How to make requests that don’t frustrate people

I was talking with a client the other day about how to send emails to potential advisors, investors, etc. I think the natural tendency is to lead up to the “ask” because you are nervous about asking someone for their money, time, or connections. You feel like you have to tell the story and make your persuasive points before you ask them for something.

It’s normal to feel that way. Many people also behave like that in person. They make a lot of small talk before getting around to the real point of the conversation. But, written communication is a bit different.

Source: Wikipedia

The people you will be emailing are very busy. Aren’t we all? The average businessperson receives over 130 emails per day. If they can’t quickly figure out what someone wants, they move on and they will probably never make it back to your email.

Stack of handwritten letters
Every business-related email has an ask of some type (i.e., the request). Even if you are first requesting a call or meeting, they will want to know why you want the call or meeting. Real-time meetings consume precious time, and we are all protective of that.

What Is Your Ask?

I like to think of emails as asking for one or more of four things:

  1. Money (will you invest, donate, buy, loan)
  2. Time (can you meet with me, give me feedback or advice, attend an event)
  3. Networking (can you introduce me to someone)
  4. Reputation (can I use you as a reference)

They already know you want something, so it is best to be clear and up front with how you think they can help you.

Put the request in the first sentence or two.

Also, be very specific with how you think they can help (e.g., an introduction, a donation, an investment, etc.). This isn’t the time to be coy.

Rough Outline for Your Message

  1. Who you are and your one-line pitch. Make it intriguing enough to keep them reading.
  2. What your specific request is (e.g., money, time, network, reputation)
  3. One to three short bullet points to support your request (e.g., why it matters, why they should care, what’s in it for them)
  4. What you are specifically doing or creating that requires this request (e.g., your startup, your cause, your job search)
  5. Briefly repeat the request with how you think THEY specifically can help (why did you choose them?)
  6. Thank them, and close with easy ways to contact you

That’s it.

Keep it short, simple, and to the point.

It’s frustrating to receive an email and you can’t figure out what the person really wants. It’s also frustrating to receive a vague request (“Hey, let’s get coffee”) where it is clear that the person is saving the request for that later meeting.

Just tell me what you want now. I’ll decide if it’s worth my time to take a call or meeting with you.

Being clear and direct shows respect for me and my time, and it saves you time and energy as well.

Are there any other tips or techniques that have worked well for you?


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