5 Tips for E-mailing Busy People


Even after outsourcing my e-mail to a virtual assistant, there are still a few messages that come over the transom.

Since the success of the book, I’ve been able to see some of the worst e-mail pitches out there. Here is an example of how to do it properly, with 5 tips and good template phrases bolded:

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 (www.SmartRaise.com) 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


Here are a few notes on this e-mail and what makes it more likely to get a response:

1. It’s short and what he’s requesting is clear. No “let’s jump on the phone for 10 minutes; it’ll be worth your time.”

2. He made an impression in our initial meeting, and he hasn’t irritated me with zero-content “keeping in touch” e-mails. He hasn’t worn out his inbox welcome.

3. He makes it clear that he’s doing his part and has explored other avenues before asking for my help. It’s amazing how many would-be mentees or beneficiaries ask busier people for answers Google could provide in 20 seconds. That puts you on the banned list. Explicitly state what you’ve done to get answers or help yourself.

4. He used the executive recruiter referral trick. Seldom will a headhunter call a gainfully employed CXO-level executive and ask them to take another position. They’ll instead ask the exec if they know anyone who might be interested in position X. The intention is clear (might you consider this job over your current employer?), but it gives the executive a comfortable decline option.

5. He makes it clear that it’s OK if I can’t help or if I’m too committed elsewhere. This — paradoxically — makes it much more likely he’ll get a response, which he did.

The above 5 tenets should be considered for any e-mail to someone who probably deletes more e-mail in a day than you read in a week. If they appear in media regularly, assume that you are competing against at least 100 similar requests.

E-mail is like food. Good recipes produce good results, but you need to follow the proper steps.


Did you like this? If so, please share it! Better email = less headache = a better world.

Posted on: May 19, 2008.

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88 comments on “5 Tips for E-mailing Busy People

  1. I wish I could say what the cartoon character says sometimes. I think I am too scared that I will hurt my business if I don’t respond quickly to emails. I guess it is a leap of faith.


  2. Tim, thanks for the excellent advice.

    One technical issue. Most of your social bookmarking icons (e.g. digg, del.icio.us, stumble) appear in your RSS feed at the end of your article, which makes it easy for readers to use them to bookmark while viewing the article in an RSS reader.

    But the “Buzz Up!” icon doesn’t appear in your RSS feed, so readers have to actually follow the link to your website before using that icon.

    It may be an issue with Feedburner.

    Hope this helps.



  3. Nice advice. I actually came to your blog for the first time in a while because I just wrote an e-mail to someone who will hopefully become a mentor. I was doubtful that I would get a response, but he actually wrote back! I was so happy. The thing is, his response was only about 10 words long. So, I came here looking for whatever I could find on seeing if I can develop this relationship and get past this first e-mail. This post was really helpful (and I actually did a lot of the things you mentioned in here), and it would be great to see more on contacting busy/famous/”impossible-to-contact” people.


  4. Tim, I know you place tremendous value on your time so I’ll be brief.

    I liked this post.

    Your book is quite inspiring to me and has been for others with whom I’ve shared it.

    I have launched a few microbusinesses and am testing out which ones are going to be moving forward and perhaps one day soon becoming my “muse.”

    I was curious whether you have any suggestions about what you have used, and what micropreneurs with NO cash or little cash can use, in the way of new media and old media guerrilla marketing techniques.

    Any guidance will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance,

    Stephen A.

    (I realize, of course, that this response is probably too cute by half. But nevertheless, the question is a serious one.)


  5. These tips are immensely valuable. Thank you once again getting right to the meat of the matter with a real example. Though I get far fewer messages, I get a far amount that deserve a DELETE. This guy gets it and I appreciate your sharing. I’m going to pass it on…


  6. Thanks for the information.

    Just wondering how your plans for Melbourne are coming? I imagine that Sydney has left a favourable mark on you, seeing as you choose to mention it as one of your top spots in your book. Melbourne, however, can provide a much more cultural and meaningful experience. (The girls aren’t too bad either)

    What would it take to convince you to make the short 800km trip down to Victoria?



  7. I would like to echo Stephen A.’s request. I’m always interested in a little Web 2.0 and guerilla marketing advice. What’s your take on what works?


  8. Tim,

    Great post! Thank you.

    I was wondering if you had any advice for someone who would like to get attention and meet a celebrity, what I have in mind is no career talk or advice, just some coffee and cupcakes.




  9. Tim,

    What was written in your “subject” box of this email? Was it something flashy and crazy, or simple and to the point? What made you open the message before you read it, and realize that it was worthy of a quick glance?

