The art of cold emailing, or I need a little of that human touch

Warning: The first half of this blog post is a rant, feel free to scroll down to the first subtitle.

I recently received an email that sent me off my rocker. I have this thing. I get really frustrated when I see people making obvious mistakes. Mistakes that could easily be fixed. It pissed me off so much that it made me want to blog about it.

Nowadays most of my blogging is done for our site at Switch Digital, it is the one that brings food to my table. But this is not really a marketing issue. Well, it is. And it isn’t. And this is why I’m writing here, because I can afford to be slightly more relaxed, because I can afford to be pissed off at people here.

But then I thought that instead of being pissed off, maybe I should take the time to analyze the email I received and point out what made it so infuriating.

This is it, first of all:

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 16.00.29

And what is so offensive about this, I hear you ask? Well, this email is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to decide where to start.

First of all, let’s take the email at face value. It’s doing a good job by telling me that lots of people are on Facebook (everybody knows this, but let’s let that slide for the moment because it is correct and relevant). It is also telling me why I should create Facebook games (to outperform the competition).

Taking the email at face value, you should also spot a number of issues. The grammar is atrocious, the layout is somewhere between a mass mailer and a personal email and the design of the image thrown in is questionable at best.

But what’s the guy’s biggest mistake?

He did not research who he was sending the email to. He did not even bother to read up on me. If he had done so he might have just realised that I don’t need to be lectured about the power of Facebook. He might have also realised that I offer the same services he does. Once he did that, he could have taken two paths – he could have simply moved on to someone else, an easier target, or else changed the gist of the email completely to offer me collaboration or to see whether I’m interested in outsourcing work to him.

He reminded me of this guy who recently sent us a private message on Facebook saying:

Hi i am xxx xxx a Business and It (HONS) student at the university of Malta and would be highly interested in taking care of your Facebook page to maximize audience and to reach a larger amount of people, at a monthly fee. It is highly recommended to increase sales and awareness. Kindly contact me if interested

followed by:

are you interested ?

about 7 minutes later.


So, what can we take out of it? If I don’t come to this, then it would have been one of my rantiest posts ever. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

The art of cold emailing

Email marketing is a knife that cuts both ways. If you’re not going to commit to doing it well, then just don’t do it at all. I won’t go into all that goes in to mass email marketing because that will take ages. Instead I’ll focus on the rare occasions where you might want to send someone an email to potentially start getting business from them.

Think of our ancestors hunting in the woods. If they ran right into a clearing slashing around with their knife they might have a slight chance of hitting something (or themselves), but they would most probably have died of hunger pretty quickly.

On the other hand, the hunters who survived and thrived had the patience to learn the patterns of their prey before attempting to catch them. Once they did learn the patterns, they took it easy and only approached slowly and carefully, ideally waiting until the weakest one in the pack was at its most vulnerable.

Cold-emailing a potential client should be pretty similar. Instead of trying to email 500 different people a day by harvesting their email addresses at random, try approaching the subject in a scientific manner. You will waste far less time, bother less people and increase your chances of success greatly.

Here is the pattern I usually follow. It has always served me well.

Identify your ideal target market

You’re not good at everything. The quicker you accept this, the better. Especially if you’re just starting out in business, you have to understand that there are areas in which you have a natural affinity to succeed. So do your best to identify these areas.

Find the leaders in the market

Once you have a clear idea of which industry (or which sectors within an industry) you would like to target, then you need to find the companies that are doing the best job in what you want to offer. If it’s social media marketing for aviation schools you’d like to offer, then find the companies in the field who have the best social media presence. You don’t want to approach these, well, at least you don’t want to approach them yet, but you need to know what they’re doing. You need to make it your mission in life to learn all you can about what is making them successful.

Find the companies which have potential but are struggling

Once you have the leaders identified, you have to look for the low-hanging fruit. These are usually the companies that are just outside the top 3-4 businesses in any sector and are doing their utmost to be within that top three position. These are the companies who would probably do with a little leg up and chances are they know it.

Take your time to study them well

You now know who you want to approach. Learn everything you can about them. Learn their products as if they were your own. Learn their pitfalls, learn their strong points, learn their weaknesses and find their biggest threats. Learn as much as you can about the people working there, stalk them on LinkedIn and make sure you know as much about them as you know about the players in your favourite football team.

Prepare a detailed proposal

Never email someone with a mass-produced proposal (if you want to get any work). Take your time to either build or at least tailor your proposal in a way that shows them that you care about their business, that you care about their success. Your only way of getting the contract is by clearly demonstrating what’s in it for them. Your proposal should show that you’ve invested a significant amount of time in understanding what makes their business tick you have to make sure that your proposal contains as many “aha” moments as possible. Moments where the people seeing it are thinking to themselves: “damn, we should have seen that ourselves”.

