How I’m Transforming My Life by “Cold Emailing” Complete Strangers
And how you can do the same.
It’s 6:57am and the following message arrives on my phone:
“I’m here whenever you’re ready.”
“Hello Nico, can you hear me?”
“Hey Ali! How’s it going? I’m sorry if it sounds a bit loud on my end: I’m at my girlfriend’s house sitting outside in the country, so it might be a little noisy.”
“No problem! I’m doing the same: I’m outside on my balcony.”
After exchanging another few pleasantries, Ali then surprises me and says:
“Man, that pitch you sent me, that email, that’s the best pitch anybody has ever sent me!”
Ali’s remark shocks me (in the best way possible) not only because he’s a highly sought-after and in-demand marketing consultant whose content (1, 2, 3) has attracted millions of followers and hundreds of clients but also since the pitch to which he referred was, in fact, one of the very first “cold” pitches that I had ever sent anybody.
Towards the end of our call—in which we discussed different content creation and marketing strategies that I can use to build my brand, increase my following, and land bigger and more lucrative projects as a consultant — Ali enthusiastically says:
“You need to tell your story! That’s how you’re going to attract readers and get people to care about you. Your followers want honesty so share your personal experiences about how you’re embracing the entrepreneurial lifestyle. I read a quote the other day along the lines of: ‘How can you live an entire life and not have any stories to tell?’ Always keep that in mind. You need to write about what you’re doing, what’s working and what’s not…”.
So, Ali, I’m taking your advice:
In this article I’m going to explain how I’m using the practice of cold emailing complete strangers to effectively connect with influential people and create opportunities for myself that never would have materialized otherwise.
Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: a Quick Summary
Cold emailing is a form of outbound marketing.
Let’s quickly compare and contrast outbound with inbound marketing to make sure we understand our key terms.
- Any marketer-driven process in which party A (e.g., a company or consultant) explicitly “pushes” something — a message, a service, a product, etc. — onto party B (e.g., a potential client).
- Often an intrusive/disruptive approach to marketing insofar as it involves “interrupting” people with attempts to market and/or sell to them.
- Examples: trade shows, direct mail, telemarketing, pay-per-clicks ads, and “cold” phone calls and email.
- Any consumer-driven process in which party B (e.g., a potential client) is naturally/organically “pulled” by party A (e.g., a company or consultant) toward something — a message, a service, a product, etc.
- Virtually always a non-invasive approach insofar as a piece of valuable content — e.g., a blog post, a white paper, a YouTube video, etc. — is used to encourage people to freely seek out additional information from the content’s creator.
- Examples: webinars, eBooks, articles, and infographics (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4).
Here’s a helpful depiction of the main differences (and similarities) between the two types of marketing:
Inbound marketing is receiving lots of attention these days, with the general consensus being that in comparison to outbound tactics inbound approaches are typically:
- Cheaper in terms of cost;
- More effective in terms of conversions;
- More interactive in terms of facilitating two-way, authentic communication between marketers and potential clients;
- More value-focused in terms of providing free, high-quality educational resources; and
- More consensual and inviting in terms of utilizing explicit permission to communicate with potential clients (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
This very article, i.e., the post that you’re currently reading, is an example of inbound marketing.
Because I’m seeking to give away a free and highly valuable piece of content — i.e., an experience-based, detailed guide to using cold emails to create beneficial financial and networking opportunities — in the hopes that some of you will organically reach out to me in order to learn more about what I do, including the content creation services I offer.
Here, therefore, is the new marketing formula for the world in which we presently live:
Gift amazing content to your followers → build trust over time as an authoritative figure in your niche → convert leads into paying customers.
Ali himself has pointed out this dynamic before:
“Instead of setting a selfish goal like, ‘We need 1000 unique visitors in 30 days’, we should ask ourselves, ‘How can we help 1000 people? What can we give away [for free] that is related to our core business?’
Chances are, if [your followers] like what you put out there, some of them might want to know more about your core business [and eventually becoming paying clients]”.
However, if inbound marketing is so important then why am I about to devote a few thousand words to trying to convince you to invest more heavily in cold emailing, i.e., an outbound technique?
When designed carefully and executed with authenticity, cold emailing works extremely well.
What Is “Cold” Emailing?
Cold emailing is “a tactic that focuses on sending relevant, personalised emails to prospects [with whom] you’ve previously had no contact” (source).
