Ah, those pesky cold emails.

I really dread when I have to send one – especially because a cold email inevitably means you’re asking for something. A sponsorship, a partnership, a phone call or a cup of coffee to “pick someone’s brain” – you seldom send a cold email just as fan mail.

And, the nature of a COLD email is just that, it’s cold. The recipient has no idea who you are. And yet, the way in which we connect most meaningfully with other humans is through warmth and a familial sense of comradery. You have only a few seconds for their eyes to flicker across your email as it comes into their mile-long inbox at your Boomerang’d time of 8:00 am for them to a) open it, b) read it in depth, c) reply thoughtfully, and d) actually follow up on their reply. And all too often, progression towards a milestone on your personal and professional journeys depends on this reply.

Thankfully, there’s an art to it. It isn’t all the luck of the draw. You have the ability to, in that email, craft a script that will make sure they start reading, keep reading, reply, and remember you. Here are the tips to make that happen, with some words of wisdom from cold email aficionado Zak Slayback. Zak is a Next Gen member who wrote an article on Medium called “How to Send Emails to Very Busy People” that yielded a wild near 6,000 ‘claps’. His tips resonate with his readers – and for good reason.

1.(Likely the most important) – You gotta make that puppy SHORT. I have made the mistake many a time of thinking my life story and my passion for XYZ will make them more likely to read and respond to my email – but, I know now as someone with an untamed, always full inbox that I instantly star the novel email as ‘important’ to get to later….then seldom do. No one likes going back to their stars when more emails keep comin’ in. Think about when you’re reading a book you aren’t quite into yet, and one paragraph takes up a whole half of the page. You’re likely to skim it, or your eyes immediately wander over to the next page. It’s easier to read something cut up into smaller, more pithy thoughts.

2. Get to the point faster. This is central to the first point – don’t dilly dally. Be direct about who you are (and, if you have a laundry list of accomplishments or job descriptions, choose one – the one most applicable to why you’re reaching out), then be immediately forthcoming about why you’re emailing. Think about it this way – a cold email can have a degree of the ‘cold and calculated’ intention, but with a warm tone. Skip the small talk.

From Zak: “The thing to keep in mind with sending a cold email to any important person is that you are surely not the only person trying to monopolize their attention at that time. If you make it a hassle for them to respond or even figure out what you want, then expect them to think, ‘I’ll get to that later when I get time.’ Unlike you, though, they never ‘get time. Make it easier for them to respond to your email now.” 

3. Establish a ‘friendship’! Believe it or not, you can do all of the above and also be personal and memorable. Depending on their profession, they get a lot of the same cold emails. It’s memorable if you add something really specific about them, how you relate to them in a personal way. Use the same tone you would use with a friend you’d respect.

Adrian France, co-founder of the wildly successful publication The Odyssey, recounted an instance where someone read about her in a publication in which she noted her favorite spot in town was a cigar bar. He then offered a cigar on him in his letter to her – a small detail that was incredibly influential. It showed he did his research and remembered HER, and we all want to be remembered!

“Write something that you yourself would respond to.” – David France

4. Follow UP!

Next Gen member Esteban Sanchez recommends – follow up! Don’t take no reply as a no – people simply are busy. They may be relieved to find you’ve followed up, with just as warm and chipper of a tone. It may even take two follow-ups. But, be persistent – it shows them that they’re on your list of priorities, and you didn’t just send out a mass email chain absentmindedly!

Another trick was presented by another Next Gen member and career expert Adam Hesch: include a note that you’ll follow up soon in your initial email, which “keeps the energy demand low.” They may be in the middle of a hectic day and find the note that you’ll follow up comforting. Or, they’ll reply immediately because they know a follow up is coming if they don’t!

This same suggestion to follow up continues after they reply the first time, too – no conversation ever is a one-and-done (unless it’s a “no”). Zak goes on: “If somebody you cold-email gives you their valuable attention, don’t thrust the responsibility to maintain the conversation onto them. If you have to follow-up on a question to get a reply, do it. You are much lower on their list of priorities than they are on yours.”

Some concluding thoughts….

All of this advice should be taken with the consideration that we’re moving away from cold emails. They’re inevitable much of the time, but we have to take advantage of the resources we have. Justin Lafazan suggests to use cold emails only as a last resort – if you rely on your network, an introduction from someone who knows you well and can attest to your value can get you through the door with, well, a warm email. 

We are also moving into an age of immediacy. Emails, however useful they may be, require energy to respond to. Think about it – you have to address the person, thank them for their email, reply thoughtfully, and even include a sign-off. But, direct messaging on Facebook or LinkedIn doesn’t require all of that. You can get more done faster, and who you’re trying to reach has a higher chance of replying if they can just type “Yep – send me more info” on their smartphone while they’re in the cereal aisle of the grocery store.

For more guidance on cold emails, I recommend you review Zak’s 12 scripts for cold-emailing – be sure to personalize them and make them your own, and be creative!


Want to try out the art of the cold email? Shoot one to Zak himself at [email protected]. Let’s see if he recognizes his script! 😉 


  • Haley Hoffman Smith

    Speaker & Author of Her Big Idea

    Haley Hoffman Smith is the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women's empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown in May 2018. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown's Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas, and Her Big Lash, a cosmetics company.

    At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She speaks on topics such as women's empowerment, innovation, social impact, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses, most recently at Harvard, TEDx, SoGal Ventures, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and more.