We're all crushed by email, and the unread message count can reach a point where your best bet is to delete or file away a chunk and assume that anything really important will resurface to your inbox with a follow-up.

If you want to be one of the few messages actually read, you have to create an expectation that your content is worth a recipient's limited time. Entrepreneurs managing relationships with supporters, potential partners and investors are especially reliant on email networking to keep themselves and their company's name top of mind. 

Unfortunately, most early stage companies do a terrible job crafting insightful updates. They often read like personal diary entries, and over time many entrepreneurs stop sending them, convinced no one cares. One of my portfolio companies gave up when the founder announced her pregnancy in the last sentence and only one person congratulated her. No one was reading that far.

Networking emails can though prove incredibly helpful if constructed to both provide and gain value from the people receiving them. I'll take a catch-up meeting with someone who has kept me in the loop over one who cold calls six months after our first encounter, and I'll probably take action if there's a clear request. I'm also less likely to bug them for information if everything I need is neatly laid out.

These three principles have, for entrepreneurs I've shared them with, most frequently led to higher open and response rates:

1. Use Structure

An update should have 3, titled sections: what's going well, what's isn't and specific asks for help. Every detail seems critical, but it's not. Pull out the key insights that you'd share if you had to read someone in on your business in 30 seconds. What are your recent key wins? What will make or break your company this month/quarter? What 2-3 introductions or answers would get your to your next milestone?

2. Keep It Short, Very Short

Your email should take up no more than a single desktop screen, no scrolling. Use bullet points, not paragraphs. Literally highlight the most important items and classify as the TLDR (too long, didn't read) version. People are visual - make it easy to pick out the key points with just a glance. 

3. Make It Forwardable

 I may not have an answer for you, but I might know someone who does. I may not be interested in investing, but maybe I have a friend who would be. Make it easy for people to pass along within their own networks, and explicitly encourage them to do so.

Published on: Apr 29, 2016