Saying goodbye is so hard to do, isn’t it? It’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s awkward. Well, there may not be any instructions for those situations, but at least we can offer some instructions for how you can say goodbye in an email without feeling awkward.
An email signature is for all intents and purposes, your “goodbye”. It’s not whether you hug someone or give them a handshake. It’s not whether you only give them your name, or hand them your business card with all of your contact info included. It’s how you make an impression. Or not.
In this article, I’m going to share the five most important lessons I’ve learned in the couple of decades that I’ve been communicating with people on the Internet. Interestingly enough, the dilemmas involved with email signatures have existed ever since those early email messages were being sent over BitNet and FidoNet or even MIT’s CTSS mail system in the 1960’s, but I digress.
Email has been with us for a very long time. So how do you get it right? How do you sign off without looking like a snob, but also offering enough information so people know who and what you are? Let’s get started. By the time we’re through, you’ll have a pretty good idea what you want to do with your own email signature.
What an Email Signature is Supposed to Do
These days, in the process of emailing people, I have 3 different “levels” of email signature. Why? Well, there are three levels of relationships to cover — everything from a brief note to a friend, all the way to a formal business email message to a company. Three variations is really all you need, and the purpose of these should be the following:
1. A Quick Smile — This signature version goes on quick emails to friends or colleagues who you email constantly, several times a day.
2. Smile and a Handshake — This signature version goes on longer emails to work colleagues, where your email needs to be just a little more formal.
3. A Firm Handshake and Business Card — This is for those times when you need to write a formal business-related email and provide your title and all your contact info.
There are unwritten rules to each of these types of email signatures. Break them, and it won’t be the end of the world. If you want to make an especially good impression though, then you’ll want to take heed of some of these tips for each type of email you send.
The Quick Smile Signature
You don’t always need an email signature. At least, you don’t always need a formal one. This is just like when you’re walking by a colleague in the hallway. You see them several times a day. You attend the same meetings. Do you really need to greet them in the hallway with a handshake? No; most of the time it’s a quick “Hey Fred” and a smile, if anything at all. When you’re quickly emailing a colleague to ask for advice or for a tip, you may not even need a signature at all. If you do feel the need to sign off, you can take my approach, just your name prefaced with a dash. No need for flowery quotes or elaborate titles. The person knows who you are, what you are, and anything beyond your name would be awkward. Consider it like a basic conversation by the water-cooler, which you usually just end with something like “alright, catch you later then!” and a quick wave. Nothing more is needed.
Smile and a Handshake
The other type of signature is sort of a hybrid between formal and informal. This is the tough one to get right. These may be colleagues you want to email with semi-formal business requests, but you don’t want them to think you’re coming across as a stiff. They need to appreciate the importance of the email, but you don’t want them to wonder if you’re actually still friends. This is where the very subtle signature comes into play. These are usually decreased in size and almost unnoticeable in the footer of the email itself. One of the best approaches for this is a signature I call the “one-liner”.
In this version, all of the information is divided up with an “|” character. This could be as simple as an address or email, phone numbers, cell numbers or whatever. It should be brief, include just a little bit of necessary information, and that’s it. I’ve even seen some people make this signature in a font that is more faint than the rest of the email – maybe in grey. Another approach I’ve noted is a very brief two-liner. Basically, a name and one form of contact that could be a single phone number or an email address.
Obviously, this is for recipients who already know who you are, what company you work with, and you’re just sending them one of many correspondence emails. It provides the “feel” of a friendly email, but if the person needs to contact you and may not keep your number in their Rolodex (do people still use those…?), then there’s your contact info at the foot of the email, right within reach.
A Formal Handshake
Of course, there are those times when you’re emailing someone outside of the company, or maybe you’re emailing someone inside of the company about something official that requires the conversation to be formal. It’s like wearing a formal outfit when attending an award ceremony for your colleagues. Before I cover what you should do in these cases, it’s more educational to cover what not to do first. Yes, you should provide contact information, like your company name, website, and email address, but you don’t need to overdo it. Is there really a need to provide four different phone numbers, including a fax machine?
Nope, provide enough contact info so that there are several methods to contact you — email, phone, or maybe even via a website — but don’t get carried away. Providing a list of phone numbers makes it look like you’re so mobile that you’re never at your office and too difficult to contact.
Another common mistake is coming across as a self-promoter. People like this will overload their email signatures with their social networking accounts to the point where the signature is over 10 lines long and filled with mostly self-marketing.
Another way to give a horrible impression is to use all sorts of funky colors and fonts in your email address. It’s hard to pull something like that off, because the colors need to match, and the fonts need to look right. Unfortunately, many people have no clue how to properly match colors, and their email signature ends up looking like something out of a Willy Wonka factory.
This sort of clown-signature is unprofessional and anyone you send it to will think you have no idea what you’re doing, no matter what field you’re in. So avoid extravagant colors. Keep it simple.
What You Can Do Right
So what does a good formal email signature look like if you want to make a good impression? Go with the basic information required, keep the formatting and style simple, and don’g overdo it with information.
Here’s one example. This one includes 4 lines — name, company, phone number, and email address. That’s it.
This person used plain text only, and keeping it to only to four lines makes it come across as classy and professional.
With my own address, I go a little further in keeping the signature modest by using italics and fading it to dark grey. Keeping it a shade lighter than the email text itself tells the recipient that you consider your own information secondary to the message itself. It’s a subtle hint of humility.
Also, titles should only be used when they are relevant to the conversation at hand. In most correspondence related to my own website, people need to know that I’m the owner of the site, so the title is important. Only enough information is included for quick contact – email and phone number, that’s it.
Another example is the signature I use for both internal and external correspondence from MakeUseOf.
Here, I actually waffled between using the title or not. It is usually only important in external email communications and marginally important in some internal communications. I started out using two versions — one for external and one for internal — but got tired of manually switching between the two, that I decided to stick with the one above. At the risk of coming across as self-important, it remains faded and secondary. It also makes use of the “|” character mentioned above, a small splash of color to make the website name stand out, and I decided to be bold and add a fifth line for a quote.
Coming up with the perfect email signature that represents who you are, what you do and how to contact you can take some trial and error, but once you get it right, it feels good knowing that you’re putting your best foot forward in every email correspondence that you send out.
What are your tips for a better email signature? What things do you like or dislike about other signatures you’ve seen? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Image Credit: Business Couple via Shutterstock