The Art of the Thank You Note

One art form that seems to have fallen by the wayside for many people is that of the handwritten thank-you note. A thank-you note is an elegant and inexpensive way to show appreciation to someone who has assisted you in some fashion and also is a stellar way to improve a potential business contact.

What does it cost, and what are the potential dividends?
This is a personal finance blog, after all, so the biggest question is whether or not a thank you note is worth the time and money. It comes down to this: is it worth the time investment (a few minutes) and the money investment (at most, a dollar) to create an additional positive impression on the person you would send the note to? Unless the answer is an emphatic “no,” then a thank-you note is worth the investment.

How should I write a thank-you note?
This is a tricky question that is going to get varying advice from different individuals. My personal belief is that you should purchase high-quality thank you cards from a stationery store (one exception to this is if you have note paper with your organization’s information printed on it) and hand-write the note. This shows a very personal touch, much more personal than that of a printed note; it also shows that you personally took time to show appreciation to them.

Keep it simple. Unless you’re familiar with the recipient, start off with a formal greeting (“Dear Mr. Wilson,”), a single sentence reminder of your connection (“We had the opportunity to meet the other night over drinks; I was the individual with the personal finance blog amd the penchant for gin and tonic.”), another sentence (or two or three) that shows appreciation for the favor (“Thank you for thoughtful and interesting advice on the connection between finance and personal presentation. Because of your advice, I contacted the Carnegie Foundation and discovered some great opportunities.”), and a final one that expresses hope for future contact (“I hope that we will have the opportunity to connect again in the future.”). Sign it simply (“Sincerely, Trent”), and you’re good to go!

Include your business card in the envelope, if you have one and you don’t have a formal relationship with the recipient. This enables the recipient to keep track of who exactly sent them the thank you note in the event that they have forgotten.

When should I send a thank-you note?
Here are a few common occasions where a thank-you note is appropriate – an an example of when one is inappropriate.

Whenever you receive a gift, send a thank-you note. If someone sends you a gift (that’s more than just a product promotion), this is a great opportunity for such a note. This is particularly true with Christmas and other personal gift-giving occasions, though for personal notes, you should use blank, hand-written notes.

Whenever you interview for a job, send a thank-you note. This is true whether or not the interview went well; in either event, you should show appreciation. Why? Even in the worst case scenario, it taught you some things about yourself.

Whenever someone does something for you that is helpful for either your personal or professional life, send a thank-you note. I find these are the most powerful ones in terms of building a network of people that you can regularly connect with. I’m not typically the most social person, so when I am able to make a significant contact with a person, I make sure to follow up, because those individuals may eventually become your co-workers, your clients, or potentially your friends.

Whenever you establish a new professional contact, send a thank-you note. This doesn’t mean that you should send a note to every person that gives you a business card. Instead, wait for encounters that are actually meaningful. What I do is if I spent time interacting with someone and some genuinely fruitful ideas come out of the meeting, I’ll take their card and jot down a quick note on the back as a reminder. Then, when I have a few moments, I take the cards with notes on the back and issue thank-you notes to those individuals, using the jotted note as a reminder.

Avoid sending thank-you notes to the same person more often than every six months. I’ve found that more often than this creates a sycophantic impression, which is a negative. One note is great; five notes is creepy.

In short, I’m a big believer in the power of the thank-you note. Time and time again, I come across individuals that I have thanked via note in the past and I’m already ahead because I have an established positive relationship with that person.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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