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How to ask for something from an important person (and actually get it)

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Today, I’ll show you the actual email I used to get bestselling authors and famous celebrities to contribute to an ebook I put together.

Hint: the email does not look like this (an actual email I received):

email

With emails like these, I hope you appreciate the mental fortitude it takes to not go insane every day of my life.

But instead of just mocking the dumb people who read my blog, I want to talk about the very best ones — the people who know how to reach out to VIPs and get a response.

This is important. A lot of people think success is just a matter of “figuring it out” and reading a few books.

Top performers know that they can leapfrog everyone else by getting personal advice from people who’ve already been through the fire. Ask any successful person how a mentor/advisor/expert has helped them, and they won’t be able to stop talking.

So how do you ask an elite level performer/VIP for help with something in a way that will actually get a positive response? Maybe it’s to get a recommendation for a job…or to get invited backstage to meet your favorite band…or even to get some advice on a tricky business situation.

The answer is to shift your focus from a “me” perspective to a “you” perspective. For example, years ago, I was hanging out with Charlie Hoehn, who’s worked with me, Tim Ferriss, and Tucker Max. He told me how working behind the scenes has taught him about how to work with these kinds of people. “Everyone wants something from you guys,” he said. “Now I know how to stand out. Just don’t ask for anything! Actually add some value first.”

This “you first” approach is how I’ve been able to get the advice of best-selling authors, superstar CEOs, and all kinds of fascinating people.

 timandramit

Tim Ferriss and me

chaseandramit

Me with Chase Jarvis

Here’s an example.

I want to share a private email with you that I wrote to NYT Bestselling Author Ben Casnocha when I wanted him to help me with my 10 More Little Life Experiments ebook. My comments are in brackets:

Hey Ben,

I’m putting together a short free ebook with fascinating/actionable test results (e.g., material on marketing, business, lifestyle design, social dynamics, career hacks, etc). [Quickly introduce what I’m doing and get them excited about it. Note how I skip over introductions because I already know Ben. If I didn’t, it would be important to introduce who I am and why he should read this email.]

I’d love to have you contribute, and wanted to see if you’d be interested. I already have a great idea of what your test result could be. [VIPs expect you to want something from them. Get to the point. Again, this is not the approach I would take with everyone, but it works here because Ben is (1) insanely busy and (2) a friend.]

I’ll be putting IWT’s marketing muscle behind it — we’ll be sharing it with our list of 200,000+ and we expect to have at least 500,000 other emails going out. The emails will have links to your site. [Benefit. Why should he care? Note that almost anyone would love to get this kind of exposure. (And note the meta lesson of me promoting Ben in this very email. His blog is awesome and you should read it.)]

All I would need from you is ONE great test/result that you’ve run. For example, one of the following list:

1. How I started waking up earlier (lifestyle)

2. One phrase I always use when I meet someone new (social dynamics)

3. How I got more people to join my email list (business/marketing) [Anticipate the needs of the reader. As he reads, he’s saying, “Hmm…so what would this require?” BOOM — proactively hit him with specific examples.]

(For you, I’m thinking about conversational techniques you used to become more interested/interesting…or how you elicit people to become more open by being transparent yourself. Also, you had that AWESOME tip about speaking, where you take a mid-talk break and tell them 5 books to write down, and everyone wakes up. People love that.) [Personalize it. I personalized every email I sent and got a tremendous response rate of over 90%. Use my motto — “Don’t make the busy person do your work for you” — and suggest ideas to them. There’s more to this principle that I outline in my ebook on writing winning emails (see below).]

We’ll include ~300-word case study about a successful test you’ve run. Here’s a previous ebook we did with examples from people like BJ Fogg, Mark Sisson, and Josh Kaufman: [Include a finished result, if possible. This also shows him big names I worked with in the past, so he can see this will be a gathering of renowned contributors]

LINK TO FINISHED RESULT

Our deadline is Wednesday, September 18th. What do you think?

-Ramit

P.S. If you’re interested but not sure what you’d contribute, let me know and I can give you a quick call to share some ideas. [VIPs get swamped with emails. Sometimes, I prefer to hop on a 5-minute call while I’m in between errands. So I offer that option here.]


What are the takeaways?

  • Be brief. VIPs are busy and do not want to read your tortured expository essay on your life history, food allergies, and the mole on your back
  • Focus on what’s in it for THEM. Benefit-driven, focused on benefit to THEM (“putting the full IWT muscle behind it”)
  • Offer a clear CTA (call to action). You wouldn’t believe how many people end their emails to me with “Yeah, so…wow, I wrote more than I thought” DELETE
  • Anticipate every objection and counter it before they can consciously voice it. Who’s going to be in this? Oh, here are past people I worked with. I don’t have any ideas. Oh, let’s get on a call and I’ll help you come up with some. Etc.
  • Break the rules. I routinely break every rule in this list (but that depends on the recipient and the message). I talk more about this below.

