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4 Tips to Get Really Busy People to Read Your Emails

The founder of 42Floors offers a crash course in e-mail etiquette for entrepreneurs reaching out to high-profile contacts.

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You think your email inbox is out of control, right?

Just imagine what VCs, angel investors, and other high-profile folks are facing.

These extremely busy people must be buckling under an email avalanche. But that doesn't mean it's impossible that you, as a entrepreneur with a relevant business proposal, may still need to reach them from time to time. So is there a way for a respectful pitch or request for assistance to cut through the inbox clutter and actually manage to get a reply from those with a (justifiably) overflowing email account?

Yes, replies Jason Freedman. In a recent post, the 42Floors founder explains that getting the attention of even the busiest individuals over email is possible if you empathize with their situation and show them a bit of respect.

"Email etiquette from company founders often just sucks," declares Freedman, before advising entrepreneurs to "assume several key realities about the target of your email. He has received 300 other emails that day. He has temporarily forgotten how you met. He has temporarily forgotten everything you've already talked about. He has 20 seconds to spend on your email before deciding to handle it later." So show your contact some sympathy by following these tips, advises Freedman:

Subject Lines Matter. A Lot. Your subject line should be über-concrete and descriptive. Bad: "Re: fundraising advice." Good: "Seeking fundraising advice for my start-up, FlightCaster (as per intro from John Smith)." If you can fit the entire question into the header, just do it and include #eom at the end, which means "end of message." Yes, it feels weird. Do it anyway.

Remind Him of Context. You met him at a conference and had this fabulous conversation about your start-up, and he totally got it. You just know he got it. Guess what? He's had 137 conversations with other entrepreneurs in the past three weeks. Remind him of where you met, what exactly you do, and how you met.

Limit Your Entire E-mail to Five Sentences or Fewer. Seriously. I know it's painful. You have so many important things to say. However, getting it read is more important than getting all that explanation in there. Preferably, it's three sentences. Your goal is to make it easy for him to respond immediately from his smartphone.

Make Your Ask Explicit. If you want a meeting, ask for a meeting. Provide some time options and ask for a specified length. If you want an introduction, ask for an introduction. If you're looking for funding, tell him you're currently fundraising and ask to meet to show him your pitch. Don't be sly. Don't hint. Make the process ridiculously easy by just asking for what you want.

If you find this helpful, check out the complete post for a handful of other tips on email etiquette from Freedman. Or hit up some of the other experts who have patiently tried to explain the daily realities of in-demand folks to exasperated start-up founders, such as TechStars founder David Cohen's advice on asking for introductions.

Do you have any other tried-and-true advice for standing out amid the inbox pileup?

 

Last updated: Oct 11, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.
@EntryLevelRebel




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