The 8-Step Guide To Cold Emailing Anyone
If you look at my Google calendar, you will see “RO” recurring on every single weekday. Short for Reach Out, “RO” has been a calendar fixture for me since 2011. Simply put, it’s a reminder to reach out to someone on the edges of my network. That means acquaintances, friends of friends, people I’ve met recently IRL, and sometimes even complete strangers.
It’s sounds a little bit like a daily shot in the dark, but it’s really worked for me. The results over the past five years have been dramatic (so much so that I wrote a whole book about it). I basically went from being a lonely college grad with few connections in a strange city to having a thriving career and lots of friends here in New York City.
Just think about the math, here: If you reach out to one new person each weekday, one year from today you will have made contact with about 260 people. Even if you only see a 40 percent response rate (which is low), one year of ROs means you’ll have started new conversations with at least 104 people whom you have handpicked to be a valuable part of your network. That’s incredible.
So, how do you actually do this? Email is usually the easiest way. Except that we all know cold emailing someone can feel...awkward, at best. So, I’m breaking it down for you. This eight-step guide that will allow you to craft RO emails that people enjoy reading. Here’s to a response rate well above 40 percent...and an expanded, engaged, powerful network that will help you make your wildest dreams a reality.
The below is adapted with permission from Reach Out: The Simple Strategy You Need to Expand Your Network and Increase Your Influence by Molly Beck Ch. 7, p. 117-130 (McGraw-Hill 2017).
When I first starting Reaching Out, I would labor over each email. Now I could write a Reach Out email in my sleep; the template I describe below is second nature. And when I think I’ve written a particularly good Reach Out email or I receive an email with myself as the Target (Target = person receiving the email) that catches my eye, I save a copy of it in a Google doc titled “Favorite ROs.” That way when I need some inspiration or am a little stuck, I head over there to see if I can gather some ideas. In that doc is also where I save the best one-paragraph description of what my company Messy Bun is; it serves as an easy reference when I’m emailing Targets about that project.
So if you’re feeling stuck on how to actually compose an amazing Reach Out email (which is totally normal), follow Steps One to Eight below—soon you will be able to do this in your sleep, too. You don’t have to follow this guideline exactly to get a great outcome—but following as much of the basic structure as you can will certainly help. And while I can never guarantee that an email will get a response, from experience I can tell you that if you follow these steps, your chances of getting a response are higher.
I encourage people to send Reach Outs from their personal, not their work, email. That way if the Target responds to your email later on, even if you’ve left the company, you will be able to get the email. Also, it is more effective down the line for you to be able to respond to an old email thread, even if it’s one you began years ago, because it will help build familiarity and show your history. A personal email address will always be yours to own; a work one will change after you leave the company. The exception is if you’re Reaching Out for something directly related to your job duties. For example, when I worked at Hearst, one of my duties was Reaching Out to popular bloggers for potential partnerships. Since those types of Reach Outs were baked into my job duties, I would send the email from my Hearst email account. To make sure I had a point of contact with the relationships I was building even after I left the company, I would also connect with the bloggers or their management teams on my LinkedIn. If your Reach Outs aren’t directly related to your job but you work at a well-respected or “cool” company, there is a temptation to use your work email for all your Reach Outs, thinking that the name of your company will catch the other person’s eye. I advocate for Reaching Out from your personal email for the reasons outlined above, but there are some workarounds here:
Send the initial Reach Out from the work email, and after one email, switch to your personal email. Of course, if you are going to use work time or your work email to send Reach Outs that are not directly work related, make sure there is at least some tiny way the Reach Out ties back to your job—you never know who is watching your work computer, and you want to be able to justify it if someone asks.
Send the email from your work email but CC or BCC your personal email.
Make your personal email address “display-as” name (something you can change in your email settings) to include the company name, such as “Molly from Buzzfeed” instead of “Molly Beck.”
Include an email signature that calls out your job title and company name on your personal email.
Subject lines are especially important if the person won’t recognize your name. The three main types of subject lines that are most effective when Reaching Out are:
Mentioning something specific the Target has created or done (“Inspired by Your June 30 Blog Post”, “Was in Audience at Yesterday’s Talk”)
Name-dropping a mutual connection (“From Taylor Smith’s Friend”, “Classmate of Your Wife”)
Mentioning something you and the Target have in common: (“I’m a Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School Graduate Too . . . Go Generals!”, “Fellow Cleveland Marketer”)
Manny Fernandez, the cofounder and CEO of DreamFunded.com, echoes this thought, saying: “I get roughly 1000s of emails a week, probably because of my easy-to-decipher email address of putting my first name and the company together. The emails I respond to first are usually the ones from people that I know or someone who mentions someone I know in the subject line.”
