Cold Emailing Tips and Takeaways:

  1. Be relevant in your cold email
  2. Send follow-up emails
  3. Write cold email copy that follows these best practices
  4. Test and set goals for your cold email campaign

Cold emails aren’t a numbers game.

You don’t have to send 1000s of emails just to score a disheartening open rate of 2%.

(That’s the often-touted open rate for cold emails, BTW.)

That’s all just a lie perpetuated by marketers who suck at cold emailing… and who want to make you feel like you’re as horrible at this delicate skill as they are.

Truth be told:

Cold emails can – and do – work.

How do I know?

Because I used 328 of ’em to launch my business and grow it 1400% in 4 months. My aggressive cold email campaign had a 56% open rate and a top-notch positive reply rate of 9%.

One of those cold emails brought in nearly $20k in revenue for me. Not a shabby start to my freelance business.

Thanks to cold emails, I’ve connected with New York Times bestselling authors like Lisa Scottoline, Chris Guillebeau and Matt Kempes. Thanks to cold emails, I ended up working with Selena Soo (Ramit Sethi’s star student and successful publicity coach) for nearly a year. And my cold emails are consistently forwarded to the hiring person on a team – like in this case:

By the end of my first year in business, I ended up with more work than I could handle. I was working close to full-time with several clients. My business grew ridiculously. All thanks to cold emails.

If you don’t wanna try cold emails because you’re convinced they don’t work, cool by me.

Your cold emails don’t start working until you get THIS right

A SaaS company doesn’t care about the nuances in running an ecommerce or consulting business.

They want to know how to increase CLTV, improve onboarding and decrease churn.

So if you send them a cold email on writing product descriptions, they’re gonna hit delete.

Because they don’t sit around thinking, “How oh how can I write better product descriptions?”

If you send them anything like the following cold email, which I got at my side-hustle business, expect NO reply:

Good example of a bad cold email
Is this cold email gonna get a reply? Probably a delete.

So how do you write an effective cold email that gets this kind of response:

This is where most people jump first:

You personalize your cold emailInclude their name in the subject and in the email body copy at least 2x. 

Yes, including their name is important.

But that’s not the path to a 9% positive reply rate.

In a world where a business professional gets an average of 84 emails a day, you need something extra

A little somethan’ somethan’ can make you stand out in their full-beyond-capacity inbox.

Your somethan’ is being relevant to your reader.

Being relevant is the secret sauce that makes a cold email feel warm. Chadwick Martin Bailey found the second top reason for U.S. email users to unsubscribe from a business or nonprofit subscription is this: the content is no longer relevant. Being relevant grabs your reader’s attention and keeps them reading your cold email. It makes your reader think you can give them what they want… which is Step 1 in the conversion funnel.

People care about themselves. They don’t care about you.

(Not a big shocker – you’re the same way.)

When your cold email shows up in their inbox, that email is just another thing they have to deal with.

So make that email worth their time. Be specific and relevant.

When you write a cold email that’s relevant to your reader, THAT’S damn persuasive. It’s like meeting someone who adores cold-brewed coffee, John Steinbeck and black labs. 😍 Just like you. #berelevant

“So, wait, you’re saying my cold email shouldn’t be personalized?”

Don’t get me wrong – personalization is awesome. Personalized emails improve click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.

But you want bigger improvements than 14%, right?

After all, you need to send a LOT of emails to feel the impact of a 14% lift.

Relevance is about connecting the dots between “hey, I know your name” (personalized cold email) to “I can help you meet your biz goals” (smokin’ hot email).

Relevance shows your reader that you GET them. And by getting them, you’re a partner aligned toward success. You just might make their lives easier. And you just might make them more money.

So here’s how to be relevant without just relying on personalization.

I rewrote that cold email above so it’s more relevant (and persuasive) to the reader.

Pause for a sec and give it a read. See if you can feel the difference:

Look at that hook! “Did you know your website isn’t visible on Google’s first page of search results?”

That’s relevant to the reader.

And so is the line that follows.

And the next line.

The whole thing uses the same information that the control cold email used – but this rewrite feels relevant to the reader because it takes place in their context.

Relevance is putting personalization into context for your reader.

