Articles - 7th January 2021

How freelancers can use cold emailing to attract new clients

Words by Albert Azis-Clauson
Illustration by James Merritt

Have you ever written an email to someone you’ve never met before, asking them for something? It’s tough; cold emails can feel pretty daunting.

But that can change depending on your main thought process while you do it. Are you desperately hoping that “spraying and praying”, or to send out as many messages as possible in the shortest amount of time, is the best choice? Or, are you spending time on individual messages, but are not sure what to say to make these messages personal? Either way, there’s a good way to cold message clients, and a way that will leave them scratching their heads as they put your message into the bin. 

These messages aren’t necessarily a response to someone you don’t know who has put out a call for work. Those are lukewarm intros where, at the least, you know then that someone is expecting your message. 

What we’re looking at here is companies that haven’t even put out a call for work, but that you are interested them as a potential hire in the future. This can be one of the most fruitful ways of finding work if you do it correctly and take control of the factors that you can. 

I wish I could say that there was an easy command-c/command-v way of making cold emails work. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Every single one of these messages needs to be individualised, even if its just in a small way, and then turned into an intuitive and attention grabbing sales pitch. 

But, if you can do one thing with your email, make sure it does this; it must demonstrate your immediate value to the person reading the email that is unique to their business. You don’t need sophisticated evaluation or marketing software or numbers to make this happen. You just need organisation, empathy, and a strategy that makes sense. Follow these steps, and you’ll be pointing yourself in the right direction. 


1. The first step is to find the real person you need to pitch to. Don’t be the person emailing “To whom it may concern”. Nine times out of ten, that email is going into the bin.

Find the right employee at the company for you to message, and figure out how best to get to them, whether it be LinkedIn or an email you found on UnderPinned. Do not send emails to multiple people at the same company at the same time. It’s an easy way to be written off by their team. Instead, if you’re unsure who to email, utilise our Lead Generation service on the platform. It will link you with the right person to email.


2. Next, try to always try and turn a cold email into a warm introduction. If you can, find a mutual connection that will be happy to introduce you to your target. This will always lead to more success, and should be your goal with all interactions. However, failing that, strap in and get ready to send some cold messages. 


3. Think carefully about the subject line and the first line of the email you’re sending. On almost every mail browser, those are two of the three things (the third being your email address) that the recipient can use to decide if they should open your email. If your email has “job application” as its subject and “how are you?” as its first sentence, you’re being polite and fairly clear, but imagine if you recieve 1000 emails like that everyday? They’re going to blend into each other. You’re not off to a great start and, again, you may end up in someone’s trash bin.

Make the subject stand out and make the first line specific to their business. Writing something exciting that highlights why you’re the right person right away and opens directly into the context required to make your point clear is going to get you a lot further than a boilerplate option for both. You can be polite further down the email when you have your foot in the door. 

Don’t copy and paste my ideas though, write something that fits into your own personality.


4. How do you get them to respond? This is the purpose of the body of the email. The main idea behind this is to highlight your expertise with relevant work, point out a problem they are having, then offer yourself as a solution. This shows immediate value that will at least make your potential client hit pause and wonder whether you are the best solution to their problem.


5. Next, offer them an immediate CTA, or call to action. Send a portfolio and ask them for feedback, or give them a chance to set up a call. Even take a moment to ask them what they think about work from a competitor that you can help them challenge. Asking a pertinent question that begs for a response is a very effective way of getting the conversation started, and once that conversation is ongoing, you have your foot in the door.


6. Do an empathy test for yourself before you send it. Think, honestly and critically, how would you like to be on the receiving end of this email? If the answer is “I wouldn’t and I would want to kick whoever sent this to me, hard”, take the time to rewrite. I will say it over and over again and again, it is better to send out one uniquely sculpted and well-crafted email than to send out 1000 copy and pasted emails. Make sure you’re not going to cause negative emotions for the receiver when you send it, and appeal to their bottom line. Every hirer of freelancers has a budget they need to stick to. How can working with you save them money in the long run? I like to think of this in my own calls not like I am trying to sell a product, but instead that I am trying to solve a problem for someone and I want to make clear how I can solve that problem.


7. Follow up when appropriate. Do not send an email asking if they received the first one. They did. Just give them a gentle positive nudge, and then after you try twice if there’s no response, note it down, and find someone else to message at the company if there is, and if there isn’t, wait three to four months and message again.


8. Prepare for two things; rejection or a follow on conversation. If you’re able to get a client to sign on a first email, I should be learning from you. The reality is, however, that’s probably too good to be true. A professional client will want to at least have a conversation about their goals before signing you on, especially if you haven’t worked together before. Sadly, you are more likely to hear no or not hear back at all. Don’t be afraid to follow up with people that ghost you, but no matter how upsetting it can be, never forget to be professional in your handling of a rejection. Say thank you, keep their email on file, and follow up in three to four months with tangible movement forward towards being the right person for them to hire.


9. Set yourself an achievable goal. It’s the 7th of Januaury. What do you think would happen, honestly, if you sent out 100 cold emails by the next 30 days? Would you get at least one new client? If you follow the advice above I am willing to reckon you would, and a 1% acceptance rate is better than 0% if you don’t try.

Failure is absolutely, 100% an option here, so much so that a no should only be seen as a sign that you need to change your approach and not as a bad thing. It’s a badge of pride that shows you are taking action for your and your career. If someone says no, then politely ask for feedback, put them into your contacts, and set a reminder to send them a message in four months with a new direction and growth. 

A lot of people in this space are going to promise formulas that immediately make this process easy, or give you the ability to send out tons and tons of these emails at once. Stay away from a formula, and instead really consider each individual case on its own merits. There’s no one good way to write these emails. But work out a system that works for you and your client, and you will really start to see the difference. 


What are your goals for 2021? To grow your business, or to just find your first client? No matter what stage you’re on in your freelance journey,  Albert and UnderPinned’s Ultimate Guide to Freelancing Course will make sure you’re on track to build a successful freelance career. The course starts February 1st and will consist of five jam packed weeks of learning. Find out more about the course and sign up here.

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If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

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