This kind of emailing is “cold” in the sense that no prior work has been done to “warm up” the potential client to the possibility of purchasing a product or service.
If a person walks into your new car showroom and indicates that she’s in the market for a new vehicle and you respond by describing the award-winning features of, and then taking her for an actual test-drive in, a specific vehicle then you’ve effectively “warmed her up” to the possibility of purchasing and owning the car.
If you spot the same person far across the street walking in the opposite direction of your showroom and you respond by screaming out at her, “Hey! You want to buy a car?!”, then you’ve approached this (now likely annoyed and/or frightened) woman completely “cold”, having done none of the necessary groundwork to build up a rapport with her.
Cold emailing is much more like the second of these two scenarios than the first.
Or rather, really bad cold emailing is equivalent to the second scenario.
To counter this, I want to establish the following key idea:
There’s no reason that cold emailing has to be as clunky, invasive, or amateurish as the behaviour of a clueless cars salesperson — or, even worse, as insulting, annoying, or frustrating as a spam emailer insisting that a Nigerian prince is ready to transfer $1 million into your bank account.
Although there are various types of cold emails — Neil Patel lists 11 different kinds here — I’m going to focus on 2 in specific, which I’m choosing to call the social media share and the delivery of free work.
Let’s consider each of these in turn.
Cold Email Tactic # 1: the Social Media Share (tSMS)
This first tactic seeks to achieve one of two specific objectives:
- Successfully convince somebody to share a piece of your content on his/her social media site; or
- Genuinely convey your appreciation for the fact that somebody has already shared a piece of your content on his/her social media site.
This is a tactic that I use every single time I publish a new article, and I strongly suggest you do the same.
- The more people who share your content, the more potential customers you can reach: more eyes on your content → more followers → more leads → more paying clients; and
- The more you show your followers that you honestly care about the time and energy they devote to supporting you, the more trust you can build between yourself and your audience: more trust → more people willing to buy what you’re selling.
As for whom you should consider targeting with tSMS approach to cold emails, I recommend contacting 1) authoritative influencers who are active in your market niche and 2) all those who have in fact already shared your content.
There’s no quick-and-dirty hack for finding thought leaders in your industry.
Rather, you must pay attention to who is making “big moves”, who has a strong social media presence, who is publishing what, who is constantly cited by (and/or who is writing for) big publications, and so on.
Do some research, find their names, hunt down their email addresses, and prepare your cold email.
Here’s a template you can use to effectively email influential people who are working in the specific space(s) in which you wish to promote your content.
SUBJECT: I’ve Referenced You in an Article That Was Just Published
My name is Nico Ryan (@nicothewriter).
I’m an editor at The Startup [225k+ followers].
I just published an 8,000 word guide to preventing startup failure, one that explains in detail 6 specific strategies that novice entrepreneurs can use to increase their chances of launching and sustaining successful companies.
The article can be found here.
Under STRATEGY #6: UNDERSTAND THE MEANING AND VALUE OF “PIVOTING”, I reference you directly and link to one of your published articles, saying: “Martin Zwilling, founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, expands on Ries’ ideas by specifying that startups can potentially engage in at least 8 different kinds of pivots, including market segment pivot, product feature pivot, and sales channel pivot.”
It’d mean the world to me if you’d consider giving the piece a read and then sharing it with your Twitter/Facebook followers if you think it worthy of their attention.
Thanks for your time,
The social media share approach to cold emailing works because:
- It’s personal: it’s addressed directly to the specific recipient rather than to some generic “to whom it may concern” [don’t ever use this in an email!];
- It’s relatively short: it follows a simple, direct format: here’s who I am and what I do → here’s why I’m contacting you → here’s what I’m politely asking you to do;
- It’s respectful and humble: “It’d mean the world to me…”, “if you think it worthy…”, “Thanks for…”;
- It’s clear: there’s no doubt as to why it has been sent, i.e., I’ve done x (written something that I think you’ll find interesting) and I’d really like you to do y (share the content with your followers);
- The subject line is unambiguous: rather than being spammy, evasive, or over-the-top sensationalistic, the subject line straightforwardly tells the recipient what the message is about; and
- [BONUS] It overtly acknowledges something that the recipient has previously written: because it explicitly notes that the recipient has been quoted directly in the article under consideration, the recipient is much more likely to respond favourably to the request for a social share since he knows that spreading the content will allow his audience to (re)read something that he has previously written.
