Every pitch counts.

10 cold email tips I used to get 60,000 signups

I’ve worked at Toggl since 2015 and in the two years, I’ve driven over 150,000 visits to Toggl (*that can be directly accounted for) thanks to, almost exclusively, cold emails.

My focus has been on media placements, negotiating content partnerships and securing guest posts and mentions in relevant industry blogs and generally, increasing referral link traffic to Toggl’s website.

In the process, I’ve sent about 500 emails, resulting in 94 new, high DA backlinks. Which means I had an 18% sent-to-publication success rate. Not too shabby.

It’s important to clarify at first: I’ve personally typed and carefully went through every single email I sent. Talk about scalable, huh?

So before you keep on reading, keep in mind — there will be no miracles here, I won’t be sharing growth hacks or get-rich-quick-on-pyramid-schemes tips, every tip I share will smell of blood, sweat and tears.

During my first few weeks I carefully noted every email I sent, every response and whether it led to a successful new mention or not, this is what that table looked like:

A glimpse at my first few weeks at Toggl

Basically, for every 5 emails I sent, I would get one high DA article published linking to Toggl’s website.

The conversion rate from visit to signup on these articles is at a staggering 40%. I guess earned media really works.

Over the next year and a half, I would continue to work on these, sending about 500 emails that in turn resulted in 94 publications and 150,000 visits to Toggl. Since the conversion rate averages at 40%, this led us to obtaining 60,000 new signups.

But don’t just take my word for it, here’s a look at our conversion rates:

Referral traffic conversion rates

As I mentioned above, these links came from:

  • media placements
  • content partnerships
  • and guest posts

[Shout out to Zapier that brought us consistently high numbers of quality visitors and an astonishing conversion rate, if you build apps – make sure to partner up with them]

And they were all made possible by some nifty cold emails which brings us to my next point: Here are the techniques I used to drive 60,000 signups for my company:

10 techniques for killer cold emails

1. Do your research

Before ever opening your email client, you need to research the people you’re talking to. Google their name, read their work online, bookmark some great pieces of work, scroll through their social profiles, learn about what makes them happy, angry or slightly annoyed.

Check what political candidates they support, how they feel about important social topics, what they most likely voice their opinions about and what, generally — makes their heart tick.

NB: Research will help you learn what they’re interested in and what they’re most likely to notice in a conversation. Use the information you collect wisely and in a timely manner.

Pro tip: If you’re looking to get media attention, make sure to check out Muckrack – a tool that helps you research and contact journalists, it’s irreplaceable in my work.

2. Make yourself familiar

It’s called cold email for a reason, it’s your first contact with people who know little or nothing to you. Unfortunately for you, people tend to like things they’re familiar with more than they like the new and different. Which is why we eat at the same places and tend to think our own customs are superior to others’.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to appear familiar. Before sending an email, follow your contact on social media, try interacting with them and see how it goes. Another good way to do it is to contact them after a big change or success in their life, a quick “congrats” will go a long way.

Try getting your contact to remember your name before you send an email.

3. Personalize the email

This should go without saying. Make sure you mention their name, their beat (if they’re journalists) or the name of their company. Write about why they’re special to you and what made them stand out among many others.

NB: Reporters and other experts can immediately spot a mass email so don’t even try sending one.

I’ve added more tips on personalizing your outreach below.

4. Find something you have in common

I made it a point early on to never send an email before I find at least one thing I have in common with the person I’m reaching out to.

Finding something in common with people you’re trying to talk to makes it more likely you’ll seem familiar and hence more likable to them.

This tiny hook can boost your success rate. We use it in dating all the time.

5. Strike a conversation

By being genuinely interested in having a conversation and engaging with people, we become genuinely interesting to them. People love being asked questions, make sure you hit the right topic and they won’t be able to resist replying.

Whoever you talk to, learn enough about them to figure out what gets them excited and strike a conversation about it.

6. Use emotional hooks

Emotional hooks serve as a powerful way to engage your readers, and have been used in fiction writing for years. It takes a few smart adjustments to use them in cold emailing but when you do it properly — they’re incredibly effective.

Here’s a beginners’ guide to emotional hooks.

7. Make it short and simple

58% of journalists say that the ideal length of a PR pitch is 2–3 paragraphs. Try to apply this advice to every cold email you send. Don’t try to oversell, get lost in long pitches or overwhelm your reader with too much info.

Think of what you want to say, stay focused on the main point of your email and edit out all the unnecessary parts. While it may sound easier said than done, try this: assign a goal to your email and then to each sentence. Once you’ve done that, edit out the sentences that don’t support the main goal or point of your email. It gets easier with time.

8. Make it about them, not you

I wish I could say it’s a rookie mistake to try and score any kind of relationship by only focusing on yourself but that would be a blatant lie. The truth is, in so much of marketing, PR and our own conversations, we tend to focus on ourselves and the points we’re trying to bring up.

Likewise, when we get engaged in conversations with other people, we tend to focus on our own benefits and how what they’re saying relates to us vs. a whole other world of opportunities. Remember, your email won’t be relevant to a person unless it’s about them.

Use this petty human characteristic against your reader and start with focusing on them and only them. Everyone appreciates a good listener.

9. Check the clock

There’s so much data on email response rates vs time they’re sent and still, somehow, I get cold emails at 6 pm on a Friday and just.. cringe.

First of, make sure your email is still relevant, i.e. don’t share old news that’s already been covered and hope to score another point. Don’t go through a random contact list and blast off emails before checking they still have the same interest/work at the same place.

Before sending, double check their timezone and schedule the email to reach them while they’re at work and still focused enough.

Mornings are best, but not too early, I tend to aim at 11 am delivery. Because, everyone needs a couple of hours at work to get some focus, think about the big picture and plan out their day before they dive into an endless pile of notifications. Be respectful of their time if you want them to notice you.

To sum up, the perfect pitch must is: timely, relevant, personal and intriguing enough to get a conversation started.

10. Follow up

Followups get 30% higher response rates than first emails, maybe it’s about persistence but also — it might just be about familiarity and the mere-exposure effect I mentioned in tip #2.

So make sure to follow up, write a quick email acknowledging how busy and important they are while politely asking to consider your email one more time.

Bonus tip: Tool up! Make sure you have the right tools before even starting a cold email adventure.

I use Boomerang to schedule my emails, Trello & Streak to keep track of who I’m talking to and of course— Toggl to keep track of my time. If you’re curious, an average pitch takes about 60 minutes to research and 15 to write.

If you’re interested in PR and how it can be useful to startups, check out my complete guide to PR for startups and get better response rates on the cold emails you send.

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