Here’s another example. Check out this snippet of a cold email that got the sender an in-person meeting with Noah Kagan, founder of Sumo and AppSumo:


How I lost your Sperry’s.. and apt. And why you should meet with me.


I kept bidding them up.. to $600. Then I stopped with 3 seconds left and the other person won.

I didn’t want the apartment. I was going to use it as an expensive excuse to get an App idea in front of you…and we wear the same size shoes. I have since bought a pair of Sperry’ Sperries? Size 11 – they fit!

Why you should meet with me:

1. I’m the founder and CEO of Gray. I’ve been running this business for the past nine years. I started it when I was 24. I have 70 employees in Austin and operations in China. I love my business. It’s profitable and I’m really good at it. However, I want to do more.

2. I’m Jewish – I hate playing that card, but.. what the fuck.

Now here’s an analysis of that cold email. The bold stuff is the original email. The italicized lines are Noah Kagan’s thoughts and reactions. The underlines are my enthusiastic notes on what’s so awesome about this:

THAT’S a cold email. It’s so ridiculously relevant, it feels like Noah and the sender must actually know each other.

So we’re starting to see that, indeed, relevance is key to great cold email results. Now comes the obvious question:

How can you actually BE relevant to someone you don’t know?

Here’s how I do it.

1. Frame your message (you’re a copywriter, after all!)

“Framing” can be a confusing concept for marketers and non-marketers alike.

So to illustrate what framing is all about, let’s put one of Monet’s best-known paintings – Water Lilies – in a green frame:

With that frame in place, what do you notice most?

Green lily leaves.

Not the water lilies.

Think of framing as putting an invisible-to-the-naked-eye frame around your words to highlight certain points.

As Stuart Diamond writes in Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World:

“Framing means packaging information or presenting it using specific words and phrases that will be persuasive to the other party. If a restaurant is late with your reservation, ask, ‘Does this restaurant stand by its word?’ Or, to any service provider, ‘Is it your goal to make customers happy?'”

To figure out your frame, you need to ask yourself one question: “What is really going on here?”

Don’t make your reader guess at your point or what connection you’re making. He won’t.

Instead, do the heavy-lifting and put your message into context for your reader. Forget all the detail, and frame the conversation to focus it.

Explain how your offer benefits your prospect’s business goals. Sounds like you’re gonna be mind-reading, and whoa, that’s not possible yet. Take a deep breath. It’s easier than you’re imagining.

Most often, their business goal is one of these (focus on ONE for a stronger, more succinct message):

  • Make more money
  • Get more clients
  • Reduce expenses
  • Grow their business (reach, market share)
  • Look awesome to their boss/clients

Tailor your message to the goal of the person you’re writing to. That goal depends on their job and seniority level. A CEO or founder cares about the big picture and getting more clients (aka long-term growth). A marketing manager who desires to become marketing director cares about looking awesome to her boss.

Steal a page from these bad boys: 88% of the best-in-class B2B content marketers tailor content to the needs of the audience.

In your case, the audience is your email’s reader. Tailor accordingly.

Here are the best places to be relevant in a cold email:

  • Subject line
  • Use name in salutation
  • Compliment on recent win in opening line
  • Examples tying their goal to your offer

That last item is key.


My best cold emails used specific testimonials from the company’s site as possibilities to flesh out into customer success stories. That specificity showed that I a) did my homework and b) cared enough to do my homework which meant c) I’m a professional.

I emailed Roger, Gigster’s founder. He forwarded my email to Chris, the marketing director.

To get this level of relevance, research on your reader is vital.

Time spent researching is time well spent.

3. Research to make your email super-relevant
(Plus a winning subject line formula that proves why)

A Lead Genius sales exec sent out a cold email campaign. He tested 4 different subject lines.

The winning subject line was this:

I found you through {{contact_firstname}} {{contact_lastname}}

As you can see, that subject line formula brought in an average:

  • Open rate of 87%
  • Click rate of 15%
  • Reply rate of 26%

Why did this sales exec’s subject line work so well?

Because it contained relevant information to the reader that was based on doing the work. More often than not, the “work” is research. The work is not writing the email. That becomes a 67-second job once you’ve done the research.

