I'm a huge advocate of being forward when it comes to your business. It may go against my introvert tendencies sometimes, but as an entrepreneur or a small business owner, you are essentially your only advocate. If you don't drive your business's train, it just doesn't move.
When you are trying to create a business or further your career, you can't be complacent and wait for opportunity to come to you. You have to get out there, and yes, that tired word: network. Cold-emailing and asking people for a breakfast meeting or to coffee can be intimidating, because no one likes to be ignored or rejected right?
Well, that chance of rejection is always still there. But today I'm going to help you guys boost your chances at getting responses from people, as well as covering THE most important thing when cold-emailing someone: HOW you ask them.
The landscape of connecting and networking is rapidly changing due to social media, and people are more accessible than ever. However, this doesn't mean that all etiquette and effort go out the window-- in fact, I think the quite opposite. In a world where nearly anyone can DM or comment on each others pages, it's even more important to put sincere effort and thought forth in each interaction in order to make a significance.
#1-5 deal with cold-emailing and asks, but I suggest you not miss #6 if you have or are planning to ask someone to meet over coffee-- you may not realize why you are not hearing back!
6 Musts when Cold-Emailing or Asking for a Coffee Meeting
1. Treat them like a person, not a product to use.
No one is something to use. If you want to make truly lasting connections and build a network of talented individuals around you, you cannot treat them as a product to just use for a purpose, and not give a crap about them after that. Learn to care. Get to know them. Everyone takes great pride in the work they produce, and their work is not just a commodity or service you can ask them to fork over, gratis.
Also, this might be a personal preference, but don't pitch your product like a cheesy infomercial. I've opened emails in which they launch into an elaborate novel about their product before even addressing me or saying hello. It makes me feel like a salesperson burst into my front door and starting trying to sell me something random. Remember that you are emailing another human being, not a robot.
2. Put in some damn effort and thought: Make it personal.
I love, love, love when people reach out to me about connecting and collaborating. But something I really wrinkle my nose at? A lazy effort for a big ask.
A random one-off comment on an Instagram post, saying, "love your feed, can I pick your brain over coffee sometime?" is not genuine effort. The effort feels a touch aimlessly desperate yet half-hearted like you're trying to make connections with whoever will say yes; it would be as if someone walked straight up to you in a coffeeshop and asked you on a date, but not bothering to introduce themselves or having any prior interaction to warrant an ask. Would you be inclined to say yes if that happened to you?
Research a person, see what they do, and familiarize yourself with their brand and work. Having worked in PR, nothing irks me more than seeing a completely impersonal and generic template from a PR person filled with vague compliments and then asking to promote their clients product. To add insult to injury, I've gotten multiple pitches where I could tell someone copied and pasted their generic blurb because even the font and sizing of the blurb is different than the "Hi Minna!" at the start of the email.
3. Know your audience + match their tone.
On that note, I've had food companies that use a ton of artificial stuff in their food or unhealthy products pitch me. Had they had taken two minutes to quickly browse through any of my content, they would realize I am not a good match for them at all. I've gotten invited to junk food (chips + soda) events and pitches before... even my bio says I am a trainer and nutrition coach.
It's a waste of time for both parties to send an aimless pitch or try for a collaboration that makes zero sense. Sure, there might be blogger that say yes to a random collaboration for the money, but the result of that promotional effort will never result in anything fruitful for either side. Get to know who you are pitching, their content and style, and audience.
Also, something I learned from becoming a trainer is how important it is to match a person's tone. Being malleable and able to match someone's energy and tone is a huge skill. Go in super cheerily and aggressive to a quieter person, and you are likely to make a poor first impression; same goes for meekly approaching a high-energy personality. Look at their writing on their website and social media pages, and sense what type of vibe they are giving off. Lots of exclamation points and emojis? They probably are cool with you doing something similar. Zero exclamation points? I wouldn't choose to send them lots of heart emojis and an avocado (you guys can send me all the avocado emojis though hehe).
4. Follow up when you say you will
If you're going to ask for someone's time, it is your job to facilitate the logistics and work around that person. Don't just ask, get a yes, then drop the ball. I still am surprised that this happens as frequently as it does. This is something I've seen numerous C-level executives say they shockingly experience more often than it should.
If your product or whatever reason you are asking them to meet is not yet ready, don't reach out. Get your materials ready-- know what you want to discuss, what information you're seeking, and how you're hoping this person can collaborate or help you. When you are the one asking for a favor, you're in the driver seat and determining how successful it will be. Treat their time like you would like yours to be treated!
5. Don't harass
Even if not interested in a collaboration or meeting, I try to send a nice but short response saying I'm passing or don't think it's a good fit, but not everyone will do this.
That being said, people can totally miss emails- so I say you should always follow up at least once (and give them a little leeway, don't follow up the next day), but if you still don't get a response in 1-2 weeks after that, time to drop it. It is clearly not enough of a priority of interest to them, or they simply don't have enough time. Any more emails will just annoy the person you're reaching out to and not make them inclined to work with you in the future.
6. Avoid asking to "pick someone's brain over coffee."
Simply put: I (nor any other professional) am not a library book you can check out for free. As an entrepreneur running multiple businesses, an hour of my time is extremely valuable. I used to feel like that sounded obnoxious to say, but I no longer feel pompous about saying that because knowing your worth is not something to be abashed about--after all, would you ask your dentist for a quick little check up of your teeth for free? Or ask a lawyer for a free hour of advice? Asking for a meeting through a coffee meet up IS asking for a consultation.
However, I am NOT one of those bloggers that is going to be a pompous ass and say "how dare they ask me to coffee, don't they know how busy I am!" Blegh. I totally encourage asking to connect! What I am saying though, is that you need to treat that ask as you would with any other ask of other professionals for a consultation: with respect and genuine intent, not like an orange you just want to squeeze for the juice. I've been to coffees before where people will straight up ask me just how I do everything, like what camera and lens I shoot with, what my schedule looks like, what platforms I use, what connections I've made. Um, hello. I've busted my ASS making my connections, doing my research, and setting up my business. I am not about to hand you my company manual on a platter fo' free.
When I was first starting out on my Instagram, someone I knew from college asked me for a meeting because they were starting their own blog. I felt drilled with questions asking how to do exactly what I worked so hard to build myself, like her asking to watch me go to the farmer's market, where I got all my styling materials, and watch me do an entire shoot.... I quickly started to extract myself from this uncomfortable relationship, but then I started seeing this person do EXACT replicas of my food styling and recipes, then even going so far as to straight up steal my captions word for word. Needless to say, I was NOT pleased at these insanely disrespectful actions.
There is a very big difference between, "How do you do X, Y, and Z?" versus "I'm working on X, and I'm running into trouble with Y- do you have any suggestions on what Z would be best for me? Would greatly appreciate the advice." Ask specific questions pertaining to you, rather than asking general questions about the person you're meeting with.
Lastly, I feel that etiquette is that if you're the one who asked for the coffee meeting, you're the one picking up the tab. I ALWAYS do this. If you're fortunate enough to score a meeting with someone you admire whose hour of time costs hundreds of dollars, forking up $4 for their cappuccino is a steal, don't ya think?