You’ve found your very own professional Oprah. A role model. A mentor. Maybe he or she is five years older or 20 years older than you are.
Your Oprah has taken a career path that you desperately want to emulate. You want to know exactly what that person did, why they did it, how they did it etc. More importantly, you want to know how you can accomplish the same things.
Maybe someone introduced you to your Oprah. Or maybe you discovered him or her online. Either way, you know you want to connect, so you hit the keyboard and start typing an email.
But once you’ve determined how you want to connect (phone call, meeting, lunch etc.), what exactly do you say to ensure a positive response? How do you write an email that will make your Oprah want to take the time to meet with you and begin building a relationship?
I write a lot of these emails to my own Oprahs, and nine times out of 10, I get the response I want. I also receive emails from younger contacts who want advice about journalism, online communications or entrepreneurship, and I’ve noticed similarities between the emails from contacts I’m excited to get to know.
So here are some guidelines for writing a first email to kick off a lasting relationship:
Explain who you are — succinctly
Write one or two sentences describing what you do and your interests. This is really important for context. But please, don’t give your life story. Unless you’re Bill Gates, no one wants to read about your high school business venture in an email. Provide just enough information so it is clear who you are, but hold back on some details so you have lots to talk about when you meet.
Take the time to thoughtfully explain why you want to connect
It’s true: Flattery gets you everywhere. There’s no need to gush unabashedly about your contact’s achievements — that’s just awkward. But explain why his or her accomplishments aremeaningful for you. That way your Oprah will have a clear understanding of your purpose for connecting.
Get over your age
While you’re focusing on your Oprah’s excellent experience, don’t feel like you need to highlight your deficit of experience. It doesn’t come off as humble, it just zeroes in on your lack of confidence.
Make a specific request
For a busy person, there’s nothing worse than receiving an email without an action item. If you don’t state what you want you Oprah to do, your contact will have to think harder about your email. This usually means he or she won’t respond right away. Or worse, you might not get a response at all. I find it most effective when I put my request at the very end. Ending an email with a question about meeting on a certain date calls for a yes or no answer.
Follow these guidelines and you’re sure to maximize the chance of getting a response. Odds are your Oprah is a busy person with an overwhelming inbox. So even if you don’t hear back initially, be persistent and follow up appropriately.