Hand-written notes? Maybe not

A recurring theme in small-business marketing advice is that you should send handwritten notes. Lots of notes! Carry the blanks in your briefcase and get them in the mail anytime anyone contacts you or achieves something or you think something nice about them.

Marketers will tell us to hand-write thank yous after sales presentations and job interviews. Write each individual who sat in on the presentation separately, by hand.

Seems like a nice personal touch

But wait! Let’s think about this for a moment. Some of these notes are not mere thank yous. They are full-blown sales letters. They have a mission far beyond thanking. They reiterate what we want to emphasize from the meeting, expand upon themes we want to flesh out, follow up with additional thoughts or information or specify how we will continue to follow up.

Though I myself have written very long letters in the past, I now think it is silly to hand-write a message of more than three sentences.

And none of the objectives listed after the first paragraph can be accomplished in three sentences. A lengthy hand-written letter would go two or even three pages, causing hand cramps.

Long messages with marketing intentions require too much copy to be hand written. They also require too much thought and wordsmithing to be tossed off in a single draft—and copying a draft with nice hand writing is just too tedious.

Hand-written notes recall my childhood

The first law of our household when I was growing up was that a hand-written thank you note must be sent promptly when any gift is received. It must have at least three sentences, it must be written in good-girl script and the child must address the envelope him/herself so that the recipient sees no sign of adult enforcement.

We would sit at the kitchen table writing mom’s dictation while she cooked. As the years went by (yes, we were slow learners, but then again, the standards were sky high), we gradually internalized phrases such as “I appreciate your thoughtfulness” and “I will use your generous gift toward my college education.” Eventually we wrote notes on our own.

I would picture Emily Post or Mamie Eisenhower, seated in a shirt-waist dress with pearls and writing with a Cross fountain pen on refined Crane stationery as I reluctantly carried on the tradition.

My brother and I would keep in mind that the income earned per hour of thank you writing made it a lucrative activity, but still, our hearts would fill with dread as the mailman (yes, they were men back then) dropped off thick stacks of envelopes when graduation or religious ceremonies approached.

Practice makes perfect

So I learned to write notes the hard way, but I’m now highly proficient at getting the suckers into the mail quickly.

To this day I continue to write nice notes with tremendous speed. They are composed in an attractive, feminine hand, written in straight lines though I no longer use lined paper. (It took me years to master that!) I even volunteer to write thank you notes for a fund-raising organization.

How to send word-processed letters?

Obviously, hand-written notes must be sent via postal mail. However, I usually favor corresponding by email. It’s fast and modern . . . and clearly calls for word processing rather than writing.

Still, it is impossible to know what’s happening at the other end. Some people even send the same letter in both formats. This is acceptable if you alert the recipient to the duplication in both versions so you don’t appear to be absent minded.

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