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How to Email Important People

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This post is part of a series called Writing Effective Business Emails.
Are You Making These Email Blunders?
How to Prioritize The Emails You Respond To

Email has made the world a much smaller place. Within a few seconds, you can contact almost anyone you can think of, provided they have an internet connection. That should make networking a whole lot easier, right? It certainly means it's easier to make the first contact. But if you want to develop a relationship, then you need the person you're emailing to reply.

The truth is, if you don't know how to write emails that get attention and get a response, you're no further forward. In this tutorial, I'll show you simple steps you can follow to take the pain out of emailing important people. Once you're done, you'll know how to write emails to anyone that get attention, leave a positive impression, and are likely to get a response.

By following the steps outlined below, you'll write emails without the stress of wondering, "Will this person like me?" and "What if they don't respond?" With every email you write, you'll know you've done everything you can to make yourself likable and to encourage a response. You will have been thoughtful and considerate of the person you're emailing. So if you don't receive a reply, it's nothing personal. You can move on to writing the next email.

Who are these important people you'll be emailing? They could be anyone. Importance is a relative term. If you're dying of thirst in the desert, then the most important person to you is the one who can lead you to an oasis. An important person is someone who can help you get to where you need to go.

The short version of emailing important people? It's all about doing your research and keeping your email short and relevant.

Want more details? Here's where you start:

Step 1: Decide Why You Want to Email Important People

Emailing important people might sound like a good idea. You think: "I'd love to have a virtual hang-out and shoot the breeze over email with [important person]."

If that's you, you're on the right track, but you need to think about why you want to get to know that important person. What will the benefit be to you?

Here are some good reasons you might like to email someone important:

  • to grow your network
  • to show your gratitude
  • to help you uncover opportunities
  • to find business partners
  • to find a job
  • to get advice
  • to find a mentor
  • to find clients

Your reasons for emailing will influence who you write to (see Step 2). Additionally, by getting clear on your reasons, you'll stay motivated even when things get tough. You'll put a lot of work into researching and writing emails, and you won't always get a response. Setting your sights on your goal will help you keep moving when you'd rather give up.

Now that you're clear on why you're emailing, it's time to remove yourself from the process and to focus on the people you'll be emailing.

Step 2: Create Your Email Hit List

Now that you know your purpose for emailing, it's time to find the people who can help you achieve your goal.

Who are these people?

Matthew Kimberley offers helpful advice in his book 5 Things You Need to Do Every Morning:

Typically, if you’re smart, the people you identify will be people who you can help in the future, and that are well placed to help you one day. For example, if you write for a living, you’ll reach out to literary agents, editors, publishers, reviewers and other authors. If you sell sausages for a living, you’ll reach out to people who own supermarkets, or you’ll reach out to farmers, or butchers, or the chairman of the local Sausage Appreciation Society.

How do you find these people? Try any of the following:

Personal Reflection

Sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself "who can help me achieve my goals?" Remember, you're not looking for people who are important for their celebrity status or wealth. These people are important because they can help you on your journey.

Networking

Tell your friends, family and co-workers what you aim to achieve, and ask them who they recommend getting in touch with. You may discover some unlikely but helpful suggestions.

Social Media

Ask yourself, what roles do the people who could help you have? What industries do they work in? Then: 

  • Run a Twitter search for industry keywords and buzzwords. Remember, you're not just looking for people with big followings but those who are best placed to help you. 
  • Head over to Twellow, which is a directory of Twitter users organized by category. Browse relevant categories to find suitable people to contact.
  • Sign up to LinkedIn Groups, where the people who could help you spend their time.
  • Run a Topsy.com search on relevant keywords. You'll see who's been talking about the keyword on social media. You can even sort the results by influencers.
  • On Google Plus, spend time in relevant communities, and use the ripples feature to identify influencers.

Old School Research

Read books and magazines in your niche. The authors of these books may be able to help, but you'll get even further by reaching out to the people who were interviewed for the books or articles.

Now that you know who to reach out to, what should you do next?

Step 3: Lay the Groundwork for Contact

You can use the techniques outlined in this tutorial for "cold" contacting—that is, to email people who've never heard from you before. But you'll get a higher success rate if you're a familiar name before you make email contact.