Another way to encourage influencers in your niche to share your content is to contact them prior to publishing an article in order to politely ask them to provide you with a short quote/remark regarding one or more of the major themes of your upcoming post.
SUBJECT: Request for Quote Re: Startup Team-Building
My name is Nico Ryan.
I’m a content writer and editor.
I’m currently working on an article that describes 7 key strategies that tech startups can use to build cohesive, supportive, and talented startup teams and to foster passionate and authentic employee cultures.
I’m wondering if you’d be willing to provide me with a short quote — no more than 1 to 3 sentences — on the importance of people, teamwork, and/or employee culture to the success of a startup.
I’d love to quote you within the article and I’d be sure to let you know as soon as the piece has been published.
Thanks for your time,
Then, once you have completed and published the article you can re-email the influencer, remind her that she previously gave you a quote for your piece, and politely ask her to share the post with her audience if she’s pleased with how the final article reads.
When it comes to tracking down people who have already shared a piece of your content and thanking them, you can utilize at least 3 online sources:
- Google: type the exact name of your published article into Google, place double quotation marks around both ends of the phrase, and execute the search. One at a time, take note of all the names of, and contact information for, the people who have shared your post anywhere on the web (blogs, Quora, etc.).
- Facebook: perform the exact same operation as above but this time search for your content in Facebook’s search bar. Again, try to find the names and contact information (i.e., email addresses) for those who have shared your post. As a last resort, you can consider DMing somebody on Facebook if you cannot locate his/her email address.
- Twitter: perform the exact same operation as above but this time search for your content over at search.twitter.com. Again, try and track down the email addresses for those Twitter users who have shared your article. As a last resort, you can consider DMing somebody on Twitter if need be.
Once you have compiled a list of names, send an email (or, less preferably, a DM) to each recipient using the following basic template:
SUBJECT: Thank You for Sharing My Article!
I noticed that you [@Twitter handle] recently tweeted out my Medium piece 5 Strategies for Becoming a Better Writer That Actually Work.
I’m emailing just to say thank you very much for sharing the article! I sincerely appreciate it!
Given that the content of that piece resonated with you, I’d just like to quickly mention that I work as a professional writing and editing consultant and that I’d be happy to discuss the possibility of consulting with you on a professional level if that’s something in which you might be interested.
Once again, thank you for your tweet.
To all those who respond positively to your message, politely ask each of them if they’d like to receive a notification the next time you post an article. If they indicate yes then ask to add them to your email list.
One more technique you can use as part of your efforts to increase the social shares of your content is to use Google, Facebook, and Twitter to locate and target people who have shared similar articles to what you have just written.
For instance, perform another search on search.twitter.com (again, using double quotation marks) but this time search for particular words or phrases that are very similar to those used in your article.
If your post is titled, 5 Strategies for Becoming a Better Writer That Actually Work, then run searches for phrases like “become a better writer”, “improve your writing”, “writing mistakes”, “writing guide”, and so on.
Again, compile a list of names of, and email addresses for, people who have shared content similar to what you have just published and then contact them with the following type of message:
SUBJECT: An Article That Might Interest You
I noticed that you [@Twitter handle] recently tweeted [or re-tweeted] an article discussing various ways for becoming a better writer, titled: “………”.
I actually just published an article on this very topic myself but my post is longer, much more detailed, and contains some expert insights from [A], [B], and [C].
I really think you might find the article interesting.
Here’s the link: …
Perhaps if you enjoy the piece you could share it with your friends/colleagues on your social media pages.
Have a great day,
Again, be sure to send a follow-up message to all those who respond positively to your email in order to thank them and ask whether they’d be interested in hearing from you the next time you publish something.
As with the first template outlined above, these various approaches to cold emailing work well because they’re personal, concise, kind and courteous, professional, clearly worded, and unambiguous in their calls-to-action (CTA).
Don’t ever forget that your followers are people: you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody who responds negatively to a sincere email that simply tries to express gratitude for something kind or helpful that he/she did for you.
Cold Email Tactic # 2: the Delivery of Free Work (tDFW)
This alternative approach to cold emails requires far more time and effort on your part but, for that very reason, it also offers a considerably more significant potential payoff.
The essence of tDFW strategy is simple yet powerful:
1. Complete an outstanding piece of work and deliver it to your cold email recipient for free, i.e., with no expectations of, or requests for, reward.
