Entrepreneurs and small business owners know how difficult it is to grow a business online. A lot of big competitors out there use sophisticated strategies and tools to squeeze as much traffic and leads as possible from their content and marketing campaigns.

Against that backdrop, you need to get as much return as humanly possible from any outreach and influencer marketing activities you undertake. Understanding how to write effective, engaging emails is vital to ensuring those campaigns convert well.

Before we get going, it's also worth noting that according to Symantec around 90% of all email sent is spam. That fact alone should demonstrate how important it is to be selective about whom we approach and how we approach them.

Without an overtly personal, genuine, and relevant narrative, outreach emails will be treated like spam by everyone who reads them.

Let's take a look at five important tips and practical advice to help you get people to take action more often and engage with you on a more personal (and valuable) level.

1. Know precisely whom you are talking to

It's critical you do as much research as possible on the company or organization you are reaching out to—including who the right contact is.

Find out what that person's role is, and what, if anything, you can learn about him or her to make establishing a personal relationship easier.

But we seem to be moving in the opposite direction: There are ever-more tools out there helping us find ever-greater numbers of influencers. These tools also help manage email outreach—including crafting and sending emails, follow-up emails, responses, and so on. Without doubt, very helpful...

But here's the problem: By definition, scaling up email outreach programs implies less-targeted and less-personal interaction with each individual contact.

Humans do a good job of making quick decisions about whether something is important to them; that includes the ability to glance at an email and decide whether to read it or move on. Unless there is something important to that reader in the first line of the email, it's likely to be ignored.

Automate email outreach campaigns at your own peril.

2. Be personal and relevant

I get emails (spam) each day starting off like this:

Subject: Hire extremely qualified people today

Dear Sir/Madam,

My name is Jon and I am an extremely qualified blah blah blah...

I delete them within seconds because I have seen the same thing 10 times today, and yesterday, and the day before. The point is, I don't have time to learn how great Jon is, and frankly I'm not interested. Your readers are exactly the same.

Don't start off an outreach email with a longwinded introduction about yourself. No one will read through it. Establish credibility (talk about yourself) only at the end of the email.

Instead, start off with something that is directly relevant to the recipient so that it draws him in.

Which is where things can get tricky. Because if you haven't researched whom you are talking to and what that person's role is, you probably won't know what to say.

That's why you should avoid generic email templates and craft your own that works for your specific circumstance, and for a particular goal. By all means, use that template as the basis for that type of email, but don't skimp on finding a personal connection in each and every one you send out.

You can use various approaches to make a connection—for example...

  • Something they have done well
  • Something positive that involves them or their business
  • Problems with their site
  • Incorrect or incomplete information
  • News they will be interested in

What you choose depends on the person you are reaching out to, what she does, and what is relevant to your particular objectives.

However, there are things you can control behind the scenes, before reaching out:

Doing something of value for someone before reaching out to them is arguably the best way to break the ice.

Reference the person in an article, review, or roundup blog post and publish that a few days before reaching out via email. Or, bring to their attention to someone else who mentioned them in a positive light. Think along the lines of, "I loved your post on XYZ so much I mentioned it in my latest review"—preferably with a link for them to check it out.

(You can read more about how to establish relationships with influencers at "Influencer Marketing 101.")

3. Be specific

Don't send an email with a generic request. Lines such as "If there's anything I can help with please let me know" are destined to be ignored because they don't require the reader to take any specific, immediate action.

An outreach email is much like an e-commerce landing page. They are both designed to convert (i.e., get the reader to take one or more specific actions). Although a landing page might have a big, obvious button for readers to click, a personal email has to be just as clear—without a button.

Don't beat around the bush, wasting readers' time and ultimately leading to frustration and a negative response. If you want them to consider linking to an article you wrote, tell them. If they can quickly understand what you want, they can make a decision and take action (one way or another) without feeling like they are wasting time.

In my experience, an email should ask for one action from the reader—at most two.

4. Don't create unnecessary work for recipients

People aren't robots. Sending out the same email to 10 different people might very well illicit 10 different reactions. Sometimes the person you are reaching out to is simply having a bad day and won't respond positively no matter what.

You'll never get everyone to convert, but that's not to say you shouldn't do everything in possible to make a conversion as painless as possible. It's good to keep the following mantra in mind: Don't expect the recipient to work for you.

Let's pretend you've got a fantastic resource on blue widgets and you want someone to reference that resource from one of their pages. Instead of saying, "I think this would be a great fit for your site," give them...

  1. Your link
  2. A link to the page you want them to add it to (so they can open that page immediately)
  3. A suggestion on where in the page it fits best, and why

By doing the legwork yourself and offering everything needed for the recipient to easily take action, you help them avoid wasting time and doing unnecessary work.

The quicker and easier it is for the recipient to take action, the higher the conversion rate will be.

5. Establish credibility

At this point in the email, the reader might be considering taking action, but she probably also wants to know a bit more about the person she is dealing with.

This is where you can add a bit more information about yourself, preferably with a link or two to some credible and trustworthy sources. A good, professional email signature can provide much of the basic information and credentials required.

It may also be a good idea to link to one or two examples of past successes, especially if they are in the same niche and on sites/platforms likely to be trusted by the recipient.

The thing about success, no matter how humble, is that it can be leveraged to build more success.

By putting a succinct, clear, personally relevant pitch at the start of the email, you are able to leave the more longwinded information about yourself to the end. Recipients can dip into that information if they want—instead of wading through it at the start to see if there's something of value further down.

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So those are my best tips for creating effective outreach emails that can be used to help establish relationships with bloggers, webmasters, and other potential business allies. What strategies have you found effective?

Share your own tips and advice in the comments.

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image of David Mercer

David Mercer is a tech entrepreneur, author, and founder of SME Pals, a free online resource to help entrepreneurs and small business owners thrive online. He is a tech author whose books have been published globally, translated into 13 languages, and used as recommended reading at MIT and elsewhere.

Twitter: @smepals