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How to Cold Email Anybody and Get a Response

How would your life, your business, or your dating life change if you could get in touch with anyone in the world?
Well, allow me to show you how to cold email anybody and get a response.
It’s as simple as following a few key principles.
At the end, we’ll go through two different email templates you can use to start reaching people today.
These are the exact strategies and templates my team used to get interviews with people like Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder), Paul English (Kayak founder), Alexis Ohanian (Reddit founder), and 40+ others for my book, Traction.
But, before we do that, let’s go over a few cold email ground rules.

Keep It Short

When I was in college, I was fortunate to have several mentors as I started my first company. I would send out twice-monthly updates around company progress, things I was doing well and areas I could use help.
These were paragraph upon paragraph of what happened, my thoughts, questions and ideas for the future.
I liked sending these emails and thought they were helpful for keeping my advisors in the loop. That is, until I grabbed coffee with one of them and mentioned my latest update, which he had deleted without reading.
The reason? They were too long! He flat-out told me that he didn’t read any emails over 4 paragraphs, and as such hadn’t been reading any of the updates I was sending.
Don’t make the same mistake. Especially with cold emails, keep it short:

  • Limit your email to one call to action
  • Use 3-4 sentences max

The only exception here is when pitching reporters, where you may want to include more information so they can write a piece without further back-and-forth. However, even in this scenario, focus on only including information that’s relevant.

Have a Compelling Subject Line

You’ll want to have a clear, to-the-point subject line that leads directly into the purpose of your email.
Vague subject lines like “Have a second?” and “Would love to chat” are terrible ways to get someone’s attention.

  • Cite where you’re coming from (your name or your company’s name)
  • Touch on what your message is about (what you can do or what you can fix)
  • Don’t pretend you’ve met them! Be transparent – use words like ‘Introduction’
  • Mention a pain point or competitor in the subject (address it later in the body)

The key with cold subject lines is to be direct, honest, and speak to what you are offering. You haven’t earned their trust yet or given them a reason to give you their time, so don’t be vague or use tricks to their attention.

Show You’ve Done Your Homework

People like to feel special. Receiving an email addressed to “Valued Customer” certainly doesn’t make someone feel like a unique snowflake.
In your emails, do all you can to demonstrate you’ve done your homework and that you’re not sending a canned email.

  • Mention something unique about your recipient or their company,
  • Link to something on their website,
  • Mention a recent news item that’s relevant to them.

By showing you’re not blasting the same email to hundreds of people, your email will automatically stand out from the thousands of mass emails people receive each month.

Keep It Casual

If someone is unfamiliar with you and/or your company, using boring language — Dear Sir or Madam -– won’t get anyone excited to read further or feature you in a press piece.
The opposite is also true.
If your cold email communicates that you are an interesting, competent ball of humanity, you’re far more likely to get a response.

  • Include informal jokes
  • Use Hi! to start the email
  • Don’t use words like ‘cordially’

These will all go a long way to making someone feel like they’re having a conversation with you, not reading an email from a stranger on the Internet.

How We Did It

In writing Traction, we used the above guidelines to secure interviews with 40+ busy startup founders and investors. And, throughout the entire book writing process, we had more than 90% of people we asked agree to be a part of the book.
What did we do right?
A few things: For one, we tried to land a big name first.
Once we interviewed Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder), it became much easier to ask others to contribute their knowledge to Traction.
If someone sees that other busy people of Jimmy’s caliber are part of Traction, they’re far more likely to think of it as a high-quality project they’re excited to be a part of, not just another eBook or interview obligation they have.
Once we lined up a few bigger names, closing others for interviews became far easier.
The other thing we did that I think made a big difference was stress how the interview would expose their content (and startup) to thousands of potential entrepreneurs. It’s hard to ask for an hour of someone’s time as a favor. It’s much easier if you can show them how an hour of their time for an interview isn’t just a favor, but a marketing activity.

How You Can Get Traction

Now you know how cold email people, so let’s break down the when.
There are two times where cold email is useful:
1. When pitching reporters for press coverage
2. When doing outbound sales
Reporters are tricky.
They get tons of email, all from companies or PR firms trying to get a story written. How can you stand out from all the noise?
In our chapter on PR in Traction (Get it for free here.) we talked with Jason Kincaid, former TechCrunch reporter, about how startups can stand out. He mentioned many of the same things we covered above:

  • Keep it short
  • Show why you’re important and relevant
  • Don’t do mass emailing

Most of all, Jason stressed that reporters care about interesting content.
If in your pitch you can show why your startup is awesome, and how it plays into a larger trend or story the outlet has been covering, your chances of a feature go way up.
Jason Baptiste of Padpressed talks about how he got coverage from every major tech media outlet when they launched in 2010. Here’s the exact template he used:
There are a few things that make the above pitch compelling.
For one, it contained an exclusive: if you’re the recipient of this email (like Mike Arrington was), it’s clear that TechCrunch gets priority access to breaking this story. This makes TechCrunch excited because — if they think it’s a cool story — they’ll be the first ones to break it to the world. In fact, Jason even offers to give away the product to TechCrunch readers — another bonus that makes Mike (the recipient) more likely to run the story.
On top of the exclusivity and giveaway angle, the pitch also covers a cool product, includes tons of resources and links to demos and screenshots, and makes it easy for Mike to get in touch with Jason for follow-up questions and the like. Jason has made Mike’s job easier, and thus increased his chances of getting the story in TechCrunch.
Ryan Holiday, PR and media expert and former Director of Marketing for American Apparel, also gave us some of his thoughts in the book. He uses a slightly different template, but it contains many of the core elements we’ve talked about:

  • Making it easy for the recipient
  • Having one “ask”
  • Using informal language
  • Demonstrating that you’ve done your homework.

Check out the template Ryan uses for a hypothetical email:

Get Out There

Alright! You know all my secrets. Hopefully, now you feel ready to land that big deal, get press for your company, or just become a more effective communicator.

Justin Mares

Justin Mares

Justin Mares is the co-author of Traction, a book about how startups get traction. He is the former Director of Revenue and Growth at Exceptional Cloud Services, the company behind, and RedisToGo. Justin has worked on and founded many other startups and is working on his next big project. Connect with Justin on Twitter or LinkedIn .

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