Get Busy People to Answer Your Emails and Do Stuff for You

Angel investor Jason Cohen advises what to do and not do when reaching out to busy strangers over email. He gets dozens of emails a day from people wanting advice, time, for him to tweet something, for him to blog about something. Most he marks as spam, but he does answer a few.  He’s got great tips and he also gives a ton of examples of people who have reached out to him successfully (and some examples that didn’t work). This is really well done. Bookmark it.

1. Keep it short (“Anything longer than 150 words means you’ve assigned me a project.”)

2. Have a realistic call to action (“It has to be clear, sensible, and something that I plausibly would agree to do.”)

3. Don’t be a stranger (“When I get email from someone I recognize from blog comments or Twitter interactions, I almost always help out with advice, spreading the word, anything.”)

4. Make me excited (“An easy way to get me automatically more excited is to dovetail whatever you’re doing with whatever I’m doing.”)

---
---
---
---
---

17 Comments / Post A Comment

Megano! (#124)

ACTUALLY KNOW THEIR NAME

I mean no, I never get emails from people who expect me to help them for nothing and they don’t even know my name.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Megano! Logan and I sometimes get emails addressed to the both of us that say: “Dear Sirs.”

Megano! (#124)

@Mike Dang Yeah, we have no male editors and I get those too.

questingbeast (#2,409)

@Mike Dang I’ve been reading this site for months and I only realised a couple of days ago that Logan is a woman. Easy mistake? (Or, I’m a dimwit.)

Mike Dang (#2)

@questingbeast Easy mistake! I mean, Logan is an ambiguous name. But also, there was a video of the two us a while back on here that would have probably cleared that up!


“I understand your confusion”

@stuffisthings I love that movie!

ThatJenn (#916)

Yes. Half of my job – and nearly all of my job success – depends upon getting busy professors to write back to me about things they don’t feel like dealing with. While this is decidedly different from trying to get celebrities to write back to you, the same basic rules apply. (Plus: if you do need lots of info for some reason and it’s plausible that this person will/should respond, phrase them as multiple choice wherever possible and number them, so people can write back “1. yes 2. no 3. Assistant Professor of Anthropology 4. I like plan a you’ve proposed here 5. Will do”)

And even if you have to send something to a lot of people – I frequently do – if at all possible, write each as an email addressed to that specific person by name.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@ThatJenn As the assistant to the busy professor who is often vetting those emails for you, I appreciate the numbered/multiple choice thing, and so does he. It’s the only way even I can get answers out of him, no less people he doesn’t know.

ThatJenn (#916)

@bgprincipessa OMG I love every one of their assistants. (a, they always get copied if I know who they are, b, they make it happen for me, and c, I used to be the assistant to a CEO and the steward of his email so I know just what that’s like.)

ThatJenn (#916)

@bgprincipessa I actually almost put “BCC their assistant” in my list of extra tips. :)

bgprincipessa (#699)

@ThatJenn Yes, I get so happy when people include me because if they don’t it just gets forwarded to me anyway, so might as well skip the middle man. I used to work for a CEO as well – jury’s still out on which has been the better (worse?) experience. Very different environment and duties. Most importantly – I do much less personal bidding around here. This time last year I was buying somebody’s mom a robe…. and it was not my mom.

ThatJenn (#916)

@bgprincipessa YES, that’s exactly why I quit that job. I was researching used tilt-a-whirls for him to put in his barn for his grandkids to play on and booking his haircuts and finding books about muskrats for his grandkids’ school reports and taking his blood pressure and updating his son’s wedding registry, and while I liked what his company did I found that part of the job exasperating, even kind of unprofessional (though when you are the owner and CEO and president of a company, I guess you get to decide what’s professional for yourself).

bgprincipessa (#699)

@ThatJenn Oh my goodness I think I’m having PTSD flashbacks with your descriptions. Mine did not have grandkids but was in fact, super young. And I have memories of Victoria’s Secret receipts and emails from his girlfriend about “exhausting mornings” dfjaioshtoasith.

ThatJenn (#916)

@bgprincipessa Ewwwwww yuck. That would be worse, I think! This guy’s two sons were his vice presidents and their kids would come in and run around the halls and mess with people’s desks, which was annoying but livable. The most annoying thing was how he dragged everyone in the company into his personal stuff, like our networking guys trying to figure out how to get wifi for his barn, our shipping guys doing repairs around his house, and our tech support guys trying to fix his blood pressure monitor and installing his home TV.

It’s kind of rude/passive aggressive to mark something as spam if it’s just ill-considered or you don’t want to answer it — that has consequences for the person especially if using something like Gmail.

That said, my 1 Thing for tomorrow might just be to mark as spam the guy who sends me dozens of invites to the same event day after day…

I read that post a few weeks ago and nodded so hard my head nearly fell off. As a busy editor, pretty much all those points apply as well.

Wish I had an email minion to help keep my inbox under control.

Post a Comment