How to write cold emails that not only work – but are welcomed with praise

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Quick note: Later in this post I share a real-life example our company used that worked awesomely. And I break down why it worked so well, too.

Okay, onward!

I am a big believer in “cold” letters, be they in printed or email form. Some of the best opportunities we’ve had came from sending the right letter with the right message to the right person.

I’ve also gotten a lot of cold emails and letters, as I’m sure you have too, and 99% of them instantly hit the trash as soon as I read the first line, as I’m sure they did with you too.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

But if you have the spare time, and need / want more clients, cold emailing is a great way to go…if you do it right. I’ll share my approach below, as well as why it seems to work so well.

(By the way, if you haven’t seen Jake’s post from Millo on cold-writing high profile clients, definitely worth a read: How I won Fortune 500 clients through outbound marketing)

Cool bonus: Like with any form of marketing, most people say “no.”

HOWEVER – I can’t tell you how many nice, genuine replies and “thank you”s we’ve gotten from the email below in addition to serious leads.

People were genuinely happy that we reached out, and they actually took the time to let us know that.

You'll also enjoy this episode of our new podcast...

Let’s start at square 1, which is…

Why most cold emails fail

#1: The voice is too generic.

When you get an email that feels like it’s talking “at” you and not “to” you, it’s easy to feel offended and aggravated. And that quickly leads to the trash can.

#2: They assume problems you might not have.

Most are extremely presumptuous. They talk about how your website performs poorly or how your SEO stinks or how your Google Ads could be so much better.

Not a great way to get on someone’s good side though, is it?

And besides – unless they’ve hacked my account or have super mind reading power, how do they know how my website is currently performing? Without that data, how could anyone know if they could make it perform better or not?

#3: They dive right into the pitch.

There’s no time to build rapport or establish any kind of personal relationship. It’s straight to the punch line without the rest of the joke.

So with that said, any time you send a cold email, here’s what you’re up against:

  • People have their guards up.
  • They’re waiting to be insulted, treated like a number, and hard-sold right away.

You CAN’T go into a cold email believing otherwise. At this point in time, that’s just part of the game. But that’s not a bad thing.

All successful marketing is relative. It’s relative to the competition, to the rest of the “noise” out there, to the market, etc. It acknowledges what everyone else is doing, and bypasses it.

That’s the trick to cutting through the noise.

So to write cold emails that sell…

…counter everything your horrible fellow cold-emailers are doing. That means you have to:

#1: Write TO the person, not AT them.

#2: Don’t make assumptions. What do you do instead? Ask questions. See if the problem is even there.

#3: Don’t hard sell. Don’t even pitch. Your first call to action should be risk-free and painless for the person on the other end of the email.

A real-life example our company used

Our creative agency’s PSD to HTML company, Reliable, used the following email to target high-end web design agencies who put tremendous care into their work.

First, read it over, then, I’ll break it down. It comes from my partner Louisa who handles our operations.

Dear FIRST NAME,

I hope this message finds you well 🙂

My name is Louisa, and I run a creative agency in Portland, Oregon, USA.

I’m reaching out because our agency has a branch that does design to development work (i.e. psd to html, psd to wordpress, etc.)

I came across your work on [website]. It’s clear you have very brilliant developers on staff, but I know that situations can sometimes arise where their hands are full, and you need to turn to someone you can trust.

Many high-end agencies trust us with this work, so I thought it could be valuable for you as well.

If you have no need for this, no problem, I totally understand. But if you do, please feel free to write me back and we can discuss.

Thanks so much for your time. And whether or not we’re able to work together, I really appreciate your work and everything that you do 🙂

Sincerely,
Lou

Let’s examine some key phrases.

Dear FIRST NAME,

I hope this message finds you well 🙂

Right off the bat, we’re establishing this letter as warm and sincere and HUMAN.

It’s like we’re writing a friend, but with a bit of a respectful / professional flare. The letter is personalized, too. We took the time to find out the first name. When we absolutely couldn’t do that, we would write, “Dear [Agency Name] Team.”

I came across your work on [website gallery]. It’s clear you have very brilliant developers on staff, but I know that situations can sometimes arise where their hands are full, and you need to turn to someone you can trust.

This shows we actually took the time to learn about them. We’re making them feel not like a number – but like an individual. We investigated their web development, and it was great. So we acknowledge their level of work.

Then, we’re slightly presuming a problem, but it’s done in a very tactful way that doesn’t feel like we’re forcing a problem on them that they don’t actually have – which is that although they have developers, it’s possible their hands get full from time to time.

In the next version of this letter, I’ll probably add this after that paragraph:

Have you faced this, too?

That will make it even nicer I think.

Many high-end agencies trust us with this work, so I thought it could be valuable for you as well.

A few things are happening here:

1) We’re again acknowledging them as being in a special class, “high-end.”

2) We’re injecting social proof by saying other agencies of their caliber already trust us, which makes it easier for them to consider us as well.

3) We’re taking the approach that we’re looking out for their best interest rather then just trying to get a sale.

4) The sincere, soft approach is maintained.

If you have no need for this, no problem, I totally understand.

How often do you get a cold email that says something like that? 🙂

We’re giving them a way out. Their guards were up form the start, so we’re countering that by not pigeon-holing or trapping them, but by making the exit door very clear. This lets them ease up even more. This is why an awareness of what our market is thinking the second they get a cold email is so important.

