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Weekly 3: How to contact busy people

Summary: Be relevant. Build on common ground. Write emails that get a response. (~7 min read)

Idea Journal Weekly 3

November 25 · Issue #62 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Be relevant. Build on common ground. Write emails that get a response. (~7 min read)

#1. Caring about other people can be mutually beneficial
In his manifesto about how to distinguish yourself, author and entrepreneur Rajesh Setty writes that if we don’t make ourselves relevant to the people we’re trying to reach, they will tune us out and our message will fail to get across.
Ask yourself: How do you feel when someone continues to talk with you about something that isn’t relevant to you?
Chances are it can be hard to stay engaged and interested over time.
For Setty, striving to be relevant can make a big difference in your life – not only with prospective business partners and clients, but even with your family and friends.
He tells the story of how one unsolicited but relevant email led to a new friendship:
“A few months ago, I received an unsolicited email from my (now) good friend Bob Thomas. It was an announcement about a brand new magazine called Enterprise Open Source Journal, the first magazine dealing with open source in the enterprise. Being in the open source business for the last four years, I did not consider this spam and, in fact, thanked Bob for sending this to me, albeit unsolicited. Why? One key reason was that this information was very relevant to my business and myself.”
The key to increasing your relevance is to genuinely care about the people you interact with.
Once you care, you start to notice what is relevant to them, rather than focusing on what’s relevant to you.
#2. What are your shared passions?
In his book Enchantment, author and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki cites research by social scientists John Carlisle and Neil Rackman, which shows that the best negotiators spend 40% of their preparation time finding shared interests with the other party.
How much effort do you invest when you interact with people?
Kawasaki recommends the following 3 steps for finding shared interests:
1. Assume everyone has passions: Everyone is passionate about something, and it’s your job to find out what it is. When in doubt, good places to start are family, food, hobbies, sports, and travel.
2. Assume you have something in common: If you assume that you share interests with someone, you’ll be more likely to find them. If you assume you don’t, you probably won’t find any because you’ll give up too easily.
3. Do your homework: Put in the time to research their concerns, educational background, perspectives, and work.
Kawasaki is an avid hockey player, and he admits that when strangers tell him they also play hockey, it lowers his resistance to their pitch: “If nothing else, I respect them for making the effort to learn my passion.”
#3. Write more effective emails
Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss writes on his blog that email is like food: “Good recipes produce good results, but you need to follow the proper steps.”
He offers the following 5 tips for writing effective emails to people who might delete more email in a day than you read in a week:
1. Get to the point: Keep your message as short as possible, and make sure your specific request is clear. Avoid vague messages like: Let’s have a phone call – it’ll be worth your time.
2. Don’t wear out your welcome: If you made a good impression during your first conversation or meeting, make your subsequent interactions as valuable as possible. Don’t send “zero-content” emails simply to keep in touch.
3. Show that you’ve done your part: If you’re asking for help, show what you’ve already done to try to find a solution. Don’t ask people who are busier than you for answers that Google could provide in 20 seconds: “That puts you on the banned list.”
4. Use the “executive recruiter referral trick”: A seasoned recruiter usually won’t call an employed C-suite executive and ask them to take another position. Instead, they’ll ask the executive if they know anyone who might be interested in the given role.
While the recruiter’s intention is clear (Would you consider this role over your current employer?), the referral trick gives the executive a comfortable and easy way to decline.
5. Make it OK to decline: Make it clear that it’s fine if the person can’t help, isn’t interested, or is already too committed to other obligations. Paradoxically, this raises the likelihood that you’ll get a response.
Ferriss includes the below example of an email he received that follows these 5 tips:
“Hi Tim,
I hope all is well (and I gather from your celebrity that it is—I can’t seem to go a week without seeing your book or name somewhere).
I know you place tremendous value on your time so I’ll be brief. The website I launched last fall ( has evolved into a much more far-reaching venture: a software company that provides fundraising optimization and online advocacy solutions for nonprofits. I’m raising $500-750k for the business, called Donor Loyalty Corp, and have a meaningful percentage of that already committed from various Angel investors.
Naturally, I’m courting a number of prospective Angels from my personal network to hopefully fill out the rest of the round. However, I was curious if your experience has taught you any lessons about identifying seed-stage investors and, more specifically, if you’ve come to know any Princeton Alums or other individuals who have an appetite for deals like these. I’ve attached my fundraising deck for some context.
I understand if you’re too busy to answer in depth or would prefer not to discuss the topic given our limited interactions in the past. However, if the professor in you has any pearls of wisdom or specific thoughts, they would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance and I hope we can connect.
Robert J. Moore ‘06”
Quote of the Week
“Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from his or her neck saying, MAKE ME FEEL IMPORTANT! Never forget this message when working with people.”
- Author and entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash in her book Mary Kay on People Management
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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