You also want to use title case, meaning that every important word in the subject line is capitalized. A study by Yesware’s data scientists regarding email subject lines found this to be most effective: “When senders use title case—for example: Subject-Line Story versus subject-line story—emails had a higher open and reply rate. Title case had an open rate of 54.3%, while lower-case subject lines dropped to 47.6%. The reply rate with title case bumped up to 32.3%, while lower case fell to 25.7%.”
Here are other don’ts for subject lines:
Using a generic subject line: Examples include something along the lines of “Hello,” “Looking for Advice,” and “Quick Question.” Not only are these incredibly boring, but they will probably result in your email being skipped over, especially if the person is already getting a ton of emails each day.
Using the word “urgent”: It’s unrealistic that something is urgent if you don’t have an ongoing (or any) relationship yet, and saying “urgent” in the subject line makes it seem like you have no respect for the Target’s time.
Using the word “sorry”: Doing this is problematic for two reasons. First, you should save the apologies, in life and in email, for when you actually mean it. Second, having this in the subject line means that you have to be reminded of whatever you’re apologizing for every time you and the Target respond to the email.
Start with something normal, not too weird, and professional: “Hi,” “Hello,” or something similar, and always use the person’s name when you send an email. If you’ve met them in real life, use the name the person introduced themselves as in person. If it’s a friend of a friend or a stranger, use the most formal version of the person’s name (for example, “Professor Tita” or “Dr. Lopez”).
A simple intro and short bio give the email context. Include just your first name (as your last name will be in your email signature) and a one-sentence bio. If you have multiple jobs or interests, mention only the one that is most relevant to the Reach Out. Your bio always doesn’t need to be your current job or role—it can also be what you want to move into. “I’m Vivian, and I work at YouTube doing business development” is a great way to start if Vivian is looking to Reach Out to someone related to her YouTube job. But if Vivian wants to move into coding, she could reframe it as “I’m Vivian, and I’m a business development manager transitioning into coding.”
You are the author of your bio as well as your own PR person, so it’s OK to be flexible in how you present yourself depending on the Target you are Reaching Out to.
Now that we are in the body of the email, it’s time for the Gift. There are at least two things you can offer the people you Reach Out to. The first is a compliment, and the second is one of the other items on the list.
Gift #1: A compliment, plus one additional Gift from the list below:
Gift #2: An article or book recommendation the Target might like
Gift #3: Knowledge you have access to that they don’t or something special only you can create
Gift #4: A press opportunity
Gift #5: Free advice on a skill you have that would benefit them
Not every email needs to include a request of the Target; sometimes you are just opening up a line of communication. If you do have something to ask the Target, remember to ask a particular, definable question that can be answered easily via email.
A simple and grateful “Thank you for reading this,” “I appreciate your work,” or “Have a nice day, [insert name here]” works well for a closing. Below the closing, include your email signature. Create an email signature for your work and personal email, and don’t be afraid to tailor it to the Target. Email signatures are underappreciated as a valuable tool to position yourself in a non-pushy way to someone you don’t know (in my experience, people click the links in email signatures more often than you’d think—I have a callout to Messy Bun in the signature of almost every email I send).
Regardless of whether it is sent from your personal or work email, in your email signature include some combination of:
Your full name
Your job title (if you like or are proud of this job) or a job title- to-be, such as “freelance producer” (if you’re still working on landing your ideal full-time job)
Your company name, if that would be something you want to highlight
A link to a recent project you’re working on that would be impressive to the Target
Your LinkedIn page if you want to highlight your professional experience
Another social media account if you’re especially proud of the content you share there
Once your email is drafted, proofread it (a great way to do this is going sentence by sentence backward), double-check to make sure all names are spelled correctly, and finally click on any links in the email to make sure they work.
A quick note here for my type A-ers: if you notice a spelling mistake after you send it, the world will not end. When I was interviewing people for this book and asking them to pull their old emails, one (high-profile) person mused, “It was an interesting process to try and find all of the messages and some felt very embarrassing to read—one had a spelling mistake and the person still responded.”
Another trap to look out for? Elana Lyn Gross, a New York City–based content strategist and writer, shares this advice: “When you are rereading your emails for typos and grammatical errors, check for words and phrases like ‘just,’ ‘sorry,’ ‘I think,’ and ‘I feel.’ These words and phrases undermine your confidence. The Gmail Plugin Just Not Sorry is a game-changer for coming across as confident and composed.”
Finally, once all of the above is done, add the recipient’s email to the “To:” line. This is the last thing you do when writing an email, not the first. This helps prevent accidentally sending the email before you finish typing or spell-checking it. Or worse, sending a random contact the email “Hell” because you accidentally hit “Send” before you finished typing the rest of your email. Your response rate goes way down when you just mention the underworld.
Now send it off! You’re done! Give yourself a pat on the back because this is a success.