When coaching new entrepreneurs and authors about strategically connecting with influencers and potential clients, I use the three-sentence rule to focus a message. I’ve used it myself, and with clients, to establish new business relationships, referrals and even coveted book endorsements.
To explain this rule, let’s pretend we’re introducing ourselves to a power broker named Riz Clargley:
Dear delete me
Seriously. Don’t use the word “Dear” to greet someone, unless that person is your grandparent.
Instead, use “Ms. Clargley” or simply “Riz.” Adding a simple “Hi” or “Hello” is also acceptable. The point is to be yourself, move straight to the first sentence and avoid alerting the recipient to the fact that you’re a frightened rookie.
Sentence 1: Why
Tell Clargley why you’re interrupting her busy day in one punchy line. This sentence must contain these specific elements:
- Why the recipient should care about your email. This might include some shared common personal or professional connections. Perhaps you’re from the same home state or university. Casually mention one or two of those shared interests, but don’t sound like a stalker.
- Proof you’re familiar with their work, achievements and worldview. For example, “I love your latest blog, and I’m writing with a related question.” Familiarity with Clargley’s professional world shows respect and lets her know this isn’t a form letter.
Sentence 2: Who
Show Clargley who you are and what you bring to the conversation. In other words, answer this question in the recipient’s mind: Who is this person and why should I care? Make it clear you are a peer who brings value to the table. Of course, do this in a non-overt way. Instead of saying, “I’m a pretty big deal, founder of the hottest new startup,” try something like, “My employees sometimes ask me similar questions regarding…”
Notice you didn’t mention your title or the size of your business, but this line shows Clargley you are a leader of a company and have more than zero staff. No staff? No problem. Mention client issues, which shows you have clients, or some part of your background that conveys you are on a winning track.
By the way, if your signature declares you’re both president and CEO, this signals smallness, not greatness.
Sentence 3: What
Simply ask Clargley what you want to ask. Be clear. Don’t apologize. Most importantly, remember she’s busy. Provide her something she can simply reply to with a “yes.”
If your real goal is a phone call, don’t ask, “Could we have a phone call some time?” This requires consideration and questions about when and how long. Instead, write, “Is Monday at 2 or 3 p.m. a good time for me to call your office for a quick 8-minute chat?”
This sentence tells Clargley you respect her time, are willing to do the time-zone math, and all she needs to do is pick up the phone. Whatever your “ask” is, make it clear and simple to say “yes” to.
Get to the subject
Now that you’ve articulated a clear who, what and why, consider the best subject line for your email. The goal of your subject line is to:
- Stay out of spam folders.
- Be opened, not deleted.
- Start the conversation on the right foot.
I recommend subject lines that are tailor-made for the recipient. For example, “Quick question about your article on leadership” or “Recommendation from our mutual friend, Landy.”
Cryptic subject lines like “Question” or “Connecting” will likely be ignored.
P.S.: More writing tips
- Don’t use a P.S. unless you’re writing sales and marketing copy.
- Avoid frequent “I” contact. If your three-sentence email has the word “I” or “me” in it six times, keep editing.
- Be nervous, but don’t send a nervous email. Humor, punchy writing and lack of awkward formality show confidence. Self-deprecation has no place in this email. Successful people are repelled by fear and gravitate toward confidence.
- Use an email address with your company domain. Gmail will often go to spam folders, and even if it doesn’t, lack of a bespoke email address shows you are not in it to win it.
- Brevity shows respect. Clargley knows if you don’t respect her time, you’re not worth taking time to reply to.
- Wide open spaces make for pleasant reading. Have you ever received an email consisting of one long 200-word paragraph? Don’t send something similar to Clargley. Put a blank line between every sentence of your email.
- Do your research and make sure you have the best email address for your potential client. If Clargley works at a large corporation and you can’t find her email address, try to find out her assistant’s address. The same rules apply to emailing assistants.
You have one chance to make a connection, and this chance lasts about 10 seconds. Make sure you don’t waste it.
This article was published in August 2017 and has been updated. Photo by Elena Katkova/IStock