[Authors note: The following is Part 3 of my “Writing Great Outreach Emails” series. If you’d like to master the art of email outreach and download all 3 parts (including a BONUS checklist to help you craft your next message), Click here to download ‘The Insider’s Guide to Writing Great Outreach Emails’.]
At this point I’ll assume that you understand Why Writing Cold Emails Is the Most Important ‘Soft Skill’ You Must Master (Especially If You’re An Introvert).
And I’ll also assume that you are no longer making these 5 most common mistakes when you write your cold outreach emails.
Now that you’re ready to focus all of your energy on writing an amazing cold outreach email that could potentially get you a lunch meeting, a shadowing opportunity, mentorship, a job interview, or even your next gig…do you actually know how to get a response to your cold email?
More importantly…does your message have a purpose?
Or are you desperately crossing your fingers hoping that if you send enough messages someone will eventually respond and discover you…just cuz?
To reiterate what I said in Part 2 of this series:
The objective of your first cold email is to get a response and start the conversation. That’s it.
But if you want a response…you’re gonna have to earn it.
The ‘Front Door Technique’
There are few moments more despised than the knock from a door-to-door salesman. But guess what? If you’re sending someone an unsolicited cold email, that’s exactly what you are to their inbox. And it’s most likely why you feel so awkward reaching out to strangers…because you’re selling them something they didn’t ask for (i.e. you).
You don’t have an appointment, this person has no idea who you are, and you might be catching them at the worst possible time. Needless to say, getting their attention and making the sale (or in this case getting a response) isn’t going to be easy.
Here’s how you can apply ‘The Front Door Technique’ to your next cold email to drastically increase your email response rate.
Step #1: Make sure your subject line provides value
You’ve just knocked on the door and you’re waiting for your prospect to answer. If you make your sales pitch immediately through the peephole, the chances are extremely high you’ll get the dreaded response, “No thank you. I’m not interested.” But your goal isn’t to make the sale yet…your goal is to get them to open the front door and say hello.
I don’t care how amazing your email is, how compelling your story might be, or how ridiculously talented you are…if the person never opens your message, you’ve lost the battle before it’s even begun.
Before you spend hours writing the perfect email, make sure you’ve written a compelling subject line that will grab this person’s attention and convince them to open your message. Your cold email has some stiff competition in this person’s inbox.
As you did in Part 2 of this series, “crawl into the brain of your recipient” and picture what it would look like in your inbox if someone sent you an unsolicited message right now.
Would their message stand out to you?
Or would it get swallowed up by the 175 other unread messages, work emails, newsletters, and spam in your inbox?
If you want to earn your way into someone else’s inbox and get them to open your message, the LAST THING you want to do is ask for a busy person’s valuable time or expertise right in your subject line.
Take you out to coffee and pick your brain?
Seeking your expertise…..
You have time to meet?
Instead of demanding something of this person at word 1, provide value to them. And ‘providing value’ isn’t as complicated as offering your services for free or doing their laundry. Don’t overthink it. It’s a lot simpler than you think.
Tell them about a project they worked on that inspired you.
Point out a piece of advice they shared at a panel.
Identify anything that makes this message feel personal and unique as opposed to transactional.
I all but guarantee I’d open a message with any of these subject lines:
Dude…Cobra Kai rocks!
Your advice made a huge difference for me, thank you
What a cool way to do [XYZ], great work
Most likely the person you’re reaching out to chose their profession because at some level they enjoy creating content that has a positive impact on others. If the subject line of your message reaffirms their life choices, they’ll open it. Trust me.
The only way to increase the probability even higher that this person will open your message is if you have a mutual friend or colleague in common that you mention in the subject line. (just make sure you have asked permission in advance to use this person’s name)
Once you’ve composed a compelling subject line that convinces this person to open your message…
Step #2: Make your message short, concise, and skimmable
Once your prospect has opened the door and said hello, you’re not going to win them over by blurting out your full sales pitch. You’d most likely want to quickly summarize who you are, what you’re selling, and how it can benefit this person. Then come the details after they’ve invited you in.
I’ve already belabored in Part 2 of this series why you shouldn’t send someone your life story in your first cold message. But even if your message is short and concise, can the reader quickly summarize what your message is about before diving into the details?
If you send one giant block of text from top to bottom, it’s simply not skimmable. And if they can’t skim it quickly to understand the point of your message, the chances are you’ll end up in the ‘Someday’ pile at best, and more likely the trash. Remember, the goal of your first message is to get a response. But in order to get a response you need to convince them to read your message and make it to the end.
In the digital age we’ve all become “scanners” instead of “readers.” Before hitting the SEND button, make sure your message has proper sentence and paragraph breaks and is skimmable. (Two additional PRO TIPS below to help you make your messages more skimmable).
Now that this person has quickly skimmed an easy-to-read message that appears to be legit, isn’t too long, and doesn’t seem to be asking too much…
Step #3: Demonstrate immediately that you have ‘Done your homework’
At this point you’ve convinced your prospect to open the door, you’ve concisely summarized why you’re here today, and this person has chosen to invite you in to learn more (i.e. read the rest of your message).
