Time management

The fairytale email hack to cut down on phone calls

- April 19, 2023 4 MIN READ
Meg Ryan in 'You've Got Mail' (1998) / Warner Bros.

If your emails keep turning into more emails, or worse – long phone calls and unnecessary meetings – then copywriting expert Tom Valcanis has a little story for you…

Once upon a time in the kingdom of Solonia, a frazzled artisan threw his hands up into the air. “Every ten seconds I’m interrupted by calls from the Palace,” he said, pacing around his office. “Surely my written missives are sufficient. But no!” he says, thrusting a finger into the air, “They call and call and call.”

He had proclamations from the King and Queen on the wall, reminding him of his good and faithful service, and the treasured sketch of his appointment to the royal court, framed in the finest oak. He sat down with head in hands, about to write another missive – this time to end his association with the court.

As he dipped his quill in ink, the Royal Poet Laureate appeared at the door in white flowing robes. She saw the artisan and inquired to his frustrated state.

“My child, what troubles you?” she said.

“The King!” the artisan said. “My written missives seem to bound overhead like flocks of birds taking flight.” The Poet Laureate quirked her brows; perhaps a line to steal for a special royal poem. The artisan pressed on: “I send missive after missive, but he insists on a private audience. Zoom isn’t even an option.”

“Zoom? The King’s fastest steed? This must hinder you to no end,” the poet said. “What you must do is follow the way of the poet. The beginning, the middle, and the end.”

The artisan shook his head. “What nonsense do you speak? There is no other way to compose a message!”

“You don’t understand, my child,” the Poet said with a wry smile. “You honour the order of these directions but not the time in which they ripen.”

The artisan nodded with vigour. “Of course!” he rose to his feet in triumph. The Poet beamed in satisfaction. He sat down again. After a time, he looked the poet in the eye and said: “I don’t follow.”

From academia to Play School: the narrative structure

Young writer using laptop in cafe

Academia places great emphasis on arbitrary word counts and essay structures. However, unless you are professional academic or work in the humanities, essays are not effective methods of communicating your needs. They are designed to argue a point and persuade. As businesspeople, we are after communion and cooperation when we send correspondence – not competition.

If you, like our artisan, are besieged by phone calls that you feel were explained better by email – it may not be the content of your message that is causing confusion. It could be your structure.

Keep. It. Simple.

The story above is an illustration of sticking to the time-honoured (and we mean serious amounts of time here) narrative structure. The beginning, the middle, and the end.

Once upon a time, an artisan was fed up being summoned to the court, despite sending messages. The poet shows up and asks what troubles him. He tells him. She says he needs to use the narrative structure (in a very roundabout way) to make his messages clearer.

In essence, every email that is a call-to-action simply needs to have a beginning, middle, and end.

That means describing what’s been happening, what is happening, and what you need to happen next – with zero waffling.

From ‘once upon a time’ to ‘the end’

If you read any collection of short stories, you can almost imagine the writer opening with the line, “Once upon a time.” Ninety-nine percent of the time they omit it, and with just cause.

Yet, your business correspondence also has to open by setting the scene – don’t assume your reader immediately knows what you’re talking about. Even if your email is under a hundred words, you need to be clear on what you’re specifically addressing.

Let’s say you’re a brand manager and you need some fabrics for new awnings. The samples you got weren’t the right colour and you need that corrected. Here’s how that would play out:

Beginning

“I received your samples yesterday, the red fabrics for the awnings. My team looked at them and we have a few concerns.”

Note that you have established a timeline – yesterday, you got samples. Today, you have concerns.

Middle

Now comes the middle: the part that your communication partner is being introduced to as they read your email.

“Our concerns are that the shades are too bright for our branding; we think there is a bit too much yellow in the red and may need a few points of blue to match what we’re looking for.”

End

Now comes the end: the crucial part that will cut down on the confusion and the dreaded, production-killer phone call. What will happen next, according to you.

“Once our team has determined the correct CMYK values, we’ll forward these to you later today or tomorrow first thing. Once we have, please send us new samples based on these values and we will evaluate and approve ahead of a full production run.”

This sets up expectations (deadlines) and an opportunity for both parties to agree on the next steps. Only you control what you can provide (the CMYK values) and your expectations – not the overall outcome.

Professionals often use too many words (or jargon) to communicate, when a simple story would suffice. Next time you are composing a business email, avoid the mistake of jumbling up the order of the narrative. Simply give them a quick beginning, middle, and end.

Give it a try – and if your phone remains unrung for longer, remember the words of the Poet Laureate of Solonia. Something about fruit, I think.


Join the soloist movement. Whether you are new to Flying Solo or looking to grow your business, our membership options will help you attract more leads, grow your network and sharpen your business skills.  Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest news and advice straight to your inbox.

Now read this:

Six productivity hacks to boost your biz and save you time

Here’s why you need to upgrade your Flying Solo membership pronto!

  • Share your business journey in an exclusive member profile
  • Get free lifetime access to our Going It Alone digital course
  • Participate in members-only events and experiences
  • Boost your business’ visibility with a Directory listing

$149.95 + GST
Billed annually
  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"