How do I write a great cold email?

As you build your business, you will often need to send a cold-email to somebody you don't know - whether to network with them, ask them for a favor, or request a meeting.  

Writing an effective cold email is an art and a science. As with any networking effort, the first step is really to do some background research on the person you are reaching out to.  What does their LinkedIn profile say about their past experience?  Have they been interviewed in the press?  Have they written about any topics they are experts in?  The more you know about them the more likely it is that you will achieve your goal when you do reach out to them and make contact.

Following is a good format for a cold-email that increases the chance of the recipient opening the email based on the subject line, and taking action based on what you are asking for.

  • Subject line: “Speak to the virtue or play to the vice” - based on the background research on the person, either play up their achievements or name a pain point you know they have in the subject line.
  • Sentence 1: Affinity - establish common ground. For example: If the person you are reaching out to graduated from the same university as you, or you worked at the same company, or you have a common acquaintance, this is a good place to mention it.
  • Sentence 2: Transparency - provide a brief description of the context you are working in and why you are reaching out.
  • Sentence 3: The Ask - be very clear about what you are requesting them to do - for example, you may be asking for a 15 minute phone call. If so, say it succinctly so there is no ambiguity and perhaps offer some possible times to connect.
  • Closer: Reciprocity and Goodwill - make it easy for them to say yes by stating you know they are busy so you understand if they can't do it - perhaps offer another week if they don't have time. This helps you and them save face if the ask cannot be fulfilled immediately
  • Ps: Help them to help you - provide links to your LinkedIn profile, company biography, blog/Twitter link in your email signature.

Here is a Wall Street Journal article that provides additional tips.

Now, for the most brilliantly composed, short and sweet cold email, you will still get a lot of rejection. That's ok - know that when people do a good email campaign, the email open rate is in the 14% range. Email them once, give them a few days, ping them again - and if you get a "no" or no response - move on to the next person down the list. It's a number's game.

Good luck!


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