Business Letter Writing Tips

Now that more people are writing cover letters and correspondence (versus sticking a bunch of unrelated circulars in an envelope and mailing them to people they don't know), they have only taken the first step. The next step is to learn HOW to write the letter properly for business.

Every day I personally receive letters in the office that are two or three pages long. These lengthy letters would be fine if they were just general correspondence and used for sharing ideas with another -- but hidden somewhere in a paragraph on the third page is an order or request for information. This means that I have to stop, sit down and read every single word of these lengthy letters just to see "how" to process it if an order is placed. If I don't, the customer's order will be delayed and I'll look bad.

It may be hard for you to believe, but normal mail order business operations receive from 100 to 2,000 pieces of mail every single day! Can you begin to imagine going to your post office every day and they hand you a BUCKET full of letters and packages to sort through? It's not uncommon.

Most of the time there are only one or two people processing this amount of mail (in the normal mail order home office) so it takes hours to sort through it all. As the mail is opened, the envelopes are sorted according to what product or service is being ordered. The orders for "Victoria's Reports," for instance, go in one pile. Another pile contains typesetting orders. Another is advertising for our publications. Still another is for printing orders.

Then, each stack is further broken down into "inquiries" or "orders" and the process of filling them is begun. After filling the orders they are then entered into the computer database. Checks are separated as orders are filled and deposited on a daily basis. As you can see, there is a different way you have to organize your business operations when your daily mail grows from five pieces to 2,000 pieces! It's a lot of work!

During the separation process, if someone writes a two or three page letter, the sorter cannot quickly determine if a product is being ordered, and if so, what product it is. In this case, the letter is normally set aside and often ignored until someone has the time to read every word. This slows up the customer's order.

So how do you shorten your letters? You don't have to. Just separate them from your order. Write your order on one piece of paper by itself, and send your letter on another piece of paper. However, for speed of processing, you need to just stick to the FACTS in your letter -- nothing more. If you are inquiring about an order, simply say something like:

I placed an order for Widgets on September 10th. I paid by check number 1459 in the amount of $25.99. Please let me know when I can expect shipment.

However, a lot of people will spend two or three pages explaining why they ordered the product in the first place. They will tell you what they plan to use it for. They'll also go into detail about the publication they spotted your ad in and develop the paragraph into a one-sided self-promotion of their goals, talents and desires. This information is fine if you are seeking advice and guidance from another business, but not necessary when inquiring about your order.

The technique of "beating around the bush" is outdated. It does not help you one bit. If you state the facts ONLY in your inquiry or order, a sorter can easily find your information on the computer's database and print out a history of your order -- thereby answering your questions almost immediately about a lost order.

Please understand that I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings or make them slink away in shame. Instead, my purpose is only to educate you so you will appear as a business -- rather than a friendly pen-pal.

A general business letter should not be over three paragraphs and it should fit on about three-quarters of an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper with your name, address, telephone and fax number at the top.

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