As the CEO of a startup and a mentor to entrepreneurs, I get a lot of messages from people who are looking to leave their 9-5s and start their own businesses. The requests range from everything from let’s meet for coffee to seeking advice for how to actually start a business. And while I love to support other entrepreneurs (it’s one of my favorite things!), I am often shocked at the way at which most of the people who contact me frame their requests. Unfortunately for them, instead of receiving a personal message from me with the guidance they seek, they often receive a form response directing them to my website where they can learn more about working with me.
The truth is, anyone who runs their own business, or really anyone in a position of power, is likely incredibly busy and while I’m sure they wish they could spend all of their time helping others, it’s just not realistic. So how, then, can you stand out from the crowd and make sure that your email is the one that gets read when you email a person of influence?
From my personal experience, both in being the email sender and the receiver, these are the best tips I’ve seen that actually work:
Tip #1: Show that you know who they are.
If you’re emailing a person of influence and you want them to respond, there are three things to make sure you do – include how you found them, give a compliment and get their name right. 99% of the e-mails I receive lack either of these components. But here’s why they matter:
How You Found Them
If you want my help, I want to know that you have done your research on me, and that you’re not just searching through a list of CEOs on LinkedIn and taking a shot. Did you read an article or blog post I wrote? Are you a customer of my company? Do we have a mutual friend? No matter how little or how well you know someone, make it clear that you do in fact know them. Here’s an example:
I recently read your blog post ‘3 Tips to Get a Person of Influence to Respond to Your Email” and appreciated your honest feedback on how to structure an email so that a person of influence is more likely to respond. I especially appreciated tip #1, where you suggested I start by showing that I am paying attention – this wasn’t something I had considered before so it was interesting to read how I could incorporate this into my email strategy.
This is likely embedded in your “how you found them” (as I did above) but make sure you compliment them. People like praise, and as long as it’s honest and natural (not overexaggerated or too swoony), it’ll sweeten up the reader.
Get the Name Right
I have received more emails than I want to remember in which my name or my company’s name is either spelled wrong or just wrong completely. Seriously?? If you’re writing a two-paragraph email to a person of influence that you want to HELP YOU and you can’t even get their name and their company’s name right, do you really expect they will respond? I literally just received an email the other day from someone who wanted to learn more about my company, “From For Women” (it’s actually “One For Women”). Come on guys.
Tip #2: Make the connection; don’t make it all about you.
I am amazed at how many emails I receive that are 100% about the sender and what they need from me. Literally, not a single word about me or what they can do for me.
Starting your email with the tips I outlined in #1 will help with this tremendously, but keep it going throughout the entire email. Look, we all know that you’re emailing because you want something, but don’t make your ask the focus of the entire email.
Take advantage of the middle section of your email to explain why the recipient can help you. Why am I the right person to give you guidance? What do I have to offer that is particular to you that you can’t get from another CEO? For example:
I was particularly drawn to your story about how you left your 9-5 unexpectedly and starting your company without a plan, because that is the situation I find myself in.
If the only reason you are emailing the person is because they have “CEO” as their job title – think again. Put a little effort into figuring out why this person is the right fit for you.
Tip #3: Don’t make a vague ask.
I know it can be tough to ask for help, but imagine how hard it is for someone who is being asked to know how to help you if you aren’t clear. I can’t tell you how many emails I have received that have some variation of the following:
“I’d love to learn more about your company.”
“I’d love your guidance on how to start a business.”
“I’m looking for advice on how to build a successful business.”
Uh? Well, OK, let me sit down and start writing and then keep writing because none of those questions can be answered in a short email. What are you really asking me? If you can’t get specific about your question, I can’t help you, because I don’t have the time to figure out what you want or need. Instead, try this:
“I’d love to learn about how you sourced your products for your gift sets.”
“Do you have any good resources that outline the steps to start a business?”
“I’m having trouble converting customers and I’d love to know what tactics you used to increase your conversion rate.”
Now those I can answer. Whatever you ask is, be specific. Otherwise, chances are pretty slim you won’t get an answer.
Oh and one more thing? Don’t EVER ask to “pick my brain.” Eww.
Tip #4: Make your ask reasonable.
On occasion, I will receive an email from someone who wants to meet for coffee, lunch, drinks, etc. While I am flattered that someone wants to spend their time with me, this request shows a complete lack of appreciation for my schedule. As a busy CEO, writer and mentor, I have very little time to meet with people outside of my business, and I’m very protective of the time I do have because my family and friends come first. So when you ask to meet me in person, it’s a bold ask. Let me be the one to suggest an in-person meeting if I think it’s appropriate (and sometimes I do, because I do prefer to meet in person when I can).
I have two exceptions to this rule:
- If you already know the person, or were introduced through someone, with the expectation that you two would likely get together in-person.
- I’m fine with an offer to meet in person that isn’t structured as the main ask, for example (to be included after the main ask): “If you prefer to meet in person to discuss, I am local to the Boston area, or I am typically available for a phone call during Eastern Standard business hours.” This gives me good information – that you are in the Boston area / EDT time zone, which is useful for me if I want to suggest an in-person meeting or a call.
Tip #5: Offer them something.
NEVER EVER send an email asking for something without offering something in return. Especially if you’ve never met or spoken with the person before. Without question, every email I receive that includes an ask without an offer automatically receives an auto-response with no personal follow-up. And I’m nice. Most people I know will delete these messages without any response at all.
But what can you offer if you’re just starting out? What would a powerful CEO want from a lowly new college grad? Believe it or not, everyone has something to offer. Are you the target customer for their company? Offer to review some products or survey your friends. Did you study marketing or public relations? Offer to brainstorm some fresh ideas. Are you big on social media? Offer to do a shout-out.
Even if you think what you can offer is less valuable than what you are asking, offer something (and make it the best you can do – don’t cheap out). While the person you are emailing may not take you up on it, they will certainly appreciate your willingness to help them out. Again – show them it’s not all about you.
Ultimately, whether or not a person of influence opens and responds to your email is a crap shoot and depends on many factors – how busy they are, whether or not they are interested in helping others, whether or not they think they can help you. But having a well-crafted e-mail with these three tactics will ensure your email stands a significantly better chance than the majority that are sent, and in my experience, will get you more responses in the end.