For many of us, the convenience of email communication has turned into the nightmare of a never-ending rush of messages. Perhaps you have adopted a strategy of eliminating as many emails as possible, as quickly as possible. If your tendency is to delete emails before you even read them, or to read emails without responding to them, you may be missing business development opportunities.

Let’s review a few email scenarios and I’ll suggest better ways to respond than simply deleting or ignoring messages.

You attend a networking event. The next day, you receive an email from someone you vaguely remember meeting. You read the email and there is no specific action required on your part. Do you delete the email? No, of course you don’t. You respond and assume that this is someone you should get to know better. The reason may not be apparent at the moment. It is worth investing some time to find out what you have in common and why being connected might be useful.

You work with an expert witness on a particular case. A couple of months later, the expert witness sends you an email saying he or she will be in town and would like to get together. Do you delete the email? No, of course you don’t. In spite of your busy schedule, you respond and suggest meeting for coffee. You understand that the expert witness has a network of contacts that might be helpful to you at some point, and might even be able to refer work to you. In turn, you could refer work or introduce the expert witness to your contacts.

You receive LinkedIn invitations from various people – colleagues, attorneys who used to work at your firm, people who went to your college or law school, parents of your children’s friends, people you have met at networking events. Do you delete those emails? No, of course you don’t. If you have a profile on LinkedIn or other social networking sites, you should already have thought about your marketing strategy for that site. What is your goal for being there? What connections are you trying to make? Who should, or should not, be included in your network? If you simply ignore all of these requests, you can’t build a network that could support your business development goals.

You are a committee or Board member of an association and you receive an email invitation two months before an important annual event. Your support is important to the association. Do you delete the first email, and the subsequent emails? No, of course you don’t. You recognize this as an opportunity to invite current and potential clients, colleagues, referral sources and friends to the event. Don’t wait to replay until the last minute. I know that’s tempting, but consider how difficult it will be for the event committee to finalize their plans without knowing how many people will show up.

Your client sends a message. It should go without saying that emails from your current clients should not be deleted without responding to them. Your client should never have to call you to ask if you received his or her email. If you don’t have an immediate answer, it’s still better to reply and let your client know when you will have an answer. My own pet peeve about email responses from lawyers is “thx.” Now, I know you’re busy, but “thx” isn’t really a thoughtful response. It’s a place holder that lulls you into a misguided belief that the client will think you’re being responsive, when you both know that you’re not. In the rare instance when the appropriate answer to a message is simply “thank you,” use the whole phrase.

A Final Thought About Communication

You may have heard the saying that “the meaning of your communication is the response you get.” Imagine what your clients and other contacts think when they don’t receive a response from you. They could wonder if you received the message, or they might assume the message wasn’t worth your time and attention. We all know that business development depends on relationships, and staying in touch by email is one way to maintain a relationship. Even a brief response is better than none.