Don’t ruin excellent work with a rubbish Covering Email

16th September 2014

I once helped a consultant write a proposal for a big project. It was worth a lot of money to him. It would have been his biggest contract.

The proposal we wrote was really good. But he didn’t win the work.

When he asked why not, they said they were so underwhelmed by his Covering Email, that they didn’t feel they could trust him with such an important project. Their exact words: “if you don’t take care of little things like emails when you know we’re watching, how can we trust you to take care of big things when you don’t think we are?”


I asked him to send me this Covering Email. It said…

Title: FYI

See attached


How utterly dreadful.

And what a waste.

We’d created this wonderful proposal. If the customer had just read it, the consultant would have had an outstanding chance of winning the business. But all our effort was ruined by the first thing they saw: his Covering Email. I wouldn’t have even noticed his email in my inbox. Would you?

So, what about your Covering Emails? How good are they? Do you put much time into making them brilliant? Do you put any?

The good news: there are many ways to craft a good one. Here’s one that works very well…

Title: John, here’s the email you requested about [insert topic]


As [promised/requested], I attach the [communication] about [topic].

You’ll see it contains some critical points. In particular:

  • [highlight 1]
  • [highlight 2]
  • [highlight 3]

As agreed, I’ll ring you at [time] on [date] to discuss how we should proceed. If you want to discuss before then, please buzz my mobile – [number].


You’ll notice:

  • The title is compelling. This ensures he opens the email
  • It starts with “As promised” (or similar). This reminds him that he’s already verbally engaged with you, and that you’ve written the document he requested. (An important note: if you haven’t had this chat beforehand, it’s less likely that your communication will impress. After all, when you know what he wants, you’re more likely to write something he wants. But when you don’t…)
  • Briefly mentioning 2-3 highlights means he’s more likely to open the document, to read the detail
  • There’s a clear call to action – ‘I’m calling you on X. But call me if you prefer’ – so it’s likely there’ll be an action! Again, note that this has been verbally agreed beforehand
  • By providing your direct contact details, you’re empowering him to increase the pace if he wants to
  • The email’s short, but contains enough info to persuade him to open the attachment. You don’t need to re-write half your document. But neither can you write only “see attached”

Let’s face it: it doesn’t take long to write an email like this. It only takes minutes – seconds? – to do. But, if you don’t, you might find you’ve wasted the previous few hours you’ve spent on your document.

Action Point

What’s the most important attachment you’re sending today? Ensure your Covering Email impresses, such that they take the action you want them to.

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