2. Let the work “speak for itself”, i.e., use it as proof of your professionalism, technical skills, and sincere interest in helping your recipient achieve his/her business goals.
3. End the email by noting that you’d love an opportunity to work together one day when the timing is right.
My experience suggests that this approach is by far the most effective way to think about, design, and deliver cold emails that convert in the Age of the Internet and digital media.
This method requires a serious amount of effort on your part: not only must you complete free, high-calibre work but you also have to thoroughly research your potential client and his/her business in order to determine what kind of work would benefit (and, thus, impress) him/her the most.
In order to execute tDFW strategy properly, you must a) identify a meaningful problem that appears to be harming your potential client’s business and b) provide a fantastic example of what your solution to that problem would look like.
This model, of course, is an application and extension of Fred Wilson’s famous “Freemium Business Model”, which consists of:
“Giv[ing] your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not,
acquir[ing] a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth,
referral networks, organic search marketing, etc, [and] then offer[ing] premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to
your customer base”.
In this context, then, tDFW is all about showcasing to your potential client not only the quality of the work you can do but also the value that you could bring to his/her company were he/she to hire you in the future.
Completing free and amazing work for someone with whom you’d like to develop a business relationship conveys the following message:
This is exactly what you could expect me to deliver every single time if we were to work together and here are the reasons why this should interest you.
The delivery of free work strategy is the technique I used to convince Ali Mese to hire me as an editor at The Startup.
With the exception of the removal of bits of personally identifying information, here’s the email I sent to Ali back in June 2017:
SUBJECT: I’ve Re-Written an Article by [name] on The Startup
My name is Nico Ryan.
I’m a content writer and editor.
Yesterday, I read the following story written by [name] posted on The Startup Medium page: [link].
I found the article quite interesting and the author’s bold speech refreshing.
However, I also found the article rather difficult to read as it contains a number of awkward sentences, difficult-to-grasp phrases, incomplete ideas, missing words, and instances of problematic grammar/syntax.
I mean no disrespect or unkindness by pointing this out. On the contrary, given the importance of the content of the article, I felt that it was crucial that the technical/writing aspects of the document be as polished as possible.
I have, thus, re-written the entire article for you. Please find the edited piece attached to this email.
I have done this work purely to show you my writing/editing abilities. I am not seeking any form of compensation or reward whatsoever. It’s free — period.
All I ask is that if you’re pleased with the re-write then perhaps you could consider working with me at some point in the future by having me edit articles for The Startup and/or for another one of your content platforms.
Best wishes and thanks sincerely for your time,
So there it is: the “best pitch” that Internet marketing guru Ali Mese says he has ever received.
Pretty simple stuff, right?
Approximately half a day later, Ali sent me the following reply:
You couldn’t have approached at a better time :) Thank you so much for what you did, really appreciate the effort.
We were just discussing how to handle rewriting [some of our] posts.
How much would you charge for…”
At that point it was virtually assured that we’d be working together as it was merely a matter of negotiating prices.
The delivery of free work approach to cold emailing works so well because:
- It has the same winning features as those belonging to the first cold email tactic (i.e., tSMS): it’s personal, to-the-point, respectful and humble, professional, easy-to-understand, and perfectly clear in its message/purpose;
- It shows initiative, hard work, and a willingness to “go the extra mile”: the vast majority of people would never take an entire day (or longer) to complete a piece of top-notch work for free and deliver it to a total stranger who might not even acknowledge an attempt to contact him/her. This, however, is precisely how you can differentiate yourself from everybody else trying to score paid gigs, i.e., by taking the initiative to uncover what your potential client needs (even if he/she doesn’t yet know what this is) and presenting a world-class solution to the problem, all without ever “bothering” him/her with unwanted sales pitches or other un-asked-for interruptions.
- It conveys sincerity: there’s literally no better way to show a potential client how much you care about the possibility of working with him/her than delivering high quality, relevant, and valuable work for free alongside no expectation or request for reward. Virtually nobody is going to turn down exceptional work presented with “no strings attached”;
- It identifies and solves a real problem: businesses hire consultants because the former need the latter to effectively fix concrete problems. This approach to cold emailing takes all the guesswork out of the burdensome process of identifying a problem, finding a qualified professional to solve the problem, and figuring out the specifics of what the solution would look like; and
- It’s completely pressure-free: it explicitly notes that the recipient is free to do whatever he/she likes with the work you’ve completed and that he/she is under no obligation to take any action in any form.
