In business, you may be required to write a letter to someone you don’t know. From prospects to customers and partners to vendors, small business owners interact with many people they haven’t met on a daily basis. Writing a letter to someone you don’t know doesn’t need to be complicated. While it varies slightly from writing a business letter to someone with whom you are acquainted, this kind of letter writing comes with a few specific guidelines.

Doing Your Research

The first step to writing a letter to someone you don’t know is to do your research and make sure you have the right contact. If possible, find out the name of the person to whom you’re writing. You’ll also need his email address or full postal address. In addition to basic contact information, it’s important to know his role in the organization and what business activities he oversees. You don’t want to write to the wrong contact and risk having your email deleted.

For example, if you’re interested in starting a partnership with a local business, you can start by going to their website and learning about their team. You can also call their office and ask for contact information. If that company has a business development department, that is a good place to start. Emailing the wrong department might mean that no one reads your correspondence.

Addressing a Letter to an Unknown Person

When you don’t know the name of the person to whom you’re writing, addressing the letter can seem daunting. If you’ve done your research and cannot locate a contact name, it’s OK to address your letter with “To whom it may concern.” While it’s always better to address your business letter to someone specific, a "to whom it may concern" letter will suffice when you don’t have a contact name available.

When you do have the contact name available, use a formal greeting such as “To” or “Dear” followed by the name. If you know the gender of the person you’re addressing, you can use “Mr.” for a man or “Ms.,” “Miss” or “Mrs.” for a woman followed by the last name. However, you can also forgo the prefix and use the full name as well, as in “Dear Drew Smith.” This is especially useful when you don’t know the person’s gender.

Introducing Yourself and Providing Context

When writing a letter to someone you don’t know, your first paragraph should focus on introducing yourself and your business. For example, you could say, “My name is Jane Donaldson, and I am the owner of Donaldson Foods.” Next, give the reader an idea of why you’re contacting her: “I’m writing to you today because I’d like to speak with you about establishing a partnership with your catering company.”

It’s important to provide the benefits of your request to the reader. Try to frame your letter based on what interests your audience. Instead of focusing on your great products or impeccable customer service, focus on the readers. How will your great products change their life? How will your customer service make them more money? For example, you could say, “Our locally grown produce is known throughout the community. Your customers will enjoy the freshness and quality that only we can provide.”

Inviting a Call to Action

When writing a letter to someone you don’t know, end with a call to action. What do you want the reader to do? A call to action can come in many forms:

  • Respond to your letter
  • Give you a phone call
  • Book a meeting
  • Sign an agreement or contract

Be clear in your letter and make it easy for the reader to take action. For example, if you’re asking the recipient of the business letter to book a meeting with you to discuss things further, provide him with some available dates and times that he can select. For example, you could say, “I’d love to chat more about this opportunity. I’m available on Thursday and Friday between noon and 5 p.m. Please let me know if either of those days works for you.”

Signing Off Cordially

After you’ve made a call to action, thank the reader. Say something like, “Thank you for your time” or “I really appreciate your time.” Close your letter formally by saying “Sincerely” and then signing off with your full name and title.