When you're trying to make it in the photography world (or any contact-based domain) and learn from the best, you're most likely going to be sending a "cold" email to various people. What's a cold email? Just like a cold call, it's an email where you reach out to someone you don't know at all. Most of the photography related emails I have written since I graduated from college have more or less been cold emails. I contact people in order to get information, see if they have advice for me, ask about working with them, etc. Chances are, you've sent one before and if you're working in this industry, you'll be sending and receiving them quite a bit.
Cold emails are so, so important because that's the one chance to you get to make a first impression on someone. If you write an awful cold email the first time around and the person reads it, they may ignore your future emails even if they're a thousand times better than that first one. I say this from experience.
My first cold emails went a little something like:
My name is Neha Sharma and I yadda yadda yadda. I am contacting you because blah blah blah and blah blah blah. I have done such and such for x amount of time and I am looking to get more experience by doing this, this, and that. I would like to take the next step in my career by working with you. Blah blah blah ending notes. Yadda yadda thank you and have a great day.
Yikes. That email screams ME ME ME SOME MORE ABOUT ME AND I WANT TO GET FURTHER IN MY CAREER SO HELP ME OUT BECAUSE I EMAILED YOU KTHANKSBYE.
Please do NOT send out an email like that. Once I read this article on Levo League, I realized I was doing it all wrong. No one ever told me how to write a proper email to someone I didn't know and it is a little more involved than you think it is. Here's my list of things to keep in mind when emailing someone you don't know and want to work with/learn from:
- Do your research. Check and see if you already have any connections with them. Be a master creeper on LinkedIn. The world is a lot smaller than you think it is. If you already have a friend or colleague who is a solid connection between you and the person you're emailing, reach out to them first. Getting introduced to them by said mutual friend will get you a lot further than if you send out an email as a complete stranger to them.
- Introduce yourself properly. Tell them your name and something that you do that is relevant to them. I always tell people that I have my BFA in Photography and sometimes I tell them what college I went to, though I don't think that's truly necessary unless you went to a prestigious college. Then hey, you have bragging rights! Let them know you went to Harvard or SCAD or wherever you went! That being said, keep it short. They don't need to know your age, daily activities, Grandma's favorite color, and the Asian restaurant that gave you gas last week.
- Tell them how you found them. Tell them what you like about their work. Instead of telling someone you love their photography or design, why not pick out a few favorites in their portfolio that really stand out to you? Maybe a particular fashion photograph really resonated with you. It means a lot for an artist to hear that.
- Get to the point. Don't blab on for three years about yourself. Keep it short and sweet and to the point. They're busy and don't want to read a thesis on why they should take you into consideration.
- Let them know your skills, what you can bring to the company, and what makes you awesome at what you do. Skip the "I'm so passionate about..." and "I really love..." stuff. Just stick to the facts. Don't go on about yourself and what you want to get out of it. Let them know all the amazing things they will get out of it.
- Don't give them attachments to look at with your resume/CV, pieces from your portfolio, etc.; they won't open them. Instead of doing all that, give them the information they need -- and only the information they need -- and that will suffice. Make sure you have a link to your portfolio in the signature. If you want them to look at a specific area of your website, link them to that. No one wants to spend any amount of time trying to find what they're looking for on your website. After a few seconds and no results, they'll give up. If you're emailing someone about music photography, provide a link to your music photography portfolio. Chances are that they could care less about your wedding photography.
- Don't go into it trying to get them to hire you as an exec. Interning isn't bad and someone is more likely to take you on as an assistant or an intern than a full-time position unless they're specifically looking for that. You want to learn the ropes and that takes some experience. Who knows? After interning/assisting, they might like you so much that they offer you a higher position in their company or a sister company that's similar to them.
- Last but not least, be yourself. Sounds stupid to say that, but don't try to be someone you're not, because you're going to get writers block like crazy and your email won't sound quite right because, well, it won't sound like you.
This list was partly from my own experience and partly the takeaways from the aforementioned article on Levo League and others on cold emails. Read them before you write one. You'll be glad you did! Better to spend 15 minutes reading through a few articles than regretting hitting send, right?