The Five Minute Favor

It’s no secret that the current grade school curriculum is flawed. Instead of learning about personal finance, entrepreneurship, and relationship building, students are forced into the rote memorization of a bunch of historical and scientific facts, many of which serve little to no relevance in their adult lives. The best way to learn is by doing and in many of the premier high schools (and even colleges) in the country you do almost nothing.

Any entrepreneur you speak to will tell you that they have learned more by doing, than they ever did in the classroom. There are many things that I wish I had learned earlier on, but if I could choose one, it would be how to craft the perfect cold email. In my own “doing,” I discovered that the only way you get is if you ask and that a cold email can be one of the most powerful tools to make things happen.

In the last few years, I have sent over five hundred cold emails. In this time, I have been able to take note of what’s worked, what hasn’t and adjust accordingly. Learning this in school would have saved me a lot of time and effort, and probably would put a few more bucks in my pocket.

Here are my three biggest cold email takeaways so far:

  1. Keep it brief. Nowadays, our attention spans rival that of a fruit fly. No one wants to read more than they have to.
  2. People love to talk about how great they are. Especially entrepreneurs. Make the message about the value you can provide for them, not the other way around.
  3. Lead with a five minute favor.

I was introduced to the idea of the five minute favor a few years ago, as I set out to find interview subjects for my book. The concept, coined by Adam Grant in his book “Give and Take”, goes as follows: Take five minutes of your day to do something that will benefit the lives of others in your network, without expecting anything in return. This could be leaving a review on their book or podcast, sharing a project they’ve been working on, donating a bit of money to a cause they support etc. Not only will doing these good deeds make you feel good, but they can also yield exponential returns.

How Does This Apply to a Cold Email?

When sending a cold email you are most likely asking someone to give up their time to do something for you (coffee chats, job recommendations, warm introductions, etc). The recipient of the email (assuming they are a complete stranger) will normally have zero obligation to help you. The five minute favor evokes the idea of reciprocity and can help break down the initial barrier of awkwardness (we all know that no one actually hopes that their email finds you well). Naturally, we are more inclined to do something nice for someone who has already done something nice for us. By supporting and praising someone’s work before making an ask, you have already set the foundation for building a relationship and in return the person is more likely to donate their time to you.

After learning this trick, I did at least one five minute favor a day for three months, knowing that I may never get anything back in return. When it came time to send a cold email, in the first line I offered a few words of praise, subtly mentioning that I left a review of their book, shared with my audience, etc. It worked like a charm. My inbox was flooded with responses.

The power of the five minute favor can extend way past the initial outreach. The goal is to form a real connection with this person and have the relationship last way longer than a few emails. The idea remains the same, the more you can do for them, the more they will do for you. Just because someone is unable to help you now, doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to in the future. Don’t be afraid to reach out just to offer your praise. You can build on this later. The more five minute favors you do, the more relationships you can build and the more valuable your network will be when you need it the most . Start out with one five minute favor and working on building your network 1% stronger each day. You will be amazed by your growth in just a year. This is the power of marginal gains.

© Randy Ginsburg, 2020 | Want to chat? Email me at