Target the email carefully, follow up, ask for a meeting

You can’t put everything in a proposal, and you sure as hell can’t close a sale in a single email (unless you’re extremely lucky or you know someone personally), so make sure that your email gets to the right person within the organisation. Once you think that they’ve received it you should follow up (by email or over the phone) to make sure that they read it. Try to get yourself a meeting based on the proposal. Assume that nobody actually read it all, so be prepared to have to go over it again in detail, explaining the nuts and bolts. This is the time for you to show them that there’s more to you than one proposal. This is the time for you to show them that you’re the person for the job.

I’ve used variants of this for over ten years and it has always served me well. Nowadays I’ve honed it to a level where around 60-70% of the time I get it right. This is not only because I prepare great proposals, but also because I know when I should not even bother. Larger business will come, in time, but till then I’m only going to reach for the fruit I can pick.

Email Marketing – Keep ‘em Coming Back

Give the people what they want

There are a hundred and one things to think of when planning out your email marketing strategies. Building a solid list, emailing it out efficiently, landing in the inbox, and eventually getting opened. Next you need to think of how to get the people who have opened your email to click through.

So sort all that and you’re done, right? Wrong. Unless by clicking through they committed themselves to your services or products for life, you need your recipients to open the email you send them next week/month, and the one after that.

You want them to be excited about your communications so much that they want to forward them to their best friend. You need them to be waiting eagerly for the next email you’ll send out and to mark you as “important” in their priority inbox if they’re using Gmail.

I hear you ask: How can I do that? Simple really. Stop thinking about you and start thinking about them. I’m not promoting anything ground-breaking here. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie repeatedly stressed that to influence people you needed to see things from their perspective and to speak to them in terms they will be interested in.

Take a look at the ever-so-corny US TV commercials. What do they all start with? The picture of despair of someone doing something the “wrong” way before they discover the “magic solution”. They present a housewife in despair, something that most of us might laugh at, deem as sexist or antiquated, but, you know what? It works.

It works for one simple reason, the adverts make housewives feel like housewives, they play upon the boredom and lack of glamour.It works because it gives them a way out, a light at the end of the tunnel. The “housewife” in the “before” portion of the advert is a wreck. The “housewife” in the second advert looks gorgeous, she is fully made up and is using the new super-duper-vacuum-cleaner before rushing out to meet her friends.

Now I’m not advocating that we should all play on our readers’ insecurities to succeed, however if you take the time to speak to some of your current clients to see what their problems are, you might be able to use your next marketing email to also offer a solution, even if it is not directly related to your product.

By shifting your focus onto them, your readers are much more likely to engage. No matter whether you are selling teaspoons or islands in the Philippines, think of what your audience wants, give it to them and make them love you. Then you can sell them anything.

Photo (CC) by reihayashi (Flickr)

(#65 of 366 X 2012 project)

On making it to What’s Hot on Google+: Autopsy of a viral story.

This morning I woke up at 6.30am to attempt to cover a story for EuroTech. The $25/ $35 computer called the Raspberry Pi was about to be launched. At the time of writing, the post I wrote achieved:

653 +1s



I write for the online tech magazine on a regular basis and enjoy it greatly. In part because I love technology and in part because I’m committed to write something on a daily basis, so might as well do it for a good cause: revealing that European technology is worthy of coverage.

Whoever followed the story knows that the Raspberry Pi servers could not cope with the demand. They had a fall-back plan and served up a static site in a few minutes, restoring access to everyone. Their suppliers were not as well-prepared: both sites crashed badly and about ten minutes after I published my story online I learned that the whole stock had been sold out to those who had actually made it to the servers.

I finished my story at around 7.30am and was following what was happening on Google+ and Twitter. The chatter was initially good-humoured, but it soon turned very bitter. I was shocked by this and wrote a quick blog post but did not publish it because I wanted to see how things would turn out. I thought that if it went away quietly it would have made no sense to bring it up again.

My story (posted on EuroTech’s Google+ page), however, did not die a quick death. People were searching for Raspberry Pi like rabid dogs and by around 10am it had reached a respectable 10 – 15 shares. Then +Max Huijgen shared it around that time and the shares started growing slowly but steadily. By midday our time, however I realised  that we had made it to “What’s Hot” on Google+ and since then the story has just kept going and going all over the site, and till this evening it is still featured on the What’s Hot page, even if it has been pushed down quite a bit.

People kept complaining and at around 12.30 I decided to push the “Post” button on my phone’s WordPress App, and linked to it quickly from my profile on Google+. It drove quite a bit of traffic here, but thankfully nowhere near what was experiencing this morning (you can read my post here).

