Let’s be honest, they suck. People hate receiving them, and people hate sending them. But the issue is, a cold email is often necessary.
Emailing is arguably the most accessible way to contact someone outside of your circle, as email addresses are much easier to find (or guess) than a personal cell number or home address.
However, it’s pretty easy to get lost in an inbox. Here are a few simple ways to effectively separate yourself from the noise:
1. Pick an attention-grabbing subject line
This is the first thing that your recipient will see. You have to make it count.
A short summary of the email might suffice for a colleague or friend, but a stranger is likely to dismiss it right away. Additionally, while a subject line such as “Huge fan looking for five minutes of your time” might earn you a reply out of pity, it screams desperation and piques little to no interest.
Pick something simple that relates to your email, but don’t give too much away. “Five minutes” or “This Tuesday @ 5pm” are better versions of the example mentioned above. They create mystique, thus increasing the likelihood that the recipient will open the email. Now you have to be careful, as while using “Your daughter has been kidnapped” for a start-up pitch might result in your email being opened, it’s probably not an effective strategy for reasons that hopefully don’t need to be explained.
But remember, an eye-catching subject line only gets your foot in the door. It’s the content that really matters.
2. Personalize it
Sending mass emails to a list of 50+ people, and using the same template for each one is a recipe for disaster. People who receive a lot of cold emails recognize templates instantly and see them as a major red flag.
Take some time to research your recipient and include a few personal details. The best thing you can do is find a common interest, and build your email around it. Make a comment about their favorite sports team, the university they attended, or the city they live in. Show them that you are a person and actually care about connecting.
If you aren’t willing to put in five minutes of extra effort, you probably shouldn’t bother sending the email in the first place.
3. Give them something small
At our foundation, we are all selfish beings. We often unconsciously make decisions that will benefit us. If you can find a way to add value and make the recipient feel good, you’ll definitely stand out.
One of the best ways to achieve this is by solving a problem that they’ve been struggling with. Do some research into their current projects, and pay attention to any complaints that they make (Twitter is great for this).
Perhaps they find a certain task monotonous, and you know a system that automates it. Or maybe they’re trying to break into an industry in which you have plenty of connections. You could even just send them a book recommendation, or a link to an article or study.
Be creative, but keep it simple. Small favors help build relationships.
4. Make it simple
If you are writing a cold email to someone, you’re probably doing it with one goal in mind: to receive a reply. Likely the most important aspect of whether you are successful is related to the simplicity of your email. A person worth cold emailing is likely a busy person and is receiving other cold emails. They have an opportunity cost that is larger than most. You want to make sure you convey that you recognize this and respect their time. Additionally, you want to maintain their attention so they read the full email. Therefore, keep things short and simple.
Writing short sentences that get to the point fast is a key factor. Don’t use two or three words when one will suffice. Keep your sentences simple, and refrain from using $10 words. Remember, they are doing you a favor, don’t make them work harder than they have to. Impress them once a rapport has been formed.
5. Format it in a smart way
By writing a simple, and actionable email, you can save your recipient time and increase the likelihood of receiving a reply. However, you still want to make sure that you hit all the necessary aspects of the email.
Begin the email with a personalized comment that shows you’ve done your homework. This could be something as simple as “Congrats on the Lakers win last night!” Or, “I saw you grew up in Salt Lake City. I visited last year — such a great town!” This is easy and adds a personal touch.
Include a quick sentence that explains the email will only take a minute to read. Then, use it as a benchmark. When finished, read the email out loud to yourself and time it. Cut words if you are over.
Follow this up with a sentence explaining who you are and why you are reaching out. For example, “I am currently unemployed and trying out some unconventional ways of applying for jobs. I just wanted to send over a quick note as I thoroughly enjoyed your recent article about cold emailing,” or “I am a Business Admin student at Random University and really admire your viewpoint regarding interacting with strangers.” Keep it simple, and don’t suck up. Flattery is useful but you don’t want to portray yourself as a fanatic — you want them to see you as an equal.
Add in your question. Even if you are reaching out with another goal in mind, throw one in any way. This email is to get your foot in the door, and studies have shown that if you can convince someone to perform a small favor for you, they are more likely to then carry out a larger favor for you in the future (this is also known as the Benjamin Franklin effect). However, your question should be very concise and require as short of a response as possible. Remember this person is likely busy — they’re not going to give you an answer to your question on the meaning of life. Additionally, ensure your question can’t be answered by a quick Google search — you want to show them that you have done your homework and actually care about their opinion.
Include a line stating that you appreciate them reading your email and that you fully understand if they are unable to reply. This shows that you are sane, and understand that they are likely very busy. It may even increase the chances that you will receive a reply.
Insert a short “P.S.” outlining what you can offer them. For example, “P.S. I read this article the other day, and I thought you might also enjoy it,” or “I saw your tweet about X company — I actually have a friend that works there and may be able to get you access to the beta.” You’re not looking to give your house to somebody, you’re just looking to offer them something of value, as ultimately, they are the ones doing you a favor.
Following these recommendations isn’t going to guarantee that Jeff Bezos will return your email, but they’ll definitely up your chances.