While in-person meetings and phone conversation allow you to read body language, tone of voice and facial expressions, today’s online exchanges can lose something in translation. Without these important social cues, a lot can be missed or inferred. As such, small business owners need to take extra care when composing an e-mail. A few small gestures can mean the difference between writing concisely and sounding gruff. If you find yourself stuck at the keyboard, here is a guide to e-mail etiquette for small business owners:

Find out to whom you are e-mailing
Try to avoid addressing an e-mail “To Whom It May Concern.” Although you are facing a computer, a real person will be at the other end of that screen. People like to see their names in print. Find out his or her name, and begin your correspondence as if you were composing a genuine letter. If you have found an anonymous e-mail address from a company website, call the company’s reception desk and find out who exactly you should approach. Do not send e-mails to everyone in the company or they may consider your e-mails as spam. Try to discover the most appropriate individual contact for your purposes, and write him or her a personalized e-mail. The individual attention sets you apart as a small business, and such an important attribute should shine through in your e-mails as well.

Remain formal but relaxed
An overly formal e-mail can sound like it was automatically generated by a robot. On the other hand, e-mail can lend itself to informality, which you should avoid at the risk of appearing unprofessional. Try to stay personable without becoming too chummy. You can establish a friendly tone with a thoughtful greeting, such as expressing hope that the letter finds your addressee well. Avoid quips about the weather or sports events, as those are time-sensitive and e-mails are not necessarily read immediately. Refer to your contact with appropriate job titles, like Director Spielberg, unless he or she says you can use first names or signs an e-mail by first name. After the first e-mail, your correspondence can likely relax, and you will be able to gauge the best tone over time.

Edit your e-mail signature
Your e-mail signature should include the most basic information, without becoming an autobiography. Sign off with your whole name, position in the company and a link to your website, if you have one. Akin to a return address on snail mail, as soon as a person receives your e-mail, he or she will have your e-mail address available. Nonetheless, you might wish to include additional contact information such as a phone number and physical address at the end of your signature.

Respect other people’s privacy
Be careful when listing off e-mail recipients or forwarding an e-mail to a third party. When you enter a group of e-mail addresses into the “To” address section, everyone who receives that e-mail will be able to see all of the other addresses. Many individuals are not comfortable with openly sharing their e-mail addresses, so unless you have a very select group, opt for individual e-mails or the “Bcc” option. “Bcc” means “Blind carbon copy,” and it allows you to address an e-mail to an entire group, without revealing all of the recipients’ identities to one another.

As long as you are making a genuine effort, you should be met with success. With the touch-and-go, casual ease of the internet, a little bit of etiquette can go a long way.