People get hundreds of emails a day today, bypass many and read few. It’s getting harder and harder to meet people through email and then turn that email into an actual, in-real-life relationship. And yet for Gen Y entrepreneurs (aspiring or current), the ability to do outreach via email is an essential networking skill as you build your client base, find mentors and grow your support network. How can you make your unsolicited missive stand out in a crowded inbox?
Personally, I’ve had some success meeting amazing people via email -- and I'm talking about not even having a connection or an introduction, just cold emailing! Of course, an introduction is best, but we don’t always know the people we really want to connect with. A lot of the things I’ve accomplished as an entrepreneur -- meeting Sheryl Sandberg, getting published in leading business magazines, getting jobs, getting a speaking opportunity at Davos and growing my own business -- came from cold emails. Here's how I did it:
1. Write it with the reader in mind -- put yourself in their shoes.
What is it they want to know when they read the email? Who is this person? Why is it important that they read this email? What action should they take after they read it? Be clear, be persuasive and, most important, be relevant.
If you're looking for a business opportunity, write something like, “My name is XX. I am a entrepreneur at XX with a revenue opportunity for you. Can I set up 10 minutes with you in the next week?”
If you're just looking for information for something you're working on, be clear about the benefits. Try to write something like, “My name is XX. I study at UPenn and wanted to chat on a topic I’m researching. Would you be able to chat for 15 minutes or answer a few questions by email? I'd be happy to cite you as a resource.”
2. Make sure you ask the question.
Sometimes we make the mistake of saying, “Let me know if you have time.” That’s not a question, and it’s neither direct nor clear. If you don’t make it important to you, they don’t make it important to them.
Instead, write something like, "Can we meet for 15 minutes over coffee in the next two weeks?"
3. Be specific and direct about who you are and what you offer.
Don’t give a three-sentence bio. Give a one-sentence, results-focused description about what -- specifically -- you have to offer. Also, cater it to the person you're emailing; it might not be a one-size-fits-all pitch.
For example, if you're looking for a mentor, your education might be relevant. If you're looking for a client, your latest business accomplishment is far more relevant to the person on the other end.
4. Avoid starting 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 bottom of your email contains a specific request, and you never actually had any interest in the email recipient's well-being. People are busy -- start your email with a brief sentence outlining who you are and why you're writing. Save the niceties for when you meet or exchange more messages!
5. Ask how you can help them, or offer something in return.
People are always looking for free goodies. It could be as easy as a LinkedIn testimonial, a tweet, a blog post, some time to chat about their idea, an introduction or a few hours of work on their proposal. 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.
After all, 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 and job seekers, 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. Learn more at ericadhawan.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.