The Forgotten Power of Handwritten Notes

The business world is full of instant and electronic communication, but some small-business owners swear by the power of the handwritten message.
Faith in Focus Columnist, The News & Observer Publishing Company
July 14, 2014

The next time you consider sending an email or a text message to a client, customer or employee, take a moment to think about composing a handwritten note instead.

"The tradition of writing notes and letters has been compromised by the information age, and we seldom find time for it," says Dawn Bryan, founder of The Qualipedia, a consumer information and lifestyle website. "This paucity, however, imparts even more value to the rare handwritten note because it makes the recipient feel special."

Bryan says the key to writing handwritten notes is having the right mindset. "Think of writing letters and notes by hand as opportunities, not obligations," Bryan says. "Whether commending, apologizing, consoling or answering a question, taking the time to write it is often more powerful and convincing than the message itself."

Bryan urges business owners to consider making handwritten notes a company tradition. She herself sets aside the week after Christmas to send personal notes to employees at their home addresses. She says the notes have a powerful impact on people, whose reactions have ranged from tears to framing the notes.

Take the Time to Make It Personal

Julia Angelen Joy, founder of Z Group PR in Boise, Idaho, says she always makes personal contact with clients through handwritten notes. "There are lots of digital methods of communication, and my clients are bombarded via those channels every day," Joy says. "A handwritten note takes time but shows that they're worth the effort." And instead of sending her notes on stationery with the company logo, Joy instead selects note papers that are personal, yet professional.

Kate McKeon, CEO of Prepwise, an educational consulting firm in New York City, agrees that handwritten communication is more effective than other methods. "I use handwritten notes to reach out to prospective clients and to say thank you to vendors and clients," McKeon says. "Email is too easy to ignore. Phone calls can be invasive and are more challenging to schedule for me. Letters are hard to ignore and not invasive."

Tanea Smith is actually building a business around the art of handwritten notes. As founder and creative director of She's Got Papers, a lifestyle stationery store, Smith practices what she preaches.

"I believe that we're selling an experience," Smith says. "In my efforts to have my customers feel special, with every order, we include a handwritten note inside a pink envelope with a foil stamped 'Thank you' on it. We also send a 'Just because' card at the beginning of each year in my trademark calligraphy penmanship."

Make It Part of Your Culture

At ZinePak, a startup that packages music CDs with mini-magazines and other merchandise, handwritten communication is commonplace.

"Sending handwritten notes is a huge part of our culture," says co-founder Brittany Hodak. "I send handwritten notes to practically every new person I meet. It's a small personal touch that goes a long way. Taking the time to send someone a handwritten 'Thank you' or 'Nice meeting you' note can make the difference between someone working with you or not working with you."

And notes shouldn't just be reserved for customers. "It's a great way to communicate with employees, too," Hodak says. "My personal favorite is sending 'Congrats' and 'You're appreciated' notes to their homes."

Networking expert Susan Dench points to former GE Chairman Jack Welch and former Campbell Soup Co. CEO Doug Conant as two famous examples of leaders who often sent their employees handwritten notes. Both men were prolific note writers to their staffs, and Dench says it is a behavior she endorses.

"I advise people to write thank-you notes when they've shared a cup of coffee, been given some advice or whenever a kindness has been shown," Dench says. "Because handwritten notes are so much more personal, not to mention more rare, they're very much appreciated. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be heartfelt. People don’t necessarily remember what you say, but they always remember how you made them feel."

Dana Lardner, CEO of Words to Sweat By, a motivational health and fitness products website, says handwritten notes are a key personal touch for her.

"I regularly include handwritten notes in the packages I send to customers so they know I not only value their business but also to let them see there's a person who's accountable for what's being sent to them," Lardner says. "Handwritten notes remind us to slow down and take note, pun intended, of our surroundings, our customers, and our community and clients."

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Photo: Getty Images