Small Business Builder: How to Say 'Thanks'

Dec. 12, 2001 -- Expressing thanks is one of the most civilized things people do.

In business relationships, it may be the most direct way to indicate how we value and are dependent on one another.

Keep your "thank yous" and your sales pitches separate. Pushing your agenda in a note of thanks cancels out whatever sincerity you meant to convey.

Depending on the nature and size of the gift or service you received, express your thanks by phone or in writing, preferably not via e-mail. A thank you gift is occasionally appropriate but has the potential for escalating into a full-scale thank-you contest.

12 Rules to Remember

Whatever the circumstance, remember that your "thank you" should be:

On time Like coffee, gratitude becomes lukewarm if it sits around for long.

In Proportion Don't upstage your benefactor. If he holds the elevator you're running toward, you don't have to send him flowers. (See sidebar.)

Individual "Thank you" doesn't do its job — affirming the recipient's importance and value — if it's impersonal. When 793 out of 900 delegates vote for you to head their organization, a better response than "thanks" is "I'm glad 793 people thought I was the best candidate." Presumably, they voted their preference and did themselves a favor.

Inclusive Be inclusive of employees, delivery persons, custodians, Uncle Tim, and the guy who fixed the hum on the P.A. system. If common decency didn't require it, good business sense would. Remember, everyone is your customer.

In public Tell the world, if you can do so without calling undue attention to yourself.

In character Would you stand face to face with someone and say, "Please accept my deepest thanks for the honor you bestowed upon my company by speaking at our annual banquet"? If so, welcome to Planet Earth; you're obviously a newcomer. If not, then don't write it that way. Take both your own personality and that of the recipient into account.

In writing, on paper Some business advisers recommend using "thank you" as a mere introduction to a sales pitch, typed on your company's letterhead. Much better: Start with a blank or monogrammed note card, compose a short handwritten note, put it in an envelope, affix a postage stamp and mail it.

In full Your thanks should consist of:

— Acknowledgement. "We were surprised and delighted to receive your balloon bouquet for our grand opening."

— Validation of the gift. "Its arrival couldn't have been more perfectly timed. We had just been talking about how drab the lobby looked and how we wished we'd thought of a way to brighten it up."

— Validation of the giver. "How thoughtful of you to remember the occasion … " Or, if your style is more casual: "Thanks, Joe, for the balloons. Great idea. Wish we'd thought of it. Nice of you to remember."

An editor since the age of 6, when she returned a love letter with corrections marked in red, Mary Campbell founded Zero Gravity in 1984 to provide writing, editing, marketing and other services to small businesses. Her presentations and workshops address small-business topics from Web sites to business writing. An editor of and contributor to dozens of publications (books, journals and newsletters), she is co-author — with her sister, Pipi Campbell Peterson — of the second edition of Ready, Set, Organize! A Workbook for the Organizationally Challenged (JIST Publishing, 2001). Please e-mail her your comments, questions and suggestions at whywalk@about.com. Small Business Builder is published every other Wednesday.

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