4 Tips to Get Really Busy People to Read Your E-mails

The founder of 42Floors offers a crash course in e-mail etiquette for entrepreneurs reaching out to high-profile contacts.

You think your e-mail in-box is out of control, right?

Just imagine what VCs, angel investors, and other high-profile folks are facing.

These extremely busy people must be buckling under an e-mail avalanche. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible that you, as a entrepreneur with a relevant business proposal, may still need to reach them from time to time. So is there a way for a respectful pitch or request for assistance to cut through the in-box clutter and actually manage to get a reply from those with a (justifiably) overflowing e-mail account?

Yes, replies Jason Freedman. In a recent post, the 42Floors founder explains that getting the attention of even the busiest individuals over e-mail is possible if you empathize with their situation and show them a bit of respect.

“E-mail etiquette from company founders often just sucks,” declares Freedman, before advising entrepreneurs to “assume several key realities about the target of your e-mail. He has received 300 other e-mails that day. He has temporarily forgotten how you met. He has temporarily forgotten everything you’ve already talked about. He has 20 seconds to spend on your e-mail before deciding to handle it later.” So show your contact some sympathy by following these tips, advises Freedman:

Subject Lines Matter. A lot. Your subject line should be uber-concrete and descriptive. Bad: “Re: fundraising advice.” Good: “Seeking fundraising advice for my start-up, FlightCaster (as per intro from John Smith). If you can fit the entire question into the header, just do it and include #eom at the end, which means ‘end of message.’ Yes, it feels weird. Do it anyways.

Remind Him of Context. You met him at a conference and had this fabulous conversation about your start-up, and he totally got it. You just know he got it. Guess what? He’s had 137 conversations with other entrepreneurs in the last 3 weeks. Remind him of where you met, what exactly you do, and how you met.

Limit Your Entire E-mail to 5 sentences or Less. Seriously. I know it’s painful. You have so many important things to say. However, getting it read is more important than getting all that explanation in there. Preferably it’s 3 sentences. Your goal is to make it easy for him to respond immediately from his smartphone.

Make Your Ask Explicit. If you want a meeting, ask for a meeting. Provide some time options and ask for a specified length. If you want an introduction, ask for an introduction. If you’re looking for funding, tell him you’re currently fundraising and ask to meet to show him your pitch. Don’t be sly. Don’t hint. Make the process ridiculously easy by just asking for what you want.

If you find this helpful, check out the complete post for a handful of other tips on email etiquette from Freedman. Or, hit up some of the other experts who have patiently tried to explain the daily realities of in-demand folks to exasperated start-up founders such as TechStars founder David Cohen’s advice on asking for introductions.

Do you have any other tried and true advice for standing out amid the in-box pile up?

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