When I look back on them, I realize that I’ve gotten some really great opportunities as a result of cold emails I’ve sent. There was a paid writing gig, a string of coffee dates with women whose careers I admired, and the chance to interview Jamie Derringer, founder of the popular blog, Design Milk.
I recently spoke to a few conference organizers who managed to book the founders of Classpass, Poshmark, Grammarly, and Away for their event, and they told me they accomplished it all through cold emails. So you see, in spite of the hangups you may have about reaching out to a perfect stranger, there’s a lot to be gained from it.
The person who really encouraged me to be fearless (but not reckless) about sending out cold emails was Jaime Petkanics of The Prepary. Jaime is a career coach and former recruiter for Tory Burch and J.P. Morgan. She reminded me that the worst thing that can happen is that someone may not respond to my emails. Important people don’t have the time to write the scathing responses you may imagine, so put those fears out of your head now. After all, fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick you into living a boring life.
Jaclyn Johnson is the organizer of Create + Cultivate, a conference for women that has lined up speakers like Jessica Alba, Rachel Zoe and Gloria Steinem. She once said of a cold email to Garace Doré that resulted in a surprising but happy response, “You never know what you’re going to get if you don’t put it out in the universe.”
Here’s how to write a cold email that will get you a response:
USE A HOOK FOR THE SUBJECT LINE
Professional email marketers are constantly testing subject lines, and you could take a note out of their book by putting a little extra thought into yours. It’ll give your email a higher chance of being opened.
KEEP IT SHORT
This one is pretty clear— despite how much you may want to wax poetic about how you admire someone’s work, if they open your email and see six long paragraphs, their eyes will likely glaze over. Throw in a dash of flattery, but save your story for later down the line. A good rule of thumb is to keep it short enough that someone wouldn’t have to scroll down if they were reading on a smartphone.
Here’s a great quote on this from Aaron Friedman:
“Be direct, quick, and enthusiastic. Nobody wants their time wasted. Everyone wants as much info as possible. Nobody will respond to you if you don’t excite them. If you can keep it under six sentences, that’s good.”
AT FIRST, MAKE MINIMAL REQUESTS
Start small. You never know what it can lead to. If you chat with someone on the phone for five minutes and that turns into fifteen, that’s great. If that fifteen turns into a lunch date, even better.
If you leave your email open-ended and ambiguous, your recipient may not be sure quite what to make of it. If you want then minutes on the phone with them, say so. If you want them to forward your resume to a hiring manager, say so. Be clear about your wishes and the actions you’d like them to take.
FOLLOW UP, BUT WITHOUT BEING ANNOYING
Repeat after me: there is absolutely no shame in following up. But know how to take a hint if you’re not getting anywhere after one to two attempts. Busy people always have overflowing inboxes. It’s completely plausible that they might see and open your email, make a note to respond, and then forget to. This is how a follow-up can keep you from slipping through the cracks.
Let us know in the comments how your cold email attempts went. And don’t forget to download Hey! VINA to share your advice with friends!