Knowing how to effectively make cold contact, whether in the form of a phone call, an email, or an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, is a skill every entrepreneur needs in his or her tool belt. And we’re not talking sales tactics here; it’s all about networking.
After all, networking only works if you know the right people. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, who doesn’t already happen to be friends with the movers and shakers in your industry, it’s up to you to reach out and initiate those relationships.
These five steps will help you approach a cold contact and make a personal connection.
Step 1: Contact the right person.
Before you ever start to compose your email, make sure your intended recipient is really the best person to get in touch with. Don’t waste your time and theirs contacting people who have no reason to care about what you have to say. Also, be respectful of hierarchy—if you want to get in touch with the CEO, or the head of marketing, check to see whether it is best to contact him or her directly or to go through his or her administrative assistant.
Step 2: Show how much you care.
Copy+pasting the same vague, generic plea for attention to everyone you try to contact is lazy, annoying, unprofessional, and mildly insulting. Yes, it’s obvious when you’re using this “spray-and-pray” tactic, even if you bother to change the first name in the letter’s greeting.
First of all, while you may think it makes you sound laid-back and “cool,” many people actually consider it rude to address someone you haven’t even met yet by his or her first name. Be respectful and address your recipient as “Mr.” or “Ms.”, even if he or she is younger than you. Never assume “Mrs.” unless you know for a fact she’s married.
Second, take the time to do some research on the person to whom you are writing and find out:
- exactly what kind of work they do
- what company they run or work for and what companies they have worked for in the past
- where they went to school
- what books they have written or recommended
- Are there any projects they are working on
- what recent workshops and seminars they have attended
- Are they active on social media, what causes do they support
- and any other facts you can readily discover about them.
Then, use that information to tailor the content of your email to appeal to your recipient specifically. Leverage the things you have in common. Have you read a book they’ve written or praised on social media? Did you attend one of their presentations? Have you watched a recent interview they gave? Did you go to the same college? Don’t be creepy; it’s probably inappropriate to mention where their children go to school or admit that your computer wallpaper is a photo of them on vacation or anything along those lines. Just make it clear that you’ve bothered to learn a little about the person you’re writing to before contacting them out of the blue.
Step 3: Stand out in the inbox.
Of course, the real trick is getting your reader to open and read your email in the first place. To that end, make sure your “from” name and your email address are acceptably professional. Don’t send a letter from your nickname “Lil Bit” or your email@example.com account.
Also, you should use the subject line to indicate what you and your recipient have in common, and why he or she should care about what you have to say. Email marketing company MailChimp suggests keeping subject lines short (50 characters or fewer) to maximize readability. Some examples of acceptable subject lines: “Enjoyed your talk at [Big Industry Conference Where Recipient Recently Presented],” “My hero lists you as his biggest influence,” “Just finished your latest book,” “From a devoted member of your Facebook group”. You get the picture.
Whatever you do, do NOT misrepresent the content and purpose of your email by using a click-baity subject line to try and trick the recipient into opening it. It’s a dirty trick and will not only damn your message to the trash folder, but probably dissuade your reader from opening any subsequent emails from you as well.
Step 4: Stow the sales pitch.
Nobody likes to be treated as a means to an end. Strong business relationships and, for that matter, friendships are a two-way street. Make it clear that the relationship you hope to establish will be mutually beneficial. Don’t ask for something right away. Instead, ask to meet in person so you can get to know them better. Offer to let them pick the date, time, and location. Better yet, offer to buy them lunch. And if you are in a completely different geographic location, try using FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangouts.
Step 5: Proofread, for Pete’s sake!
Bad grammar and reckless punctuation make you look lazy and careless at best and uneducated at worst.