You know what I see with the majority of freelance pitching advice?
Slap in a quick google search for “freelance pitch guide” or something similar and you’ll find dozens of articles dedicated to crafting the perfect pitch email.
And that’s pretty good. In fact, some of the advice is downright awesome. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t used and benefitted from some of these guides. Many of the pitches I send today have evolved from the query/LOI hybrid developed by Linda Formichelli.
Linda’s advice, and that of many freelancers online, is pretty great. But, it’s also a little incomplete. I see so many freelancers who read those articles and misinterpret their meaning.
They think that a single awesome pitch is all they need to land a great client. But it’s never as simple as send pitch -> land projects -> profit.
More often than not you’ll find the emails you send to editors, marketing managers, or anyone who’s in a position to hire you, will go ignored. 80% of the time they’ll elicit no response and often they’ll be outright rejected.
It sucks, but that’s just the way it is. Sending pitch emails is a fundamental skill for a freelancer, but don’t think success comes from single pitch emails.
If you want to see some incredible success in your freelance career, there are a few things you need to do. First up…
Study Email Marketing
As a writer, you’ll likely turn to other writers for advice on growing your business.
It’s not a bad plan if you target writers who run successful businesses. But ideally, you want to be learning from the best. And (most) writers aren’t the best email marketers.
They can send effective pitch emails and understand the basics, but they’re not the people who live and breathe email marketing.
If you want to drastically improve the effectiveness of your pitch emails, you’ve got to check out the digital marketers of the world. The people who land hundreds of thousands of dollars in business and build multi-million dollar brands through email alone.
These are the people who know the most and can offer the best advice. I see a lot of writers not wanting to study from them because they think they’re operating in a completely different world.
Which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Both writers and digital marketers are looking to leverage digital channels to land clients and customers. Clients and customers who aren’t just looking for someone with a certain set of skills, but are willing to open their wallet to obtain them.
Talk to any serious digital marketer and they’ll highlight the importance of email as a revenue-driving, client nurturing machine. They’ll throw around stats related to email like:
- It offers a 38:1 ROI – that’s $38 earned for every $1 spent. (DMA)
- Email marketing drives more sales than any other marketing channel, including Google search and social media. (Monetate)
- An email message is five times more likely to be seen than a Facebook update (Radicati)
Email is the revenue centre of many online businesses, but it’s not just for the multi-nationals and product-based brands of the world.
You run an online business, so you should be exploring the potential this channel holds.
Instead of only conducting research with freelance writers, start looking into the practices of the world’s best marketers. They know exactly what it takes to convince people to part with their hard earned money.
Fortunately email marketing and strategy is one of the services I offer my clients. Its also one of the most effective channels I use in my freelance business to land new clients.
I’ve pulled apart some of the strategies I’ve used to build my own and my client’s businesses and adapted it to fit a freelancer’s needs. So, let’s get into it.
The Very Basics
Ever been caught at a party with the guy who only talks about himself? Pain in the arse right?
I mean, do you sit there and give the guy the benefit of the doubt, or are you secretly thinking to yourself “please… just shut up”? If you say you’d never be so rude as to think such a thing, then you’re either a terrible liar or a better person than I.
People are selfish. They want to know how you’re going to help them. Sounds cynical I know, but it’s even more true in the business world. No one is going to pay you if you offer zero value in return.
How do you think a potential client would react if they get an email from you that, in effect, said;
I’m a writer. A very good writer.
I’ve written for these guys, and these guys, and those guys.
I’m also taking on new clients.
Would you hire that person? Would you even give them a chance?
Why should you? The email is a thinly veiled boast about their own achievements. If you don’t see it then switch out the copy and imagine I’m trying to sell you a watch.
This is a very good watch.
He likes the watch, she loves the watch, and that guy’s thinking about buying it.
We’ve still got some left as well.
You gonna buy that watch?
Didn’t think so.
When you’re trying to get someone to part with their cash you need to focus on what the value is for them.
You’ve got to highlight, in no uncertain terms, that hiring you to handle their blog content, case study writing, email creation, or whatever is the smartest decision they can make.
That doing so will bring them more money, save them more time, bring them even more happy readers, and lower their stress.
This is what most freelancers fail to do. They operate under the assumption they’re being hired for their ability to write, design or whatever other speciality they’ve chosen. Which is just plain wrong.
Yes, you’re a freelancer, but the deliverable isn’t really what the client wants. What you’re selling is results, and those results could be an increase in sales, social media shares, or whatever key performance indicator is important for that business.
An editor of a magazine doesn’t hire you because you have masterful command of the English language. They hire you because their audience is interested in the topic and will pay money to read insightful pieces about it.
Online sites will pay you because your content brings in readers, gets social shares, and increases the reach of the brand.
Of course your ability to craft the deliverable is important. But, and I know this might sound odd, stop thinking of yourself as an artist for just a little while. Start thinking of yourself as a business selling a business solution.
Focus on the needs of your target prospect and pitch them the solution your business can provide. Understand that you are a problem solver and highlight how you can solve the problem of a client.