When I write my cold emails, I research:

  • The person I’m emailing (aka my reader)
  • Their job position
  • How long they’ve been in that position
  • Recent news/accomplishments about that person (aka flattery)
  • Recent news about their company (aka flattery)
  • Any new projects their company is working on releasing or has just released
  • Info about them that’s directly related to my offer

Including flattery or a compliment in your cold email is helpful.

Make that compliment specific, and it’s 10x better.

Why do compliments work so well? Because you want to warm up a cold email to make your reader feel like you’re a colleague of a colleague sending an email. Instead of the truth: that you’re a total stranger emailing out of the blue. Use a compliment to bridge that gap. Research has shown that flattery, even if it’s insincere, creates persistent positive feelings in the recipient.

Okay, now let me clarify this point: “info directly related to my offer.”

What do I mean by that? And how does it create an effective cold email?

Great questions.

Here’s my offer: I write cold emails for case study writing services.

So, for me, researching “info about them that’s directly related to my offer” means researching:

  • Which testimonials on their site would be prime ones to turn into success stories
  • How many success stories the company already had on their site
  • How detailed or in-depth those stories were
  • Stats to show what life could look like for the company after they accepted my offer
  • How my offer could help them accomplish their goal ( i.e. show social proof for a new launch, give content collateral for new product)

Your research will look different from mine because you’re pitching a service other than case studies. I think.

The information I found dictated exactly what I put into my email. That way, my cold email was super relevant to my reader’s job desires and responsibilities.

Where’d I do this research? On myriad sources. My favorites:

  • Google searches on company name
  • Google searches on my reader
  • Rapportive Gmail plug-in (to show my reader’s social feeds) <– requires a level of contact already established
  • TechCrunch news
  • LinkedIn (TIP: DON’T SIGN IN! Keep your search private)

Don’t template your cold email immediately! Testing is your learning opportunity

Hand to God, my first cold emails were awful.

I used that silence – no response – as a testing opportunity.

As legendary copywriter Claude Hopkins said:

“Tests are important and help us to understand our customers. Good selling is based on good testing.”

So I tested my little heart out.

I tested:

  • Subject lines
  • From name
  • Timing of emails (day of week and time of day)
  • Timing of follow up emails
  • CTAs
  • Relevance of my offer to their business
  • Stats proving my offer would help their business

I used Streak to track opens. It’s free. And far better than driving yourself crazy wondering if your emails are getting opened…. or landing in the universe’s black hole of Missing Things.

Streak shows you a green eye icon on your email when it’s opened. This was the easiest, cheapest way I found to test my subject lines and from names.

Keep your head on straight and use CRM software to track who to follow up with and when. Trust me, you don’t want to rely on your sticky notes system for this campaign. I used Streak right inside my Gmail. It’s a little clunky, but again: it was free. You can upgrade to paid once you’ve got the kinks of cold emailing sorted out.

Thanks to testing, my open rates started to rise.

Replies peppered my inbox.

Work filled up my calendar.

Once I figured out a cold email that worked well, I templated it. You should, too.

You can save an email template with Canned Responses (a lab in Gmail – click here for install instructions). If you use MixMax you can create loads of different templates and use any one of ’em in a click.

With a template, the work of writing an email is nearly eliminated. All you’ll do is:

  1. Insert the template into a new email
  2. Swap out your [template markers] with relevant info <– the research you did
  3. Proofread
  4. Hit ‘send’

You’ve already seen the well-performing cold email that I sent out (and brought me $20,000 in revenue).

Here’s a template of that very same cold email for you to use:

Hi {Firstname},

Hope your week is going well. I read about {positive company news, like a write-up in TechCrunch or a new product launch}. Congrats!

I was checking out {company} website and noticed you don’t have any {outcome of service you’re offering; this is the identification of the problem}.

Do you need help with this? As an experienced {expert in service you’re offering}, I {what you do for clients}.

With your {company news} and need to build trust and growth, I imagine {statement of how it could be very easy to fix the problem you’ve identified}. For example, {free tidbit of advice}.

As you may know, research has shown that {stat to answer your prospect’s “so what?” and “why should I care?” questions}.

Recently I helped {similar company} achieve {X result} with a {service you’re offering}. You can check the details out here.

Because of my background as a {job position}, I can clearly {insert your USP or relevant work experience to provide credibility} to get {company} {your reader’s business goal}.

