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January 3, 2002
The Importance of Netiquette to the Successful Freelancer
by Sherril Steele-Carlin

If you're a freelancer who does much of your work online, e-mail may be one of your most important tools. You probably submit invoices, get assignments, and apply for work, all via your e-mail account. E-mail is a vital tool for any freelancer, but your e-mail could be sending out the wrong message about you and the quality of your work.

An article from the Detroit Free Press, "Following Rules of Netiquette Can Aid Grads in Job Search" says "Use a wacky e-mail address such as or and it could halt job prospects cold. Start your home telephone voice mail message with 'Whaaaazzzzzzzup!' and a corporate recruiter might think 'not much' and hang up, destroying any chance of future communication. Although some of the rules of etiquette seem like common sense, human resources officials said they often see the rules being broken."

These same rules apply to freelancers, not just to recent grads looking for jobs. You may think your e-mail address is creative and cute, but someone who is looking at you as a potential consultant may think it's unprofessional, and hire someone else whose image is more serious and capable.

Minor errors in grammar, spelling, and sentence structure should be avoided, too. If you're applying for a writing job, and you don't spell check your e-mail, you probably won't get the gig. If your spelling and grammar are poor in your introduction, then how will your copywriting or proofreading be any better? In the same Detroit Free Press article, Rodney Cole, the resource manager for the Parson Group said, "Especially in a tight job market like we have now, minor mistakes now seem major."

Another area to watch is your signature file, which automatically attaches to every e-mail you send out. Many freelancers pitch themselves or their services in their signatures. Sometimes however, they are too long, or contain references to personal beliefs or affiliations. It's better to use "a thoughtful quote or just a signature -- not a political statement or comment that notes an affiliation to a political party or organization that could hurt your chances," according to Thomas Finholt, an expert on online communication. An article on " E-mail Netiquette" adds, "It is however unnecessary and bad form to use more than four lines for your signature file."

Don't forget the subject line. It's the first thing the reader sees, even before they open the message. If it's straight to the point, you'll stand a better chance of your e-mail getting read, instead of instantly deleted. Ignore the impulse to be "cute," and stick to the facts, such as simply the title of work you're looking for. If you're answering a specific advertisement, put the job title in the subject line, and leave it at that.

Sending attachments with your initial e-mail can often backfire, too. If the recipient doesn't use the same program, or can't open attachments, your information will not be viewed, and your e-mail may just end up in the trash. You should make sure the recipient will accept attachments, and in what format, before you send them. If you don't know, it's best to simply place the attachment as text in the body of your e-mail.

When you're competing with numerous other freelance professionals for the same job, you want your communication to stand out, but not for its lack of professionalism. Double check your e-mails before you send them, make sure they look just as good as any print correspondence you'd send to a potential client, and you could find yourself with more clients who respect you and your work.

Sherril Steele-Carlin is a full-time freelance writer from Reno, Nevada. She's published numerous articles in print and online publications. She's also the author of the new e-book
"How to get a Life by Living and Working in a National Park."
"How to Break Into Casino Jobs."
Visit her web site at

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