Emails. We all write them.
And we all wish we wrote better ones: emails that convince, persuade, inspire, and sometimes even sell.
Here's a guest post from Ryan Robinson, an entrepreneur and marketer who teaches people how to create meaningful self-employed careers. (His online courses "Launching a Business While Working" and "Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal" can teach you how to start and grow your own business while working a full-time job.)
Email makes it possible to reach just about anyone, anywhere, at any time.
This gives you the opportunity to reach out to a potential freelance client, high-value customer, or partnership prospect with the right message at exactly the right time. But in 2014, around 196.3 billion emails were sent and received every single day. That staggering number is set to explode to 236.5 billion by 2019.
And that means if you're not doing something to stand out in a crowded inbox, your email will likely go unopened.
Email can be a powerful tool for building new relationships and scoring new business, but you need to learn how to capture someone's attention right off the bat. (The same rules also apply to communications in other channels like text messaging, which is gaining popularity due mostly to an amazing 98% open rate.)
With my own freelance business, I've consistently used strategically crafted cold emails to win new clients. This is of particular importance when you're just getting started with your freelance business, you're looking to bring on the first set of customers for your new product or service, or you're actively seeking to grow your client roster.
Mastering the art of making great first impressions over email requires a deep understanding of how people interact with their inboxes and what will make them read (and respond) to you. And to make things more challenging, you have a limited amount of time to make that stand-out first impression. On average, it takes a person around 100 milliseconds to form an initial impression of someone.
Email recipients take a similar amount of time to process whether your message is worth reading. If your email even remotely looks like spam, or comes off as disingenuous, expect it to remain unread forever.
Here are my six steps to writing cold emails that make an incredible first impression.
You want to be taken seriously, right? Use your best judgment in selecting a professional and appropriately named email address, depending upon the type of industry you're in. If you use an email address like "firstname.lastname@example.org," I can all but guarantee your email will go unread.
Not only will your messages be more likely to filter into the spam or promotions folders, but even if someone does open your message, they'll very quickly form an opinion of you based on your memorable (for the wrong reasons) email alias.
I highly recommend using Gmail or your own domain-branded email address, and be sure you've set up your name and a professional headshot within your settings. Setting a professional signature with your name, phone number, email address, and optimized portfolio site URL are also highly encouraged -- that way your potential client can easily browse your works and decide if you'll be a good fit for the job.
I can't stress the importance of this rule enough. Aside from looking at the sender's name and email address, your subject line serves as the largest determining factor to whether or not your email will be opened.
Great subject lines are both enticing and genuine, while poor ones may be misconstrued as spam. When I'm reaching out to a new potential client I have a few different subject line templates I use, but my most successful one tends to be very straightforward: "(Company Name's) Content Marketing Game Plan." This gives the recipient instant insight as to what my email is regarding, and it establishes that I've already put together a plan for them.
Remember, most inboxes receive a high volume of unwanted daily emails, so if your subject line doesn't appeal to your recipient at first glance, then it'll likely be ignored.
If you want some more subject line inspiration, here's a list of 171 creative email subject lines on CreativeLive.
Before reaching out to potential clients, take the time to really do your homework. Can you learn anything about their personal interests or advantageous details about their business from browsing through their websites and social media accounts?
One of my best long-term client relationships started with the subject line "A Mutual Love for Animals and Content Marketing." Because I took the time to research that client, and discovered that he posts tons of dog pictures on Instagram (which I loved), I was able to reach out with a much more personal touch. I also highly recommend using first names in your emails, as calling someone Mr. or Ms. So-and-So instantly places a professional barrier between the two of you.
Nothing shows relevance as much as a personal connection.
Having a potential client open your email is one thing, but sustaining their interest and actually delivering on your clever subject line is something entirely different. Be sure that the first sentences and paragraph of your email contain enough relevant details to keep the client reading.
A quick mention of how you discovered the client, reiteration that you've already put together a plan/strategy for him or her, and statistics or an example of a relevant project you've done in the past (include a link), are all imperative to building on your momentum.
I never exceed three short paragraphs in my cold reach-out emails. This goes back to having an understanding of how we all use email. Most of us have very short attention spans, and clients often want to skip straight to the point when it comes to hiring on much needed help.
Keeping your emails short and impactful will help you avoid overwhelming a potential client with content. Structure your email for ease of readability using paragraphs no longer than three or four lines, clear sections, and bullet points. Avoid long sentences as much as possible, trimming your draft to the minimum number of words without losing quality and impact.
First impressions generally stick. If you can establish trust early on then you're off to a great start. Your email needs to clearly demonstrate that you're a subject matter expert or thought leader in the topic or subject area. Do that without being verbose or trying too hard to look authoritative; let your previous work (that you already linked to in your email) speak for itself.
At the end of your reach out emails, always include a call-to-action. What comes next? I always close out my cold emails with something along the lines of "Please let me know when you have a moment to chat this week," which shows that I'm ready to get started right away.
(For my detailed personal system of establishing meaningful client relationships and generating new business, check out my course on Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal.)