3 First sentences to avoid when writing a prospecting email. (And 2 that work better.)

Prospecting emailsIf your freelance copywriting or consulting business has got to the point where all your new work comes in through referrals, good for you.

But most of us need to do some prospecting for new clients, in the form of outbound marketing. And outbound marketing will typically begin with an email or physical letter, sent to your prospects at work.

Some prospecting letters work pretty well, but many of them bomb. And when they fail, the cause can often be found in the first sentence of text below the salutation.

I’m going to share 3 examples of first sentences that really don’t work very well, and tell you why. Followed by a couple of examples that might help you achieve better results.

Example 1: I see that your company has a Facebook page, but that you’re not updating it regularly.

On the face of it, this line seems reasonable. You have gone to the trouble of checking out the prospect’s Facebook page, and you have found a weakness that should be addressed.

It sounds reasonable right up to the point when you compare it to opening your front door and finding someone standing there who says something like, “I notice you have some cracks in your driveway, and my crew and I happen to have a half load of asphalt that will go to waste if we don’t use it today.”

In other words, the subtext of your opening line is, “Hey, there is a problem with your Facebook page and I happen to be really good at fixing this kind of stuff.”

It’s a sales pitch. You don’t know your prospect, and he or she doesn’t know you. But your first step in trying to build a relationship is to open with a pitch. Worse than that, your pitch begins with a criticism.

I’m not saying this kind of opening will never work. But personally, I avoid opening sentences that criticize the prospect’s work, or signal that you are going to start selling yourself right from the outset.

Example 2: I overheard a conversation on the subway this morning, and one thing I heard literally blew my mind.

This is the storytelling opening. It is designed to pique the reader’s curiosity and keep them reading. Typically, this is also a “slow reveal”. That is to say, it’s only much later in the email that you actually reveal what was said on the subway.

This approach has been shown to work well with “aspirational” audiences, comprised of individuals who aspire to make more money, lose more weight, find their soul mates, grow larger tomatoes in their gardens, or stay healthy by taking supplements.

But it works a lot less well when you are selling professional services to fellow professionals.

How come? First, because a fellow professional will often recognize the storytelling device for what it is. It’s like showing a magic trick to a fellow magician.

Also, by signaling that you are about to tell a story you are telling your reader that you are going to take quite a long time to get to the point. And if your reader is at work, with a full schedule, they won’t have time to read a long email and will simply hit the delete button.

Example 3: As you know, the success of your online business depends on maximizing conversion rates on your website.

Here’s how a busy executive might respond to that. “Yes, I do know that, thank you very much. And I don’t need to start my day with a lecture from someone I don’t even know.”

In other words, avoid lecture mode. None of us much likes being told what we are doing wrong, and we certainly don’t appreciate it when that lecture begins in the first sentence from an absolute stranger.

And now for a couple of approaches that do work. At least, they have worked pretty well for me.

Example 4: My name is Nick Usborne, I’m a coffee marketing expert, and I’m writing today to offer you a complimentary copy of my report, ‘Beyond the Beans and Machines’.

According to the rules of copywriting, I should never open by talking about myself. But I do. And I do it so that my reader can quickly decide whether or not my email is of interest. If it’s not, that’s fine. They’re probably not a true prospect. If it is of interest, I have done them the favor of getting to the point quickly.

You’ll also see that I offer to give them something. By offering a complementary report within the first sentence, I am letting them know that my email is not about me asking something from them, but giving something.

In my experience, prospecting works a lot better when you give something rather than ask for something.

Makes sense, right?

And if they say yes to my gift, I now have a legitimate reason to get back to them with the report, and it’s reasonable that I’ll follow up a few days later.

Example 5: My name is Nick Usborne, I’m a coffee marketing expert, and I wonder if you could tell me who in your company would most welcome a complimentary copy of my report, ‘Beyond the Beans and Machines’.

When we identify a company we would like to work with, we often don’t know who in the company is the best person to approach.

Instead of writing a long email to the wrong person, you’re better off writing a very short email to someone who can tell you who that right person is.

Again, I offer a gift. Hopefully this provides a small incentive. Hopefully the recipient wouldn’t want to deprive the “right person” of my gift.

Wrapping it up…

Recognize that your first email to your prospect is from one stranger to another.

Don’t pitch too hard. Don’t ask for too much of their time. Don’t try to achieve too much.

You can do all of that, and more, once you have established at least the beginnings of a relationship.

And to get that relationship off to a good start…try giving something before you ask for something.


Coaching for freelancers


Writing for the Web

If you found this post helpful, sign up for my e-newsletter and get a free copy of my 35-page guide…

Writing For The Web #1 — 7 Challenges every Writer and Copywriter faces when writing for the Web.

Sign up and I’ll send you the link for the download, and then you’ll receive my most recent post as part of my e-newsletter every Tuesday morning.

Sign Up for my Excess Voice Newsletter…


(Your email address will be used only for the purpose of sending you this newsletter, and you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.)

1 thought on “3 First sentences to avoid when writing a prospecting email. (And 2 that work better.)”

  1. This is very sensible logic. However there are two major turn offs you’ve overlooked.
    1. It wastes everyone’s time to say I am writing. We know you’ve been writing, otherwise there would be nothing to read.
    2. Wonder is a vague, unfocused word. Being vague in your first para is a bad thing. It is much better to use a more decisive verb.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.