Is the handwritten thank you note dead?

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Dr. Freelance: I’ve heard people on both sides of the hard-copy, handwritten thank you note vs. email thank you argument, and wondering your opinion on the appropriate way for a freelancer to thank someone for a first client meeting.—Thankful in CT

Thankful: Call me old school, but I am a bigger fan of the hard-copy, handwritten thank you note than its email cousin—which is not to say that a freelancer shouldn’t send an immediate thank you via email, as well. Consider that the prospective client has spent 30, 60 or more minutes of their valuable time with you…the courteous thing to do is thank them appropriately.

Here’s my reasoning for the more formal approach to business etiquette:

  • Not everyone does it, so you’re instantly distinctive in the client’s mind—it’s simply a classy move
  • With a logoed card, you’ll make an additional brand impression—with the benefit that it’s tactile as well as visual
  • You can drop a pair of business cards in the envelope

My stationery of choice is a tall, thin card that fits precisely into a #10 envelope. It’s on a high-quality paper stock, emblazoned with a nice, big company logo at the top, and contact info in the footer, designed by Jane Gerke of Rubi Studio and printed by Allegra Print & Imaging. It’s the perfect size for three or four sentences to express my thanks to the prospective client and that I’m looking forward to working with them.

Finally, I’m going to climb on my business etiquette soapbox for a minute. To me, anything you can do to make the business world a friendlier, more pleasant place is a worthwhile gesture. I don’t have any quantifiable, scientific evidence that a handwritten thank you note on nice stationery delivers superior ROI to a thoughtful email note. And sure, the formality might turn off someone that is too hip for such things. But from my perspective, I appreciate being appreciated, and I imagine my prospective freelance clients will feel the same way.

Freelancers: If you’re interested in seeing a sample of my thank you card, send me your snail mail address through the “Ask the Doc” link in the sidebar, and I’ll drop one in the mail.

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  1. says

    Good points all, Doctor, well said. One could certainly debate which form of thank-you is better these days (hand-written vs. email). The important thing is to say thanks and take the time to say it well. Written thanks and good grammar are an unbeatable combo when it comes to making a good impression. Cheers, Jake!

  2. P.S. Jones says

    I send handwritten notes for the exact reason you mentioned: nobody else does. So I stand out in that person’s mind. I also send handwritten holiday cards to those I’ve done business with throughout the year. I can’t tell you how many stunned phone calls I get from clients about them. And then I turn that into a discussion about how we’re going to work together in the next year. It may be old fashioned and corny, but it works.

  3. Dr. Freelance says

    @Mark, precisely. It’s all about saying thanks and taking the time to say it well, regardless of electronic, print or smoke signal. Cheers!

    @P.S. Jones, there’s still room in this cynical world for old fashioned and corny…and glad to hear it works for you too! I’d like to think we could make it a trend, eh?

  4. says

    +1 on the handwritten holiday cards, @P.S. Jones. I’ve been sending them to my clients for the past few years and they have generated assignments — sometimes right away, sometimes in concert with follow-up tickler e-mails sent several weeks later. Cards with a little bit of quirkiness or whimsy seem to get more attention.

    I will try the handwritten thank-you note idea too. Thanks, Dr. Freelance! Request for sample coming right after this…

  5. Dr. Freelance says

    @Paul, thanks for weighing in. You’ve reminded me to do a post about “what freelancers should do for the holidays” in the near future. (Your sample, as they say, is in the mail!)

  6. says

    I hope not! I love the handwritten thank you note. I always used them in my sales job even though 99% of the sales were done by e-mail. Also for great clients (or prospects) I might send them a book they might like or some kind of physical gift that reminded me of a comment they might have made via e-mail or in person.

    This is of course not to replace the e-mail thank you, the blog comment, the re-tweet… just another tool in your gracious tool box.

    That’s the thing: Courtesy and graciousness will never be dead.

  7. Dr. Freelance says

    Thank you for commenting, Nancy. There’s no such thing as overdoing it when it comes to courtesy, and a well-used “gracious tool box” is a likely sign of a successful entrepreneur.

  8. says

    I’ll admit to having such bad handwriting that the National Security Agency should consider hiring me as an encryption specialist.

    That being said, I still send handwritten thank you notes on postcards that feature my photography. And, amazingly enough, I’ve walked into people’s offices, and there are my cards! On the wall!

    Fortunately, the picture side is showing.

  9. Dr. Freelance says

    Hey, MR, I’m a doctor—I know all about messy handwriting. But it’s the thought that counts, assuming they can make heads or tails of my chickenscratch. The photograph-postcard idea is neat; thank for sharing.

  10. Lionel Wilson says

    I think to many the Handwritten note would be considered dead. However this is to those NOT sending them. From what I have found, those receiving them love it. It is so rare and tangible it is like a fresh breath. It slows a person down and if the card honestly says thank you or was great to see or or looking forward to rather than a marketing piece then people often keep them. I have been sending them for years with great responses.

    Lionel Wilson