Whether you’re job-hunting, launching a business or steadily employed, cold emailing—for better or worse—is a must-know skill. A few smart entrepreneurs weigh in on how to write cold emails that people actually open.
The Skill Set: How to Write a Cold Email
Simplify subject lines
Your subject line should both pique the reader’s curiosity and provide practical information. “When people aren’t busy, they’re drawn in by subject lines that intrigue them,” says Entrepreneur in Residence and Wharton professor Adam Grant. “But when they are busy, curiosity fades in importance; the emails that get read are the ones with practical subject lines.” For example, rather than saying “Amazing opportunity” (purely intriguing) or “Let’s set up a meeting” (purely practical), say something like “Quick question to help us refocus our efforts,” which incorporates a little bit of both.
“The kiss of death is a generic email where my name is in a different font and size than the following paragraphs,” says Ivanka. “This happens more than you’d think—often for requests where someone is emailing their personal database and trying to personalize the message by adding my name and salutation of some sort. If a message has obviously been copied and pasted, it makes me want to delete it immediately.” Add specific personal details, triple-check the spelling of the recipient’s name—create an authentic connection with the person you’re reaching out to.
Be upfront about your ask
“We emailed a handful of brands that we felt were really exciting to consumers,” says Katia Beauchamp of her experience launching Birchbox. “We kept the ask super simple—we told them our idea and asked them to spend five minutes with us on the phone to hear about how we were going to re-imagine the beauty industry online.” People are more inclined to answer your email if they know how much of their time and resources you’re asking for right off the bat.
Reach out to your extended network
Consider the value of your not-quite-cold contacts—your “dormant ties,” or acquaintances you haven’t been in touch with in a long time. “Our closest contacts tend to know the same people and information as we do. Weak ties travel in different circles and learn different things, so they can offer us more efficient access to novel information,” says Adam Grant.
Keep it short and sweet
“The longer the message, the longer it takes me to read and respond, the more overloaded my inbox gets and the less patient I am reading them,” says Adam, who is on the receiving end of countless cold emails. Look at this email as the starting point to a conversation, not a monologue.
Tell the recipient why you chose them
Tell the person specifically how they can help you and what makes them unique to others in your industry. It’s not just flattering (although that certainly doesn’t hurt)—it makes them want to help you. “We know from research on social loafing that when people feel they have no unique contribution to make, they feel little responsibility to step up,” says Adam Grant. “Good emails overcome this barrier by highlighting what drew you to this person and the distinctive value that he or she can add.”
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Image Courtesy of Ivanka Trump
Photographer: Kenneth Grzymala