When you’ve been running a small business for more than two decades like I have, you’ve probably seen a lot of ways that business people communicate. After I first graduated college, it was still written business letters and landline phone calls. Now, of course, those choices have exploded to include email, chat, text messaging, social media…and business letters and phone calls.

But even with all these substantial changes in the way we communicate, one thing has remained constant: people. People who still don’t use these tools the right way to communicate professionally. Which is why I’m still receiving communications so unprofessional I wonder how the person on the other end can ever move ahead in their business. There are lots of little things people do when they communicate that drive me crazy. But here are a few big ones.

1. Not Responding

If we don’t know each other from Adam, and I send you an unsolicited message, then you are perfectly within your rights to ignore me. There are only so many emails and calls we can respond to in a day, right?

But c’mon…if we do know each other, if we’ve met or spoken on the phone, or even had a previous email correspondence, then please…pretty please…could you at least respond to me when I email you? I don’t need much. Just a quick message. Just an indication that my email has reached you and has been acknowledged. Just a courtesy reply, no matter how short, that tells me that I’m just a little more than a speck of dust in your busy life? I get that sometimes not every message can be replied to. But, if I know you, please don’t tell me you’re “so slammed” or “incredibly busy.” Why? Because I know that if I offered you a million dollars to reply to my email, you most certainly would. So really you’re just choosing not to, which is insulting to me and all the other people you’re ignoring.

Not replying to people you know is not only rude, but it’s costly. If a salesperson is pitching something to you, it’s often because he or she may be offering something that can help you or your company. If a partner, supplier, or other business associate is reaching out, it may be because that person has information that could affect your profits. Ignoring people that you know risks offending them and losing potential opportunities. If you want to be in business, you have to communicate with people you’re doing business with. Even if you’re “slammed.” You’ve got the time. You’re just choosing not to spend it.

2. Writing Like A Kindergartner

Do you know the difference between “your” and “you’re”? Or “its” versus “it’s”? Do you have “alot” of friends or “a lot” of friends? Are you offering a “compliment” or a “complement”? I’ll bet you know the answers to these questions.

So, are you using these phrases—and other common phrases, terms, and words—correctly in your business communications? Are you capitalizing words that shouldn’t be capitalized? Hyphenating words that shouldn’t be hyphenated? Or, worst of all, abbreviating phrases like “LMK” instead of properly writing “let me know”?

Bad grammar in a business communication makes me crazy. To me, it reveals too many negative things about a person. It says that they’re too hasty, don’t pay attention to details, or, sadly, are just not very intelligent. It puts me off from doing business with that person. To me, if he or she can’t take the time to get basic grammar and spelling right, how do I know that they’ll do a good job on our project?

You’re not in kindergarten and you’re not Instagramming a funny photo to your friends. You’re in a business and you’re having a business interaction. I’m not saying you should be a Shakespearean scholar, but, for goodness’ sake, you have a professional responsibility to make sure your communications are grammatically correct. Use spell checker. Read your messages before sending them. If you’re not sure about a phrase or a word, simply Google it. This is not hard. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes, but the person on the other end of your communication will appreciate it. Not doing so is a costly mistake.

3. Ignoring My Preferences

One of my company’s suppliers is an older guy. Whenever he has something to discuss, he calls me and if I don’t pick up the phone—which is usually the case—he leaves long voicemails. I’ve told him countless times to email me, but he still calls. So I avoid him.

I prefer to communicate via email most of the time. I have customers, particularly younger ones, who prefer to communicate with me just by text messages. Others only go to my Facebook page or direct message me on Twitter. Communication in 2019 has vastly changed. Back in the day it was telephone calls and business letters. Today it’s that plus much more.

People have preferences. Almost as unprofessional as it is to not respond to someone else’s message is to continuously communicate in a way that the other party doesn’t prefer. If you have a customer who lives in China, would you insist that he learn English in order to communicate with you? If a supplier only accepts VISA, would you demand that she accept American Express?

People communicate better when they’re comfortable with the method used to communicate. If you want to avoid costing yourself an opportunity, it’s to your benefit to find out how the people you do business with prefer to correspond with you. Some may tell you to only send a letter. Others like to talk on the phone or send emails. A few may insist on a face-to-face. If the relationship is important and profitable enough, then you’ll need to adjust to their preferences.


I know the above reads like a rant, and that’s because it is. But it’s written with the best of intentions. I want you to succeed. I want you to have the best communications possible with the people in your professional life. Maybe these three things don’t drive them as crazy as they drive me. But I bet addressing them will improve your business relationships.

As a small business owner, you’re an expert, too. We want to hear about how you feel about business communication mistakes. Let us—and your fellow SBOs—know by sharing a comment below.