How to Email Important People (5 Tips You Need to Know)

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.

Example:

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 Sivers Email

His response:

Derek Sivers Email

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.

Example:

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:

Chris Guillebeau Email

His response:

Chris Guillebeau Email

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.

Example:

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.

Example:

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:

Guy Kawasaki Email

His response:

Guy Kawasaki Email

The results? You can now find Passive Panda listed in both the Personal Finance and Startup sections of Alltop.

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.

Example:

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.

Why?

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.

89 Responses to How to Email Important People (5 Tips You Need to Know)

  1. Oh my gosh, that is *so* cool!!!

    (Excuse the brief fan-girl freak out, but you got responses from fricking Guy Kawasaki, Chris Guillebeau AND Ramit Sethi!?!?!?!)

    Definitely need to start acting bigger and reaching out to more cool people :)

    • James Clear says:

      Hahaha… Thanks Sarah. You should definitely reach out to some bigger names. What do you have to lose?

    • Fantastic! I am rather long winded and I will be ordering the full breakdown soon. In the midst of some crucial deals and two still in college, but I can see how this will greatly help me.
      People who are masters in their field tend to be so out there that the only ones to get what they mean are others like them, Thank you for keeping it simple!

  2. Zach Friedman says:

    Great article. I love that you show examples, and now I can use these examples as templates. I tend to write long emails, and need to work on shortening and asking for specific things.

  3. David says:

    Great article James — convinced me to sign up for your newsletter and looking forward to future articles.

    But one major thing you didn’t touch on is Subject Lines. These always hold me up and I’ve recently taken to “[Name], I’d like to [action]” Any advice there?

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks David! I’m sure you’ll enjoy the newsletter. (If not, let me know what you would like to hear more about.)

      You bring up a great point on Subject Lines. Other people have said they want to know more about those as well. There’s an article in the works right now.

  4. Dynamite info on connecting with influencers, James. I’m so glad I found your blog.

    One technique I’m using (though not nearly as much as I ought to) is to try to identify people who will be important, figure out what I can do for them and when it comes, leverage their success.

  5. Reaching cool people on the Internet is easier that people think. You just need to make your email clear and short and wait for an answer.

    If you will not get an answer don’t get sad. People usually prioritize and sometimes they need to skip some emails to get their work done.

    James thanks for your advices, I really believe in them, and probably I will propose you an interview on business matters.

    Cheers.

  6. Steve Roy says:

    James,
    This is a great post because I think most people are either afraid to approach the big names or that go about it the wrong way and never get a response.

    I’ve had a lot of success with emailing people with sincere compliments about either them personally or one of their posts.

    We won’t always get a relpy, but it’s suprising how many successful bloggers take the time to respond.

    Try it, you have nothing to lose!

  7. Eugene says:

    Great article. People really would be surprised how many responses they could get just by sending a well written e-mail.

    I am in the process of posting a series where I interviewed over 40 online personalities. I was honestly shocked when the responses started rolling in and I received answers from people like Yaro Starak and Derek Sivers.

    People underestimate the power of e-mail and overestimate how difficult it is to contact well-known people. The most important thing to remember is that they are real people too…and actually they’re very cool people who are glad to share their views if you ask.

    • James Clear says:

      Absolutely. Everyone is reachable.

      p.s. Feel free to share that series with online personalities when it’s ready.

  8. Shaleen Shah says:

    Thanks for writing about brevity on your post. Seriously, most of us who are hiring don’t have the time to read through all those cover letters and keeping it short, straightforward and simple works best. I think here’s where an applicant need to leverage keywords and boldface to his/her advantage. Awesome tips, I’d say!

  9. Really nice read James.

    Keeping your emails shorter and straight to the point is always the best way to communicate with someone.

    I have subscribed to PP now and will definitely be checking it out regularly.

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks Jacques! Glad you enjoyed it.

      As always, let me know if there are topics or questions you would like to hear more about.

  10. Darren says:

    Hi James,
    This is some seriously good information! Thanks so much for writing about it and actually showing some of your “work in action” :^)

    I’m new to the site from Twitter just so you know.

    Thanks again and have a great day!
    Darren

  11. Stephanie says:

    These are excellent, straight-forward pointers!

    I especially agree about brevity. It is an art that I am forever striving to perfect.

  12. I love this. I am working in a free side internship and need to try to contact some important people, this is perfect timing and inspiring to get started. Thanks!