When are you open for a 15-minute call next week to chat about how we can work together? Looking forward to hearing from you.


{Your name}

Use this template here >

Strap on your big boy pants: FOLLOW UP

Don’t be scared to follow up.

Seriously. Follow up.

Emails get buried in inboxes all the time. When I was a litigation paralegal at a busy law firm, I sent and received hundreds of emails a day. It was easy to miss one little email. And here’s a dirty secret: if no follow up email was sent, I figured that email wasn’t too important to the sender. I hit delete and went merrily on my way. One more thing off my plate.

Don’t let that deletable email be YOUR cold email in a busy person’s inbox.

The good folks at Anymail Finder sent out a sales email, but likely missed out on 90% of the people by not following up. At the same time, they got emails from people who sent them 4-5 additional follow up emails. The Anymail Finder team responded to 90% of them. Why?

“By the third email you really start to read what they’re saying. Only emails that were completely irrelevant were ignored and even then we’d still consider responding to tell them.”

Long story short: if done right, a follow up email is appreciated.

As Sam Parr says:

“Big shots get 100’s of emails a day, so they’ll most likely ignore you. Don’t take it personally. You must follow up. When I was a noob, I thought this was nagging. It’s not. Just make sure to add an easy out. Something like ‘if you’re not interested in this, no sweat…I’m still a fan of your company.’

As long you’re tasteful, you can send 7 to 10 emails every 5 days without being annoying.

I can’t emphasize enough how important following up is. I’ve chatted with the founders of GoPro, Thrillist, Gilt, and Twitter all because I’m constantly following up. Sure, they may not always say yes, but they will remember me.”

Make sure your follow up email hits these 3 main points

1. It’s quick and to the point. Your goal is 3 sentences max.

2. Make your follow-up email’s CTA relevant to your first email’s CTA.

3. Have only 1 question in your follow up CTA.

Make that one question very easy to answer or take action on. You’re leading the reader down a specific path. Your goal is to get them on the phone for an initial consult call.

Not to buy your productized service. Not to book you for a project. Not to lock you down for a $X,000/month retainer project.

Start small, young Padawan. One crumb at a time.

Here are some follow up email templates:

Hey [name], I’m following up with you on the below email.

Do you have some time next week for a quick 15 min chat on how [your offer] can boost [your reader’s business goal]?


Hi [name],

Hope your week is off to a great start.

I’m following up with you on the below email.

Would you have 15 min next week for a quick chat on how I might save you [X hours] per project with [your offer] to get [reader’s company] more [clients, users, revenue, growth]?

Once you figure out a follow up email that’s performing well in opens and replies, template that workhorse.

These templates are also in this document >

Great email copy is your secret handshake… with the big players

Don’t be intimidated by – or talk yourself out of – emailing top industry peeps.

Gimme a superhero stance. Hands on hips. Chest out. Chin up and facing the evils threatening your world.

The people you are trying to reach are PEOPLE. Humans. Like you. They want what you want: recognition, authenticity, to improve and grow more (in money, courage, skill set). Your cold email is the first step in connecting them to what they want. It’s the handshake. It’s the small “yes.”

You need that first yes to set up a consistency loop for future yeses.

Dr. Robert Cialdini explains it this way:

“Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision.”

So here’s your cold email’s #1 goal: to get them onto the next step of potentially becoming a client – an initial consult call.

Like great conversion copy, your cold email’s focus is on the reader. Focus on his goals, desires, success and job. Anyone is reachable by cold email if you do it right.

Case in point:

When I first launched my freelance copywriting business, I reached out to Smartsheet’s director of marketing. (Quick stats: their average MRR is $5.4M and used by 10 million people at 85,000 organizations as of 2016. No small chicken, you know.) I sent out my best cold email and followed up.

Even after I got an initial no, I checked back a few weeks later.

Magically, that initial no had turned into a yes. I ended up on a phone call with the marketing department head.

But check out the number of email exchanges before I got a yes:

K, started cold emailing? Great – now here’s how to improve your cold emails

Let’s say you’re ready to start cold emailing. You’ve got the templates. You’ve got the courage to aim high. Now here’s how to improve those cold emails you’re sending:

1. Pay attention to the emails you’re opening (or deleting).

2. Sort those emails into two swipe files: good and bad emails. These emails give insight to what’s working (and not) for you. If it works on you, pretty likely it’ll work on someone else.

