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Are Your Business Messages Getting Lost in Translation?
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business communication

Getting Small Businesses Unstuck, Shafran Moltz Group

This post originally appeared on OPEN Forum, an online community providing small business owners with information and advice to help them do more business.”

Before computers, if small-business owners wanted to communicate with a customer, supplier or employee, they had limited options. They could send a letter, call on the phone or go visit in person. It was clear that phone calls were meant for brief conversations, letters for longer formal correspondence and in-person meetings were reserved for when it was geographically convenient or for the most important events.

Now, with a smartphone in every hand, the choices of communication have ballooned, which improves flexibility but can also increase confusion about business communication etiquette. Follow these guidelines to make the most of all business communications—internally, externally and related to customer service.


You should only use chat for familiar and quick communication. It is typically a one-on-one exchange or updates. Emoticons and abbreviations are relied on heavily since these communications are frequently sent from devices that lack a physical keyboard.

How soon to reply: Within an hour. 

When to never use: If what needs to be typed is longer than one sentence, use email.

Social Media

Social media isn't private; think of it as a public form of communication, and treat your communication as such. 

How soon to reply: Within four hours. 

When never to use: When the communication needs to be private or is sensitive in nature.


Email is best effective for longer yet still informal business communication among one or multiple people. 

How soon to reply: Within a day. 

When never to use: This isn't private communication, so if you need to discuss a sensitive issue you're better off with an in-person meeting or a phone call. This form of quick note sending can be easily misread, or edited without permission. It lacks privacy since it can be easily forwarded to others.

Phone Call and Voicemail

Since it's difficult to catch someone at his or her phone ready to talk, be ready to leave a voicemail, and know what you want to say before you leave your message. This is perfect for short or more personal messages. 

How soon to reply: Within a day. 

When never to use: Don't leave a voicemail for someone who works in your office. Get up and have a face-to-face meeting.

Video Calls

This method is best when dealing with someone long distance, and when an in-person visit isn't possible. Also useful for keeping a team in different locations on the same page of a project. 

How soon to reply: Within a day. 

When never to use: It shouldn't replace a face-to-face meeting, but it is better than relying on phone call for keeping in touch.


This is best used when signatures are needed on documents or when those documents can’t be altered. Attaching scanned documents to email is a similar alternative.

How soon to reply: Within two days. 

When never to use: When documents need to be changed and updated frequently.


Longer documents, personal notes and items that need to be documented for permanent records. 

How soon to reply: Within three days. 

When never to use: When speed of communication is vital and even sending the letter by overnight carrier would be ineffective.

Face to Face

Meeting in person is still the best way to communicate something that's important and personal. It is also ideal for when a conversation may last a longer than 15 minutes. This is the only form of communication that allows both parties to see the important nonverbal body language.
When never to use: Long distances and when the other party may get physically abusive.

Finally, assume that every form of communication leaves a trail and that nothing is really private.

Photo: iStockphoto

About Barry Moltz: I get small business owners unstuck through speaking , writing and consulting. I am a big technology, antique car and karate enthusiast.

Photos: iStockphoto


The opinions expressed in this article are those of its individual writer, and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of American Express Canada or Amex Bank of Canada. Third party web sites may have privacy and security policies different from Amex Bank of Canada. Links to other web sites does not imply the endorsement or approval of such web sites.

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