How to start an email with a story

When I started my email list I didn’t have a clue what to send people. There were several months when I didn’t send anything at all. I was worried people wouldn’t like my emails, that I was imposing myself on them – barging into their inbox.

If you have a list you rarely email, or you keep hearing about list-building but are not sure what you are going to write, then this article is for you. I’m going to show you how to start an email with a story.

Why tell a story?

Starting with a story hooks your reader in. They are there with you as you go through that experience or react to something which happened to another character in your story. You’ve caught their attention immediately and they want to know what is going to happen next.

Various things happen to us when we listen to a story:

  • We have been conditioned to listen to stories since we were little. Cast your mind back to someone telling you they were going to read you a story when you were a child: how did you feel?
  • Our brain releases chemicals, including oxytocin which makes us feel good.
  • We are transported to another place for as long as the story holds our interest.

Telling a story when you write your email gives you a powerful vehicle to transport your reader and pull on their emotions.

You will notice that I told a story when I started this article. I set a scene: me at a computer, staring at a blank screen, worrying. I showed what form those fears took – and the consequence (I didn’t email my list). I told it so that you could put yourself in the story, taking my place, turning you into the hero. And then I told you how I would lead you on a path that would take you from that position, to one where you could share a story and how that would help you know what to write.

A woman with a laptop. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina

What stories can you tell?

Your stories can be about anything – so long as they tie in with your ideal customer’s interests.

I’ve written emails which were influenced by TV shows my children had watched, places I have visited, what I have done over the weekend, and questions people have asked me.

Once you start thinking about stories, you will spot them all over the place. You could think about:

  • A project you have been working on
  • A common situation your customers find themselves in (they want to do something or they are going to be somewhere and need your product or service)
  • Something that happened to you this week (sharing so-called behind-the-scenes content which gives people a glimpse of your life helps people get to know you and builds trust)
  • A memory – it can be from last week, last year or even your childhood. If you can tell a story that will mean something to your list, take a trip down memory lane.

Imagine you are telling your story to someone sitting with you

There are plenty of stories you can tell but the one thing you have to remember is to make them relevant and engaging to the person reading them. Which stories are going to connect with your email subscribers?

Imagine one person and tell your story to them. How would you keep them engaged in the tale if you were telling it to them in the pub or over a coffee?

When you are emailing, it’s easy to forget that a real person is going to read your message. By imagining that you are chatting with someone, you think about how to keep their attention and which details they will be interested in.

Two women chatting over coffee in a cafe window. Photo by Franky Van Bever on Unsplash

How your opening story ties in with your products and services

You don’t have to sell in every email but sharing stories which you can link to your products and services helps people get to know who you are, what you do, and why they might need it. When you’re thinking about the story you are going to tell, consider how you will get from the scene you have set and the action to an ending which will link seamlessly into something you offer.

This can be leaving your reader with something to ponder, or an invitation to try something you did for themselves. Perhaps you would like them to consider an alternative course of action. Or you could directly link to a sales message if that is appropriate.

Not everyone needs what you offer all the time but they might do in the future. You can tell stories for different stages of the buying cycle

Your readers will not just be interested in your products and services. They will be interested in the lifestyle your offers fit in to or share a similar way of looking at the world. The stories you tell can tie in with those. For instance, I’m a business storytelling coach and tell stories about stories (very meta), writing and sharing your work, but my audience are mainly business owners and so I also share stories about that part of my life.

Do you want help to find your stories?

Think of a situation you have found yourself in recently where you thought, ‘this is relevant to x’. 

‘X’ could be:

  • a service you offer,
  • a struggle your clients face,
  • something your customers work with you to achieve,
  • or a skill that is relevant to your audience.

Now set the scene: what were you doing? Where were you? What happened next? Then as you conclude your story, lead in to the service, struggle, goal, or skill you are emailing about.

If you are not sure what your stories are, then I will help you plot them out with two consultation settings where we discuss everything about you and then I give you a bespoke ebook with lots of prompts and hooks you can use not only in your emails but also on your blog, social media, and anywhere else where you need to tell people about yourself and what you do. Book your Plot Out Your Stories session.

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