    I am probably guilty of emailing to stay in touch a few times, so I will be sure to put these proper tips into practice.
    Thanks again,

    Lewis Howes


  10. Hi Tim,

    Your visit to Australia is timely as I am a Melbournite. I’m reading your book at the moment and was wondering when (I knew it wouldn’t be a matter of if) you were coming to Australia.

    I know you are extremely occupied with things outside of your inbox, but I wanted to share that I am young woman who was earning oddles in a corporate job (glamarous description for a wage slave) until I developed a debilitating illness some years ago. I have struggled phsyically since as has my income, but no dent has been made on my enthusiasm for exploring other avenues. And maybe things happen for a reason anyways.

    The great news is that I have been tossing around e-based business ideas that I intend to put into practice from home/bed if necessary to generate myself an income. Your book has given me some great ideas and much inspiration. It has also made me laugh out loud many times! I know I will be successful in my endeavours and I look forward to telling you about it someday.

    If you come to Melbourne I would love to come and meet you somewhere if you intend to have a lauch party or anything at all. Melbourne is well worth a visit. It’s a city of understated elegance with a great cultural hub… and a great tango community amongst many other things.

    You have my email address and if you have time I’d love to hear from you. If not, I wholeheartedly understand… and express my thanks again.

    My best regards,



  11. Here’s another trick: write a good email like this, but don’t finish it. Cut it off in the middle because your time is precious too, and send it forth. Chances are it’ll pique a busy person’s curiosity even more if it has a strong beginning. It’s worked for me a surprising many times and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people it’s worked on are reading this.


  12. Tim,
    I am amazed you have anytime while in OZ to post but always happy that you feed my personal addiction to your ideas. Thanks! :)

    I have a question what if you want to introduce yourself to the hard to get, to build a real friendship? Would this work as well? I figure by email friendships can be hard to cultivate. I like building new friendships because I learn from others. “I learn by watching you, as a PSA of a the 80’s or 90’s used to say. How does one cultivate new friendships via email to the busy. I notice with certain folks out a sight out of mind. Is myspace the only way? Some different peeps who I may like to meet may not be on myspace or their PR firm is.

    Life is to short to stay in the bubble of the same ideas and new friends can give you a new perspective even if you have some commonalities. Is there a way to show your personality and interests in an email without being a advertisement for desperation?

    From please be my friend LOL


  13. Hi All!

    The subject line was:

    “Moore ’06 Update”

    As for cultivating ‘real’ friendships, which I take to mean long-term, I pretty much only go face-to-face. I don’t find it lasts otherwise, unless you connect through an introduction and have serious shared DNA AND are equally busy.

    Like the coincidental palindrome? :)



  14. Thanks TIm!!!

    I have had extreme difficulty in forming emails that use this sort of format and you’ve given an excellent framework.

    Again Thank you



  15. Great post – thanks for sharing such useful information. I quoted a large part of it in one of my blogs.


    David B. Wright
    Author, Get A Job! Your Guide to Making Successful Career Moves


  16. I’m thinking that all rules and expectations should be set aside in favor of an emotionally engaging discussion that expresses your genuine thoughts on a matter. As long as your email sounds like it came from a soul, instead of a salesman, I think you’ll be just fine. And if the person on the other end doesn’t respond to such an approach, you’re better off moving on without them.

    Brad – Your Virtual Biographer


  17. Tim,
    This is a great post. Remember the part in your book where you talked about contacting best-selling authors of (at the time) 2 to 3 years ago? In other words, after the flames die down . . .

    I contacted you recently in spite of that part. Yet you found the time to reply, in signature style, to explain that you unfortunately didn’t have time for coaching or the like. You then went on to describe several specific steps I could take, and areas on which to focus, to achieve a pretty intense list of dreamlines. So in a paragraph, I had six months of coaching right in front of me.

    I wish I could tell every recent Veteran, or anyone who’s had injuries or traumas, trying to work his way back into our world to pick up your book. Things have changed, are changing, so much. Work that I used to have in New York, pre 911, that was quite lucrative, is all gone. It’s crunch time to figure it all out. After reading 4HWW 3 times, for the first time in about 4 years, I feel in command of myself, my life, my world again.

    I had to unplug and reset whether I was ready or not. So I am tightening my belt, ceasing debt spending, applying 80/20 all around, and getting ready for the ride.

    For me 4HWW is a book of Spirit as much as it is of Business and Enterprise.

    Safe travels,
    Erik J


  18. Ha,

    This blog serves as a good fountain of knowledge. How do you keep up with all these new tech things coming out? Rhetorical question, I am just amazed at times, bc it would seem you spend lots of time online to be on the forefront of so many different technologies.

    Just my thoughts,

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

    check out Red Belt if you get a chance Carlos Machado’s brother is in it. Interesting movie…..