How To Write an Email That Gets Opened
So many people we work with (or want to work with) are juggling five million things. I’m emailing business owners who are also juggling newborns. Or, I’m asking someone to coffee who literally doesn’t have time to finish their to-do list before leaving the office each day. As a momma who time blocks nearly every second of her day, I get it. I sometimes open emails on the weekend and forget to “mark as unread.” My Facebook Messenger messages are like a vast hole of no return. Our sentences are constantly interrupted by our environment, our thought processes are like darting pin balls and it feels like we couldn’t possibly have time for one more thing (even if we need that thing).
We all have so much vying for our attention. My publicist colleagues are experts in positioning our clients above the noise. However, if you’re like me, you might wonder how to rise above the virtual noise and ensure your emails are 1) opened, 2) read and 3) responded to?
There’s no magic bullet to anything, of course. Some people are not going to respond, no matter how interesting and awesome you are. But, we can be intentional and do our best to be good, interesting humans and professionals (even in the world of email). Here are a few things I’ve learned while building relationships virtually throughout my career:
1. Get a professional email address and signature, daggumit. Don’t roll your eyes. I’ve gotten emails from Batman832@yahoo.com expecting me to know who he was. I’ve heard from John Smith and I have no clue which John he is, which state he lives in, and what field he is in, much less where I could find his website. The best signatures make it easy to find who you are and how to get in touch with you. Much of this is possible by including your name, position, work address, website, and social media links. And remember, even your text font, logo and colors set the tone for the reader and they are processing your brand by way of these (seemingly) minor elements.
2. Act like a normal human being. Find the appropriate person, call them by name, and introduce yourself as you would offline. As a true Southerner, no matter if I’ve known you for 10 years or we just met at Wal-Mart, (for better or worse) I have a tendency to act like we’ve been friends for a long time. This overflows into the virtual space, too. As a rule, when emailing a stranger, I like to think as if I knew them in college or I just saw them in the coffee shop this morning. Early in my career, I was weirdly formal and used long, ridiculous words to impress people. Now, I know being a conversationalist will not only get more unique responses, but it’s also just more fun to learn and genuinely care about the people you communicate with day in and day out.
3. I’m more concerned about “You” than me. In my opinion, a few sentences (3-4) of greeting is necessary and helpful. That first paragraph is where anecdotes, connections, bad jokes and other minor things about myself live. However, it is so important to lead with the “You” in mind. Discuss what they do that you like. Why would you be a good fit together? What were you impressed by? These aren’t meant as flattery, but rather honesty in why you are emailing them instead of someone else.
“Your values of X, Y, and Z resonate with me deeply.”
“I was so impressed with your mission to X.”
4. Be direct. You have nothing to hide. Presumably, you aren’t in a sketchy business taking advantage of people or being unethical. Therefore, you’re probably reaching out to someone because you have a solution for what they need or because you want to learn something from the recipient. There’s absolutely no shame in that! Yet, in my career, I have found myself cowering behind long sentences, asking for something in a roundabout way and leaving the reader completely confused about what it is I want from them. Have you been there? I’ve learned getting to the point quickly within an email and having a clear ask leads to better results.
“I am writing to see if we might connect for coffee in the next two weeks.”
“As a May 2020 graduate, I am desiring a role as an intern within public relations.”
5. Words, words, words. My first boss’s boss was ruthless with words, everybody. As a twenty-three-year-old, I would walk down to his office, shoulders back, and hand over something I was proud to have written for him. He would take out his red pen, mark through half of my document and then hand it back to me. And guess what? Although he removed 50% of the words in my narrative, the sentences were more pointed, direct and still got the point across that I wanted all along.
For years, when sending emails, I thought about him. Where would he mark through unnecessary words? Which phrases are just adding length rather than meaning? (By the way, I blame all of those 4,000 word essays in college for my fluffy writing. That is all.)
6. Make it easy to not only read, but also act, on your email. We all have to think too hard as it is. How can you make things simpler? Ensuring your sentences make sense, words are spelled correctly, or otherwise taking the hassle out of suggesting a meeting time or location is so helpful.
“I have much flexibility next Tuesday or Thursday. Do morning or afternoons typically work better for you?”
Grammarly – We all get ahead of ourselves and make grammatical or typographical errors. Grammarly is like having our 8th grade AP English teacher read our emails before we press send.
Calendly – I’ve told our Founder, Heather, that Calendly is the best professional investment I’ve ever received. It’s something like $7 a month and literally acts as my scheduling assistant. Rather than going back and forth on dates/times (Does Tuesday work for you? Sorry, my Tuesday just got booked, etc.), Calendly provides suggested times and real-time updates that work for your calendar. I block Mondays and Fridays as tactical working days, while Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are heavy meeting days. Plus, it even confirms my appointments 24 hours out and offers folks a way to reschedule if needed. Trust me, it’s a game changer for anyone who meets in different locations or schedules a million different types of meetings each week.
Acuity – I have also used Acuity to schedule meetings in the past. Similarly to Calendly, Acuity allows you to send over your calendar link to folks and offers up available times to the recipient. It’s also a game changer, but I prefer the ability to propose times within my emails, which is a Calendly and Google Chrome feature. Try both and see what makes sense for you!
There is so much more I could say about how we build relationships virtually these days. Coming from a generation who poured out our hearts on Xanga in middle school and spent too much of our mental capacity curating our “Top 8” in high school, it seems virtual conversations would come naturally to us. Yet, we do have to place some intention behind our emails in order to rise above the noise and ensure our emails are opened. What tips and tricks have you learned along the way?