You’re scanning your emails and come across this salutation in an email from a total stranger: “Dear Sir or Madam”… and, you promptly delete it. If you’ve ever received an email with an intriguing subject line but a dated and almost icky start, chances are good that you chose not to read any further. Who can blame you? You have enough junk in your inbox, we all do.
So, how can you improve your own email introductions and letters to virtual strangers? Seasoned email marketers have complicated algorithms and methodology used to make sure that people open, read, and react to their emails. That doesn’t mean the rest of us missing those skills will be relegated to the spam folder.
Here are some ways to make sure your own letters of introduction stand out.
When sending an introductory email, it’s important to craft a subject line that will make someone click in and read on. Are you a friend of a friend or colleague? Use that name in the subject line, it will instantly remind that person that you’re already connected somehow.
Things like titles or the spelling of someone’s name can make or break a budding connection. For that reason, Communications Executive Sacha Cohen, of Grassfed Media said, “I think it’s important to make sure you get titles right and make it clear why you are doing the intro in the first place.” And when people contact Cohen, the thing that makes her automatically hit delete?The use of the phrase: “I’d like to pick your brain about…”
Though someone may work for a giant corporation, he or she doesn’t want to feel interchangeable. Marijke Vroomen-Durning, a nurse turned author said, “I always try to make a personal connection in the first paragraph. Why did I pick that particular person to reach out to? I find if I can zero in on a common thing, it increases the chances of getting a response.”
Along those lines, if you’re simply contacting someone to ask for something big without offering anything in return… don’t. Ideally, starting a professional conversation should mean two parties are finding a way to interact and perhaps do future business together that might result in a mutually beneficial relationship. If you are asking or a favor or a freebie, you’d better be offering something comparable or better in return.
Most people I spoke with stressed brevity and emails that get to the point — especially when hearing from someone new. “I really think the challenge of any LOI [letter of introduction] is to convey … your specific credentials and still show some of your warmth and personality,” is how Caitlin Kelly, a writer and writing coach put it.
Goforth Gregory said, “I think the key is to make sure that you are immediately showing that you have specialized subject matter expertise.” Or expertise in general that sets you apart from the competitive crowd. If you have an impressive professional pedigree, now’s the time to share those details. Since Gregory counts Adobe, Samsung, IBM, and Verizon as clients, she shares this in her intros.
The same way you might have one resume for your more creative self and another for the technical side of things, keep a few pre-written letters of introduction around that are ready to personalize. Gregory blogs prolifically on the topic and once wrote this: “[T]he goal of an LOI isn’t to get a potential client to hire you, but to get them to ask you for more information to start a conversation about how you can work together.” For that reason, you want to be sure to give them the information that will pique their interest and start a conversation, not simply send the same information you’re sending everyone else.
Rejection is part of the process. While it’s well and good to target someone you’d love to work with, it’s wiser and more practical to research another 10 or 20 people and contact them as well. It’ll be better for your ego and career.
Then follow up again. It takes guts to contact a total stranger and sell yourself and your talents. Sometimes, though, they might miss your initial note or get distracted on their way to responding. When I was actively looking for work (my work has all come to me the last 20 months), I got most of my work on follow up,” Gregory said. “Writers who don’t follow up are leaving money on the table. It’s not uncommon to get work YEARS after you send the first email. It’s happened to me several times.”
Rachel Weingarten is a marketing & brand strategist and president of 729.marketing. She's a pop culture and trends analyst who frequently writes about business and style and the business of style. Rachel's a sometimes professor, teaching personal branding on the graduate and undergraduate levels. She leads corporate seminars on topics including evolving communication and spirituality in the workplace. Rachel is also the author of three award winning non-fiction books.