Do you think you’re more likely to make the sale if you rattle of the same rote sales pitch you’ve said 100 times earlier that day?
Or do you think you’re more likely to make the sale if you first demonstrate your understanding of this one person and their unique needs?
One of the most common mistakes I see in outreach messages is the tendency to introduce yourself immediately in the first paragraph and sell sell sell. I know how desperately you want this person’s attention, but they are much more apt to continue reading your message if you double-down on the value you provided in the subject line.
The key in your opening paragraph is to make it abundantly clear your message is not a template and that you have done your homework on this person. Don’t just generically mention something like “I’m a big fan of your work!” Instead provide details you’d only be able to share by investing time and effort into learning more about this person.
The wrong approach: I love your podcast!
The right approach: I absolutely love your podcast, specifically your episode with Scott Davis where he talks about how he learned to write better outreach emails. His Joe Walker story was priceless!
Anyone with Google can write the former option. Only someone who’s invested their time into learning more about me and my work can write the latter option.
Your objective by the end of the first paragraph is simply to get them to continue reading your message. Once you have them hooked…
Step #4: Embrace the elephant in the room
No matter how complementary or sincere you are in the subject line or the opening paragraph, inevitably the recipient of your cold email wants to know two things:
Who are you?
What do you want from me?
The second paragraph of your email must answer both of these questions.
One PRO TIP for making your message more skimmable so the reader immediately knows where to find these answers is to begin your second paragraph with “I’m reaching out because…” From here briefly introduce yourself and explain why you’re reaching out.
The key here is not to go on and on about your past, your accomplishments, your credits, your likes & dislikes, etc. The key here is to briefly tell your story. But not just any story…the story that will make this person more likely to understand why they should help you (and how).
If you’ve done your homework, this shouldn’t be hard. You should know enough about this person’s work and their own journey that you can tailor your story in such a way that breeds familiarity and empathy. Doing so makes it easier for this person to understand how they can specifically help you. Once you’ve explained where you are now, next explain where you want to be. Now it’s crystal clear whether or not this person is in a position to help you.
The wrong approach: I’m reaching out because I work in post and I’m struggling. You’ve been successful and work on projects I love. Can you help me?
The right approach: I’ve been editing unscripted documentary series for the last ten years and I’m currently transitioning into more scripted content. But I find it difficult to convince directors and producers that I can edit narrative. I noticed from your IMDb page that you made this transition about five years ago….
I can’t guarantee after reading this that you’ll get all the answers you’re looking for…but if you’ve done the work for them and connected the dots, the likelihood of at least getting a response will skyrocket.
Now that they’re clearly hooked and have committed to reading your whole message until the end…
Step #5: Make your message easy to respond to
This is it! You’re in the door, sitting in this person’s living room, they’re hanging on your every word, and they have their checkbook out. Now it’s time to close the sale! Don’t blow it by overstaying your welcome or asking for too much too soon.
This is where you make your ‘ask.’ As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, your ‘ask’ needs to be simple.
Don’t ask for this person’s time yet (You haven’t earned it)
Don’t make them check their calendar
Don’t ask a complicated question that will take extensive thought
Don’t ask too many questions
Crawling into the brain of your recipient one more time, read your ‘ask’ as if it was just sent to you.
Can your recipient read AND answer your message within a few minutes while standing in line? If not…it’s too long, or your ‘ask’ is too complicated.
If you were standing in line and quickly reading your message on your phone, could you respond before it’s your turn to check out? If the response to your questions takes more than 2 minutes to compose (using an iPhone), you’ll most likely never hear from this person again.
A second PRO TIP for making your message more skimmable (and thus more likely to get read) is to put your ‘ask’ in the final paragraph by itself so it stands out.
Finishing your message with your ‘ask’ has two benefits. First of all, when skimming a message most people will skip to the end first to see if they can quickly answer the question “What do they want from me?” Secondly, having your ask at the end of your message creates an open loop. And nobody likes an open loop so your probability of receiving a response gets even higher.
If you want someone to respond to your cold email, you have to earn that response one sentence at a time by:
- Having a compelling subject line that provides value and gets them to open your message.
- Writing a skimmable, easy-to read message gets their attention and opens the door for them to read on without it interrupting their busy day.
- Doubling down on your value in the opening paragraph and demonstrating that you’ve done your homework gets them to read beyond the first two sentences.
- Clearly explaining who you are, what you want, and why you reached out to this specific person helps them understand how they can help you.
- Finishing with a clear, concise, and brief ‘ask’ makes it brain-dead easy for them to respond quickly and start the conversation.
Step Outside Your Networking Comfort Zone
I say this with zero hyperbole: Your career depends on your ability to write compelling and engaging cold emails.
I get that as an introvert putting yourself out there to people you admire and want to work with is terrifying. But if you’re tired of showing up to networking events and walking away empty-handed because you didn’t meet anyone new, or the people you did meet frankly can’t help you, then cold outreach is the most important soft skill you must master if you’re seeking advice about the next steps in your career, you’re looking for mentorship, or you’ve identified a potential dream project you’d love to be a part of.
Plus you can do it from home in your pajamas.