If there is one lesson in my life that gets proven true over and over, it is this:
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart
I have made a lot of major decisions in the past year: Quitting my corporate finance job, setting-off to travel the world for a year, and even deciding to finally give self-employment a real shot.
Deciding to aggressively pursue starting our own business was scary, but reaching out to bloggers (our target market) that we have been reading for years to ask for feedback on our business concept was scarier.
Would they respond?
Would they think our idea was stupid?
Would we just hear crickets?
We weren’t sure what would happen, but because we really needed feedback on our business concept, we decided to act.
We ran our concept and initial email by a few trusted friends that fit our target market so that they could help refine our message. Then 50 bloggers were selected, emails were drafted, and we put ourselves out there.
“I believe that success can be measured in the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have.” – Tim Ferriss
Now it’s time to share what we learned about emailing highly influential people online and how you can improve your chances of getting a response.
The Power Of Networking
Cold-emailing is rough.
How do you make a connection with someone that you have never met? How do you then ask them to give insightful feedback when they are surely busy with 10,000 things of their own?
We were lucky to have met some fantastic travel bloggers at a travel blogging conference in Umbria, Italy. But sometimes you can’t meet influential people in person.
So before you go out cold-emailing a huge list of people, why not use the power of social media to introduce yourself?
Shoot them a tweet about how much you loved their last article. Post on their Facebook fan page a cool article that you think they would really enjoy.
Engage with their community so that when they do get an email from you, they are much more likely to at least respond.
But you won’t be able to start a digital relationship with everyone, so here is what you can do to improve your chances of getting a response from a cold-email.
Always Test Your Messaging
We know our business concept backwards and forwards.
We call it Soovees and we are aiming to make it easier for bloggers to sell physical products on their site through the power of group purchasing. If you want the long version, you can read all about it here.
But while we know everything about our idea, nobody else does. What is the best way to explain to someone you don’t know, an idea they have never heard of before?
So we decided to test what type of email would work best and wrote 2 options:
- We wrote a short 3/4 page teaser email that explained what problems we were trying to solve, why we wanted that specific person’s feedback, and what we were looking for them to do (answer a few questions about our concept). It then directed to the Soovees website where they could find much more detail.
- We kept the bulk of the 3/4 page email, but then added an additional page that described in much greater detail what the concept was and how it would work. Including our signature, the email topped out at just under 2 pages. Yikes!
We then emailed 20 people and sent half option #1 and half option #2. Which email do you think performed better?
We assumed #1, since the people we were emailing were busy and had no idea who we were. Isn’t brevity the key to emails?
But we were so WRONG!
The only thing that email #1 delivered was either people asking for more info because they didn’t understand what we were talking about or complete silence. Plus, the people asking for more info rarely replied once we sent them a follow-up.
Email #2 though (the one that was insanely long) had a slightly lower overall response rate but provided much more in-depth feedback.
If You Want In-Depth Feedback, Provide Enough Detail Upfront
If you’re pitching people your business concept by email and are only looking for a meeting, short emails might peak their interest. If you’re looking for immediate feedback, you are much better providing detailed info.
So, did we stop after some initial feedback on the concept?
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
We applied what we learned from our first 20 emails and identified another 30 bloggers that could potentially provide great feedback on our idea. We then created 2 more emails to test and sent each to 15 people.
For this round of tests, we looked at the problems we had originally identified for our target market. Our first email kept the same set of issues, but the second email changed them to focus more around the idea of how to extract the powerful brand capital that many big blogs have built.
I am so glad that we tested our assumed problems, as we got many more passionate responses with our second email.
Apparently, our initial thought that bloggers are looking to connect with their audiences offline was not that crucial. What these bloggers wanted was a new way to leverage the power of the passionate audiences they were building.
Our Advice To You
- Decide To Act – Draw a list of top people you want to email and set a date to do it by.
- Test – Don’t email your entire list. Email a small sample with different messages to test response rate.
- Iterate – Continue to test your messaging and improve your emails with each new batch sent.
We received some incredible feedback from people we thought were too busy/important/cool to ever email us back. We also made some great contacts with people that offered themselves up as informal advisors.
Of the people that responded with detailed feedback, the overall response to our concept can be summed up as “intrigued”. Nobody was willing to actually work with us to run a beta test of a sale, but felt that Soovees could address some real problems.
With feedback in hand, we now are trying to figure out next steps. Any thoughts?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill