This section is from the book "The Business Man's Encyclopedia", By 27 Experts. Also available from Amazon: The Business Man's Encyclopedia.
Letters often tend to verbosity from the fact that they are dictated instead of written. Were a man to write his letters himself with pen and ink he would study brevity and conciseness of expression, but having letters written for him, he will dictate more than he would write. Brevity is not always desirable. Some people- particularly those receiving few letters- like to receive lengthy correspondence. Getting few letters, they wish those long and newsy. A letter is an event to some patrons and cannot be too long for a careful perusal. In this class of letters the party addressed may be often appealed to in conversational style; as, "Judge of the goods yourself, Mr. Brown," "We ask you, Mr. Smith, if we have not treated you fairly?" etc. At the other extreme is the business man, particularly the city business man. To him, brevity to the point of curtness is always welcome. As someone has alliteratively said, the formula for a business letter to a busy man is: Sir: Say it. Stop!
One of the prerequisites of a good correspondent is the ability, inherent or acquired to judge the general character and status of the writer by means of his letters. Until the last few years the letter-head of a firm was a considerable guide to the standing of the company putting it out, but good printing is now much more common and many one-horse concerns put out conservative, well-gotten-up stationery. Ability to recognize the efforts of an amateur or schoolboy inquiring for a catalog with no intention of buying and to treat the writer accordingly, call for almost occult powers. The president of one of the large machinery companies putting out a cement mixer selling at $850.00, relates that one of the company travelers visited Detroit in response to an apparently good lead and found a twelve-year-old boy wanted a dozen cement mixers "to go into the mailorder business with." Some companies putting out expensive catalogs write a letter asking a doubtful inquirer to fill out an information blank before sending a catalog. The correct interpretation of the personality of a writer means the saving of dollars of expenditure as well as the ability to write him correctly. In a fire insurance concern employing hundreds of agents it would be easy for a manager to inform himself through his special agents as to each agent's nationality, education, experience in the business, etc., and vary his correspondence accordingly, while a mail-order house might have no means of judging a man but by his bare letter.
A form letter is one of a series of letters, to be sent on similar occasions. Such letters are usually in imitation typewriting with blanks left for the name of the party addressed, and when carefully executed are a close imitation of a typewritten letter. Form letters vary from those not to be distinguished from actual typewriting, to the stock letters of collection agencies, in which no attempt is made to imitate the machine. Some writers use a number of short forms or inserts which they use in dictating to avoid a repetition of dictation.
The promiscuous writing of letters of recommendation has done much to cheapen the effect of recommends. Many firms refuse such letters entirely. Perhaps the best plan is to have an employe, when leaving, use his former employer's name as a reference.
The science of credits is not an exact one and not one to which the same rules are applicable at all times and for all lines of business. The endeavor of the credit man is to keep his losses as near the zero point as possible without needlessly limiting sales.
The credit man of a house selling a line of goods over an extended territory should have a complete knowledge of the several phases of business minutely associated with extension of credits.
The condition of a territory as regards money is important. A comparatively small area may be experiencing business depression because of continued wet weather, extension of a new railroad cutting off trade, crop failure, or similar causes, while other territory in the same locality is enjoying phenomenal prosperity. Some towns in local option districts enjoy good trade at certain times only, depending on the predominance of the "wet" or the "dry" faction. No condition affecting financial conditions is too small to aid in determining the financial future of a district.
The cost of production, amount of stock on hand, and in fact all the operative details of his own business should be thoroughly understood by the credit man. The more complete his knowledge is of the details of his firm's business, the better he will be able to judge wisely in putting out goods.
In order to grant credits intelligently, a credit man should know how the customer's stock balances, and what per cent he is selling him. A buyer running a general store may be rated good for $15,000, and yet $1,000 worth of a certain line of goods may be in excess of his credit and out of proportion to the remainder of his stock.
In judging the relation of incoming money to the financial strength and policy of his house, the credit man should know something of finance, while a knowledge of the law of credits, collections, exemptions, bankruptcy and allied subjects is of vital importance.