  13. Benny says:

    this is the best post I’ve seen about emailing important people. Well written, examples shown, and just great overall. Really appreciate it!

  14. Just great advice to a daily mortal task we all have to do! Nothing is worse than trying to figure out what the sender wants or is asking. Thank you!

  15. Farah says:

    The bit about VCs was an eye opener! Thanks for sharing :)

    • James Clear says:

      Yeah, it surprised me too … but if you want something bad enough, you’ll find your way around any barrier.

  16. linda says:

    Fabulous article and loved seeing the concrete examples and responses :)

  17. Alison Sharp says:

    Great, practical advice. Glad to see I’m doing some things right, but always room to improve. Cheers!

  18. Abby says:

    Thanks awesome article for email marketing business

  19. James Clear says:

    Just living up to the name…
    ;)

  20. Loved the examples! Very helpful.
    Thanks James,
    -MsJ-

  21. Julia says:

    Love how you gave specific strategies! I feel like I know exactly what to do now when I need to write an email to someone. Thanks for the awesome tips :)

  22. Lynn Sanders says:

    Thanks for a terrific article, James! I love how you organized your thoughts so clearly by using numbers. Great examples and conversational copy too. You’ve made it easier to write well. Looking forward to putting your ideas into action.

  23. Jonathan Sherman says:

    Very good article. Any thoughts on appropriate follow up e-mails when you don’t get a response the first time? I find that many times the first e-mail might just get lost in the shuffle (even if following the solid rules from your article). Interested to know how you would follow up and how often if not getting a response. Thanks!

  24. Akshay says:

    There, somebody important has asked you “Did you buy the book?” How are you’re supposed to get about this? Should you reply him or leave it as his sense of humor?

    • James Clear says:

      Ahh, excellent point Akshay.

      In this case, Guy was in the middle of a huge book launch. So all he was thinking about night and day was getting the word out. Given the circumstances, I just left it as a friendly hint from him.

      Additionally, that email covered many other topics. If we were talking only about the book, then I certainly would have replied about it.

  25. Chad Hendrix says:

    SUBJECT LINE / PHONE MESSAGES:

    I found to get quick responses from messages is to say, “(their name), this is in reference to ________(another person, subject, etc.).” Sometimes I’ll add, ” It would greatly help US (notice us, not me) out if you could call me back at your earliest convience.”

    Since I was getting such great responses with this on phone I started using it in SUBJECT LINES. “(their name), this is in reference to _____.” or “(their name), please confirm receipt.” sometimes I’ll put the “in reference to” line followed by “please respond by (date).”

    Also, not to be over used, I’ll use “urgent” mark or put URGENT at first of subject line. Just make sure it’s truly urgent or they will probably NOT respond at all. Seeing that it’s a “trick.”

    I hope this helps.

    • James Clear says:

      These are excellent suggestions, Chad. Using names is always a solid move.

      Also, urgency does work well … but I agree with your statement. It’s best if used sparingly.

    • Tom Williams says:

      Has this worked well for you in emails? Perhaps others are different, but I would not respond to email with “please confirm receipt” or “please respond by . . .” in the subject line.

      • James Clear says:

        Tom,

        Good point. My take is the following…

        As with everything, it depends on the circumstances. I think those can be decent subject lines for someone you already know. A co-worker, for example.

        If the relationship is already established, then starting things off with a clear deadline can be a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page and the timeline isn’t lost in the messaging.

        That said, if you’re emailing someone new, then placing a constraint on them may appear like an ultimatum … certainly not desirable.

        Moral of the story: read the situation and focus on building the relationship, not finding the “perfect” subject line.

        That said, I do appreciate Chad’s suggestions.

  26. Matt Kruse says:

    I may not be as “important” as some of the people listed, but I am the author of a Facebook app (http://BetterFacebook.net) used by almost 200,000 people. And I try to support people in my spare time (this app is a hobby). It’s a nearly impossible task, made worse by users who ask unclear questions and don’t even understand the context of what they’re doing.

