to picture?

Write to Rain

What if you’re brimming with sunshine but your client is madder than a hornet? Since there’s no way to anticipate your client’s mood, assume they’re angry.

Leave out anything that could be interpreted negatively (like sarcasm) and lean toward a friendly, conciliatory tone.

Get Shorty

Long emails look daunting and uninviting. Even long emails about cacao products. If you have a lot to say—a proposal, for instance—attach a document.

Invite a 3rd Party

For important emails to consulting clients, shoot a draft over to a colleague for input.  No matter how good you are, another perspective can make your email more powerful, compelling and effective.

Respect Their Style

Emails from your consulting clients tell you oodles about their preferred style. Do they start with niceties or get right to the point? Are they loose and sloppy with their grammar, salutations and spelling?

You don’t have to mimic their style—tight, well-written emails rarely go astray; however, follow your clients lead in terms of tone.

What other rules do you recommend for emails? Or, alternatively, what really aggravates you about email? Please share your thoughts below.


Text and images are © 2017 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.

By | 2017-12-26T23:03:56+00:00 December 27th, 2017|31 Comments


  1. Alain Jordà December 27, 2017 at 7:05 am - Reply

    Very good! I use to apply all this rules but I never thought about them. So, thank you, David to do this job for all of us.

    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 7:23 am - Reply

      We all use email so often that it’s almost inevitable to occasionally stumble into into “Oops, I shouldn’t have done that” territory. Fortunately, it sounds like you stumble less than most people, Alain!

      Happy New Year, and thanks for joining the conversation.

  2. Janet L. Falk December 27, 2017 at 7:23 am - Reply

    Your reference to “Start with Them” struck a chord with me. A consultant taught that every email and letter begins with Thank You, Congratulations, You or Your. (See what I did there?) It’s always helpful to be reminded of best practices.

    Janet L. Falk

    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 7:30 am - Reply

      You’re right on the money with that advice, Janet. Thank you for contributing, and kudos to you for the cleverly constructed comment. (It’s tough to overdo the you-centered language.)

  3. Ara Jeknavorian December 27, 2017 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Great advice, David. The majority of my communications with clients is through email. Often, I will repeat back an email sent to me to clarify client’s intent so as to avoid running off and performing a task that I may have misunderstood from the client. Also, timeliness of response I have found to be key. I try to offer “on-demand” responses to my clients who sometimes have an urgent need for information. Moreover, I rarely ever let one day pass before responding to a client’s email.

    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 9:15 am - Reply

      Responding quickly and asking for clarification are two excellent additions to the list, Ara. “I thought you meant…” are the most common words behind most consultant/client disagreements. Ensuring you know what the client wants before you leap into action is a smart idea.

      i appreciate you adding to the list, Ara!

  4. Ruth Winett December 27, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Great advice, David,

    Also, be careful when cutting and pasting old messages for new clients. Make sure the message fits the new client. Customize each message.

    Don’t bombard people with email messages. That is the best way to be consigned to junk mail.

    If you are tired, stressed, or angry, save the message, and reconsider it the next day.


    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 10:12 am - Reply

      Three terrific tips, Ruth. Using templates and cut-and-paste can make your email writing much more efficient, but it’s also easy to slip and forget to customize correctly. Formatting the customizable parts in boldface or red (or both) can help prevent those slips too.

      You’re also totally right about keeping your clients’ email load light. Do they really need another email from you to know you’re good at what you do?

      I appreciate your additions to the discussion, Ruth.

  5. Debbie December 27, 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

    What a great way to end and kick off the New Year.
    Clients received so many emails. One way to be right side up in our thinking is to be concise and get to the point early on in the email.
    To get in that frame of mind, before writing, I think … if I were running to catch a bus, what few words would I say to grab someone’s attention and start from there. For example… “Here’s one to save you time”
    Wishing all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2018!

    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 10:17 am - Reply

      What a great, mental prompt, Debbie. (Of course, I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t start every email with, “Give me a second to catch my breath… man, I’m out of shape!”)

      Seriously, your point is well taken: if we want to engage our clients, we first need to consider what phrase will break through the roar of conversations in their heads when they open our emails. Thanks for suggesting a method for putting that concept into action.

  6. Bob Hatcher December 27, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Forever delete the words “I’d like to…” from your emails. How many emails contain phrases like “I’d like to schedule some time…” Understand this: NO ONE CARES WHAT YOU WANT! Rewrite those phrases in words that are meaningful to the client or prospect. So, rather than “I’d like to schedule some time…” how about something like “A few minutes invested in a call will…”

    The number one rule in selling is: IT’S NOT ABOUT US!


    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 12:15 pm - Reply

      Right on, Bob. Although I’m not a big believer in consultants “selling,” the first rule of consulting is definitely that it’s about our clients, not us. The more we keep that in mind, the better we do. Thanks for highlighting that point.

  7. Susan Pierson-Brown December 27, 2017 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Great insights David. Here’s another, which was drilled into me thanks to my first consulting job after college – never type the email recipient’s name into the TO line until after writing and editing the entire email. That way you won’t accidentally send an incomplete or poorly worded note. Even when replying to an email, delete the sender’s name, write your response, and put their name back on the TO line. Take it from someone whose cat jumped on the keyboard and sent a garbled email to the editor in chief of Forbes!

    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 4:08 pm - Reply

      Love that tip, Susan. The cat story is hysterical (though it may not have been so funny for you at the time). I like to have a delay on my outbox so that even after I hit the send button, there’s a chance to review the email. More than once my brain has kicked into gear after I hit the send button, and having that 5-minute delay on the outbox has saved me from a mess.

