How to Avoid the Email Black Hole

How to Avoid the Email Black Hole:

Formal versus Informal Correspondence

Just last week I finished up a very important proposal for a prospective client that I was most anxious to land. The proposal took me a couple of days and a few rewrites to get it just right. In my excitement, I saved my proposal to a .pdf file format and emailed it over to the client immediately when I was done. I was surprised when they didn’t email back right away, acknowledging receipt or giving me any feedback. But I knew I had to be patient, so I waited…and waited, and waited. After a week went by, I rang the prospect up to see what they thought of my proposal and he said that he hadn’t received it.

Blast! My email was never received. I just lost five important days in the sales cycle.

This is just one of the shortcomings of email in business.

Things get lost in cyberspace. Messages get trapped in Spam filters and corporate fire walls. Our well-meaning communication gets sabotaged by a well-meaning technology.

What should I have done instead? I should have mailed him a hard copy of the proposal as well as emailed it. I should have taken more care with the delivery of my important proposal by putting a stamp on the envelope, rather than impulsively hitting the “send” button on my laptop. By emailing AND mailing it, I would have made two impressions, not just one. That might have gotten his attention and readership; and I might have gotten the new business.

This brings up the issue of formal versus informal correspondence: when to use which approach in what business situation?

Of course, email is very attractive, as it is fast and free. And it gives you a sense of accomplishment (nothing like the immediate gratification of the “send” button).

But then, consider how you feel when someone emails you something with an attachment (or two or three?) You have to open it up, hope it doesn’t contain a virus and then print it on your own color printer and at your own expense. Sender gets off cheap. The burden is on the receiver.

Guidelines for Effective Communication Methods

Here are my guidelines for when to use what method of delivery of your personal and professional correspondence.

What How The Details
Business Proposals USPS mail, FedX or UPS Use fine business stationery
Wedding Invitations USPS mail Printed invitations plus registry at
Social Events Email, E-vite or textingPrinted/mailed invitations for you classy types. Remember to give all the logistics – who/what/when/where/what to bring
Meeting Announcements Email Issue a meeting agenda in advance. Remember to send a reminder the day before the meeting
Feedback In person Praise in public, reprimand in private
Networking Introductions Via telephone, email or social media Expedite the setting up of new introductions, but take your time once they are made. Quality over speed.
Networking Follow-up First choice: Hand-written Letters, Note Cards sent through USPS. Second choice: social media (Linkedin) or email Stand out by putting in a little more effort and personalization with your follow-up
Resume presentation USPS mail, email when requested Mail your printed resume or present it in person. Never fold it. Use highest quality resume paper and full-size envelopes and/or special presentation folder. Electronically send your resume only when it is asked for. Don’t be lazy or cheap – your career is on the line.
Job Interview Follow-Up Professional written letter mailed via USPS. If appropriate, handwritten card mailed the old fashioned way. This is high-stakes communication. Show your confidence and style by sending a professional written response. Don’t junk up their email in-box with overly lengthy emails that are a burden to read.
Hiring Verbally communicate via telephone followed by written correspondence emailed and mailed. This is official business, but also very good news. Use multiple mediums to communicate.
Firing Face to face has the most dignity and integrity. Follow-up with written correspondence (certified received) This is legal business, so use the official communication channels. Be compassionate, but very clear.
Simple Answers/Questions Email and Texting are good vehicles when you are dealing with quick FYI responses If it’s a cut and dry, FYI type of communication, then electronic or mobile response works well. Easy on the “reply all” button.
Complex Answers/Questions Telephone, written response or face to face meeting Make sure you truly understand the question/problem and they understand your response.


There is no right or wrong way of doing things, but certain methods will garner you better results than others. Ultimately, you have to choose how you communicate and follow-up. How you connect with people and communicate with them (formal or informal, classy or quick) is a reflection of your personal brand and professionalism.

Experimenting the Old Fashioned Way

Having learned a thing or two from the above incident with the undelivered emailed proposal, I decided to write and mail professional letters to two executive clients in my network. I could have so easily emailed them and provided a link to the event I wanted them to know about. But I decided to take more time and craft a well-thought-out letter, print it on fine business stationery and sign it in my famous green ink pen. From start to finish, it took me less than an hour to write the letters, proof-read them, edit them and personally address the envelope. I carefully chose a character stamp that I felt they would appreciate. I took one letter to the post office to ensure that I had the right amount of postage on them. I wanted it to be right.

After I had completed this task of communicating with two of my best clients, I felt good about myself. I had been focused and thoughtful and demonstrated how important they were to me and my business. Even the feel of the fine business stationery made me feel more successful as a business owner. I think I’ll do more of this. How about you?

About the writer: Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business (Kiwi Publishing 2010). In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations and more effective networking and connecting. To learn more about Kathy, visit her web site To receive free weekly networking tips, sign up at

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One Comment

  1. smartin
    Posted September 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Great advice Kathy! You should write a book! Oh that’s right, you have been published!

      Networking Ahead for Business (Kiwi Publishing 2010)

    Readers? We’ll just bet that you have some email horror stories as well. Share them with us along with how you handled the situation so we can all learn.

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