    I’d suggest a followup article on how to email important TECHNICAL people. All your rules apply, but a few more are needed:

    1. Explain your environment, what software you are using, what versions, etc. If you don’t know, then research it first.
    2. Explain exactly what you did, what you expected the result to be, and what the result was instead. Screenshots usually help.
    3. Explain what you already tried to do to fix the problem and why it didn’t work.
    4. Explain the places you’ve already looked for answers without success
    5. Don’t make assumptions that the person you are emailing understands what you are doing or what your screen looks like. Be very clear and concise about exactly what you are seeing, what you are clicking, etc.
    6. Do not ramble on about WHY you are doing things, or your back-story, etc. Cut out all the extra stuff and just leave the technical problem.

    The important point is that busy technical people want to know that you’ve jumped through every hoop you could before resorting to asking them a question. That emailing them is not your first step in debugging the problem.

    Oh, and never…ever…EVER say “it doesn’t work”. That is a meaningless phrase. When I see that, I often just delete the email because I know that this person isn’t interested in trying to help ME help THEM.

    I’m going to share this article with a lot of people. I think it certainly can help people learn how to write messages that will actually get replies! Thanks!

  27. Jake Jordan says:

    James-

    Outstanding and concise article man! Not seen it put so succinctly before.

    About to start really churning content and this will make for some really good parameters when reaching out to guest posters.

    You just won another email subscriber with me!

    -Jake

  28. Julia says:

    This was really useful! I write at least 10 emails a day and it is good if I receive 1 response out of 10. I also noticed that successful people respond to my inquiries more often other than not so successful.

  29. Fantastic tips! So glad you mentioned that an email should be short and straight to the point. I usually feel super discouraged to read long emails.

    Thanks and I’m retweeting this article for sure!

  30. Deepak says:

    Wow!! This post deserves a great round of applaud.

    Thanks for such inspiring and fueling article. Really appreciate the efforts.
    :)

  31. Thanks for writing this (I found the link to your site via Lifehacker)! It was very useful.

    Personally, if I don’t recognize the name of the person e-mailing me, then I prioritize by the Subject line. I imagine others do to. What advice do you have about writing good “Subject” line entries?

  32. Francesca says:

    I love you Passive Panda!!!!

  33. Tulio Román says:

    Professional baseball players could only dream of your hit average.

    5 out of 5 in my book.

    Another bright post that fits my specific entrepreneurship needs.

    Keep ‘em comming Señor Clear!

  34. Nathan Hand says:

    Great stuff James. Especially for nonprofit fundraisers – though we know we’re helping people make their philanthropic dreams come true – it can be difficult to break through the thousands of emails. I’ve shared broadly – thx again!

  35. Kieran Dineen says:

    Great article James,

    The three simple rules (sumarised in Derek Sivers reply to you) had three outrcomes for me:

    1. I signed up to your newsletter
    2. I used the suggestions
    3. It worked! (of course)

    Job done.

    Thanks

    Kieran

  36. Conor says:

    Great post, and I’d argue that it applies for email in general, unless it’s a close friend. The reason why important people are “important” is because they are busy, and in this day and age it means receiving lots of emails!

    Your advice holds for contacting an academic researcher or government employees as well, even if they’re not household names, famous/wealthy etc.

  37. Denis L Alexander says:

    Learning and absorbing it all. This is a great site, “Put my foot in my mouth off it”. Thanks for giving me the knowledge, God know I need it.

  38. Hi James

    Great no-nonsense and most useful article. Many Thanks

    James

  39. Tom says:

    Great Article.
    Do you have example of others you got in contact with?

  40. Jenn Swanson says:

    Great article..thanks James! I watched a video you did and found your site through it…I believe it was talking about this same subject. I’m an absolute newbie and was thinking of doing a “round-up” post of communication tips from the experts, but am wondering how to find out who these people are? Is there a better way than just Googling “communication blogs?”
    thanks,
    Jenn

  41. Cassie says:

    Great article James. Have you used Facebook to get in touch with people on your “must contact” list? LinkedIn is a very useful tool too, it’s amazing how few connections you need sometimes.

    Your approach is very refreshing and I’m inspired to start making more email approaches myself now.

    Getting to know bloggers through their blogs is also important and probably step #1 though for those of us starting out?

  42. Steve Hackney says:

    Great article, James. I will definitely start following these guidelines. I tend to give too much back-story, wanting to make a connection with the person. I see now that brief is better.

    What would your advice be regarding follow-up? If its something a little more import than just a general inquiry and you don’t get a reply, would you recommend sending a second request?

  43. Ildar S. says:

    Good points, James.