3. When you go to write a cold email… Read through your good email swipe file. Make mental (or pen on paper) notes of what’s triggering a positive response for you. Figure out how to use that in your own cold email.

4. Don’t read just cold emails. If you’re like me, you’re bombarded by emails. See them as your crash course in writing a damn good email, and read:

  • Regular newsletter emails (Ramit Sethi, Derek Halpern and Afford Anything are my favs)
  • Emails from friends
  • Emails from colleagues
  • Sales emails

5. Ask yourself: what makes a great email? Why do you reply immediately to some emails and procrastinate on others? What words do you respond to in an email? Any specific tone or voice that stirs you to action? A story that’s told?

Pay attention to the emails you’re opening and the emotions triggered by its copy.

How can you use those same techniques in your cold emails to make them more effective?

Avoid these 3 major mistakes in a cold email

MISTAKE 1. You email an assistant or lower-rung person when you can’t find the right person

Please don’t do this. Really. Do not do this. Your email will get lost or ignored in the “I don’t know what to do with this” pile.

Your fix = email the top dog (CEO, founder, director of marketing).

If your email resonates with her, she’ll forward your email to the right person to handle it. Plus, you’ll have added social proof with that new person that the Boss wants her to reply to you.

First step is finding the boss’s email address. These can help:

  • Anymail
  • Google: find anyone’s email address at the company to determine the company’s email format (ex: or

Second step? Send that killer cold email. (Here’s the template again)

But be careful: use this technique ONLY after you’ve tested your cold email and have a winning combo of subject line, lede, relevant offer, easy CTA. You want this cold email as strong as you can make it.

MISTAKE 2. You flat-out avoid cold emails

I get it. Emailing a total stranger with an ask is sweaty-armpits, shaky-hands intimidating.

Your fix = realize most of the fear is in your head.

Yes, at first it’s hard. But when was the last time an easy action gave you what you wanted? A hot bod only comes after a heart-pounding jog. A date with the pretty girl only comes after summoning the courage to ask her out. A loyal canine companion only comes after puppy stage + picking up shredded shoes and underwear.

I’ll be honest: the first couple cold emails are the hardest. It took me days to send them. Obsessing over every line. Worrying if I’d misspelled “strategy.”

But after a week of cold emailing, it was easier. It was my daily routine and that’s not scary. If you’ve decided cold emails can grow your business, do it. Send those bad boys out into the world.

MISTAKE 3. You aren’t specific

I hate getting cold emails that start off: “Dear Sir/Madam…”

Ugh. As I’m married, technically I’m a madam, but I’d prefer if you call me miss, thank you. Makes me feel younger and less like the boss of a house of ill-repute.

Your fix = get specific about who you’re emailing.

If you know your audience, it’s not a problem.

Yes, this does mean using some Internet stalking and creeping on them. (I prefer to call it research.)

Be specific to them and their:

  • Job
  • Stressors/worries
  • Desires
  • How your solution helps them look like a rockstar: use words like “because” and “so you’ll (specific outcome)”

This specificity includes the stories you tell in your emails.

For the love of God, always tell a story in your email. A story ensures a captivated reader and sticky messaging. Are you telling me that you don’t want that? Didn’t think so.

To recap, an effective cold email must:

  • Be relevant to your reader and answer his question, “why should I care?” To answer that question, research your reader, his company, and his job.
  • After you’ve sent your cold email, send follow up emails. Great things come to those with great persistence.
  • Remember: we live in an amazing world where anyone is reachable by email. (Unless you’re Jason Bourne living off the grid. In that case, good luck. Can’t help ya there.)
  • Great email copy is your secret handshake into that world.
  • Finally, test and set goals for your cold email campaign. Only then will you stay motivated to keep cold emailing, and know when you’ve reached success.

With every cold email, avoid these 3 common, deal-breaking mistakes:

  1. Emailing a low-rung person
  2. Avoiding cold emailing
  3. Not being specific

The fixes to the above are 1) email the CEO or founder, 2) just do it and 3) know your reader through research.

Next up: decide whom you want to work with, and go cold email ’em.


Featured image by Roxane Clediere on Unsplash

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