Contacting hard-to-find people

contacting hard to find peopleThis week in the This Book Means Business Bootcamp one of the things we’re focusing on is using the process of writing your book to build your network (both upwards and outwards), and one of the questions that came up was about how to contact people when their email addresses aren’t easily available.

It’s worth saying, though, that with a bit of creative Googling, often people’s email addresses are more available than you might think: I’ve found them in university staff directories, on presentations in SlideShare, in forum posts and on documents they’ve uploaded to their own or others’ sites, for example. And if they work in a large company you can often guess their email address, particularly if you can find someone else’s in the same company and apply the same logic (eg firstname.lastname @

But if you’ve tried and failed to find an email address, how else can you reach out to someone – to ask for an interview for your book, for example?

Here are a few tips:

  • Build a relationship with them on their social media platform of choice (I particularly like Twitter). NB a relationship doesn’t involve simply tweeting to ask them to do something for you: take time to get to know what they’re saying and what they value, retweet things of particular interest to you, reply if they ask a question you can answer helpfully. You’re much more likely to get a positive response if you put the work in first.
  • If they have an email list, get on it – again, it’s a great way to find out more about what makes them tick and what they care about, and if you respond to an email they’ve sent you, it’s a slightly different dynamic to simply sending them an email out of the blue, and that much more likely to get a positive response.
  • Find out if you have connections in common – LinkedIn is useful for this. If you’re lucky enough to be a second-degree connection you can invite them to connect with a personal message even on the free version of LinkedIn, and in any case you can see who in your network might be able to introduce you.
  • Try to meet them in person if possible, if they’re giving a talk or book signing, for example. You may not get chance to speak to them at great length (in fact you’ll probably do more harm than good if you try) but then again you might, and you can certainly follow up with an email reminding them that you met briefly and mentioning something that particularly impressed you – again, a more difficult email to ignore than a simple cold approach.
  • Buy them! Depending on who they are and what they do, and what you can afford, of course, buy into their services. If you respect them so much, why not? At the very least this gives you an insight into how they do what they do, and you’ll probably learn a huge amount. And suddenly you have become a customer, which totally changes the dynamic of the relationship.
  • Finally, build a platform you can invite them onto, rather than simply asking for a favour. This was my thinking with The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast, and it works surprisingly well – even rockstars need a continuous supply of stages.

Whatever you do, make the approach count. Do your research so your email is appropriate and personal, and ideally links to something that’s currently on their mind (a question they’ve put out on social media, a book they’ve just published, an issue they’re campaigning on). Nothing is more likely to trigger my delete finger than an email that’s obviously been cut and pasted to a host of recipients.

And follow up. This is hard for two reasons (for me at least): firstly I need to keep track and remember to do it – I flag emails in my inbox that need dealing with, but I’m much less likely to remember to do that for emails in my sent items – and secondly because it feels rude. It feels like I’m pestering them. And then I remember the marketing director I used to work with who never responded to an email first time round because ‘if they really want an answer they’ll come back to me again.’ (Which is a whole other blog post about cutting down your workload and/or irritating your colleagues…)

Have you found a brilliant way of connecting with hard-to-contact people! I’d love to hear it!