Research suggests that approximately 294 billion emails are sent per day. More than 2.8 million emails
are sent every second and about 90 trillion emails are sent per year. According to an independent study, “the typical corporate email user sends and receives about 105 email messages per day. Despite spam filters, roughly 19% of email messages that are delivered to a corporate email user‟s inbox are spam. This includes what is referred to as “graymail” (i.e. unwanted newsletters or notifications).” Given we receive hundreds of emails each week, it’s not uncommon to bypass many and read a select few.
In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to meet people through email and then turn that email into an offline relationship. Yet for Gen Y entrepreneurs, the ability to conduct outreach via email is an essential networking skill to build your client base, find mentors and grow your support system. So, how can you make your unsolicited email stand out in a crowded inbox? Of course, an introduction or referral is ideal, but we don’t always have connections that can help us get our foot in the door. Personally, I’ve had some success meeting amazing people via email. I’m talking about not even having a connection or an introduction — just cold-emailing. A lot of things I’ve accomplished as an entrepreneur — meeting Sheryl Sandberg, getting media coverage in leading business magazines, securing a speaking opportunity at Davos and growing my own business — came from cold emails.
Here’s how I did it:
1. Write your email with the reader in mind.
What is it they want to know when they read your cold email? Who is this person? Why is it important that they read your email? What action should they take after they read it? Be clear, be persuasive and, most importantly — be relevant.
If you’re looking to form a strategic partnership start composing your email with something like, “My name is Jane Doe. I am an entrepreneur and founder at ABC Widgets with a revenue opportunity for you. Can I set up 10 minutes with you next week?”
2. Make sure to ask the question.
Sometimes we make the mistake of saying, “Let me know if you have time.” That’s not a question, and it is neither direct nor clear. If you don’t make it important to you, the recipient won’t make it a priority. Instead, write something like, “Can we meet for 15-minutes over coffee in the next two weeks?”
3. Be specific about who you are and what you will offer.
Don’t give a three-sentence bio. Give a one-sentence description about what — specifically — you have to offer. Also, cater it to the person you’re emailing; it won’t be a “one size fits all” pitch. For example, if you’re looking for a mentor, your education might be relevant if you have alumni connections. If you are forming a relationship with a potential client, your latest business accomplishments are far more relevant.
4. Avoid starting an email with “How are you?”
Everyone does it and it doesn’t mean anything, particularly if you’re sending a cold email. Nine times out of ten, the end of your email contains a specific request, and you never actually had an interest in the recipient’s well-being. People are busy — start your email with a brief sentence outlining who you are and why you are writing. Save the niceties for when you talk over the phone, meet in person or exchange more email messages!
5. Ask how you can help them, or offer something in return.
People are always looking for freebies. It could be as easy as social media support via a LinkedIn testimonial or an introduction or referral. Whatever it is, find a way you can support the person in exchange for their time and attention, particularly as a young entrepreneur reaching out to someone more experienced and successful.
We live in a new economy of collaboration and that means it’s more important than ever to find ways to help one another before asking for favors in return. For Millennial entrepreneurs nothing is more valuable than time — both your email recipients’ time, and your own.
Erica Dhawan is a globally recognized leadership expert, Gen Y keynote speaker, advisor to Fortune 500 companies and researcher at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. Her work with Gen-Y leaders and future-thinking companies changes the world. Connect with Erica on Twitter and Facebook.