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7 tips for emailing busy people

email tips paddy donnelly

I get quite a bit of email but there are some people out there who must get thousands every day and answering them would be near impossible. Here are 7 tips on to optimise your email when contacting someone busy, especially when asking for a favour.

1 – Make it personal

I recently got an email which started ‘Attn. Marketing Department‘. Big no-no. For whatever reason though, I didn’t regard it as spam straight away and I read on. It was a genuine email but someone had just been lazy and sent it to a load of people without even entering in a name.

Start it with ‘Hi Paddy’ at least. It’s so simple and common courtesy.  Definitely don’t send a mass email if you are trying to target people specifically. What I do is genuinely put a little effort into the email to make it personal to the specific recipient.  It may take longer than just mass emailing a bunch of people and changing the names, but it’s worth it.

2 – Take some interest in their work

Including a comment on something the recipient has done recently, ‘I really liked your recent blog post on bananas‘ for example, lets the recipient know that you are interested in what they do. If the email is personal to them then they’ll know it’s not just another marketing email sent to hundreds of people and will be more likely to respond. Make sure you do know a bit about the person though and your interest in genuine.  Don’t just visit their blog and say you liked their latest post.

3 – Don’t demand anything

The recipient doesn’t owe you anything. Why should they help you out? If you start demanding stuff from them you’ll not get anywhere. Just politely work your request into the email with phrases like ‘Any feedback you could give, would be great’, rather than. ‘Send your feedback to me within 24 hours’.  If they respond or help you out then treat it like a bonus.

4 – Don’t be apologetic

Starting off with ‘Sorry to bother you, but…’ may seem like you’re being considerate but what you’re really doing is putting a negative thought in their head from the start. Now, while they are reading your email, the thought of being bothered is in the back of their mind and this will pull down the appeal of your email.

5 – Keep it short and to the point

While I cringe when someone mentions the K.I.S.S. principle, it is very applicable in most situations, especially with regards to emails.  If your recipient gets countless emails every day, then the sight of opening a complete essay will force many to move on without reading. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it short and concise.  Your message will be a lot clearer within one, maximum two, paragraphs.  If you can’t sum your idea up in one paragraph then it’s too convoluted and uninteresting to the majority of people.

6 – Everyone loves humour

You wade through 100 email requests, one of them is quirky and funny while 99 are regular and boring. Which one will you remember? Obviously don’t try to be Tommy Cooper and fill the email with one liners, but just keep in mind that a little bit of humour can go a long way and strike a chord with the recipient.

7 – Say Thank You!

One of the least used and most effective two words, Thank you.  Something as simple as firing back a ‘Thanks for that, I really appreciate it’ email will earn you mega brownie points.  There’s nothing I appreciate more than receiving a thank you note, email, phone call and you can bet that even the most high profile people are the same.

What if you didn’t get the desired result though? What if they said no to your request? Thank them for their time anyway and you never know, it might be enough to keep you in their mind for next time.

Next Time

I’ll be flipping this post and suggesting some ‘Tips for answering emails‘ next time so Follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the RSS feed so as not to miss out.

Did I miss anything?

Do you structure your emails in a different way when contacting people? Do you have any other tips to suggest?

Comments (8)

  1. Aske

    3 Sep

    Structure can go a long way too. Making sure every paragraph consists of only one idea will give an impression of orderliness and add clarity.

    For example, the body could be divided into four parts: who are you, what do you want, why you want it, why the recipient should care (benefits).

    You bring up some good points!

  2. My favourite is Dear Webmaster.

    Instant delete on those!

  3. I would agree with Aske. Busy people don’t want to read long rambling emails.

    You need to seperate your email into concise paragraphs. Each paragraph/section should have a clear descriptive email.

    This encourages people to read emails and take on basic info as it doesn’t look like it’s going to take 1/2hr to read!

  4. Nice email with some generally good tips. Emails like the attn marketing aren’t going to get most people very far. It’s long been said that knowing a name is much better for any line of contact in business.

  5. “Nice email”? Nice post even! Need a more thorough re-read before pressing submit!

  6. Sam

    3 Sep

    Hi there,

    Some really valid points here. Im just embarking on a journey into web designand these kind of tips are priceless.

    I must admit i have been guilty of section 4 on a few occasions.

    Does anyone have a good example of a successful letter? Thanks

  7. Hi Paddy,

    Good points and I was happy to see #6 – Humour made your suggestions. In fact, it made me smile ;)

    Everyone does love humour, and when it can give them a smile in the middle of an otherwise boring or stressful work day, what better impression could you make? I love to crack a clever joke, but not knowing people’s senses of humour, haven’t gone beyond joking with those I know well when it comes to emails. Get me in an in-person meeting and that tends to change, and yes, I always find that people do respond well.

    Of course there are parameters here, and none of those tip-offs you might get in-person as to how the individual will respond, but I’m thinking a well-placed smile in an email is a great idea that I’ll be trying. Who doesn’t want to smile, right? ;)


  8. Paddy,
    Good points here. I have always found it important to convey a respect of the personal you are emailing’s time.

    Keeping your points brief, and concise helps them to read through the emails and get the git of what you are presenting very easily, as they probably read a lot of email throughout the day.

    great list.

    ~ Aaron I