Utilizing tDFW strategy is a big “gamble” because 1) it represents a bold first contact with a potential client and 2) it forces you to show your potential client exactly what you’re capable of doing in terms of your technical skills and abilities.
You get only one chance to make a good first impression so don’t ever sacrifice it by under-researching your potential client’s business and/or delivering sub-par work.
A less ambitious although still potentially effective approach to cold email is to utilize tDFW method but not actually deliver any free work.
Essentially, you complete the entire process of learning about your potential client’s business, identifying a problem that needs fixing, coming up with a detailed solution, and emailing over a clear outline of your findings and what you propose but you don’t send your potential client a concrete demonstration of your work (i.e., your fix) — at least not at first.
This is a less impressive and elaborate attempt to “woo” a possible client; I recommend it only as a second best strategy to the full DFW method.
Nevertheless, it can be useful in certain situations.
In fact, I recently elected for this option as part of an effort to become a consultant for a very popular blogging website.
Here’s a truncated version of the cold email I sent to the owner of the site:
SUBJECT: Your Website’s Content Deserves Better Editing
My name is Nico Ryan.
I’m a content writer and editor.
I have been reading [your site] for several years now. I’m grateful for all the useful content you and your team consistently put out.
I’m emailing you because, in my humble opinion, the content on your blog deserves to be subjected to a much more thorough and effective editing process prior to being published online.
A blog with your extreme popularity and large readership has every right to expect nothing but the highest quality articles.
Unfortunately, much of your content curently reflects problematic writing, especially in terms of: spelling, grammar, and syntax errors; incomplete sentences; improper formatting; and lack of clarity and intelligibility.
I would like to politely suggest to you the possibility of hiring me as the Head Editor at [your site].
I currently work for … and in this role I am responsible for …
Here are 5 examples of recent articles that I researched and edited for one of my top clients …
I believe there’s an amazing opportunity here for the two of us to work together to help build your site into even more of an authoritative and highly respected platform in your niche.
I’d love to talk more about moving ahead if you’re interested.
The outcome of this email was twofold:
- The owner of the website responded positively to my message and asked me to conduct a trial edit of a piece of content; and
- After completing and delivering the free work, the owner and I scheduled a real-time interview for a potential job offer.
In this case, then, I still ended up having to work for free but doing so was a direct response to my potential client’s request for a demonstration of my expertise and, in fact, the work eventually led to a job interview.
How Cold Email Can Transform Lives
Less than 3 months ago I began writing on Medium and spreading my content across several new social media accounts.
In this short period of time I have thus far:
- Secured a job working for one of the biggest digital apps creators in the world;
- Written/Edited a dozen pieces of viral content, with one article in particular making it to the very front page of the entire Medium platform and several others being featured on Medium’s main “entrepreneurship” page;
- Written/Edited a variety of content that has accumulated 160k+ views, 35k+ reads, and 6.5k+ recommends as of mid-August 2017; and
- Earned significant money working as a writer/editor.
I’m still in the beginning phases of building my reputation and brand; indeed, these early successes are merely a foreshadowing of the accomplishments I hope to achieve in the future.
Nevertheless, they are significant indications of growth and success.
I can attribute the triumphs of the last 2.5 months to 3 specific factors:
- I work really hard;
- I write top-notch content, i.e., articles that are long-form, detailed, accurate, engaging, thoroughly referenced, and error-free; and
- I utilize the power of cold email.
I’m absolutely convinced that not only would I never have formed a friendship and business relationship with Ali Mese if I hadn’t sent him such an ambitious cold pitch but also that my content would receive significantly less engagement were I to have ignored cold emails these past few months.
I’ve established meaningful professional connections with countless people simply by emailing them in order to:
- Politely ask that they share a piece of my content;
- Graciously thank them for circulating my content; and/or
- Humbly demonstrate, through the delivery of free work, the value that I could bring to their companies.
I’m living proof that cold email — when designed and delivered with proper care, foresight, and respect — can facilitate the emergence of lucrative networking and freelancing opportunities that simply would not exist otherwise.
I encourage you to likewise harness the power of cold email in order to grow your audience, connect with influential thought leaders, and effectively build your brand! Good luck!