Ever spend 20 minutes agonizing over the correct wording for a networking email, only to come up empty with no response? If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes in the professional world, it’s likely happened at least once or twice. Networking is a great way to learn more about your field, prepare for a job switch, or find new opportunities. It’s also one of the trickiest things to master, because you’re relying on other people’s time and effort to help you.
Networking through sites like LinkedIn and other social media is a great start, but it’s sometimes difficult to make lasting connections in 140 characters or messages that go to the “other” folder. Because of that, email is still your best friend when it comes to networking, especially for people you’ve never met before. Referrals and introductions from mutual acquaintances are always your best bet, but when that’s not possible, there are still ways to make your networking emails stand out from the crowd.
About 91% of people check their email daily, which means you’ll have the best chance of being noticed there. The trick is to make sure your email isn’t immediately dumped into the spam or trash folders. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to write a compelling email that will make the recipient want to read it, and also grant what you’re asking for — whether it’s a phone call, a lunch, or some quick feedback.
Forget about cookie cutter template emails — cookie cutters are only good for sand tarts. There are better ways to make a connection with someone, even if you’ve never met before. The key is to be yourself and to offer something they don’t already have. Here’s seven ways to make sure your emails won’t go unnoticed.
1. Research is key
Just like you don’t go into a job interview without doing your research, getting background information before you send someone a cold email can make the difference between a thoughtful message and one that sounds just like everyone else. HubSpot, a marketing automation service, suggests finding the person’s direct email address and then searching the Internet for where they’re active. Check out their LinkedIn page, see who they’re following on Twitter, and check out any industry-specific sites they might be on. (HubSpot promotes its tool Sidekick to help you out, but focused Google searches will show this information, too.)
Read articles they’ve written or shared. Check out the tools they’ve developed. If they have a personal website, see if they’re a football guy or if they’ve been on vacation. Many people tend to put these things on their sites, and you can use them to make connections later on. Don’t be stalkerish, but do learn the highlights of what their interests are professionally and personally.
2. Create name recognition
People are more likely to open an email when they have some brief name recognition. If the person you’re trying to talk with is on social media, “you have a huge opportunity to increase your chances of connecting,” writes Brian Balfour, Sidekick’s vice president of growth.
Retweet or share content from their page that’s interesting to you, Balfour suggests. Follow them, if you don’t already. Respond to any questions they ask on Twitter or LinkedIn. These are innocuous ways to interact that will likely mean your name pops up. (This is probably also the time to remind you that the social accounts you’re using for work purposes should be your real, actual, professional name. Otherwise this step is pointless.)
3. Stroke their ego
People love to know their work is noticed. Use that angle in this case to make sure the first few lines of your email are interesting, not hum-drum. One rule of thumb Balfour sticks with: don’t start with a “Hi, my name is…”. Instead, save the intro for later in the email, or rely on your email signature to do that work for you.
Refer to them as a “leader” in their field instead. Mention that their work has influenced you (positively) in some way — bonus points if you write that you shared that work with colleagues or friends. (And you actually did share it. Now is not the time for exaggeration or truth-stretching.) Be specific. Mention article titles and link back to them, make note of an award they recently received. “This is a great way to show you’ve done some research and that you’re genuinely interested in building a relationship with the person,” writes Heather Huhman, a career expert and founder and president of Come Recommended.
One last tip on this: this isn’t like flattering your mom or grandmother. One quick ego stroke will do the trick — several comes off as desperate.
4. Add value
Reciprocity is a key element in email networking, Balfour says. In this first email, include a link to an article you think they might enjoy reading. If his or her company just underwent a major website redesign, give a few points of feedback.
“With the Rule of Reciprocity, we can make a quicker decision on whether or not we should do something for someone based on our previous interactions and experience. In other words, if someone does something for you, and then they ask for a favor later on, you are much more likely to quickly say yes,” Balfour explains.
5. Make the “ask” an easy one
For a multitude of reasons, your request for a meeting, call, or feedback should be as painless and effortless for the person as possible. If you’re asking for a phone call, specify the length and suggest a time slot (“Would you be free for 15 minutes next Wednesday at 3 p.m.?” works a lot better than “I’d love to chat sometime — let me know your availability!”) You can add a line saying that you’re flexible if 3 p.m. doesn’t in fact work, but that takes a lot of the decision-making away.
Balfour suggests waiting for a second email to make the ask, with a few days in between. Huhman gives examples that includes the ask in that first email, as does Harvard’s Law School. Either way, the email should be concise — it’s one of the few times in life when smaller is better. Avoid lengthy paragraphs and save your novel writing for later. If you feel the need to include more than a few lines of information, Balfour suggests using bullet points. (He also includes sample letters here.)
6. Choose a solid subject line
This is true for almost every email you send — subject lines can make or break them. Like the emails themselves, subject lines should be short, and create a curiosity about the email. If you have a mutual contact, name them here. Mention the article or tweet you read from them. Use one or two words that says you’re impressed with what they do.
“The best email subject lines are usually short, descriptive, and provide the reader with a reason to open your email. Splashy or cheesy phrases don’t help increase open rates,” MailChimp’s research team has found. If you’re unsure about how effective your email subject line will be, MailChimp even offers a tool that will rate a sample line for you.
7. Get the timing right
When you send your email, try to avoid the morning or late in the evening when it will get pushed to the pile of unread morning mail. Instead, choose a time in the afternoon or early evening when the person you’re trying to reach is likely still in their inbox, just dealing with a handful of new emails.
Huhman writes that executives often get 120 emails per day, so be patient. Huhman suggests waiting a week to 10 days for a response. After that, she says, it’s appropriate to send a follow-up email. In fact regardless of whether or not they respond, follow up a time or two. If they do get back to you, this will help to establish a more solid connection. Reaffirm your interest in their work, and thank them for their time. Above all, continue to be concise.
Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS