How to Email Like a Pro (or, How to Get a Reply from a Busy Person)

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Dear Kat
I’m a new blogger and I’m really struggling with getting my name out there… well, it’s not even that really, I’m struggling to get any kind of response from people. You see, I’ve emailed a bunch of people in the industry that I admire, sometimes to ask for a little advice, but mostly to just introduce myself and say hello… but no one is replying to me. I’m starting to feel invisible!

It’s so difficult to get a new blog or business off the ground as it is and I already feel like giving up. What am I doing wrong?

“Getting your name out there” can be one of the biggest hurdles for new bloggers and business owners. You have this great idea but no-one knows you exist! There must be an easy answer… right? Unfortunately you couldn’t be further from the truth. Effective networking and marketing need to go way beyond simply sitting behind your computer and firing off a few emails or tweets and hoping someone pays attention. I’m sorry to break it to you, but they won’t.

Emailing people you admire, or want something from, is a skill in itself, so today I thought I’d address this issue specifically.

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The first thing you need to realise is that the non-responses are probably not personal. It’s unlikely you’ve mortally offended any of these people.

To be brutally honest with you though, I hate getting messages like this. It’s not that I don’t want to help where I can, but sometimes it can all just feel very demanding. Like, they want me to do something for them (and as harsh as it sounds) there’s nothing in it for me.

Also, a lot of these emails feature the same irritating mistakes. Like most of the people I’d imagine you are emailing, I am very time poor. It’s actually quite presumptuous to expect a busy person to give up some of their precious time to help you “get your name out” when you’ve effectively just cold called them.

So what can you do to make sure the busy person you want something from might actually reply?

Your email is personalised and genuine

If you’re emailing someone you admire, either to just to introduce yourself or to ask for advice, then for goodness sakes make it personal. This is not the time to use the CC or BCC tool! A mass email stands out a mile and efficiency should never win over manners.

Always address the person by name. I get hundreds (I wish I was exaggerating) of emails a week from PR companies, small businesses or people wanting something from me that simply start with “Hi there”, or “Dear Sir/ Madam” (!) or even worst “Dear Blogger” REALLY!? To me this looks like you’ve either a) sent the same email to multiple people or b) can’t be bothered to find out what my name is (and for goodness sakes it’s IN my email address!) 

You need to show that you are genuinely interested in whoever you’re emailing, especially if you are asking for a favour. People are less likely to ignore you if they see your passion and personality coming through in your message.

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Get to the point  - quickly!

Nothing makes me nuttier than getting emails that include a LOT of (often irrelevant) information. These kind of messages often read like a rambling stream of conciousness and fail to make any kind of point. They also usually don’t include the most vital piece of information – what they want from me. I often end up replying and asking, “Sorry, what is it do you want me to do?” You need to end your email with a call to action, something the person can specifically respond to.

If possible, keep your email short. Another big gripe of mine is emails that start with “I know you’re really busy…” and then proceed to waffle on for five paragraphs! While you want to show your passion, it is unlikely that the person reading your message needs to know your life story. If your email is really long I am most likely going to skip over it until I have the mental capacity to deal with it later.

If you’re struggling with how to do this, simply introduce yourself in a few sentences and then get to your point, using short sentences or even bullet points. Just remember to keep it light-hearted and friendly and to not sounds too demanding!

It’s well edited

We all make typos and spelling mistakes but there is nothing worse than reading an email that is a struggle to get through. After you’ve written it, sit on it for a while and then go back and read it with fresh eyes. Can anything be shortened or explained in a clearer way? Are there any spelling mistakes?

As most of the emails I get tend to fall into the same few categories (wedding submissions, advertising requests, people wanting advice on their businesses etc) I often scan-read my them first to figure out what it is they want from me. It’s then really easy for me to know if I can reply quickly right away, or if I need to sit on it for a bit and think about how I’m going to respond.

It’s much easier to scan read emails that are broken down into a few short sentences per paragraph rather than loooong ones that flow into each other. PUNCTUATE and break up your text regularly.

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Is your request reasonable?

It’s so easy to send someone an email that takes you all of two minutes to write but could take them over an hour to respond to. Please don’t ask for too much. For example, I often get people asking me to look at their work or website to give them feedback. To actually do that properly would take me a very long time!

If you want someone’s feedback on something, ask specific questions that can be answered in a few minutes. For example “What do you think of this colour?”, “Is this logo better or this one?”, “Should my About Page be located here, or here?”

Something else that I REALLY HATE (in fact it’s probably the thing that annoys me the most) is when someone asks if we can meet up or if they can call me to “pick my brain”.

“Brain picking” meetings are long and extremely exhausting because they don’t have a specific goal. If I ever say yes to these requests (and these days it’s honestly very rare unless it’s from a friend) I usually spent most of my time trying to figure out what they really need. Asking to “pick someone’s brain” usually implies that you don’t really know what you want, you’re just hoping this other person will give you all the answers.

I understand when you’re starting out it can be frustrating not to know what to do next, but part of the experience of starting and building a business is doing just that – figuring it out for yourself. Other people can point you in the right direction, but they can’t make the big decisions for you.

Finally, look at it from their point of view

It sounds mean, but why SHOULD this busy person get back to you? They don’t owe you anything.

Ask yourself, if you were in their position and receiving this email, along with hundreds more like it, would you bother to reply? What would you think of the person that sent it? It can be difficult to put yourself in someone else’s shoes but just imagine you’d had a super busy day and you got this email, what would your first impression be?

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We all have different approaches to how we communicate and email is a fantastic tool for reaching out and making connections with people you admire. However it must be used correctly, or it can do more harm for your reputation than good!

These are just a few of my thoughts about good email etiquette. I’d love to hear from you now: Have you had success emailing people you admire and getting help from them? What was it you did? Or are you on the other end? What mistakes do you see people making over and over when they email you wanting something? 

Supporting Cast

19 comments

  1. Loren

    I had a business writing teacher who said emails should be five sentences or less. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. But, I’ve been using this guideline in an office setting for the past several years and it’s helped immeasurably, a whole lot can actually be said in five well constructed sentences. And if you can’t clarify everything in that space then you probably need to rework your email. (Or just have the conversation over the phone/face to face.)

  2. I listened in to a webinar about pitching guest blogs etc. to established bloggers, and they suggested actually offering to do something in return for that person’s help, even if it was just doing lots of promotion of that person’s blog to their own followers on social media. What do you think of this idea – is there something you’d really like people to offer to do for you in return for assistance or advice?

  3. The amount of emails I get asking for help, reply to, and then get NOTHING back from them is so infuriating….manners cost nothing, people! If you want someone to remember you in a good way, and possibly help you again, then make sure you show appreciation for their time – it can be as simple as firing back a ‘thankyou’ response, but popping a thankyou card in the mail goes a really long way for me, and I’m sure many others, too.

  4. Alex

    I’ve found that responding to someone’s tweets is a lovely way of getting on someone’s radar. If they ask a question on Twitter, answer it. If they post an awesome pic, compliment them on it. They might have 1000′s of followers but only a few will actually reply to individual tweets, but be genuine about it – not as a means to an end – and definately not EVERY tweet! You can do the same by commenting on their blogs.

    When you do eventually email them asking for advice of finding out whether there is a way you can work together at least they will be able to think… ‘I’m sure I’ve heard their name before’ and might be more inclined to help/listen to you. Great post as always Kat.

  5. Such good advice Kat! I was taught many years ago that sales mailshot letters should be kept to a single page, and just updated that idea for e-mails, i.e. keep it succinct and to the point. You are also spot on about punctuation. And yes, if someone replies, ALWAYS say “thank you”.

  6. I frequently get emails from bloggers who want me to pay for advertising on their blog or who want free stuff from me. Usually these bloggers don’t even have THAT many followers. If they had, say couple thousand followers, I might consider. Otheriwse I rarely bother to answer because, really, almost a 200$ dress for a couple hundred views isn’t a very good deal for me.
    I love to work with talented bloggers, but asking for free stuff straight up is pretty inconsiderate.

  7. Great advice! It’s hard to reply to all emails, it is so much nicer when people are to the point. I have been trying to do this with my own emails too. Reading it over even once helps me make it clearer. And lately I have been ending most emails with a question. Really helping!

  8. Here here! Someone had to say it, and even though it wasn’t me, I feel like I got something off my chest reading that! Thanks Kat, I always feel guilty ignoring said emails… now I may just respond with a link to this post :)

  9. Having just launched my own blog, this couldn’t be better timed! I’ve been contacting photographers over the past few weeks and generally had quite a good response, but quite a few non-repliers too. I’ll definitely take more time to construct clear and to-the-point emails from now on. Thanks Kat! x

  10. I’ve had quite a few emails from lazy PRs recently, with a really vague ‘Would you be interested in working with us to promote X product/service?’… When I take a few minutes to reply with a polite ‘Yes, possibly, if we’re well matched. Can you tell me more about X and what you have in mind?’… no reply! Sigh. If they can’t be bothered to tell me about their clients’ products they can’t be that excited about them.

    (NB: Big up to the PRs that actually do their homework and get passionate about their work though!)

  11. As someone who receives a lot of random requests in my day job I’d add to this, don’t mess the person around if they reply. I’ve replied to a lot of requests to assist people only to then be told to email someone else, or be referred to a generic website rather than having my questions answered. If you want my help and I offer to give it, make it easy or miss out!

    Good post Kat.

  12. This is true of so many things. When I used to lecture students I used a Henry Ford quote in my slides about speculative contact ‘The secret of success – if there is one – is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, and to consider things from his or her point of view as well as your own’. We’re all guilty of being wrapped up in our own agenda but if you only put that across without thinking about what’s in it for them then it’s not worth the effort in even emailing as you’re bound to hit a brick wall. Great post x

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