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February 24, 2010

The Three Es of Cold E-mails

You've heard of cold calls, right?  I posted some tips about cold calling almost a year ago, but they're still relevant if you missed them the first time around.

But these days, what's perhaps even more relevant than the cold call is the cold email.  After all, we interact so frequently online - through social media sites and listservs where we're more likely to have access to someone's email rather than their phone number.  In addition, it's a little less intimidating to make a first crack at contacting someone we don't know by email rather than phone.

So what are some reasons you might contact someone via a cold email? Here are a couple of scenarios.  Let's say that you're a family law attorney interested in generating more referrals from bankruptcy lawyers, since you've noticed that bankruptcy lawyers are already a good referral source.  You might run some searches on a site like LinkedIn to identify bankruptcy lawyers in your area who also attended the same college or law school.  Sending an invitation to "link" with them won't accomplish much if they don't know who you are.  But an email explaining the connection and suggesting a meeting or phone call could lead to a relationship that might generate referrals.

Or, maybe you've just started a blog on estate planning for young families that you believe might be interesting to financial planners or new parents.  Sure, you could compile a list of 50 planners or mom-oriented websites and send a canned announcement.  Or, you could customize an email that introduces you and your site and gives recipients reason to check it out.

As with cold calls, you should follow certain best practices for cold emails to ensure that they satisfy the three Es:  ethics, effectiveness and etiquette.  These practices are discussed below.

 1.  Ethics  Rules prohibiting client solicitation may apply to cold emails.  For example, if you come across a tweet on Twitter that "en route to hospital. Drunk driver hit me," emailing the victim and offering your services would violate solicitation rules.  To avoid running afoul of ethics rules (and, as discussed below, to avoid annoying people), you're best off limiting cold emails to lawyers and other service providers rather than prospective clients, potentially consumers.

2.  Effectiveness   A cold email is effective when it meets with a fairly quick reply rather than a delete button.  Tech start-up advisor Thomas Korte offered some great tips (and a template) for effective cold emails in a recent blog post.  Specifically, he advises that you include the following information:

  •   a description of who you are and where you are located;
  •  an explanation of your connection to the recipient.  Did you work at the same firm?  Attend the same school?  Or follow him on Twitter? 
  • an explanation of the reason for the email.  Do you simply want to inform the recipient about an article that you wrote that might prove useful?  Or would you like to schedule a phone call to talk further or even an in person meeting?
  • a link to your website and any relevant attachments that can help the recipient learn more about you.
Bear in mind that cold emails don't become effective once you hit "send."  If you don't get a response within a week, definitely send a follow up email.  Many times, emails are accidentally deleted or a recipient may set it aside to respond and simply forget.  Of course, if you send a follow up and still don't hear back, you can probably check that recipient off your list.

When you get a positive response, consider what steps you want to take next.  For instance, if the recipient agrees that meeting in person over a cup of coffee might be a good idea, then the ball returns to your court to set a date.  Do so promptly.

3.  Etiquette  Even if your cold emails are ethically compliant, that doesn't mean that they're not annoying.  Take care not to send impersonal, mass emails, emails rife with misspellings  or emails that make clear that you haven't taken twenty seconds to learn about the recipient.

So why not give cold emails a try?  If you follow these three Es, you'll realize how very Easy cold emails can be.