It had me wondering, though, about what makes a story go viral. I think it was relatively well written, especially when you consider that I churned it out so hastily. I also used the style we have developed at EuroTech (mostly thanks to Max’s expertise) to encourage speed-reading. What I think made the deal, however, was a combination of 3 important factors:

Subject matter that captures the imagination of readers: this is a computer that can perform most normal tasks being sold at 1/20th of the price of a normal computer;

– Timeliness: it is not only a case of being out there first, but of being there with fresh news when people are looking for it;

Connections: the story had already gained some mileage when I shared it, but it really caught on fire when Max (who is in many more circles than I am) re-shared it.

(#60 of 366 X 2012 project)

(P.S. #59 of 366 X 2012 project was published on Media Tapper: WikiTravel: An Online Community Success Story)

What would I like to see more of on Google+?

Google+ LogoOne of Google+’s most, well, let’s say inspiring contributors – +Peter G McDermott – set me thinking recently. He asked me what seems to me a simple question: What would I like to see more of on Google+?

I’m thoroughly in love with the product and the experience, but there are a few things that could make life here that little bit better – and it would be a delight if they could be implemented. I love Circles, and think that they revolutionised the way we interact with people but most of these are related to circles and the way they work.

If you look at the way Google+ evolved from the first months (I was here from quite early on, about a week after its beta launch because that was how long it took me to get my hands on an invite) you can see that a lot of work went into improving our experience with them. Volume sliders, for one, were a stroke of genius because they allow me to create circles that I mute off unless I want to see that content. Circle sharing allowed me to supercharge my Google+ experience by introducing me to many new people at once and by having me added into many more circles (the recent circle share by +Max Huijgenis a clear example).

So what would make the Google+ experience better?

Dynamic Shared Circles
I would like to have a way in which I could share one (or more) of my circles on a permanent basis. This way I could link to it in my profile and update it as I find more users.

Self-Suggested Circle Fits
This is something that many people do in writing on their profile – saying things like “I would fit well in the following circles”, but I think that if we could be given the way to tag ourselves in which circles we’d fit in it would be a good way to identify people when browsing their profiles. It would be cool if I had a “This person would fit well in your Photography, Art and Writing Circles” when I hovered over their names. I can understand how implementing it can be a major headache, but this is Google after all, they have managed to implement things that we did not think were possible many times before.

User Lists
Once we have the self-suggested circle fits implemented, I’d then want a way to list people and/or view a stream based on their categories. I know we have search for that, however I don’t always tag my photo posts with “photography”, or include the word “photo”. This would also be a great way to help new users find people to throw in their circles.

Integration With Groups (& Docs)
It would be really lovely if we could use the social media power of Google+ to collaborate on projects. I would love to be able to have a dynamic circle which would include its own page. On this page we could discuss issues, share documents and interact in all the ways we would usually do on a forum or in a Google group.

Even simply having the ability of sharing a doc with a Circle would be a great start.

There are a couple of workarounds to bookmarking posts (you can either bookmark the individual post in a browser or share it to a private circle which only includes yourself), however having a system in which we could organise and save individual posts would be a very welcome addition.

Interaction History
Finally I would love to have a way in which I could find out all the times I ever interacted with a person. I would like to be able to click on someone’s name and find out when I added them to my circles, what posts of mine they commented on, what posts of theirs I commented on and which third-party posts we both commented on. You could also have all the pictures in which you are both tagged.

So what would YOU want to see more of on Google+?

6 Great Free Android Apps for Bloggers

Screengrab of apps folderAs someone who maintains a blog updated on a daily basis, I need to be on top of my game wherever I am. I have a full-time day job and a life (of sorts) in the real world. This means I do not always find the time to sit at my desk for the long hours needed to keep up with all the aspects involved in the keeping a site well tuned.

Enter my Android smartphone. It has saved me by becoming my mobile office and admin centre. I keep a folder on my home screen with six applications that let me control the core functions of blogging (and maintaining a website). The beauty is that all these apps plug into free (or nearly) online services, making the deal even sweeter.


The only way to know whether you are doing the right job is to check the numbers, and the numbers don’t lie. gAnalytics is a great little app that simply plugs into your Google Analytics account and presents the numbers in a format that is easy to read and understand. It is not the sexiest analytics reader out there, but it is definitely the most effective.

WordPress for Android

WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms around. Whether you have installed a version on your own server (like I have) or whether you are running off, there is no better way to manage your content while on the move than with this gem of an app. You can create, edit or delete posts, images and comments at the swipe of a finger – all while on the move. Especially valuable when you receive a text from the wife pointing out that you missed a typo in your latest masterpiece.

Google Docs

This is actually a last-minute addition. I create most of my content in Google Docs before transferring it into WordPress, but for some reason the Google Docs app was practically useless before a few days ago. Now it features collaborative editing on the move, something I’ve been needing for ages. Finding someone to proof-read an article or post for you is never easy – so you need to be able to log in wherever you are if your proof-reader can only check your article now.

