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Top 10 Mistakes in Personal Notes
By Veronika (Ronnie) Noize, The Marketing Coach

One may think that the top 10 worst mistakes of personal or contact note writing are so obvious as to need no comment, but each of these gaffes has been committed by well-meaning people in my circle of acquaintance in the past 18 months. And shockingly enough, one of those people was...yours truly! (But I won't bore you with the details of that little episode by telling you which mistake I made. Besides, it's probably glaringly obvious, isn't it?)

At least two of the mistakes listed below were so jaw-droppingly rude that at first I thought they must have been jokes, but to my disappointment I found that they were simply errors in judgment. 

If would be so nice if good intentions would compensate for any deficiencies in execution, but sadly, that is not the case when writing personal notes. The truth is that you get no points for trying when you offend the recipient of your personal note by committing any one (or more) of the following mistakes:

  1. You write the note in front of the recipient, and then present it with a proud flourish. OK, proud flourish or not, writing your note in front of the recipient is just plain rude. While you are standing in front of a person, the proper form of communication is verbal (unless you need to sign), and one only writes notes to someone in one's immediate vicinity when one is in class (and even that is not a very polite thing to do). The whole point of writing the personal note is to deliver your message in a memorable and gracious manner that implies thought (which dashing off a perfunctory note in the recipient's presence does not!) and consideration.
  2. You deliver the note by hand. Unless accompanied by a gift, a hand-delivered note says that either you are too cheap to spring for the price of a stamp, or that it was more bother than it was worth to dig up the recipient's address. Either message no doubt contradicts whatever nice words you wrote in your note, so what's the point of that? Buy the stamp!
  3. You criticize the recipient as a way to point out the need for your service or product. Right now I imagine you're probably gasping with shock and disbelief, but I swear this happened just a few months ago! After speaking at an association meeting, I received a note from a (presumably well-meaning) member of the group thanking me for sharing my valuable marketing tips, and suggesting that she could help me improve my presentation skills so that they would be as good as my content. Ouch! I may not be the most accomplished speaker on the planet, but even so, the personal note is not the appropriate place to point out one's shortcomings. 
  4. You use cards with preprinted fill-in-the-blank messages. How would you feel if you received a card that was preprinted except for the blanks for key information? Dear [blank]. Thank you for the [blank]. I know I will find it useful in the future. Sincerely, [blank]. Don't laugh! Someone evidently thought this format was perfect for every situation from thanking a guest host to acknowledging a referral, but there is really nothing right about this format, so I beg you not to use it.
  5. You use cards with preprinted generic messages. Acceptable for weddings, major holidays and birthdays, but not for business contact notes. If your handwriting is truly so terrible that writing a legible personal note is impossible, you may use your printer to print your message, but each note must be written so as to leave no doubt that you composed the message especially for the recipient.
  6. You use a personal note as a sales pitch. A sales letter is printed on letterhead, and a personal note (which is meant to develop or maintain a relationship) is hand-written on card stock. A smart person doesn't confuse the two.
  7.  You send the exact same card with the exact same message to the same person more than once. This is a double whammy! Not only do you lose credit for the first note, you're penalized double points for the second note, effectively putting you in negative-points-ville. Why? Because the ill will a duplicated note generates is greater than no note at all. But don't let this keep you from writing notes; just be sure that you have a good tracking system in place, and you'll be golden.
  8. You send the note via email. Thoughtful? Sweet? Charming? Yes, yes, and yes, but email just isn't the same, in the same way a verbal message isn't the same. A hand-written note carries significantly more impact than either an electronic or verbal message. Want impact? Hand-write the note.
  9. You sign only your first name, and choose not to insert a business card. This is not a real problem if the recipient knows you well enough to associate your first name with your handwriting, but if the recipient is not in your immediate family or one of your very closest friends, by all means include your business card. If you are going to all the trouble to write a note, why not be absolutely sure the recipient knows the note is from you (and not from one of the other people who share your first name)?
  10. You send cards inconsistent with your message or image. I know I'm going out on a limb here by making a sweeping generalization but as a rule it is not a good idea to send messages of a serious nature (such as condolence or initial meeting acknowledgment) in a whimsical card. Neither is it a good idea to use a whimsical card (say, Scooby Doo) as your personal notes when you are trying to present a serious business image. That's not to say that a bit of whimsy is bad, and I would argue just the opposite, but one does need to be circumspect in one's choice of note cards. Not stuffy, mind you, just appropriate. If you are a fun-loving marketing gal like me, you can get away with a more whimsical card. And heck, even if you are a fun-loving funeral director you can get away with whimsical cards, but make sure your choices don't reflect poor taste or disregard for the feelings of your recipients.

Keep in mind that the best way to avoid offending the recipient of your personal note is to use the medium effectively. Because as with any relationship tool, an offensive note is far more damaging than no note at all.

Read more articles or view Top 10 lists.

Veronika (Ronnie) Noize, the Marketing Coach, is a successful Vancouver, WA-based entrepreneur, author, speaker, and Certified Professional Coach.  Through coaching, classes and workshops, Ronnie helps small businesses attract more clients. For free marketing resources including articles and valuable marketing tools, visit her web site at, or email her at

Top 10 Mistakes in Personal Notes Copyright © 2003 Veronika Noize.  All rights reserved.

"I help small businesses attract more clients."
~Veronika Noize, the Virtual Marketing Coach

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The Virtual Marketing Coach

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