Ian Pullen

How to start an email

A lot of people have asked me how to start their emails. (This advice can apply to letters and direct messages too.)

​My advice is to think about what the reader will see.

​Put yourself in their shoes – even if they may be wearing flippers or high heels.

​Most people see the following before opening your email:

  • Your name
  • Subject line
  • First line or so – depending on the device used.

​That first line…

​You could start with “Dear Mr Buchan”.

​If you were a doctor writing to me about an upcoming medical appointment, this would be the most appropriate greeting. I don’t want anything unusual in this context.

​Assuming you’re not a doctor writing to me about a serious medical issue, you could start with “Hello Jon” or “Hey Jon”.

​That would be fine…

​Or you could open up a thesaurus.

​Look up the other ways of saying “Hello”.

​Some will be refreshing and unusual.

Some will come off a little weird.

All of them are less boring and obvious.

​It may seem a tiny detail but an email only contains a relatively small amount of copy.

​Make sure everything you write is at least a little different, even unusual.

​It’s more fun to write and it’s more fun to read.

​If you liked this, you’ll probably enjoy my entertaining copywriting course, Have Your Way With Words. It’s included in Charm Offensive Professional.​

​And what if you want to get the attention of a dream client?

​Send them a handwritten letter.

​Nobody does it.

​That’s why it works.

​It follows the Charm Offensive ‘formula’, as it were:

​[Attention] – The form alone will get attention. You earn a few additional seconds attention because sending a handwritten letter in 2018 is archaically charming.

​[Disarm] – Now it’s time your words to do the work. Open your letter with the most honest thing you can say.

​[Communicate] – Introduce yourself, and what you do / what problems you can solve in a way that will make people smile. Avoid hype. Be understated but ambitious. Meek but direct.

​[Charm] – When making your ask (e.g. for a call, meeting or competitive binge-drinking session), frame it in a way so the prospect feels like they stand to gain from such a call, rather than be subjected to the hard sell.

​For [Disarm], [Communicate] and [Charm], you can find joke formulas to make your copy more entertaining in the Charm Offensive Facebook Group. (Search for “How to be somewhat funny” while in the group.)

​Have the writing of a small child? Find someone with nice handwriting to do it for you.

​They’re companies that will run these campaigns for you at scale.

​Not everyone will reply, of course.

​If you’ve had no response to your letter, follow up with an email one week later, with the subject line “handwritten letter.”

​Or call them on the phone. When your prospect asks who it is, you can say “Did you get a slightly weird handwritten letter last week?”


​”That’s me.”

​This will work.

​Everyone is trying to win their attention online.

​Sometimes the least technological route is the least competitive and most novel and persuasive.

That’s not a bad first impression to make…