WebRank SEO

I introduced the Google Analytics app by saying that numbers about your site are crucial. It is not only important to have numbers about your own site in isolation, though. Getting people to you is just as critical, and for this you need to know where you stand in terms of exposure on the wild, wild, web. WebRank SEO gives you a good set of statistics about your site in terms of mentions around the web, search engine visibility etc.


MailChimpYou might have an audience, but you have no guarantee that it’ll be back. The only way to keep in touch with the people who love your content and to keep them coming back for more is by reaching out to them on a regular basis by email. MailChimp allows you to do just that. Their app only offers analytics, but it is still a useful tool to have. I would have liked to see more functionality, but it gets a mention for the ease of use offered on the proper site and because keeping track of your email campaigns is just as important as keeping track of your web stats.

Control Panel for cPanel

If you are hosting your own blog or website and use a server that runs cPanel, this nifty app allows you to plug into your service and control all the little knobs you have available. From scheduling a backup to setting up a sub-domain or a new email address, you can now do it all on the move. P.S. I know cPanel is technically not a free service, because you usually get it with paid hosting, however you don’t actually pay for it so it stays here.

(#54 of 366 X 2012 project)

Review: Baker’s Crust

Foccaccias at Baker's Crust

Food writers are a strange breed. They write a 1000-word review but give the food about 100 words. We don’t have many of them on the island, but out of respect to the one who contributed to the Vida for two years (Ed, of Ed Eats – sorry but he’s stuck in the past, he only tweets), I generally tend to stay away from the subject.

I pretend to do it out of respect for him, but really I just avoid the subject because I know he can do the job much more effectively than I can. Ed knows the perfect age of every red wine in the world. In minutes. Ed can recite the cuts of meat in a calf moving in any direction (front, back, up or down) and will tell you where the best restaurant for each particular cut can be found. Ed can smell truffles from a restaurant’s kitchen, and will then proclaim that they are actually spring truffles (this, my friends, is not a hyperbole – I’ve seen him do it). Ed is basically what Chuck Norris would be hope to be if he applied himself to culinary delights.

I on the other hand, am a relatively crass eater. I like sushi as much as the next middle-class guy but you won’t find me travelling for food. I love eating well when I’m abroad, but I prefer to choose destinations for other reasons (music is usually the main one). When I eat I can appreciate the finer things in life, but don’t expect me to tell you for how long a steak was aged before it was grilled.

It was therefore quite fitting that my second restaurant review is not about a restaurant at all (you can find my first here: Badass Burgers). It is about a little take-out in Paceville – one of Malta’s seediest locations. If you want a quick, cheap and cheerful meal for lunch in Malta you usually have two options – the village bar for a ftira or a plate of pasta; or pastizzi, a pizza or a pie from a pastizzi place. Both are incredibly tempting options but none of them offers any brownie points for class or health.

Good food, in my books, needs two basic elements: good ingredients and some loving attention at the preparation stage. It might sound obvious to you and to me, but to so many people providing food for a living it seems to be a thoroughly elusive concept. Finding a decent roll was much easier when I worked on the other side of the Island. Stuzzico, for example, offers great baguettes made with some of the finest ingredients this side of the Straits of Messina – and all at reasonable prices.

Now that I’m working in San Gwann and have a half-hour lunch break, my options are severely limited. Enter Baker’s Crust. Having opened its doors only three months ago, one would expect it to be struggling to find its feet, however I’ve been going regularly for the past two months and have never been disappointed.

The variety of food on display is decent – among other things you have pizzas (which I have never tried); very fresh salads with generous portions of chicken, tuna, feta cheese or fruit – depending on the variety you choose; wraps; sandwiches; ultra-crunchy baguettes with fine ingredients (my favourite comes with brie and cranberry sauce); and delicious foccaccias (my favourite is a Sicilian foccaccia with aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes and basil and a healthy drizzle of tasty olive oil).

In addition to being very good, the food is well-priced and is usually ready in a matter of minutes. Does it have drawbacks? Yes, everything does. Parking is always a pain – but we usually car-pool, park in a, erm, compromising place and leave someone on watch with the car.

And that, my dear readers, is that. If I ever want to be a proper food writer I must now close the review off with a reference to the gag in my first paragraph. I dedicated 10% of my article to the food at the place I was reviewing. On second thoughts I think I have the credentials to become a food writer after all.

Food! On Sale!

P.S. If you work in the area you’re in for another bonus – all their food is at half price this week – gosh. You might even meet me there if you head over at around 1.

P.P.S. Just in case you’re wondering, Baker’s Crust is next to Champs in Paceville, opposite Melita Pharmacy.

(#24 of 366 X 2012 project)