Do that, and I guarantee your response rates will improve.
Single Emails Aren’t Going to Cut It
“I sent that publication an email but they never responded”.
The death rattle of a freelance career and an excuse that deserves a swift kick up the arse.
So you sent one email. Did the client read it? Did they even open it? Did they mean to respond but just never had the chance?
What do you mean you don’t know? Well, you’ll never find out if that’s the only email you ever send them.
Look, the people who receive your pitch emails and make the big decisions on whether to hire you are busy people. The receive a shit load of emails every single day. A Radicati study puts the number of business emails an individual person receives every day at just over 116 this year.
That’s fucking huge!
The most obvious reason you’ve not got a response is because it simply slipped through the cracks. Do you really want to risk losing a potentially awesome, lucrative client by not chasing up your emails?
Of course you don’t.
Every email you send that receives no response needs to be chased. And you can do this in one of two ways.
Take the approach of most freelancers and send a basic chaser if you haven’t received a response after a week. Not a bad way to go, but I personally don’t like it cause you’re acting with no other information than the client didn’t respond.
You’ve got to send more targeted emails. You’ve got to know whether your email was opened, whether any links were clicked or whether it dropped into a spam folder.
Don’t worry it’s not as hard as it seems.
Tracking Emails for Improved Effectiveness
Did your potential client open your email?
If they did, did they click on any of the links?
Did they forward it to someone else in the organisation?
Each action is a key indicator on the best ways to optimise and improve what you’re doing. You should be tracking the pitch emails you send so you can see which elements are and aren’t working for you.
I use Hubspot for this. In addition to their free training courses (which you should definitely be checking out) they offer a free CRM (customer relationship management) platform. This platform links to your regular email address and can track the emails you send.
Once you’ve sent an email it tracks how recipients interact with it. Below is a little screenshot of some pitches I sent.
This free service lets you see who has opened emails, who’s clicked what links and who hasn’t done anything at all. Priceless information you need to continually improve client outreach and increase success rates.
But don’t run off to set up an account just yet. Before you do anything it’s important to understand the goals of your email and how different actions relate to those goals.
With a freelance pitch you have three main conversion goals.
Conversion goal 1 – To get the email opened
Conversion goal 2 – To grab the attention of your potential client so they read what you have to say
Conversion goal 3 – Get a response
Each of these conversion goals is directly related to an element of your email. Below I’ve listed the part of your email which relates to each goal, and how you know if it’s effective.
Conversion Goal 1 – To Get the Email Opened
The first thing a prospect is going to see when you email them is the subject line. If your subject line is confusing, unclear, boring, or just plain shite they’re not going to open what you’ve sent them.
If your email isn’t getting opened, it’s either down to a crappy subject line or your email getting lost in a very busy inbox.
How to fix the problem – If your email hasn’t been opened then it’ll either be down to your prospect being too busy to open it or your subject line being so off target they read it and think “no thanks”. Both of which have the same solution.
Create a better subject line, one that stands out and makes the client think “This is exactly what I need!”.
The main email copy hasn’t been read so there’s no need to change anything there, however, you need to amend the subject line before re-sending so you have a fresh chance to grab attention.
Conversion Goal 2 – Grabbing Your Prospect’s Attention
So a prospect has opened your email but deigned not to respond. Your tracking software tells you they’ve opened but taken no further action. They’ve not clicked on any links or bothered to reply.
Your subject line worked to capture attention, but you failed to capitalise on it. Your prospect’s interest didn’t extend past opening the email
How to fix the problem – The easy fix is to chase them up. They may well have opened and read at a busy time meaning they couldn’t check out the samples you linked to or had time to reply. Wait around 2-5 days and send a chaser email to see if they liked what they saw.
The detailed response is, there is no definite fix. The only method of improving the effectiveness of your emails is to experiment with what you’re sending. Try a shorter, more succinct introduction. Move your pitch ideas higher up the email or perhaps lead with a link to previous work.
There’s no hard and fast rules that will work with every email you send. You’re emailing different people and they will respond in different ways. Generally speaking shorter messages will have more of an impact when cold emailing someone, but you’ve got to test the prospects in your industry to see what resonates best with them.
Conversion Goal 3 – Getting a Response
A response is what you really need.
Of course a positive response is what you want, but even a negative response opens a dialogue which you can use to figure out why you’ve not been successful.
The problem is figuring out why a prospect who has opened an email and clicked on your sample links has decided not to reply.
How to fix a lack of response – Again, the reasons for this could be numerous, which is really annoying. It could be the prospect is too busy to reply right now, that they simply don’t like your samples, or think your article ideas are too wide of their target audience’s interests.
The only way you’re really going to understand is if you manage to get a response. Chase up individual non responders with a final email to see what the problem is. But be careful of stepping over that thin line separating persistence and annoyance.
Moving forward you should also experiment with the key elements that elicit responses:
- Your article ideas / sales pitch wording
- Your samples
- Your tone and angle
These are all the things that are going to make them want to hire you, so mix it up a little and see what combinations get the best results.
