Throughout my career, I’ve found myself particularly keen to learn from others in a similar role to me. I’m the only public relations (PR) person where I work and I am in-house, whereas a lot of PR people I know work for agencies.
It’s sometimes strange being the only person doing a job in a company of nearly 100 people where most other people will have others who do similar roles, but this is something I’ve been aware of since I started at Buffer. Knowing I could use more connections with other PR pros, I joined Michael Smart’s PR Inner Circle to meet other PR professionals and learn from Michael.
In addition to that, I found myself wondering what it was like for other people with the same job title at other SaaS companies, which is a bit more specific. I started searching for my job title at a few SaaS companies I was particularly interested in on LinkedIn and the next thing you know I’ve had several calls with incredible people who are tackling some similar and some quite different challenges.
I was really happy with the results of these efforts so I wanted to share a little bit more about my outreach strategy. I get a lot of cold emails and I know cold emails can be cringe-worthy at best when done incorrectly, so here’s what I did to avoid being that person.
I reached out via email or LinkedIn, depending on their preference
I reached out primarily via LinkedIn instead of email purely because the people I was interested in connecting with didn’t have their emails listed anywhere public like on a website or their Twitter. Mind you, working in PR, I’m sure I could have dug up their email but that didn’t feel like the right strategy.
If they had shared their emails, I would have reached out that way. The key to cold outreach is reaching out to that person in the way they want to be contacted. For example, I’ve never said ‘Reach out to me via Instagram DMs!’ because I rarely check DMs from people I don’t know there.
The benefit of using LinkedIn for cold outreach is that when I sent my requests, people could click on my profile to see who I am. Which is one of the many reasons I make sure that my LinkedIn profile is always up to date. Via email, the key would have been making sure I had a descriptive email signature or explaining a bit more in the email itself.
I networked horizontally, not vertically
The people I reached out to had the same job title as my own — they weren’t several levels above me. When I looked at their experience on LinkedIn we had followed similar career trajectories with several past job titles being very close as well.
This is notable because I believe people are much more willing to reach out and connect with people who are at the same place in their careers as they are. The main reason is that these people have something to gain from the conversation as well. When you’re talking to someone at the same level as you, you are probably both dealing with similar challenges, which means you might have more potential to help each other out.
This is very different from a lot of the cold emails people get because often people ask to ‘pick your brain’ which, I think many people have already discussed how bad the wording is on that one, but also it’s clear from that framing that it’s a one-way ask. If someone is asking to pick your brain they want something from you and they aren’t offering anything in return.
I’ve found networking vertically really beneficial even when I was very junior in my career because as professionals you grow together, and you can share knowledge, challenges, and achievements.
I was very clear with my ask
This is a pet peeve for me because throughout any given week I’ll get emails where I feel like I need to decipher what someone wants from me. In my opinion, being vague and using insider language is disrespectful of someone’s time, it’s a much better strategy to be clear with what you’re asking for from the beginning.
In all of my requests, I put the ask right in the subject line, which was: “Interested in knowledge sharing?” I then made it clear in the short email to follow that I wanted to connect with them to learn more about their role and that I’d be happy to share more about mine as well. In this way, there’s something in it for them as well.
Read and reread your email and wording to make sure you are being as clear as possible with your ask.
I didn’t follow up
This one might come as a shock. Not following up goes against what a lot of people tell you when cold emailing. I do follow up in my work email to reporters and partners (one, maybe two follow-ups spread out over two weeks).
In this case, this was a professional ask and not a work email. I didn’t require an immediate response and more importantly, I didn’t want to come off as just out for myself. In my case, and in the case of most of these people, I spend a lot of time emailing and people follow up a lot, and the follow-ups get increasingly terrible. I didn’t want to come off like this at all so I simply didn’t follow up.
In one case, the person replied to me a month later because they were on vacation. A completely reasonable cause that they might not have been on LinkedIn. If I had sent four follow-ups (once a week) I would have personally ignored a message like that and I’m sure they would have, too. Instead, they responded with an apology for the delay and ended up agreeing to the call.
I’m not going to say that what works for me will work every time or that it will work for everyone because that’s not the case. The idea here is to give you broad strategies I used to get in touch with people and ultimately we wound up connecting because not only would they get something from the interaction as well, but because I reached out to them like a human and not a marketing bot.
Want the word-for-word template I used to send my emails? Sign up for my email newsletter and I’ll send it your way! :)
Leave a comment or send me a tweet if you’ve had success cold reaching out to people before and how you did it! If you want to hear a bunch more opinions cold emailing check out episode ten of MakeWorkWork where Habbi and I go in-depth on this subject.