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

  1. Size matters. Busy people don’t want to read novel-length emails. Think about the two or three things you want to accomplish with your email and build your content around them.

    And, just as referrals work for headhunters as in Tim’s template, they also work equally well as subject lines. Busy people are much more likely to open a message if they see you were referred by someone they know (just be sure to ask for permission to do so from the referrer).


  2. Years ago the Harvard Business Review had a great article on managing email effectively, and today I rediscovered it: Some good things in there…

    Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload = hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4438.html


  3. Wow, I can’t believe it.

    Prior to reading this post, I just sent a painstakingly crafted e-mail asking for advice from a potential mentor, who I am also hoping to build a relationship with…! Good news is, I think I would score a 4/5 based on the points you emphasized. But I definitely could have fine tuned a couple of things.

    Another coincidence – I actually just ran into Rob Moore a few days ago at reunions here at Princeton, so it was pretty funny when I saw his e-mail up on your site.



  4. Hello Tim,
    Excuse me for my english which is not very good.
    I am 46 years old and my salary is 3000€ per month for 35 hours labor per week and 38 days af hollydays per year.
    Now, i can take my early retirement with 1500€ per month but if i continue my job, my retreat can be 2000€ in 2017 (at 55 years old).
    My question is : what do you make in my place ?
    Thank you for your answer


  5. Great tips. Following these guidelines will certainly help you to have your email read rather than deleted. One thing I would add is that the Subject Line needs to capture the readers attention. In my experience busy people will delete emails based on the sender and the subject before they even set eyes on the email body. Tim, what was in the subject line and what do you suggest for the subject line for these emails?


  6. I used the email tips above and the person I wanted advice from actually phoned me 10 minutes after sending the email to set up a 1 hour face-to-face meeting!

    Thanks for writing this article Tim.


  7. From France this tips regarding good emailing are great. What I like about this short text is the ability to do mass mailing with this type of message while staying very personnal. The 6 th tips might be the ability to have a touch of humour and style.


  8. Hey Tim,

    I still don’t understand exactly how you would get attention of a busy man with email.

    By the way, not all emails can receive the bold sentences.

    I think the subject is the most important. You need to catch his attention.
    If you can put the name in the email subject, that’s great.

    Follow up is another important factor.

    Anyway, thanks for the tips.


  9. I would never write an email that long to a busy person. There is so much unnecessary text in there for the sake of being grammatically correct and proper. It’s a waste.

    It has a nice flow though.


  10. Thank you so much for this great post and example. I am a first time author trying to bolster my writing resume before I start contacting literary agents with my proposal. I have been reaching out to magazines for writing opportunities or to be a fitness expert consult. Your post really helped me improve the quality of the emails I’m sending out. I’m looking forward to a more positive response!


  11. Tim,

    Thank you very much. After reading 4HWW, I no longer fear contacting “famous” people. I’m now working on building a school in South Africa but needed some help fundraising. I emailed Seth Godin for some advice on raising money. Though he did not respond back with advice, he promised to blog about it, which I never asked him to do.

    Regardless of what comes of it, I feel fortunate to have read your book, for revealing to me that it doesn’t take much to contact “celebrities.” As for Seth, I’ll send him another email.

    With respect,

    Dan Lu


  12. I eat as much and as often as I want. I don’t skimp on fats, and I eat as much fat and low carb food as I wish. I am never hungry, and I don’t count calories. I do eat carbs, in moderation, but usually keep them as low as possible.


  13. We especially loved your line: He hasn’t worn out his inbox welcome

    This is an especially delicate balance as I’m sure you remember when promoting your initial book…

    Good information, especially when conversing with executives.


  14. I would really like to know what the subject of the Email was too, since thats what intrigued you to open the Email and read further. Thanks!


  15. I lost weight because I eat less processed food – not just because I went gluten-free. Albumin and globulins are common in may grains, including grains acceptable on a gluten-free diet, such as corn and rice.


  16. Perfect timing, the post hit my inbox as if it had been written just for me :-)

    Just putting a Kickstarter project together and planning the pre-launch, so putting together greats email is going to be vital.

    Loved how it seemed to use a real life example, anyone can say do ‘x’ but good to know what you responded to .



  17. Great post and great timing for me.
    I’m sure that with all your success and experience since releasing 4HWW you could easily write a just as important and even more successful follow-up book. Thank you for all you do!


  18. Kewl. I think I’m going to use this as a base for a cold email sales conversation starter for my bitcoin wallet security project, responses have been less than desirable. Stay hard.


  19. Is it not just a bit too humble? I like to just ask one question (so they respond) keeping it fairly simple. So in this case it would be something like “I’m doing X and was wondering if you were able to help? If you like I can call you tomorrow morning to discuss it.” That way if they don’t want to get involved with a call, they will reply to the email.