Friday, February 22, 2008

Cold Emailing: Worth a Second Look?

Cold emailing has a bad reputation--it's typically associated with sending out spam. And I've heard a lot of people say it isn't worth the time it takes to do it. At first glance, this seems to make sense. After all, so much email comes into everyone's inboxes in the form of spam; we're all a little trigger-happy with the delete key. Even if your email isn't deleted in the first second or before it's even open, it doesn't seem likely that you could get through to decision-makers this way.

However, it's tough to reach decision-makers by phone, too--you usually have to bypass at least one gatekeeper to get there. Many companies publish the email addresses of key employees. And while these folks can easily delete your message, they could just as easily choose not to take your call.

I've had success with email marketing; during slow periods, I regularly email potential clients and I've landed quite a few lucrative jobs this way. I've also had it work on me. Here are a few tips for making it work for you.

Whenever possible, email a person. Avoid filling out generic contact forms or using the regular "info" email address if at all possible. Some companies publish staff emails, and whenever I've been able to start off my email with the person's name and title, I've always had better results than I've had using a generic "to whom it may concern."

Never send out a one-size-fits-all email. It can be tempting to fire off dozens of emails to potential employers and hope one sticks. But you'll get better results by emailing fewer companies with more personalized messages. When emailing potential employers, I usually write something that's completely tailored to them.

Don't be misleading. I remember a few weeks back I found an email in my inbox with "Copywriting Job" as the subject. Thinking I was looking at an inquiry for my services, I opened it up. It turned out to be from another writer looking for overflow work. The writer chose a subject line that was guaranteed to make me open the email, but it wasn't honest about the point of the message.

I don't think there's anything wrong with emailing other people in your business looking for overflow work, necessarily. But I couldn't help feeling a bit misled by the subject line of the message. I didn't get back in touch with the person, and I didn't hire him. In general, it's best to choose subject lines that are honest as well as appealing.

Do not talk about yourself. I've gotten better results when the majority of my message has been about the company: about its website, its possible needs, things it might be struggling with, and a link to an article I've written that could help. When I've written extensively about my own abilities and qualifications, my results are less impressive.

Keep your message short. You only have a second or two to generate a response. Keep your email brief and casual; try to sound more like a helping hand than a salesperson. I try to keep my email communications under 200 words.

Conversations work better than one-off emails. Cold emailing does work, but it's often better if you build a relationship first. Here's an example of how to do this.

A while ago, I had a person from an IT company comment on my blog. The comments were always helpful and insightful, and the person didn't push any products at all--although he did leave a link to his site. I mentioned some difficulty with something to do with his subject in a post, and the person sent me an email making a helpful private suggestion, which I appreciated.

He then sent me an email back asking if I had any questions. I didn't, at the time--so I didn't respond back. Here is where I believe he made a misstep. If he had simply sent a link to a resource on his site that could help me with my problem, he would get me onto his site. Hopefully, the article would educate me on how a company or service like his could be of help, as well as giving me ideas for fixing the problem on my own. This would help get me past any objections I might have about spending the money--and it might turn me into a customer.

Cold emailing might have a bad reputation, but I wouldn't discount it entirely. If you're a writer, it might just suit your talents better than other cold marketing methods. Next time your business is slow, do a Google search for businesses in the industry you're looking for, and fire off a few emails to companies you'd like to work for. Better yet, see if any of those businesses have blogs--and become involved in the conversation before making your pitch. If it worked for me, it could definitely work for you.


Matthew C. Keegan said...

I can see where this can be useful, especially if addressed to an actual person and a quick pitch addressing their needs is the theme of the email.

Thanks for the reminder too, Jennifer. There are a few clients I need to track down who may have work for me.

Susan Johnston Taylor said...

I landed my highest paying writing gig by sending a blind email. It turns out that the website was in the process of relaunching under a new name, so had a ton of opportunities and I got in on the ground floor. Even if a website or magazine doesn't have a page for writer's guidelines, don't let that deter you from emailing them!

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Matt: Best of luck! It's definitely never a bad idea to keep in touch with former clients, just in case. That reminds me--I can think of a few I need to email, too!

@Susan: I landed several high-paying clients (and a few who are regulars) by sending blind emails too. I think timing is a big factor; if you happen to email someone just when they're looking for a writer, you're golden.

Dean said...

Good tips Jennifer, I've been playing around with the notion of cold emailing - now I feel more confident in hearing that it can work if done right. Possibly will use the same contacts generated for our company newsletter.