If you’re serious about networking, then you’re going to need to reach out to important people.
Important people are busy. They are the A–listers, the celebrities in your field, the best–selling authors, the executives and other respected individuals.
(They’re also mere mortals with flaws like the rest of us, but that’s a different discussion.)
The point is, they’re interesting people and they’re usually great to know on both a personal and professional level. In some cases you’ll run into them on a plane, meet them at a conference, or get an unexpected introduction from a friend.
Random encounters like this might happen once per year. On the other 364 days, however, you’ll have to purposefully reach out to them.
More often than not, the easiest way to get in touch is through email. In many cases, it’s also the only reasonable method of contact since personal emails are often listed on the web, but phone numbers are not.
Of course, tracking down an email address is just part of the battle. Getting a response is the real victory. In this article I’ll share five examples of email strategies that have been very successful for me when contacting decision–makers.
1. Do your homework.
If you’re going to contact someone then at least learn about them beforehand. This should be true regardless of who you contact, but it’s especially important when reaching out to busy people.
It’s important to do some research because the first few words of your email should show that you respect that person and their accomplishments, and that you have taken the time to find out more about them. Important people usually have many achievements or accolades worth praising. You can use this to your advantage by making a reference to their work in the first sentence of your message.
Derek Sivers (Founder of CD Baby; Sold the company for $22 million)
Time it took him to respond to my email: 5 hours 59 minutes
Derek is an accomplished businessman and musician. He is also independently wealthy after selling his company, which means he can respond (or not respond) to whomever he wants and still live well. I decided to see if I could get a reply by asking him about email etiquette.
My email to Derek:
Derek’s jokes aside, you can see the importance of starting things off by proving that you know something about the person you are contacting.
2. Important people value brevity over all else.
Imagine if you received hundreds or thousands of emails per day. Every day. How would you handle that?
Short emails or familiar names might get a response, but anything beyond a few sentences would probably be deleted. You just wouldn’t have time to read all of that, respond, and get your regular work done.
Chris Guillebeau (Founder of Art of Non-Conformity; Has traveled to 150+ countries)
Time it took him to respond to my email: 15 minutes (!)
Chris personally answers over 300 emails per day — in addition to running his business and traveling to every country in the world. Think he values brevity? I bet every time he opens an email and sees a multi-paragraph novel he gets a sinking feeling in his stomach.
In this case, I wanted to ask for his opinion on a few questions. I had made contact with him before, but I still knew that I needed to keep it short.
My email to Chris:
Truthfully, this email was still a bit wordy, but Chris is a nice guy, so it got the job done.
Some people adhere to the 5-sentences-or-less rule, but I don’t see a reason to put a hard stop on yourself like that.
At the same time, I have definitely noticed a general trend in my emails: the shorter the message, the quicker the reply. Keep it brief and you’ll probably get what you’re looking for.
3. Leverage their network.
Well–known people usually have huge networks. There are tons of people that have made contact with them in some way or another. Use this to your advantage.
There are so many articles, photos, and interviews online today that it shouldn’t be very hard to find a reporter, colleague or co–worker that knows the person you’re looking to contact.
Spend time networking with some of these mutual contacts and develop a relationship with them. If things go well, maybe they can introduce you to your original contact a few months from now.
Ramit Sethi (NY Times Best-Selling Author, I Will Teach You To Be Rich)
I met a close friend of Ramit’s at a conference. At the time, I had no idea that the two of them were connected. I kept in touch and a few months later he put Ramit and I in contact with each other. To top the whole thing off, Ramit ended up emailing me first.
While I didn’t use them in this example, social networks can be great resources for discovering connections. Who are important people following on Twitter? Can you get in touch with some of those people? Who are they connected to on LinkedIn?
Take a look around, you’ll be surprised by who the people you already know are connected with.
4. Be thankful and keep it real.
If you have something of value to offer an important contact, then that’s great. However, most of the time there isn’t much value that you can provide to these people right away.
If you’re hoping that they can help you out a bit, then don’t try to dance around the issue or hint at what you want. Simply ask and thank them for any help they can provide.
People at a high level are getting dozens of pitches every day from every direction. Forget about telling them your story and just get straight to the point.
Guy Kawasaki (Former Apple executive, Speaker, Author, Founder of Alltop)
Time to respond: 1 hour 42 minutes
There is very little that I can offer Guy. In cases like this, it’s usually better to send a little bit of praise their way and just ask for what you want. Sure they might turn you down, but if you never ask then the answer is always no.
My email to Guy:
5. Don’t expect anything.
You might do everything right with your email. Maybe you can even provide some value to the person you are reaching out to. Guess what? You still might not hear a thing.
Busy people are busy. Maybe they didn’t get around to it. Maybe they aren’t as interested as they should be. Don’t worry about it and don’t take it personally.
Besides, in many cases, it has nothing to do with you.
San Francisco is home to some of the most powerful and well–known Venture Capital firms in the world. However, if you’re looking to get in touch with some of these investors through their websites … well, Good Luck.
When I was in business school, one of my professors took a trip out to the Bay Area to meet up with a few venture capitalists. They had been emailing back and forth beforehand and during lunch my professor asked why the email addresses they used were different from the email addresses on the website. He just wanted to make sure that he had the correct contact information.
The VCs told him that all of the email addresses on the website were intentionally wrong.
Well, when you control billions of dollars, you get a lot of emails. In the opinion of the VCs, if it’s important enough to you, then you’ll find another way to contact them or figure out how to get the right address.
It looks like they’re right because they still get thousands of pitches every year.
It’s not as hard as you think it is
Our world is more connected than ever before. Reaching out and making contact with anyone, even if they are well–known and very busy, isn’t as hard as you might think. If you want more information on email tactics, then be sure to check out the full course on How To Email Important People.
Whether you use email or not, you should follow the same basic outline. Do your homework, keep it short, and be gracious.
What are your best email tips?
Share them in the comments below.