Contrary to what many communication startups would have you believe, email is not going anywhere. Yes, messaging is a thing, social networks are here to stay, but when it comes to long form business communication, email is still the default and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
As far as emails go, sooner or later you are going to need something from someone in a business context and you are going to have to write that cold email. I'm talking about an email to a person with whom you have no prior relationship and with whom there is no mutual trust, and yet, now you need something from them.
Whether you want a cup of coffee with them to pick their brain, or you want to propose a multi million dollar potential collaboration, a good email can make or break the entire opportunity. Here are some important guidelines to follow when drafting a a cold email:
The subject line is everything.
Ask yourself what the goal of the subject line is. If you answered that it is to summarize the email, it is no wonder your emails don't get responses. If you summarize the email in the subject, good chance I won't open it.
The subject has one purpose and one purpose only, to get the reader to say the words "Tell me more," and then to open the email. It's similar to a company tagline, which is not intended to tell me what the company does. It exists to get me to say those same words: "Tell me more."
Think of the recipient of that email and draft the subject you think will make them curious enough to keep reading.
Start with context.
Remember, this person does not know you, which by the way, is a problem in and of itself. Perhaps establish somewhat of a relationship or at least some minimal trust before sending that formal email. Add them on Linkedin and send a friendly message, reply to their tweet, or maybe just introduce yourself at a conference first.
Once you do send that email, start with the context of who you are, how you got their email, and what you want. A mutual contact is always a good way to frame the conversation: "Hi Michelle, my name is Hillel. David gave me your email because he thought you would be a great person to speak to about my new project."
Get to the ask quickly.
In today's hyper fast environment, where people consume their content in 280 characters, no one is reading a 2,000-word email, especially when they don't even know why they're reading it.
Right after you explain how you got to this person and maybe name drop a mutual contact, state clearly what you want from them. Do it in the first paragraph of the email. Once you explain your ask, you can elaborate on why you are asking and why you think they're the right person to help you achieve your goal:
Hi Stacey, my name is Hillel. Laura thought you would be able to help me with an introduction to Michael Smith at Google. The reason I need that introduction is because I built something that is ideal for what he is working on and I would love to get it on his radar. Here is some more information about what I am building...
No matter who you are or what you do, you're eventually going to need to expand your network--and you're going to use email to do that. Optimize your emails for their intended recipients. Think of their needs, as opposed to your own.