But if you do, please feel free to write me back and we can discuss.

A very pain-free, easy, no-risk call to action. I’m not asking them to purchase anything. Not even discussing money or anything. Just, “let’s discuss.”

Thanks so much for your time. And whether or not we’re able to work together, I really appreciate your work and everything that you do 🙂

They took time out of their busy day to read this far. I’m grateful for that. So I let them know it, which builds even more good will. There’s a pattern of acknowledgement and respect throughout this entire email.

Again, I provide another way out. I’m not trying to force them or hard-sell them, and I want that to be clear. I’m showing them that we’re a very friendly, low-pressure bunch to work with. And I end on a high note as well, so they leave the email with pleasant thoughts about us.

Sincerely,
Lou

Why first name only? Lou’s email signature has her full name. They can easily read it there, and if they made it to the end, they most likely will. I’ll let the signature spell out the “formalities,” but I’ll keep the letter friendly and personal, which a first name only does best. 

Also, we kept a sincere, warm tone throughout – so we’ll end with one too.

And on that note, we’ll do the same here as well with this post 🙂

Questions? Comments? Write below!

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.

 

More about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable PSD – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see why freelancers & agencies are head over heels for this amazing new service.

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Comments

  1. Lucas Flach says:

    Great tips! Thank you.

  2. Right on point thanks a bunch

  3. Right on point thanks a bunch

  4. “My name is Louisa, and I run a creative agency in Portland, Oregon, USA”
    I see you emphasized the location part. So if we are not in the USA and our target clients are, then we are basically screwed.

  5. Rick Branson says:

    David thanks for posting this. Any tips on the subject line or following up?

  6. Great tips. Like Rick, I’m also curious if you have any tips/thoughts on the subject line and following up?

    • Hey, Angie!

      Great question.

      I always try to keep it very simple and friendly.

      If it’s a contact form, 99% of the time they have a subject line programmed into it. If it’s just an email, then, “Hey, [Name]! Question!” or “Hey, [Name]! (Potential Partnership)” or if you don’t have a first name, “Hey [Company Name] Team! (Potential Partnership),” or, “Hey [Company Name] Team! (Quick Question).”

      Something along those lines 🙂 Just don’t sound too formal or stuffy or salesy. It’s a conversation opener – not a sale 👍

  7. Kate Smith says:

    Some very good tips, but it’s really pretty bland and easy to ignore. My instinct would be to offer something of value upfront or be a little more vibrant (in whatever flavor matches your biz). But I can’t say that I’ve done this yet, so I don’t know. Awesome place to start. Thank you very much for sharing your letter!

    What’s your response rate/sale rate with cold emails? I know for direct snail mail, a 1 – 2% response rate is fantastic. Thanks again!

    • Hey Kate,

      I’m sorry you weren’t entertained 😉

      If I ever write a letter direct to you some day, I’ll be sure to spice it up.

      However, I don’t think the market we were targeting shared your opinion. About 1 in 3 people replied to our email. And we’ve never been thanked so much for sending a cold email either.

      This was carefully crafted just for them, and no one else really. So it makes sense that it wouldn’t quite pique your interest. That’s actually a good sign to me 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts,
      David

      • Kate Smith says:

        🙂 I’m not the audience – and, I’m clearly wrong. Interesting. 1 in 3 is a fantastic response rate. You know, I think I try to make things more complicated that I guess they need to be.

        You are very generous to share a letter that has been so successful. Thank you!

        • Thanks, Kate 🙂 That really means a lot. Yes, we were pretty astounded, not to mention flooded with emails for days trying to keep up with replying (well, Lou was, as she handled that, amazingly 🙂 ).

          Even just recently, many, many months after we sent it, a couple great opportunities came in for projects and relationships.

          That’s actually what prompted this post.

          I think sometimes people forget that a clear, sincere message, without any frills, and to the right person, will beat just about anything – especially with a cold email, where you’re already on borrowed time because you filled out a contact form, so the person thinks you’re potential new business, and they discover you’re actually a sales pitch 🙂

          That’s quite a hurdle to get over, so you have to tread VERY lightly lol.

          Anyways, thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

          All the best,
          David

    • Rose Sevilla says:

      Great post! I personally use Quickmail.io + yesware for sending cold emails. Seriously, it works wonders.

  8. Marijana Tomašević says:

    Nice article. And just to be clear, u also started with #2 They assume problems u might not have.
    Generally keep writing 😉

    • Hey Marijana,

      From the article:

      “Then, we’re slightly presuming a problem, but it’s done in a very tactful way that doesn’t feel like we’re forcing a problem on them that they don’t actually have…”

      Once you know the rules, you can bend the rules 😉

      Best,
      David

  9. I agree – the most personal your cold email is, the better it is received. Good tips!

  10. Rick Branson says:

    Hey David,

    Tested a variation of your script on 25 prospects. 0 replies so far.

    Any idea on the expected response rate? Do you do some sort of follow up? How long on average does it take to get a reply?

    Appreciate all the help.
    – Rick

  11. This is a great article and exactly what I was looking for. I preparing my emails now to test out. I can’t wait to see the results.

  12. Designs Squared says:

    Great article, thanks