The Three Email Templates You Need and When to Send Them
Every pitch email you send must be different. Every brand is different and has individual needs.
If you’re using a generic template for every prospect then of course you’re not going to land any clients. You, me, even my friend’s dog can spot a generic template a mile off.
And you know what generic templates tell an editor about you? That you’re lazy. That you couldn’t be bothered to do a little research and spend ten minutes writing a personalised email.
If you can’t be bothered to spend the time personalising a short email, why should they hire you to write content they’re going to send to hundreds or thousands of readers?
That doesn’t mean templates are useless. Effective templates can save you a ton of time. You’ve just got to understand that a template is not a copy paste job, it’s a framework for a more personalised email.
And here’s the three most important templates you’ll need.
The Cold Email
The cold email template is used when you’re reaching out to a prospect for the very first time. This person doesn’t know you. They’re busy and don’t have time to waste reading 500+ words from someone they don’t know so ensure your email:
- Is short – 200 words max
- Gets to the point
- Friendly and personalised
Here’s the basic template I’ve used to land clients in various industries.
Personalised opening – include the editor/marketing manager’s name
Icebreaker – List something they’ve done recently or an article they’ve published you enjoyed. Anything that shows this is personalised and that flatters them a little
Brief descriptions of your ideas / quick proposal of how you can help – This differs depending on who you’re pitching. If a blog, magazine or publication, get straight into the meat of it and list the articles you think they might enjoy. If a business, ask if you can help them get their content production achieved at a lower cost or in a tighter timeframe.
Your credentials – A very brief explanation of who you are and what it is you’ve done. Make sure the clips are relevant to the client and industry.
Your call to action (CTA) – What do you want them to do next? Schedule a call, request more info on your ideas or simply forward your details on to another editor? Whatever you want them to do, ask them to do it here in no uncertain terms.
The Follow Up Email
Outstanding enquiries, clients you’ve worked with in the past, or any previous professional relationship are ideal opportunities. Just because the conversation has died down, doesn’t mean there’s no chance of rekindling it.
You could slink away with your tail between your legs and accept defeat once a potential lead goes quiet. But you’re not a quitter, right? Why walk away whilst there’s still a chance for success?
Reach out to those you’ve corresponded with in the past to see if things have changed or there’s anything you can help out with in the immediate future.
Icebreaker – Remind them of how you know one another. Mention how you worked together in the past, the last conversation you had or a pertinent piece of info they divulged last time you spoke. If you’re contacting an old editor or marketing manager you worked with who’s now changed position, congratulate them before leading into your enquiry.
The Offer – Why are you emailing? To see if you can help write case studies on their new partnership? To help an ailing blog? Simply ask if you can help. Don’t beat around the bush, get to the point and highlight how you want to help them achieve their goals.
CTA – The same as above. Ask them to take the next action you want them to so you know they’re interested.
Sometimes a client is reluctant to reply. You’ve sent a handful of emails and have either received lukewarm or no response at all.
You can continue to email your prospect numerous times, but all you’re gonna do is piss them off. Sometimes it’s better to cut ties and avoid pissing off someone who could become a client later down the line.
However, don’t just walk quietly into the night. After the time you’ve invested into finding this prospect and personalising all your communication, walking away would be a fucking travesty. So, there’s one email which you should send before deciding to leave them be. And that’s the break-up email.
Preliminary notification – Tell them straight up you don’t want to annoy them, so this will be the last time you’re in touch.
Why haven’t they responded – Based on their silence you’re assuming they don’t need your help with [insert whatever service you’re selling] or their priorities have changed from when they were interested and they no longer need you.
CTA / Scarcity motivator – Ask them to let you know if you’ve misread the situation but make it clear you’ll no longer be in touch. This puts the ball in their court and prompts them into action if they ever did have a need for you.
Email Marketing is Not a One-Time Thing – Develop an Experimental Mindset
Look, email marketing is a tough old gig.
It’s not a case of send email -> get client.
You’re going to fail, a lot. I mean, even the best email marketers average a 20% open rate in the B2B space. That means 8 out of 10 of your emails won’t get opened, let alone get a response.
It’s going to take time to get to a level where you’re seeing good response rates from your emails. And even when you’re doing well there’s always room for improvement.
You’ve got to develop an experimental mindset.
Look at everything you do as an experiment. Don’t see an email that wasn’t opened as a failure, ask yourself how can you change the subject line to increase opens? If your samples fall flat, examine other samples that might appeal more to that prospect or industry.
Learn from your failures to improve and, as time goes by, you’ll see your email response rates increase.
And when you get to the point that you have a full pipeline, those single failures won’t matter because you’ll be so busy with client work.
Remember, email marketing is not a one-time thing. You’re going to have to send a lot of emails to get favourable results, but it’s worth it in the end.
If you’d like to see some specific, successful examples of the templates mentioned in this piece then click here and enter your email. I’ll send you a download link with real emails that have either landed me work, rekindled old relationships, or simply elicited responses from leads that have gone quiet.
Also published on Medium.