“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain
If I think back to the start of some of the companies and ventures I’ve helped to launch, more often than not, they have started with a single email, or phone call.
An approach to the Global Marketing Director of Saatchi and Saatchi, shortly after starting my first business, led to a meeting, an office, and some investment.
A call to Simon “Yo Sushi” Woodroffe led to him introducing me to my next business partner, Ben Way. Together, Ben and I founded The Rainmakers (still going), and in turn started several businesses together.
An email to Charlie Mullins (founder of Pimlico Plumbers) led to the start of Volunteer It Yourself (VIY) which has now helped over 2,000 young people to fix their own youth clubs, with the help of DIY chain Wickes and a brilliant team.
StartUp Britain (including several national bus tours, over 20 pop-up shops, and dozens of free events for founders), all started from an email to Lord Young, suggesting that a group of us meet for coffee. We became, within a month, the accidental co-founders of StartUp Britain, funded by business, launched by the Prime Minister.
Tenner (started 10 years ago) received terrific coverage (on BBC Breakfast, news and Newsround) because of a cold email to the then editor of Newsnight, Peter Barron.
We often hear that “cold calling”, or “cold emailing” is a waste of time. Something to be avoided at all costs. I disagree.
Here are the 10 things I’ve learned which make it massively more likely that your email will lead to something amazing, rather than ending up in the trash;
1. Timing: As in comedy – in business, timing is everything. This is a personal thing, however I have often had the most success when emailing between 7-8am, and 11-12pm. Consider avoiding the main “rush hours” of email, and you may have more luck.
2. Personalisation: I don’t mean using someone’s name. Hopefully that goes without saying. I mean signalling early on in the email that you know exactly who you’re talking to. Perhaps old fashioned, a sincere compliment often works well. Congratulations on a recent deal, or announcement. A voice of support for something that have recently written, or said. One practical tip here is to do a very recent (last week or month) Google search, to find the freshest content.
3. Trust: You have to move from (often) a complete random, to someone the recipient feels that they can trust. A tried and tested technique for this is to use names of organisations or people which they already know, like and trust. Perhaps you’ve been featured on the BBC. You have just taken part in a well respected accelerator programme. You may have recently attended the same event. This part of your email doesn’t have to be hugely long, however it does work wonders in building trust.
4. Credibility: Again, this might involve careful use of names and people which the recipient may relate to. If you have a degree in the subject you’re writing about – mention it. You may already have influential people onboard or as supporters – don’t forget to say so. Don’t forget that, however polite the person reading your email, they are secretly thinking “Who IS this person, and are they serious?”.
5. Brevity: We all know the curse of the long email. It’s the special message which is so long that it cannot be replied to briefly, without seeming rude. And so it sits, unanswered in our inbox, for too long. Do not be the sender of that cursed email. Be brief. If you want to make a long email seem like a shorter email, include more information after your signature. You will find that more people reply.
6. Patience: Unless they are in a Channel 4 show, very few people propose on the first date. They build rapport, they develop a relationship. Your instinct may be to cut to the chase, and sometimes this may well be correct. From time to time it is worth, at least in that first email, holding your line, paying a sincere compliment to start with, and waiting before showing your hand.
7. Persistence: People are busy. You are writing to someone who has often never heard of you, regardless of whether they are interested in what you have to say. Some of the most important (to me) emails I have sent have not received a reply the first time. So I sent them again. And, sometimes, again. Often, that persistence pays off. There is, of course, a fine line between hustle and hassle – use your instinct.
8. Channels: Knowing how busy everyone is (or seems to be), not everyone will have time to meet. Knowing that your recipient may be too busy to meet in person, suggesting a brief phone call, or exchanging a few emails, often proves more fruitful.
9. Location (Location Location): You will increase your chances of a meeting significantly if (as Dale Carnegie suggested) you offer to go and see the person you are writing to, at a place and time of their choosing. My most successful suggested time slot happens to be for 20 minutes. It doesn’t sound like much, and often turns out to be longer. Sometimes a little bit of homework (into their office location for example) can make all of the difference.
10. Triggers: The most successful approaches often coincide with something else, in the life of the recipient, their organisation or the wider world. To connect successfully, you need to have your finger on the pulse and one way to ensure this is to set up (free) Google Alerts. This may sound a little odd, however if you know that your target has just written to the Telegraph, won an award or written a blog post, that could be just the things which makes them agree to meet.
I knew that Charlie Mullins had recently written about an idea in which pupils could fix their own schools. I knew that Lord Young had recently resigned (not that we mentioned it in our email).
Most progress in business, depends on coincidence. To increase the chances of spotting coincidences, it pays to be better informed, and to ask better questions.
Nothing may beat a warm, trusted introduction from one person to another. That said, and especially if you’re just starting out, you will have wait a long time to be introduced to everyone you want to meet.
So, as Mark Twain said, why not “sail away from the safe harbour”?
Make that call. Write that email. Using the tips above, I wish you every success. Good Luck!