How can you make that happen? Here are some easy ways:

  • Follow them on social media. Even this simple act gets your name in front of them. They might not consciously register your name, but you're already starting to build subconscious familiarity.
  • Talk to them on social media. If they ask a question in their social media feed, give an answer. Leave comments on their Facebook page or Google Plus posts. Make sure you're contributing to the conversation in a meaningful way.
  • Comment on their blog if they have one. Again, take the time to craft meaningful, insightful comments.

What's the aim of all this? It makes your name and face familiar, so when they see your email in their inbox, they'll have a positive reaction. Psychological studies show that when we're familiar with people, we have more positive feelings towards them.

What if you can't connect on social media? Or you need to email today, and you don't have time to nurture a relationship first?

Then, at the very least, find out everything you can about the person you're planning to email. What are their interests? What are they really good at? In particular, look for something they've done, created, or said that you like. You'll be using that when it comes to write your email.

Step 4: Find Their Email Addresses

Not everyone's email address is easily available. This is especially true for people who receive a lot of email. How can you dig deep to find the email addresses you need?

  • Ask on Twitter. Drop the person you'd like to email a tweet letting them know you'd like to email them. If you've put in the time to build a relationship, most people will be happy to oblige.
  • Ask a mutual friend. If it's an introduction through your network, ask your mutual connection for their contact details. Better yet, ask your friend to introduce you both via email.
  • Run a Google search. You'll be surprised how many people list their email addresses somewhere online. Run a Google search for their name plus "email" or "email address." It can be helpful to put their names between quotes—"John Smith"—as this gives you more targeted results. You can also include their company names in your search. The more unique the name, the more likely you are to succeed with this strategy.
  • Sign up to their email lists. Then, you'll receive an email from them that includes their email address.
  • Find other email addresses at the companies where they work. For example, let's say they work at xyz.com. Find an email address of someone who works at xyz.com, and notice how it's structured. For example, it could be "firstname.lastname@xyz.com" or "firstname@xyz.com" or "lastname@xyz.com." This detective work allows you to come up with an educated guess of the email address of the person you want to contact. Neat, huh?

You're almost ready to write your email, but there's one more step to follow before you do.

Step 5: Think About What Matters to the Person I'm Emailing?

Before you write your email, think about the person you're emailing. The following is true of most people—especially important people: They're short on time They receive a ton of emails and requests for help. You're unfamiliar to them—or at least you're in the early stages of getting to know one another.

So how do you make your email one they want to read?

  • You write a subject line that's relevant to them and lets them know the email won't take much of their time. For example: "Quick question about [topic that matters to them]"
  • You keep your email short.
  • You let them know how you know them and why you appreciate their work.
  • You make your request simple to respond to.

Note that in all of the above, you're thinking about what's important to the person you're emailing, not what's important to you.

Earlier, you got clear on your goal for emailing important people. In some emails you send—such as saying thank you or requesting information—you'll be able to achieve this goal in your first email. But for most emails you write, your aim is to build a relationship. You're getting to know the recipient through email conversations, putting yourself in a position where they might help you down the road.

Step 6: Write Your Email

You've done a ton of work already. Great job! Laying the proper foundations before you send your email is where most people fall short. Because you've put in preparation time, actually writing your email will come easily.

Here's a simple template you can use:

Hi, [Firstname].

I really enjoyed your [article/interview/book] about [topic]. I loved your point about [a point you found interesting].

I've got a quick follow-up question. How do you [relevant question]?

Thanks so much for your help.

[Your name]

Of course, you can adjust this email to your needs. The things to note are:

  • You open with a greeting and their name. This is the internet. Unless you've got a very good reason to use their formal title (Mr/Ms/Mrs/Sir), use their first name.
  • You then give a genuine and heartfelt compliment about something they've created.
  • You then ask a question. Remember, your aim is to start a conversation, so keep the question relevant and simple to answer. The easier you make it to reply, the more likely you are to hear back.
  • You finish with a thank you and signing off your name.

If you'd like to see this simple template in action, check out the sample emails.

It's also worth noting that this isn't the only approach that works. You can also use a longer email, as in this example. But again, notice how much legwork was put in before writing the email.

Step 7: Send

Your email is ready to go. Check for any typos or grammar mistakes, then click send.

Now, get to researching the next person on your hit list. Happy emailing!

Resources

Graphic Credit: Speech-Bubble designed by ETGalim from the Noun Project.

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