What else can you spot from the email that I did?

If you’re curious about learning exactly how I send emails that get a 90%+ response rate — and how to get access to VIPs who want to help you — sign up below for an inside peek:

Yes, I want to learn Ramit’s email strategies and scripts

 

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24 Comments

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  1. Hi Ramit – thanks for the (as ever) interesting post, with some useful takeaways.

    You mentioned that you had a tremendous response of 90%. What was the response rate for “cold” emails, i.e. emails sent to people who didn’t know you already?

    In my experience, familiarity / a previous or personal connection can trump the most beautifully-worded email. I would be interested to see how this was borne out in your response rate.

  2. Very cool, Ramit.

    If you’re asking for advice/asking a question, how would you be able to convey what’s in it for them?

    (Of course, this is assuming the question isn’t stupid and long.)

  3. Nahyan Chowdhury Link to this comment

    Excellent email breakdown. Going to be using it as a template for a collaborative content piece re: sports/training for our startup. Thanks!

  4. Hi Ramit,

    I use your advice for emails (be super brief, mention how I will help them,close with a yes/no answer) and it helps me to get whatever I need at work.

    Now I am recognized at work as top negotiator! Thanks 😉

  5. Thanks for sharing the script. I am making some comparisons to the verbal script I used as a professional fundraiser for five years. Personalizing the message, as you rightly pointed out, is critical. The reasons big donors open up their pockets books are often not even linked to the amazing cause you are campaigning for, it has a lot more to do with whether the person trusts you and actually thinks you care about them and what they care about.

    Also, getting to the point is critical. I like that you were very specific about ways in which potential contributors could help. In fundraising I would often do better if I asked for a specific amount. If you just ask for “any help you can offer” you get a token gift or nothing.

  6. Get Better Daily Link to this comment

    Ramit,

    Thank you for posting this and other golden advice. Using your techniques have helped obtain job interviews and business contacts I would not have dreamed of before. I look forwarding to using this advise in the future as well. Again thank you so much.

    -GBD

  7. I’m curious how to go about finding ‘beginning-middle of the road’ people. Everyone knows the big names, but it’s a bit harder to find the ‘doing okay, well known in my niche, but I still need a day job’ names. I’m assuming a good percent of your readership won’t be necessarily going after VIPs, but after people with in the middle.

    How do you (general you) find people in the range of positive response – that is to say people who will see benefit in a 500 person mailing list rather than 500,000 and are more likely to respond to requests?

    • Mel @ brokeGIRLrich Link to this comment

      Wouldn’t those early/middle of the road folks likely be people you look up to? In the PF blogger circle names like J. Money, Mr. Money Mustache, etc. come to mind. They’ve got good, large followings, but if you’re offering something you can do for them, I don’t think they’d turn down your 500 person mailing list.

      I also believe that if you craft a strong enough argument, people will often reach a little lower than you think they would to help you out – but again, emphasizing on what you can do for them. In that, they see a person with potential, and what better time to connect with them than when they’re a tiny unknown.

      And you can contact a heck of a lot of people using the contact section of their blogs.

  8. I once read something very similar about Mark Cuban.

    “And he’s got tens of thousands of unread e-mails.

    But he spends hours combing over his incoming every day.

    You get two sentences. Complain, ask for a favor and he hits delete. Deliver a straight up business proposition, he might not only respond, he might invest, Mark’s accessible.” –

    http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2011/08/31/mark-cuban/

    I used this exact same tactic, he answered me within 45min.

    (same worked with Jason Fried, Derek Sivers and Noah Kagan)

  9. Christine Mukai Link to this comment

    Thx! Simplicity and giving back to the other works almost every time. Win-win situation -if not immediately, the favors are usually returned.

  10. I recently stumbled onto your blog Ramit and I must say you’ve got some great content. I myself can attest to the effectiveness in offering value to people of influence. I used this method to secure a very important relationship recently. I also have a few questions for you but I will go through the rest of your blog to make sure they are not answered elsewhere.

  11. Thanks for the post, Ramit.

    I like the takeaway of thinking about what is in it for them rather than for us.

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  19. Ramit,

    Thanks a lot for sharing your ideas.

    One of the things that works very well for me is that I first send the person whom I am approaching a list of 10 ideas to improve their business (with the subject line “10 ideas to improve ___business name___”) This instantly catches the eye of the highly influential person and scrolling ideas take maximum of a minute. Generally, the person responds me back with a thank you and let me know if I can be of any help.

  20. Jason harrison Link to this comment

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