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The lost art of the business letter

When was the last time you wrote a business letter? Two people asked me to write letters for them last week. One was the president of a statewide utility. The other was a small business owner. The purposes and the audiences were different, but the goal was the same: a business letter to achieve a company objective. In a world in which so many people communicate through social media in hurried and often incomplete sentences or in partial words to meet 140-character limits, the requests were a pleasant reminder that the business letter hasn't become a lost art to everyone. The C-Suite and business owners still consider formal letters an essential way of doing business. What are the reasons you might need to write a business letter? Here are just a few possibilities:

  • To explain a change in accounting procedures.

  • A cover letter for an award or a grant application.

  • A congratulatory letter to a client or constituent.

  • A welcome letter to a major corporate event.

  • A letter of recommendation.

Business leaders have asked me to write letters for these reasons and others. Generally, there is a pattern to the requests. Corporate managers simply don’t have the time. Entrepreneurs often confess they don’t have the skills. The important thing to remember about business letters is that they say so much more than what is between the margins. To the recipient, they are an expression of the values you place in yourself, your company and those with whom you do business, both inside and outside of your company. In effect, business letters, like marketing communications, are the face of your business. It’s worth remembering that when you write anything, make sure that the face you are showing is the one you want others to see.

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