Business professionals are busy people, and the last thing they want is an email from someone who needs a favor. Messages like these can be a distraction and burden
That’s why when I network and send outreach emails, I am careful to always ask for advice and not a favor or handout.
In fact, as I wrote my new book, Wait, How Do I Write This Email?, a collection of 100+ templates for networking, job search, and LinkedIn, I used this tactic multiple times.
Out of 24 outreach emails to people that I wanted to help guide me through the book creation process, 23 of those people responded and offered their help.
That’s a 96% success rate.
Bottom line: Business professionals enjoy sharing knowledge, particularly when someone is willing to be a sponge and soak it all up.
That’s why a networking email like the one below, which asks for a favor right away, is the wrong approach.
Relationship-Building Email: What Not to Do
My name is Jane Smith, and I run Acme Organic Pet Food, a new company that produces and distributes right here in Cleveland. I see on LinkedIn you’re connected to several “big players” in the local pet product business community -- in particular, Jim White over at Acme Pet SuperStore
Would you be willing to introduce me to Jim over email? I’d really appreciate it
Thanks in advance
The email is polite, sure. But it has flaws.
Problem 1: Jane assumes John and Jim are friendly.
What if John and Jim don’t know each other very well? And now Jane has asked for a favor that’s either awkward for John to complete or not possible.
Problem 2: Jane gives John a homework assignment.
John’s first encounter with Jane is an unpleasant one -- he now has to find time to help a stranger and expend his own relationship capital in the process. What a hassle.
So what's the solution to Jane’s misguided email approach?
“Important” people like John and other business execs will often stop in their tracks and respond to an email if the subject line contains a powerful three-word phrase, "I need your advice."
The “ask for advice” strategy is non-threatening and a breath of fresh air. You don’t want people to do work on your behalf; you prefer to absorb their wisdom. We spend our lives amassing knowledge but rarely have an open invitation to share it with someone else. What a luxury to be asked!
When you sit quietly, listen to the person's advice, and come back with smart follow-up questions, you also build a relationship. Each new conversation strengthens your network, which in turn helps your business.
The Ultimate Relationship-Building Email Template
Here’s the outline of the email Jane should have written to John:
[Greeting of choice],
[Statement that provides the context in which you met or what you’re asking for.]
[Request to meet with the person to listen and learn.]
[Closing of choice]
Here's what the email template looks like in practice:
My name is Jane Smith, and I run Acme Organic Pet Food, a new company that produces and distributes right here in Cleveland. I am relatively new to the pet product business and still learning my way as I grow Acme Organic
I know you have a lot of experience in the space, and it would be great to sit with you and learn about the industry as well as the “do’s” and “don’ts” as I get started
Please let me know if you’re free over the next couple of weeks for coffee. I’d appreciate the chance to ask questions
Note how Jane asks for advice to build trust with John and, over time, make him part of her network. As she grows her pet food business, she will need mentors and allies.
And it’s possible that, after the coffee chat, John will agree to connect her to Jim White -- the owner of Acme Pet SuperStore that she so wants to meet. But that’s because she’s created a level of trust and built a relationship the right way.
Here are more subject lines for this type of email that you can use or adapt for your unique situation:
General networking subject lines:
- "Friend of [mutual acquaintance] who needs your advice"
- "Fellow [your industry] professional who needs your advice"
- "Could you help?"
- "I'm a little lost"
College alumni subject lines:
- "Fellow [your college] grad who needs your advice"
- "[Mascot name] in need of advice"
- "Time for a fellow [college name] grad?"
Industry leader subject lines:
- "Big fan of your work who needs your advice"
- "Inspired fan needs your advice"
- "Advice for a hustler like you?"
Interoffice subject lines:
- "New employee who needs your advice"
- "I'm new here ... and a little lost"
- "Question from the new hire"
Good luck with your next outreach email and remember: The best way to build a relationship is to listen, learn, and ask questions.