Oct 26, 2011
James Patterson

5 Freelance Tips for Better Email Prospecting

Inspiration strikes at funny times. Often, it strikes me late at night, when I’m in bed almost ready to fall asleep. This often leads to late nights on the computer crafting email pitches. But when inspiration strikes, you must listen.

For part-time freelance writers, email prospecting can be one of the most useful tools for landing new clients. Many of you hold down full-time jobs during the day, making cold call pitching or in-person prospecting difficult to do during business hours. But email prospecting is also a fickle beast. Emails are so easy to ignore (I should know, I delete dozens of PR pitches every week from my inbox), but if done right, they can get a prospective client’s attention in a hurry and help you make a solid impression.

Here are six tips I’ve learned over my freelance career that have led to better response rates:

1. Give in to Inspiration When it Strikes

I don’t know why my brain works the way it does, but three times in the last two weeks, I’ve been laying in bed trying to get to sleep, and a prospective client has popped into my head, along with a cute/clever one-liner, subject line or “call to action” I can use to get their attention. I used to shrug off these ideas and tell myself I’d do it tomorrow, but often the idea would later escape me. Not anymore. When I get an idea, I act on it.

Your inspiration may strike you at different times. While you’re getting dressed for work. At the gym on the treadmill. In line grabbing some lunch. Wherever or whenever it strikes, listen to it and at least write it down so you can act on it later. Carry a small notebook with you to jot down ideas you get throughout the day.

2. Do Your Research

The Art of War teaches you, “Know Thine Enemy.” Along that same vein, it’s imperative to “Know Thy Potential Client.” Dig into the company’s background. Find information about campaigns they’ve done, articles they’ve written or newsletters they’ve put out. The more you know, the more ammunition you’ll have when you go to write your pitch email.

3. Personalize the Message

Successful email prospecting is all about grabbing someone’s attention. There’s no better way to do that then personalizing your message. Writing up a form email and sending that out to everyone you prospect is an easy way to get your messages sent straight to the trash. Form emails are very easy to spot. But a personalized message that speaks directly to the potential client will have more impact and have a way better chance of not only getting opened, but getting read all the way through.

4. Use Your Personality

Clients aren’t hiring email messages. They are hiring people. Real, flesh-and-blood people. So let your personality come out a little bit in your message. Riff a little bit in your first draft. Say what you’re thinking. Exactly what you’re thinking. Then go back and clean it up.

I scored a meeting with a potential client a few weeks back who told me she gets 10 to 15 emails just like mine every week pitching her for work. The only reason she responded to mine, she said, was because I made her laugh in my email. Be different.

5. Offer Value

The worst thing you can do in your email pitch is sound desperate. Yes, you need to work. Yes, you want to land a client. But don’t let your desperation come out in your pitch. Instead, spend your words convincing your target how you can make THEIR life better. What can you offer them? A chance to get some of the extra work off their desk so they can focus on more important tasks? Identify some value you can offer, then bold and underline it to get their attention.

Make your emails more focused, more effective and less boring and you’ll start getting more bites in your inbox. Reel them in, and you’ll start landing more clients.

Have questions about email prospecting? Ask them in the comment section below!


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  • Hey James,

    I’m a member of the Freelance Writer’s Den and also attended the webinar you did with Carol a couple weeks ago.

    This is a great post and I’m going to print it out so I can refer to it often. :)

    During the webinar you mentioned how to beat the fear of cold-calling. Pretend you’ve won a million bucks and don’t need the money. I still haven’t picked up the phone yet, but I use that theory with emailing. Thanks for the advice.


    • Wow, thanks Vonnie! I’m glad you’re gaining some confidence in your email prospecting. When you stop fretting so much about landing clients, that’s when the clients seem to start falling in your lap. It’s a funny irony, but one I’ve found to be true. Be sure to let us know if you get a bite on any of your emails.

  • No. 4 on your list is what I’ve been holding back on in my cover letters to potential clients. I realize I’m still stuck in the “corporate” way of doing covers letters. Some habits die hard. I also enjoyed your webinar in the Writer’s Den, and I subscribed to your blog. I see a lot helpful tips here.

    • Welcome, MsConnie! Yes, old habits do die hard. But with the volume of messages people get these days and the crowded real estate of the email inbox, making your message stand out is key. Personality goes a long way in doing that. And thanks for being a subscriber!

  • First of all, I want to say that I am new to your blog and so far LOVE what I see. It is truly impressive. Secondly, I couldn’t agree more with this list; especially #1. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I would get a great idea, plan to tackle it at a later time and then completely forget what that idea was. Not only does #1 work well for email prospecting, but to almost all facets of writing. Sometimes you really do just have to jump on that inspiration when it appears.

    • Thanks for stopping by Terri. Glad you like the blog. Your experience of losing a great idea is exactly why I started carrying a notebook around with me. Although now with my iPhone I usually just email it to myself.

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This little corner of the Internet is for anyone who's looking to start a freelance business while holding down a real job, wondering how to jump from part-time freelancing to full-time or looking for freelance writing information in general.

My name is James Patterson. You can learn more about me here.