Starting a freelance writing career isn’t always easy. There are confusing terms to learn, decisions about office space to make, budgeting and cash flow projections, and a million other items on the to-do list. But most important of all, you need to find clients. Without clients, there’s no business. And if you want to make a living as a writer, you need to treat your writing as a business. The success of your entrepreneurial endeavour depends on getting paying clients and paying gigs.
There are a tonne of places and a variety of ways to get clients. We’ve already discussed freelance writing job boards. Today we’ll talk about my least favourite way of finding clients: cold pitching. It’s been effective for a lot of people, so even though I dislike this strategy, I figured I’d better cover it for those who want to try it.
The numbers game
The reason I don’t enjoy cold pitching is twofold: I’m a people person and enjoy making connections before asking someone for business. Cold pitching feels impersonal. Yet I know that cold pitching works, and that it works well for many people. The only way it works though, is if you send hundreds of pitches a month (and sometimes a week, depending on the results you’re looking for).
Cold pitching is definitely a numbers game. The more pitches you send, the more likely you are to get a few responses. And if you’re charging what you’re worth, then a few responses is all you need.
Cold pitching doesn’t work for me because quite frankly, I’m not willing to put in the time required for it to work. I became a freelancer so I didn’t have to be a slave to my job, and this strategy doesn’t compute with the reasons I started freelancing in the first place.
But if you don’t have young children whom you homeschool and you’re not also ensuring that you enjoy your year-long road trip, and you can devote yourself full-time to freelancing… then cold pitching may work wonders for you.
The cold pitching process, full out
For cold pitching to work well, sending hundreds of pitches is necessary—but it isn’t enough. Sure, you can send the same old template to every company you can think of, but that’s not an efficient way to do things. Each of those companies probably gets several generic emails per day. To stand out in the sea of competition, you need to be different from the crowd. Here’s a step-by-step process of how to make cold pitching work for you. On this post, we’ll talk about pitching companies. We discuss pitching publications in part 3 of this series.
1. Start from the beginning: Make a list of the companies you already use and whose products you already love.
If you want to stand out from the hundreds of “what can I do for you?” emails, you need to show that you know the companies you’re pitching. Pitching companies you already know will feel more authentic, and you’ll be more successful in the second part of this process.
Try to come up with 20-50 companies you already know. Coming up short? Take a walk around your house and notice everything you use. Do you love your pots and pans? Who makes them? Do you love your blender? What company made that? Your pillow helps you have a great night’s sleep? What does the tag say? Go around your house making note of everything you own and love, and writing down the companies that make or distribute each of those items.
2. Research, research, research: find the missing piece
Before you set hands to keyboard to write the perfect pitch, you need to know what those companies need. Generic pitches don’t work anymore—at least not as often. Companies want to know that copywriters understand their vision and can speak directly to their customers.
Pick 3-5 of the companies you wrote down and go have a look at their websites. Notice what’s missing. Maybe the company that makes your fridge has a beautiful website, but their last blog post was published 5 months ago. That’s the angle you take. When you write your pitch, tell them exactly why you love their company and why you can help them get even more raving fans by providing content marketing via blog posts. Tell them exactly what you’ll do and how it’ll help their bottom line.
Use real numbers: explain how companies with blogs attract more traffic, and how that traffic can translate into sales. Here’s a great resource for some numbers.
3. Block out time for pitching
Once you’ve identified companies’ weak spots and areas for improvement, it’s time to send a clear, direct, and detailed (but brief) pitch. Block out time in your schedule to sit down and draft these pitches, and then use a scheduling service to send them out during business hours (if you’re writing the pitches at night/early morning). I use Boomerang for Gmail for my scheduling, and it works like a charm. I use the paid version, and it’s worth it.
4. Talk to the right people.
Sure, you can send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, but everyone’s doing the same thing. Find the big players—the ones with purchasing power—and talk to them directly. Usually, that person is the Director of Marketing, but sometimes it’s the CEO. The CEO, you say? They’re far too busy! Of course they are.
But if you talk to the CEO directly, with a clear pitch that shows that you know the company and can improve its bottom line, that CEO might just forward you to the company’s best player for this sort of thing. And now, you’re coming to the director with a CEO recommendation, rather than on your own.
You’ll need to find email addresses for these folks, and these emails aren’t usually prominently listed. Your research skills need to come out again (and asking for emails on social media isn’t a research skill). Using a service can help you. Clearbit for Gmail works well and is free.
5. Follow up, follow up, follow up.
Bamidele Onibalusi from Writers in Charge has a follow-up formula that has worked for a lot of people. You can learn more about that here. In short, the strategy is to follow up on the third day after sending a pitch, then a week later, and then again after another week. This strategy works great, but I make some modifications.
When I pitch small businesses, I always wait a week to follow up, as small business owners are usually overwhelmed with tasks (because a lot of them haven’t learned to outsource). Waiting a few days for a response is perfectly normal, and giving them a week before following up is reasonable. With larger brands, I do take Bamidele’s advice.
I also make another modification to the follow up process. I keep following up—indefinitely if it’s a company I really want to work with. If you keep on emailing them every week, eventually they’ll recognize your name, and just maybe, you’ll one day get a response.
6. Keep track of your success (or lack thereof)
As an entrepreneur, your investments matter. That goes for cash investments as well as investments of your time. Cold pitching is a work-heavy, time-consuming way to get potential clients. It’s effective, but it requires a big time commitment.
Keep track of how much time you spend cold pitching and what kind of returns it brings to your business. Chart your progress for at least a couple of months to see if this strategy is working for you. And don’t forget to keep your mind open for other strategies, too.
What do you think about cold pitching? Let me know in the comments.