“Compare sending someone a text message and getting a love letter delivered by carrier pigeon. No contest.” - Bryan Callen
I personally love reading collections of letters from and to interesting people. One of my favorite volumes of correspondence is a book called “The Proud Highway; The Letters of Hunter S. Thompson.” We get to see, in his own words, what’s going on in his life, what his fears at the moment are and who he decides to share those fears with. We get to see the same for his joys and for the times when he’s just getting by, in flux, waiting for the next move, the next event. We truly see the man, his mind and his heart. He didn’t write the letters with the express purpose of them being part of history, he wrote to individuals with specific goals in mind. There is a nakedness to them, a reality, a truth that comes from sending words to someone that you believe are between you two. I love reading his letters and the letters of great statesmen, scientists, actors, letters are a singular form of communication that can educate, excite and connect.
Age of Email
Think about all the emails you send to clients, customers, potentials. How many of those emails are read and digested? I’m sure they’re all skimmed, they’re all given the right amount of attention that will cause the recipient to think, oh, I owe so and so an email. I owe them one because they sent me one. Imagine how different that exchange would be if the email were an actual, handwritten letter.
Show them they’re special
You can spend time and energy trying to write the perfect email to someone to make sure they know that their business is important to you, that you hold them in high regard. Maybe you’ll get it right, maybe you’ll fall short. But, if you sit down, take time, put pen to paper and write that client a letter, the simple fact that this isn’t done much any longer, that it takes a certain amount time and energy, is going to send the message of how special they are in a very clear, very personal way.
Take Some Time
Writing a letter demands you take time. It demands you sit with a pen in your hand, with well-chosen paper and write thoughts and ideas on the page. It’s easy to dash off an email or text, it’s common and it’s what’s done by everyone. So, why do that? Why try to create a closeness, a sense of connection with a client in the same way you get information to the guy who changes the toilet paper in the office? Take the time and make it personal.
Become more focused
When you write a letter you have to focus on the words you’re putting down on the paper. You’re forced to move more slowly and you’re more likely to focus your thoughts on the message that will be received. This is going to naturally help you avoid sounding like you’re filling in a template or a sending out a mass email. Slowing down, focusing is going to force you to be more personal and more careful with your words.
Use more of your senses
Typing can be mindless, you move your fingers over the keyboard, as you’ve been taught and your mind gets caught up in other things, other distractions, while you’re clicking away. This is what we call “multitasking”, it can be mind-numbing. However, studies have shown that handwriting integrates three brain processes; visual, motor and cognitive skills. You see the paper, it’s parameters and your words. You use fine motor skills to form the words you choose. You stimulate your brain to remember the shapes of the letters you write. Using a keyboard for so long, we have to remember how to write a cursive “w” or an “h”. It’s a wake up, a work out for your brain.
It’s for sure that the client you’re writing to receives a ton of emails per day. Imagine the start of your relationship, after that initial meeting, being a handwritten letter. You will become known in the client’s mind as the person who wrote them a letter. You will immediately be set up in your own category, you will be unique to the client and they will remember the time you took and the care of that handwritten letter.
Create a tangible keepsake
Emails flood and fill inboxes all day long. They’re read, perhaps forwarded but, most times, they remain on screens or electronic files, usually never looked at again. A letter, written on good, thick paper, with careful hand, fine ink, becomes something the receiver can hold in their hand. Something they will stop their day for a moment to read.
It starts with receiving the letter. It’s not a bill with an electronically printed address and a bar code for a return address, the receiver will see immediately that this is different. Imagine them thinking, “where’s my letter opener?” The feel of the envelope, the heft, the smell. Again, the senses are engaged and the connection is starting to form. The tear of the envelope being opened, the letter being unsheathed. The pages pulled out, spread open and, before reading, the receiver looks at the swirls and the motion of the ink on the page, perhaps they flip to the last page to see who sent this, this arcane and yet beautiful piece of living history. And then, something wonderful happens. They turn from the computer, they sit back and, holding the pages in their hands, they read the letter you’ve taken time and thought to craft and send. It’s not an email on a bright screen, it’s something they can hold in their hands, something that can momentarily remove them from the electronic world, something that harkens back to a simpler time, to a more personal time. It may make them think of when they’ve written letters, what receiving a letter meant to them in the past. And then, when they have finished reading it, they slip it gingerly back into its envelope and they place it on the desk beside themself. It’s not in a file or thrown into a small, animated trash can, it’s there, it’s held, it’s to be kept and read again and again.
You can bet that handwritten letter will be answered personally, not handed off as a task to someone else, that handwritten letter will be answered by the receiver. Perhaps they’ll answer via email but they will answer you personally and they will take time to do it because you have given them something special, a keepsake, a unique connection.
Sending a handwritten letter is a way of carrying on an old tradition and, it’s a way of starting a new tradition. The business letter has a long tradition and it’s been a part of business life long before the introduction of the computer, the internet and the ability to text. It’s an old, revered, special tradition so, if you send a handwritten letter, you’re keeping this wonderful tradition alive. Keeping this tradition alive alone is exciting but, it also affords you the opportunity to start a new tradition. Perhaps, after that first handwritten letter, you correspond via email but, say, once a month, you send another handwritten letter. This becomes the tradition. The start of the new month, you send a nice, handwritten letter. This becomes something the client looks forward to, even talks about. He tells people, when you meet socially, yes, we have a tradition, we send letters to each other once a month. Others may be quizzical; “you mean you only email once a month?” No, your client says, we email all the time but once a month we send nice, long, handwritten letters. It’s a tradition. Traditions connect us, ground us and make those connections very unique, very special.
So, think about sending a handwritten letter. Yes, yes, I know, time is money and life moves at the speed of business and if you’re not the lead dog the view never changes, we’ve heard it all time and time again. It’s the electronic age, build it quicker, make it go faster. But think on this; you can spend time finding the perfect keywords, get three or four people to craft the message for the perfect email that’s going to make this new, important client see how much you care about them and their business. An email that may be read by the client or by an assistant to the client and then, you’re just in the pack with the rest, fighting to get this guy’s attention. You’re not the lead dog and you end up looking’ at a lot of hairy butt. Or, you can take a little time, slow down, dig into tradition and write them a letter, with pen, ink, paper, envelope and stamp. Change the speed of the game for an hour or so, start a new tradition and let your actions speak to the new client and show how much they mean to you.
Send a handwritten letter, you may be surprised at the result.