A better way to prospect I work both sides of the fence. I’m a freelancer, so I’m familiar with the process of reaching out to prospective clients with email. But I am also involved in a few business ventures, so I’m on the receiving end of prospecting emails from other freelancers. On average, I get about one a day. And here’s the thing…90% of the prospecting emails I receive are terrible, and I delete them before I have read more than two lines. Why am I so brutal with these emails? For exactly the same reason your own prospects will be. Let me give you a few reasons why most of these prospecting emails fail, and then I’ll show you how to do it right. Don’t send me 500 words… When I see a prospecting email that is 20 or more lines long, I delete it. I don’t have the time. This isn’t because I’m bad. It’s because I’m busy, just like your own prospects. But don’t take 500 words or 20 lines as a guideline. Truth be told, I delete most prospecting emails that are over 5 lines long. Don’t act like you know me or my business… It’s annoying when someone writes to me and tells me I need help with SEO writing, social media, research, programing and so on. How do they know I need help? They’re complete strangers. The more they pretend to know my business, the more annoyed I get. Don’t feel that I owe you a response… Sometimes I get a follow-up email from someone who is upset that I didn’t respond to their earlier 500-word email. Really? Don’t assume a relationship that doesn’t exist… Now we get to the nub of it. Long emails, or emails that suggest the sender “knows” my business, or follow-up emails all assume the existence of a relationship that doesn’t exist. When you’re writing that first prospecting email there is no relationship. You’re in danger of making the same mistake as someone going to a party where he doesn’t know anyone, approaching a complete stranger, and talking about himself non-stop for 10 minutes. Without a hello. Without even asking the person’s name. Bad move. Creepy. As with any relationship, or the start of any conversation, you have to begin with the basics. Introduce yourself. Ask some simple questions. Get into a conversation. And if you were a stranger at that party, faced with a lot of people you didn’t know, it would be nice if the host introduced you to a few people. That would help a lot. Keeping all that in mind, let’s look at a way to prospect by email that actually works. In a nutshell:

  1. Find out who you should be talking to
  2. Get an introduction to that person
  3. Introduce yourself
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Number one is particularly important. If you don’t know who in the company is responsible for hiring freelancers, you’re dead in the water before you write the first word. Here is an email prospecting system that always works… First, understand that this is a numbers game. Most people won’t reply to your emails. So you need to draw up a big list of prospective customers. A minimum of 50. Then go the Contact page on their website. Find an email address. Any email address. If there isn’t one, use their contact form. Here’s what you write. email signature for freelancers Simple, right? You’ll be surprised by how many people respond to this approach. With a small company, you might get an email back that says, “Hi Nick, I’m the person you should be talking to!” When that happens, it’s perfect. Now you’re in conversation. It’s no longer a “cold” approach. Implicitly, you have been invited to pitch your services. With larger companies you might get a reply more like this. email_prospecting_one Again, it’s no longer a “cold call”, because I have an introduction from Fred. Fred may be very junior, or might be the CEO, but that doesn’t matter. I know I am writing to the right person, and I’m no longer a complete stranger to the company. How long is that first email to Ms Robson? It’s short. Maybe 10 lines. Not a big, long, rambling pitch. Our relationship hasn’t progressed far enough for that. Every step of my sales process has to be proportionate to the stage of our relationship. I have taught this approach to hundreds of freelancers. Dozens have got back to me reporting amazing results. But remember, this is a numbers game. Email 50 companies, then another 50. And so on. Try it. It works!  

  • Erica Stevens

    I’ve heard that people get results using the web contact form on companies’ websites to ask for marketing contacts, but the 6-7 I’ve tried have yielded no responses. Is this too few to judge, or should I change the approach? (PS, my emails are short and to the point, and polite, like the examples above.) Thanks for any insight!