Why do cold emails have to be so, well, cold?
Back in the day, the “cold” call—in which you’d have to literally pick up the phone and pitch yourself or your company’s wares to a stranger—was considered perhaps one of the worst parts of building a career or a new business. But in our modern, overly-connected world, sending a cold email, or a personalized introduction to you and your business to someone you don’t know, need not seem as strange or uncomfortable as it once did.
Indeed, projections show that by the end of 2019, we can expect to see 2.9 billion worldwide email users, which is more than one-third of the global population. By 2021, it’s expected that we’ll be sending and receiving almost 320 billion emails daily, according to Statista.
Still, many of us might still be afraid to click send for fear of rejection, or worse, flat out silence. But fear not, because we’re here to warm both you and your inbox up with better pitches, stronger subject lines, and more confidence to go after the opportunities of your dreams.
How to pitch yourself, your client, or your brand to a news outlet
When you’re pitching an idea for an article to an editor at a news outlet for yourself or a client, Los Angeles-based editor and digital producer Elina Shatkin says it’s critical to know why you’re the best person to tell the story—and to let it show. So how do you do that? By demonstrating familiarity with your subject.
“Don’t inundate me with a Wikipedia article’s worth of facts and figures,” she says. “I’d fall asleep from boredom. When you know a fair bit about a subject, it’s usually obvious because you write and talk about it in a way that feels familiar and fresh.”
Remember: The editors you’re pitching are likely juggling multiple tasks, stories, and deadlines at once. The easier you can make their job, the better. Stick to two to three paragraphs and include a brief description of what your story is about, sources you plan to feature, and a few brief examples of work you’ve published in the past (if available). Shatkin says it’s okay to follow up once by email, but to skip any extra pings on social media or phone calls.
Pitch pro tip: Be original and do your research. Check not only what has been written about the subject by the outlet or person you’re pitching, but also by other outlets to ensure your unique angle will stand out with your potential new editor and readers.
How to cold email a potential new mentor
Searching for a potential mentor isn’t just smart business, it’s considered “career self-care” by some experts. It’s also been shown to benefit both the mentor and the mentee. A 2011 survey by LinkedIn found that 82 percent of American women thought that mentorship was important, and yet nearly 20 percent hadn’t found one.
This matters, because professional mentorship is one of the critical ways that women can mitigate the gender pay gap and potentially gain more influence in the workplace and beyond.
The good news is a great relationship can start with a well-written email. Start with the person’s name (first or last, depending on how casual or formal you need to be), your genuine reason for wanting to connect, and a clear “ask”—what you’re looking for them to do for you, specifically. Is it an in-person chat or a phone call you’re looking for? Whatever it is, be clear and concise when you ask for it.
You can start with a Google or social media search to learn what this person’s interests and latest projects are to make sure you’ve found someone who’s likely to be a good fit and respond positively to your request.
“It’s powerful when people are conversational, respectful, and explain why they are specifically reaching out to the recipient,” says Alissa Zito, vice president of communications at Step Up Women’s Network, a nonprofit organization that matches professional women with girls in underprivileged communities. “People are more likely to respond favorably when they understand how and why they are uniquely qualified to provide support.”
She adds that offering a couple of opportunities to connect seems to be most successful, being mindful of your potential mentor’s busy schedule. “It’s amazing how many would-be mentees or beneficiaries ask busier people for answers Google could provide in 20 seconds,” writes author Tim Ferriss.
Most importantly, remember to spell-check.
“Take care when using the recipient’s name,” Zito says. “Cold outreach that misspells the name is almost sure to be ignored.”
Pitch pro tip: Be authentic and respectful. Imagine you’re speaking with someone who is an acquaintance so you can skip the formalities of addressing a stranger, but avoid the nicknames or inside jokes that might come with a closer friend.
How to get hired for your services
There are many benefits to celebrate and enjoy if you’re one of the more than 50 million freelancers working in America today, including flexible hours, an improved sense of purpose, and the opportunity to seek out the projects you’d like to pursue.
But one of the downsides? Not knowing when or where your next paycheck will come from. That’s where a strong, compelling “elevator” pitch email can come in handy. When you’re reaching out to prospective new clients, you’ll want to start with finding the right person by using LinkedIn or the company’s website, such as a hiring manager or someone on the executive team with decision-making authority.
Scholley Bubenik, a human resources expert and author of the new book, People Power: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Managing Human Capital, says it’s also important to find something you have in common, a principle Wharton Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant elaborates on in his book, Give and Take. “Similarities matter most when they’re rare,” he writes. “We bond when we share uncommon commonalities, which allow us to feel that we fit in and stand out at the same time.”
Bubenik also argues that timing is everything when it comes to closing the deal, so keep your chin up if now just isn’t the right time for this particular client. Other times, it may take multiple attempts or follow-ups to make a connection.
“People buy when they need something,” she says. “I think the way you get your message read is to position yourself as a subject matter expert or a problem-solver.”
Experts also agree it’s important to keep your message brief, around 200 words or so. Most people will only take about 20 seconds to read any given email.
Pitch pro tip: Build trust. When you build trust, clients are more likely to listen to you and buy from you. Avoid any language in your subject line or emails that seems “spam-y,” and be sure to include links to client testimonials, your portfolio, or social links to give you credibility.
How to ask for support or a potential partnership
So here you are—a legitimate Girlboss—ready to take on the world. But as we all know, we can’t do it alone. We need diverse sources of professional support in order to gain and maintain our position, and it doesn’t hurt to have a few colleagues who can throw in some fresh ideas or partner up for events, too.
That’s where a partnership proposal email can be clutch. It all starts with having the right mindset, says Tana M. Session, a Los Angeles-based speaker, consultant, and professional coach. She says she’s worked hard on building her speaking engagement business over the past few years by putting herself out there more, despite any self-doubt.
“It’s a mistake to sit back and wait,” she says. “Use your support system. Learn about each other’s work and make referrals for each other.”
By identifying targets that make sense for you and your business now and in the future, you’ll be setting yourself up for success as you grow. For example, you might look for influencers in your industry who are doing innovative new things or for partners who you’d like to align with in order to reach a new audience. Start your email by explaining why working together would benefit your potential new partner and his or her business. Share a few helpful resources or perhaps an article or blog post you’ve recently written.
To that end, Session also notes the importance of tightening up your materials in advance of making your pitch: Make sure your website and social channels are clean, well-written, and up-to-date. Lastly, she advises entrepreneurs to set aside time each week to spend working on business development—perhaps each Friday morning—to encourage a consistent practice.
Pitch pro tip: Give an out. Studies show that the “but you are free” persuasion technique—allowing your prospect to decline your request—is highly effective. Close your email by saying something like, “of course, I understand if now isn’t the right time.”
Cold email calling card
We’ve pulled together a few bonus tips from experts to help you achieve success every time, regardless of your ask.
If you’re looking to step up your side hustle—or just get started—we’ve got a whole track of programming at the Girlboss Rally dedicated to helping you level up your part-time passion project. Join us for actionable workshops and IRL advice by registering now at.