Don’t just ask for an introduction. Get one.

So you’re being a good little denizen of the 21st-century workforce and networking your wee face off. Maybe you’re trying to open the door to a new business opportunity for your company, or you’re trying to get to know someone who may make a great addition to your team. Or maybe you’re legitimately trying to get a date: you met an erudite hottie at your last Whatever Conference and you’re dead-set on having a second conversation. There are countless reasons you may be introducing yourself via a written missive, hoping to convince whomever you’re writing to that they should do you the honor of meeting you. How do you write an email that gets you that introduction?

After I posted my first blog – about writing more effective business emails – my own erudite hottie, my fiancé John, got in my face: “Hey, you helped me edit that email yesterday, and you didn’t have me do any of these things.” I calmly responded: yes, but you don’t yet know the person you’re writing to. Your audience is different and your intent is different, so a different approach is required. For your edification today, the basic formula I prescribe for securing an introduction from someone you don’t know (or don’t know well):

  • Establish how you know they exist. In this situation, you can’t just jump right into your request. You run the risk of seeming too presumptuous or even unfriendly. So first, explain if and how they know you. If they don’t know you, briefly explain how you uncovered their very existence. Do you have a mutual acquaintance or interest? Do you share an alma mater or past employer? Did you meet at a networking or social event? Did you run over their foot with your bicycle or jump in front of them in the coffee line? (If either of the last two, an introductory apology may also be in order. But I’ll leave that bit to you and however your parents raised you.)

  • Find something you can offer them. This could take many forms: an insight you had about potentially improving their business model, something you read that they may be interested in, an event they may wish to attend, an industry development impacting their business, someone else they may wish to meet, and so on ad infinitum. The basic gist is that you’re offering them something that helps illustrate your potential value to their life or their work. What sorts of things can they expect you to bring to the table?

  • Credentialize yourself. Who the hell are you and why should they continue reading your email? To be clear, this is not a place to write four solid paragraphs about your own achievements or experience. This is not your resume. Suffice with a few brief sentences about who you are, what you do, a statement of how you’ve provided value to others in the past, and a final reiteration of your commitment to doing the same for them. If you've worked with/for someone they should know, include that too. (Caveat: if you’re writing the email to get a date, this piece should be carefully toned down. Maybe you are indeed proven efficient, powerful, and well-liked by an average of 9 out of 10 parents, but you’re not yourself a business proposal. Better to leave a little to the imagination and look slightly less like a crazy person.)

  • Ask for a meeting. How many times have you sent what you viewed as an utterly lovely “pleased to meet you and I’d like to know more” email – and you got no response whatsoever? Well, did you ask them an actual question requiring a response? The best question is to simply ask for an introductory call or meeting. Get specific about potentially where/when. If possible, offer them options.

  • Don’t forget your contact info. Sure, you’re emailing them, so they have your email address. But take that big, important step that shows them they’re no telemarketer or overlong-talking Great Aunt Elaine in your eyes. Give them your trust AND your phone number.

At minimum, keeping this formula in mind makes composing those awkward “I don’t know you but I’d like to know you” missives simpler and less intimidating. And I hope it helps you get that next introduction!