  8. Derek Fields December 27, 2017 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    One that has saved me innumerable times is that I have a 2-minute delay on non-urgent emails. I use Outlook, which makes it easy to create a rule that defers all email for 2 minutes unless marked Urgent. There are plugins for Gmail and other mail systems that will provide the same functionality.

    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      Great tip, Derek. As I mentioned to Susan, I also use a delay in my outbox and have found that to be a very beneficial practice. Sometimes It takes a couple of extra minutes for my brain to catch up with my fingers, and the delayed-send feature allows the gap to be closed.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and best practice.

  9. Dan Monaghan December 27, 2017 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    A bunch of really great ideas in both your column and the comments. Another one might be to be sure to proofread for misspellings and grammatical errors. People judge your credibility on such things, like it or not. It is especially critical for a new client since they have very little to go on and a sloppy email might be a deal breaker.

    • David A. Fields December 27, 2017 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      You’re right on point, Dan. The occasional slip or typo will usually be forgiven; however, sloppy emails with poor writing and multiple mistakes distract your prospects and clients from your value. People judge your intelligence by how you communicate. I generally have a colleague proofread particularly important or sensitive emails.

      Outstanding tip, Dan, and I’m glad you shared it.

  10. Dan Janal December 28, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    I use Grammarly plug in to proofread my emails. It flags errors automatically. It has saved my butt more times than I can count! It is free.

    • David A. Fields December 28, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

      Wow, great suggestion, Dan. I’ve used Grammarly on occasion, but hadn’t considered it as a plugin for email. (I’ll have to see whether there’s an Outlook plugin.)

      My recollection is that Grammarly will catch errors that simple spell-checks miss. For instance “loose” vs. “lose” and “Dan and me” vs. “Dan and I” (which is an error I encounter about 30 times each day in emails, articles, TV, etc.).

      Great addition to the list, Dan, and I appreciate you sharing it.

  11. Paula brancato December 28, 2017 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    You did a great job with this, David! ( See, I’m learning! Or rather you really taught me well.). Happy holidays.

    • David A. Fields December 28, 2017 at 4:31 pm - Reply

      You’re the one putting the lessons into action, Paula. Look in the mirror and thank the woman you see there for being professional, willing to learn, and ready to jump into action. Kudos to you for being engaged and involved–they’re great qualities and I certainly appreciate your contributions.

  12. Jon December 28, 2017 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Your (and other commenters’) suggestions are excellent. Right side up thinking seems analogous to the platinum rule. While the Golden Rule mandates that we treat others the way we’d like to be treated, the Platinum Rule encourages us (when we know) to treat others as THEY would like to be treated.

    • David A. Fields December 28, 2017 at 6:21 pm - Reply

      Exactly, Jon. I’m a big fan of the platinum rule, and you’re right that acting on that rule requires Right-Side Up Thinking. It certainly applies to emails: we should be writing the type of emails our clients want to receive.

      I’m glad you brought up that reminder for everyone, Jon.

  13. Anatoli Naoumov December 29, 2017 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Many (most?) emails are read on cell phones. Or ignored. Or postponed forever because of other priorities. I aim to communicate a valuable to reader (!) core message at once, so that reader will have a good reason to read the rest. Never mind that it may be incomplete or not fully clear. It should bring attention to the message body. Finish email with a rephrased call for action.

    Separate message parts with empty space, because fancy formatting does not show up on cell phones properly.

    To summarize: Start with a call for action. Explain the value. Rephrase call for action.

    • David A. Fields December 29, 2017 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      The cell phone vs. desktop vs. laptop impact on messages is an interesting consideration, and one that probably depends somewhat on the demographics of your email recipients. Only a small portion of my readers, for instance, are using their cellphones as their primary email device, though that may change.

      The subject you’ve raised will continue to evolve as people convert to consuming email on their watches, their autonomous cars’ windshields, and their implanted retinal displays. You’ve given great tips for cell phones, Anatoli. Well worth making note of.

  14. Mike Olden January 2, 2018 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Hi David, thank you for the terrific guidelines.

    I struggle at times with an appropriate opening line and sometimes default to “I hope you are well” or something similar. Do you feel that still emphasizes me more than them?

    Also, it would be great to hear your thoughts on Subject Line content. I’ve learned e-mails should be used only for messages not detailed conversations. Those seem to be more successful in person or over the phone. How do you feel about that?

    Best wishes…Mike

    • David A. Fields January 2, 2018 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      Great questions, Mike. “I hope you are well” is actually about you, not them. You’re communicating your hope and even though that hope is about them, the starting point of your thought is yourself. Let’s create a Right-Side Up start to your email. The opening depends on the person and the situation of course.

      Let’s say you’re reaching out to start a new conversation; you could open with, “You were on my mind” or “You were #1 on the list when I was thinking about past clients…” or something like that. Or, let’s say you’re following up after a conversation: “Your situation has been the topic of a lot of conversation around here…” There’s always a way to start with “You.”

      Emails are good when thin conversation is sufficient. When you want richer conversation–such as when you’re wooing a new consulting prospect–the phone or in-person is more appropriate. The subject line generally isn’t the biggest deal as long as the recipient is expecting your email.

      Thanks for the thoughtful questions, Mike.

  15. Mike Olden January 2, 2018 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Hi David, thank you for your guidance. Best wishes…Mike

  16. Catherine January 25, 2018 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    Yikes! I just sent an email right before reading this that said, “I thoroughly enjoyed lunch!” 🙁

    • David A. Fields January 25, 2018 at 6:42 pm - Reply

      Your next email will be different, though, and that’s progress! Kudos to you for realizing you have an opportunity to improve your clients’ experience, Catherine.

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