Mark McGuriman

Thursday, 28 July 2005 20:00

The business letter

If you’re running a small business, your company thrives on generating additional revenue.

No matter what industry you’re in — distribution, manufacturing, professional services — the livelihood of your business and the welfare of your family and your employees’ families depends on your ability to successfully market your company in the right way.

Whether your goal is to introduce your business to a broad audience, get that first meeting with a prospect, announce a new service offering or something else, a strategically crafted letter can be a very effective and inexpensive tool.

Many think a business letter is an add-on to the guts of a business package, be it a business plan, financial prospectus or a marketing campaign. Not true. A form letter is obvious at a glance, while a carefully constructed and targeted business letter hooks readers immediately and has them searching for more.

Here are six tips for producing a high-quality, effective business letter.

  • Have a compelling opening. Get to the point right away. Too many letters beat around the bush before getting to the key issue. A good letter lets the reader know what to expect in the first sentence, and why it’s worth the time to continue reading. The most compelling letters open with a promise of a benefit or a solution to a problem.

  • Use a postscript. Studies have proven that the part of the letter most often read (after the salutation) is the P.S. Unless the tone of your letter is completely inappropriate for a postscript, use one. These are best used as a reiteration of a key benefit or a call to action, such as “P.S.: Remember, with my service, your business can be more profitable tomorrow. Find out how by giving me a call at XXX-XXXX.”

  • Set your letter aside for 24 hours after it is complete, and then reread and edit it. When looking at it cold, you will often find the message is not as clear as you may have originally thought. You also will be able to edit out repetitive or useless phrases, making it more direct and to the point.

  • Read it out loud. Many business letters try too hard to sound intellectual but end up sounding aloof and incomprehensible. To avoid overuse of jargon, read your letter aloud. You may find that you can make changes to make it sound more conversational, which means you will communicate more effectively.

  • Use emphasis. Help your readers find the key points by using typographical techniques. Use bullet points, underlined text, bold text, italicized text and combinations thereof to make certain points. But a little goes a long way. If too many words are emphasized, nothing is really emphasized.

  • Be skippable and scannable. Make it easy for your readers to find the information they need. By putting your key message up front and by using typographical highlighting, short paragraphs and postscripts, readers should be able to easily navigate (skip and scan) their way through your letter for the information that is most relevant to them.

Mark McGuriman is in the marketing department of CBIZ Accounting, Tax & Advisory LLC and Mayer Hoffman McCann PC, an independent CPA firm in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. CBIZ, a publicly traded company and the 10th largest accounting firm nationally (Accounting Today), provides a wide range of assurance, tax and business consulting services to small and mid-sized companies. Reach McGuriman at mmcguriman@cbiz.com or (610) 862-2284.