I use email templates to say No… and other things


The Power of ReUse

If you're a programmer, you know that writing the same line of code over and over again kind of kills you inside every time you do it. You know it. I know it. But here's the strange thing – you write the same lines in your emails every day and you never moved to email templates. This confuses me (as it should you). So today let me introduce you to the power of an email template.

I like them for three reasons:

  1. They help me stay consistent
  2. I can write them when I'm calm
  3. They help me respond quickly

While email templates can't deliver world peace, they can help with all sorts of situations where staying calm, and being consistent are highly valued.

Saying No #1

This is my automatic email template for folks who ask me to make engineering recommendations.

Thank you so much for contacting me about your project. While it's true that I've worked in several startups and know a lot of really talented software engineers, all of them are currently working. I find that's true for just about everyone you want – great people find ways to be busy.

I totally understand that you're looking for folks to bring on at the ground floor and want my advice on how to find great software engineers (at a low cost). Here's the thing – doesn't everyone want great software engineers at a low cost? So I suggest you adjust your pitch. Look for great engineers that want to solve the problem you're solving. Look for folks who may be busy but are passionate about your space – that may woo them away from their current efforts.

Anyway, that's my advice and unfortunately I don't know of a perfect fit for your project that I could recommend right now.


Saying No #2

This is my automatic email template for projects I'm not interested in helping pro bono.

Thank you so much for your email about your project. I can tell you've put time and energy into it and have a lot of passion for what you're doing. As you can imagine, I like to get involved in projects where I have passion as well. It's one of my five criteria for accepting pro bono projects. As I've written before, I have a really clear and systematic approach to my pro bono work, which is why I'm writing to say I won't be able to help you with your project.

Please don't assume this is a judgement on your project or anything like that. Your project just didn't meet my criteria (below). You can see where passion fits in:

  1. I can add immediately value (I've done this before).
  2. I have the time/bandwidth to take on another project.
  3. I am passionate about what you're doing.
  4. I believe you'll have a reasonable shot at success.
  5. You can't pay now but will pay it forward later.

Thanks for the opportunity to get involved but at this time I'll have to pass. But don't let that stop you. Keep pushing forward. After twenty years of doing what I do, I could tell you stories about successful products others didn't initially believe in. So keep up the good work!


Saying No #3

This is the email template I use for saying no when a project is under-funded. In other words, it's interesting and has budget but not enough to warrant my inclusion.

Thanks for the information on your project. I appreciate getting it and I'd guess, because you actually have a budget, that you're seeing some early traction and are excited to get going. Unfortunately, at this time it will have to be without me. As I reviewed your budget I could see how that might work for your project. But in that case, you'll have to do what I regularly mention to startups – find a passionate partner who gets involved because of your mission rather than the pay. Unfortunately, because my passion and your project don't have a lot in common, I'd be doing it for the pay. And I'm expensive. And the second thing I'd tell you is that you wan to conserve as much cash as possible. That means you can't work with expensive people.

What I'd tell you today is to find a like-minded engineer that is excited about what you're doing. Get them engaged and get started. As you build up some further traction and generate more income, let me know. We might be able to find a way to work together. And again, thanks for thinking of me and inviting me to collaborate.


But I don't always use email templates to say no (though I could go on and one pasting a bunch here). Here's a positive one, just to prove I can be a nice guy.

Saying Yes

Sometimes I see a blog post, a news story, or tweet and I can't help myself. I want to engage the startup and see if I can help. In those cases, I often send this.

Thanks for your response. I promised you this email, telling you a little about myself and how that might help you. If you were to pack up my entire resume into 5 bullets, this is what they'd be:

  1. I starting working with web-based software in 1995.
  2. 3 of my 5 startups sold & the other 2 are still around.
  3. I've designed & launched over 90 SaaS products.
  4. I've been coaching startups for over a decade.
  5. I know virtual teams and high performance cultures.

So how can that translate to you? Well I find that most people start looking for advice after they've discovered something's not working. I try to get involved earlier to prevent that from happening. A lot of great engineers and product developers focus on their feature set, when in reality they should be evaluating every one of their market assumptions. I know we like to think that building something “I would use” is a good standard, but our own gut can deceive us.

You can read more about me, and my opinions, over at chrislema.co where I write daily. I've written two eBooks that highlight how I think and work, which may be helpful as well. But I'm not trying to sell you on my blog or ebooks. I'm simply saying those are ways to find out more about this guy who just emailed you.

If you think I might be able to help, I'd love to set up a time for a Google Hangout so I could learn more and shape how I might be able to add value.


See? I can be positive in email (in case you wondered).

So are you ready to start drafting up your email templates?