We often lament that letter writing is a lost art in our society, but the truth is, we still use letters all the time.
What is the first thing you do when you start work each day? You sit down at your desk (or other awesome, less-traditional workspace), maybe get yourself a drink, open your computer and…
You probably check your email.
That’s because communication is a key factor in the way we all do business. We write letters to assign tasks, submit proposals, share ideas and deliver products.
Believe it or not, a letter of introduction is still a great way to meet new people and even gain clients. If the concept seems foreign to you, read on to find out how to use this surprisingly modern tool to further your business.
What is a letter of introduction?
A letter of introduction is the first touchpoint in a new relationship.
Back in the 18th century, a formal letter of introduction was commonly used in polite society. You would never just introduce yourself to a stranger without a mutual acquaintance recommending you to them as a person of good character.
So you would carry a letter of introduction to a new city in order to form connections, gain employment, find lodging or anything else you might need.
Today, you would use a letter of introduction for pretty much the same thing—to gain access to somebody you don’t already have a relationship with.
There are two types of introduction letters. The first is something you write yourself, to simply introduce yourself, your credentials and why you’d like to meet the person you are contacting.
As you can imagine, these types of cold contacts aren’t nearly as effective as the second type of letter of introduction, where you asked someone you know to introduce you to someone they know. It may sound a little high school, but it’s really just a formal way of networking.
There are lots of situations where a formal letter of introduction would be appropriate, including:
- When you are trying to get “in” at a specific organization
- When your client moves on from their position and wants to recommend you to their replacement
- New graduates entering the workforce
- Two freelancers with complimentary skills being connected by a colleague
Remember, the golden rule applies here—be as willing to write a letter of introduction as often as you ask for one. Introducing a qualified, trustworthy colleague to a client, family member or friend can be beneficial to everyone involved.
Clients will be happy to get the work done they need, and you’ll look good for having a go-to network of bright people to recommend. Just be sure you recommend people you really trust.
Cover letter vs introduction letter
If you’ve ever applied for a formal job position, you may be familiar with a cover letter. While it may sound pretty similar, a cover letter is not exactly like a letter of introduction.
A cover letter is a brief overview of your qualifications and why you’re a good fit for a specific job posting. A cover letter is generally something that is specifically asked for, and would be included with a job application.
A letter of introduction is a lot more flexible. This type of letter could be included with a formal job application, but is also sent unsolicited or more casually simply to introduce one person to another.
For freelancers, a letter of introduction is probably something you should have in your back pocket as a valuable tool to generate business, find collaborators, seek out mentors and even connect on LinkedIn.
Whether you are sending a letter of introduction on your own behalf, or someone else’s, it is a great way to start a conversation.
How to write a letter of introduction
Unlike the letters used in the 18th and 19th centuries, a letter of introduction doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal affair these days.
The tone of your letter should match your relationship with the person you’re sending it to. If your contact is someone you have only met in passing or has a lot more authority than you, an official-sounding letter of introduction probably makes sense. If you’re introducing a new colleague to your best friend of the last decade, that would seem weird. Stick to the way you usually interact.
However, both a formal and casual letter of introduction have a common set of elements that can really help you structure your correspondence. Let’s go through the various sections.
This is the best place to let your relationship shine through. Remind the receiver how you know each other and check in as appropriate. If you’re writing a letter of introduction on your own behalf, then take this opportunity to explain how you heard about the person you’re writing to.
Explain why you are writing. State the full name of the person you are introducing, or your own name. Give the reason that you’re introducing this person to them–maybe there is an open job, or they are taking over for someone else, or the receiver of the letter has expressed interest in finding someone with a specific skill set. Whatever the purpose is, give it concisely and move on.
Use this section to show how you or the peer you are introducing can be valuable to them. This sounds a little callous, maybe, but remember that a letter of introduction is short, and your contact’s time is valuable.
Don’t spend time on how much they need a job or their personal history, cut to the chase of what they can do for the organization or individual you are addressing.
4. Next steps
Let the addressee know what they can do to follow up. Depending on your relationship, you might offer to attend a meeting with the three of you, or offer to give more information on request. If there is already a set meeting or start date, include that here.
5. Contact information
Restate the name of whoever is being introduced, and provide their contact information and yours. Even though this is an email contact, it’s a good idea to share phone numbers, too. Putting all of this in one place is really helpful for everyone involved, so there is a single reference.
Letter of introduction example to use
Here’s a letter of introduction email template that you can use, filling in the relevant details for your situation. Feel free to copy and paste away! Remember to adjust the tone if this is either a more formal or casual connection than the example.
FROM: [email protected]
Subject: Hey Heidi, this is Josh!
It was so great catching up the other day. We should definitely chat more often, I have missed it!
You mentioned that you are looking for a good copywriter for your next project. Allow me to introduce you to Josh Oliver, copied on this email. He is an experienced writer who has worked in both traditional and social media marketing for the last 12 years, including for large national clients like Toyota, Vogue and Coca-Cola. I’ve had the privilege of working with him directly on a number of projects, and I can confidently recommend him for his foundational writing knowledge, strong work ethic and, particularly, his ready wit. He is capable of writing stand out copy for your campaign.
I am happy to get on a video call with both of you to talk about how we can all work together, or you can contact Josh directly at 555-555-5555, or email him at [email protected] Please let me know if you’d like any further information.
If you came to read this article, you were already curious about how a letter of introduction could help you move forward in business.
Or maybe a friend asked you for one and you thought, “Does anyone really still use those anymore?”
Whatever the reason, I hope you have learned the true value of a letter of introduction. Not only are they still used all the time, you should absolutely be using them, too.
You might need to adjust your thinking here. A modern letter of introduction is probably not arriving in a stamped envelope in the mail. It’s more likely to be a friendly email, a LinkedIN message or even a group text. The mode isn’t important.
What IS important is the art of networking. A letter of introduction is just one way to insert yourself into the circles you want to be in. Networking can feel stuffy or self-serving, but if you’re looking for ways to expand your freelancing business and move up to more lucrative clients, you have to change who you know and what opportunities are in front of you.
Hopefully, this article gives you some ideas for both giving a letter of introduction, and the confidence to move forward in asking for one.
In no time, you’ll see that letter writing is not only alive and well, it’s just as important today as it was in formal society 200 years ago.
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