    I used the majority of these points when trying to contact VCs to raise money for our start up — http://www.goodswithstory.ca — but with no success…

    What is number one rule to remember when reaching out to VCs?

  44. Mike says:

    Thanks for this James, you make some very good points. Especially the one about being short and to the point and making sure you know something personal about the busy entrepreneur you are reaching out to.

  45. Ellen says:

    James, this was an excellent article on contacting important people. The comments and your responses were also great. Thanks.

  46. Andrew says:

    Really motivates me to see that these people that are very successful are actually accessible and sometimes all you need to do is ask. Thanks again.

  47. Imtiaz Nabil says:

    Thank you, James! A remarkable feat, both for its concise narration and effective exemplification. As invaluable its advices are on how to reach out to people of great importance, I think it could also be referred to as a sublime demonstration on how to write first-rate web articles – brief, precise, to the point, with subtle sense of humour. Inspiring stuff!

  48. Chris Sayer says:

    Very cool. In my Silicon Valley days I used similar techniques. My best callback? Vinod Khosla of Kleiner Perkins. Still proud of getting him to pick up the phone and call me. You have made a system of what I spent years trying to do “freestyle.” You win!

  49. Gabriel St-François says:

    I tried to contact Ellen by email before reading. I think I have made a good email, but it wasn’t perfect. There’s a part of her TV show called « wonderful web of wonderment ». She invite a new talent and show it to people who watch the show. I tried to show her a new talent telling her that Christina Grimmie commented this video. I know that Christina was invited to the show this summer. However, I think that my email was a little bit too long ( 500 to 600 characters approximately). Does it worth to send another email?

  50. Michelle says:

    Hi James,

    Great examples! I took your advice on a follow-up email to a newspaper editor about my submission from a few weeks ago. He responded in two hours!

    He wrote back saying that he doesn’t remember the article. They get dozens of submssions every day. Is that cue that he’s not interested, or that I should send it again?
    Thanks!

    • James Clear says:

      Nope. I think he’s just being honest and saying he doesn’t remember. I would reply to his response with your submission.

      p.s. This is a good lesson to learn: when you follow up with someone who didn’t respond always include a link/attachment/etc to the previous item. If you happen to get their attention the 2nd time (like you did), then you want to make it easy on them to take the action you want.

      Don’t make them search for the earlier submission. The easier you make it, then easier it will be for them to say yes.

      Hope that helps!

  51. Steve says:

    Well, I think thats a first for me. Really well explained and a great resource for anyone thinking of any kind of email campagain. I’ll be keeping this as a bookmark for sometime I think.

  52. Sweet article!

    I wanna contact some important people and these tips were helpful.

    There’s that cool email signature that’s going on: why this email is 3 sentences or less. :-) It works!

  53. Hey James,

    Great post! Actually using your tips these past couple of days getting a post together!

    I was whondering the following: which email subject headlines did you use to get them to open their mail and get their attention, especially from a guys such as Guy?

    Looking forward to your tips!

    Cheers,
    Stefanos

  54. Arlene says:

    Thanks!!! So very helpful. It is all about them, not you — hence brief, brief messages. Would love to hear about subject lines.

  55. Hi James,
    An awesome post, really loved it.

    Thanks a lot for this :)

  56. David Patton says:

    Really great inspiring and practical post! I am going to try your suggestions straight away. Just the kick I need to take a risk. Thanks!

  57. Minesh Prajapati says:

    Hi James,
    I’m new to the idea of networking, and though consider myself to be an extrovert, I find networking in person very intimidating – but judging from the responses you received and the fact that being “to the point” is not considered rude, or otherwise – I shall give it a try.

    Thanks!

  58. thefrancofly says:

    James, this has been so very helpful for me! Whenever I get overwhelmed jumping into my own business, you are my go-to reference.

    Greetings from Paris!

  59. Ellisa says:

    Great article and advice. It’s so easy to fall into the category of “it doth goes on.” I look forward to seeing your article about what to include in subject lines of an email.

  60. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the tips. Great job!

    Diana

  61. Thanks for the post. A lot of times we forget that important people don’t have a lot of time for fluff and we have to get right to the point. Thanks for the screenshots and being transparent in your findings.

  62. neeloor says:

    James, this was an excellent article on contacting important people. The comments and your responses were also great. Thanks. and also with that examples i think it may be true, any way its helpful tyo me and my friends, i will share this to my blog

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