How to send a cold email to someone you respect
I’m writing a book on creating. Over the past six months, I’ve been interviewing creators and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes.
The answer is intricate and complex…
I emailed them.
Around 30% of those I reached out to, all of whom I genuinely adore, responded to my message. Then, shockingly, they agreed to share their time and energy with me. But why?
Well, there are a few basic principles every cold email should have. There’s also a simple formula to make structuring this outreach fun and easy. I’ll share both in this post. Then, I’ll share the exact email I sent to Steph Smith, a badass content writer.
Caveat: There is no way to guarantee that someone will respond. Most people simply won’t and that’s okay! You’ve gone from not talking to them at all…to not talking to them at all.
Let’s start with the step-by-step formula.
Cold Email Must-Haves
1) A personal and human intro.
Anyone can tell when they’ve been spammed a copy and pasted message. It’s impersonal and robotic. It invokes zero motivation in the recipient because they know the sender doesn’t actually care—they’re clearly just sending that same message to the masses.
So right out the gate, it’s vital to convey that you genuinely know who this person is, that you’re familiar with their work, and that you respect them for it.
That way, they know they’ve just been emailed by a human being who is actually interested in their time or resources.
2) Why you’re writing to them.
Cut to the chase.
Who are you and why are you sending them this email?
3) A clear and simple call to action.
What specifically are you asking for?
Would you like their time? Their feedback? A reference?
Make the ask so understandable that they’ll have to say either yes or no. A great finisher question is: Is that something you’d like to do?
Highlight the value they’d be getting out of it. They need to know what’s in it or them.
Also, paint the full picture of exactly what it is they’d be saying yes to. How long would it take? How much effort would be required on their end?
Answer any possible questions or objections before they think of them themselves. Not only does this put them at ease and make it more likely that they’ll agree to the thing, but it also shows them they’re dealing with a professional who is prepared and organized.
4) Give them an out.
Most people, especially those of higher status or prestige, will have no problem saying no to a stranger. Again, they’ll likely just not respond. Which makes sense; they’re busy!
But, a subtle yet impactful thing to end on is something that gives them permission to say no. It can be as simple as: It’s totally okay if you don’t have the time or interest for this right now. Just thought I’d shoot my shot!
Never, ever say something assumptive like: Looking forward to speaking with you soon.
That comes off as passive-aggressive. The person will think, “Huh? I haven’t agreed to speak with you soon.”
Keep it light. It takes the pressure off them and shows them you’re not some needy person begging for their time.
Now that we have the structure, let’s move on to the most important concepts to keep in mind.
Key Principles of a Cold Email
1) Keep it short.
Less is more. No one wants to read a bunch of long paragraphs with no spaces in between. Would you be pumped to read a poorly-typed novel from a stranger when you have a million other things to do?
If a word, sentence, or paragraph can be deleted and have the email still make sense, scrap it.
If reading your message feels like a chore, they’ll likely just chuck it in the Trash bin.
While there’s a ton of psychology involved here, I’m not advocating for manipulating people.
Everything in your email should come from the heart. Remember, these are for people we genuinely respect and value. That also makes it easier when they don’t reply. It’s probably because they’re doing the work that we cherish. And if they do reply, it’s just an unexpected bonus.
3) Be persistent but not annoying.
Most of the time (but not always), I’ll send a follow-up.
I call it being “lovingly persistent.” Not pushy. Not needy. But staying true to asking for what I want.
At some point last year, Lynne Tye—founder of Key Values, stopped responding to my emails. I sent her a follow-up because I really wanted to talk with her. Not only did she respond and set up an interview, but she told me she massively respected my “persistence and hustle.”
To drive this home, here’s a real-life example.
Here’s the word-for-word message I sent Steph:
“Hey Steph! Got introduced to your book/Gumroad course and I’ve been tearing through it. I’m stunned by the level of detail you put into everything you do. Thanks for helping me grow my blog! 😎 In short: I’m writing a book on creating. I’m about halfway done and have a few interviews left to do. It comes out this summer and I’d love to write a chapter on you. Would you like to contribute? It would be no more than an hour of your time for a video call. Plus, I can send you the questions beforehand to speed things along. What do you say? No worries if you don’t have the time or interest. I’m sure you have to say no to most things! Dillan ✌️😇”
That’s it. She got back to me a few days ago and we’re in talks of setting something up next month.
If you want to reach out to someone you dig, do it. You have nothing to lose. Just know that you most likely won’t get a response and that’s totally fine.
But the answer’s always no when you don’t ask for what you want.
Doing so has allowed me to talk to some incredible people. It can help you do the same.