Barof is the God of Gingerbread. At this time he is slumping moodily at the bar of The Broken Divinity, moodily regarding the mind-twisting selection of bottles behind the bar and drinking a celestrial wine spritzer with a peach-of-immortality garnish.
Gharine, God of Clouds, strides in through the crowd. (If you were expecting the goddess of clouds to be a wispy and ethereal being you will be disappointed. She has the sturdy calves and thick shoulders of a woman who can comfortably carry an entire side of beef through a snowstorm.)
Gharine sits next to the piteous melt of Barof and slaps him heartily on the back. (It’s lucky he’s a god, that would have snapped a mortal clean in two.) She booms, “What’s up, goodbuddy?”
He sighs through five different languages. “It’s the gingerbread, of course. I’m having all sorts of problems.”
“Firstly, it’s taking me far too long to make the horsies come out right. They’ve got so many damn legs. Thin thin legs! One tiny mistake and poof! three-legged horsie.
And that’s not to mention the damn octopi. If I do their legs thin enough to look right then they burn. Do them thick enough to survive the oven and they look crap.
Half my men look cross-eyed due to raisin-wrangling issues.
And I went in today anyway, because I am an artist, but I wasn’t in the best of moods and every single piece I made came out hilly. Every single one!”
“Wow, that sure does suck, goodbuddy. Not having any compromises in your ingredients?”
“No, everything there is fine.”
“The weights and measures are accurate?”
“Yep, got ’em double-checked yesterday.”
“Your cookie cutters still sharp?”
“What? I don’t use cookie cutters.”
Gharine stares disbelievingly. “You don’t? Are you deranged?”
Barof huffs, “Pay attention. I am an artist. I don’t use… [in tones of deepest loathing] a template. I make every single piece by hand, of course!”
“Holy me, you are deranged. Look buddy, you know I’ve been in clouds forever, literally.”
“Yes, that’s why I’ve always enjoyed your company. You’re an artist, too.”
“Yeah, and for that whole time I’ve been reusing the same four basic cloud types in different combinations.”
Barof gasps and grabs the bar. “What? But the variety! Herringbone striations, puffy pillows, sunset wisps, ominous thunderheads!”
Gharine grins widely. “Cirrus. Cumulus. Nimbus. Stratus. That’s it. I do ’em all with templates.”
It took five shots of ambrosia for Barof to calm down from that revelation, but the gingerbread improved dramatically soon after.
The moral of the story
Communication templates (like cookie cutters) are awesome, and you should use them.
Many people resist, thinking that they suck the spontaneity from your messages, but they don’t have to. Used well they can make your communications more personal, more profound, more effective, and less likely to lead to long and apologetic “What I meant was” conversations.
Your templates can be abstract and high-level: an affiliate offer might be laid out in sections, like [High-level summary] [What’s in it for them] [More details] [Who I am] [Call to action] [Polite wrap-up].
Or your templates can be very very comprehensive: a scratch file with the phrases and sentences you use in different situations, or a pre-formatted email response you can use by clicking three buttons and adding a Dear So-and-So line.
Here are the must-haves to ponder.
When emotions are high.
Oooh, you are sooooo mad.
Must. Bite. Tongue. And. Send. Email. To. Jerkface. Diplomatically.
What could go wrong? Oh, yeah. Everything. Good thing you have some words all written and ready to go so you don’t have to unclench your fists enough to write much.
- ending a working relationship
- requesting major changes to submitted work
- dealing with a breach of confidential information
- resolving supplier issues
- responding to a negative review
Example: Hello [Angry Dude], thank you for sharing your thoughts about [Product]. I’m very sorry you had a less-than-great experience. If you would like to discuss this with me further, please send me an email at [address] and I’ll do my best to make amends. Regards, [Me].
When energy is low.
One of the most important lessons I have learned from being a creative sprinter is: write the sales page first. Because trying to write it at the end, when you are completely exhausted, doesn’t work terribly well.
The same idea applies to the rest of your marketing and communication. Create templates for anything that you’re likely to write when you’re not at your best.
- appointment reschedules
- follow-ups after a big draining project
- thank-yous for ditto
- email auto-replies
Example: I’ve been bitten by the dreadful lurgy and I won’t be looking at my email at all today. If there’s anything urgent, please call [Someone Else] on [Phone number].
When money is involved.
Money makes people crazy. I’ve happily worked on the phones in high-stress tech environments with no issues, but there’s one area I would have fought a wolverine (snickity snickt) to avoid… accounts. I would have fought the entire Australian SAS to avoid making calls in collections. (Shudder.)
I repeat: money makes people crazy. A good mix of fairness and firmness is hard to summon when you really need your client to pay you today so the car doesn’t get repossessed. But if you write it well before it’s needed, while you’re still calm, it won’t come out wrong.
- following-up outstanding accounts
- asking for donations
- asking for more time to pay someone else’s account
- quoting on a large project
- querying a charge on an invoice
Example: This amazing service runs entirely on donations from the public. If you want to contribute to keeping the [Thingy] doing [The amazing thing it does], please click [here] to donate. Thank you!
When consistency matters.
If people are coming to you for a repeated experience, they have expectations about what that experience will be like. A template allows you to keep the big stuff consistent, while still being able to add delightful touches of your own personality elsewhere.
Example: I use an outline in my newsletter template that says This bit goes here for the different sections. It is awesomesauce and saves me plenty of brainmeat each week. (Which you would know if you were signed up for Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy. Which you are, of course. Right?)
When perceived power isn’t equal.
Writing to the God-Emperor of the Known Universe is a challenging task – he has 25,460 GrammarBots at his command to rend those who do not punctuate his 2,647 titles correctly on the envelope.
Writing to your heroes is less tricky, but still hard. How to mix the hey-you-just-put-your-pants-on-in-the-morning-like-me-right casualness with an awareness that this person can buy and sell East European nations and is probably busy buying Lithuania as we speak dear gods just get to the point… it’s much better to have the format and tone set in advance.
And the more famous you become, the more this works the other way around – much to your continued amazement, probably. Then you have to be careful about being appreciative while still keeping your boundaries.
- interview requests
- thanking them for being amazing
- small favours
- “small” favours – don’t do this, actually
- special offers
Example: Would you be available on [time in their timezone] to be part of the [Totally Amazing Teleclass] that I’m running? You’ll know the other special guests: [Person they know and respect] and [Other person they know and respect] are both taking part. Each participant will have five minutes to talk about their work and their offerings to an audience of 250 people who are interested in [mutually important topic].
When you’re hellaciously busy.
You have sixteen squillion things to do, and the emails keep on coming in. You’ve successfully triaged most into the “Answer next week” pile, but it’d be rude to leave them unloved for all that time.
It’s be much nicer to have something simple to cut-and-paste in for the non-urgent stuff, like:
Thanks for your email. I’m wrassling with a large slew of new orders so I won’t be answering you in full until after the [date you better keep]. This way I can give you a proper response instead of three hasty words. Cheers, [Me].
Things you are very sick of typing over and over.
Because life is just far too short.
- opening hours
- links to your calendar
Examples: “Empire Records, open ’til midnight, this is Mark… MIDNIGHT!”
What do YOU need to template?