Mastering the art of pitching your freelance services to a new client is no easy feat. It takes a lot of time, practice and dedication to learning from your mistakes in order to grow your freelance business at the rate you want.

If you’re not doing something to stand out among a sea of competition, your messages will likely go unread. For the past several years, I’ve been perfecting my pitch, and I’ve learned exactly what it takes to write a pitch that’ll excite your potential client, build your credibility and show them you’re the best for the job. Just last week, I used my pitching tactics to sign two new freelance writing clients at a whopping rate of $500/post.

Never underestimate the importance of your first message to a potential client. It sets the tone for this new relationship. That’s why it’s incredibly important to deliver immediate value and capture their attention right off the bat.

With my own freelance business, I’ve consistently used very strategically crafted, cold messages to win new clients. This is of particular importance when you’re just getting started with your freelance business, or you’re actively seeking to bring on new clients.

In order to master the art of making great first impressions, it requires a deep understanding of how people interact with their inboxes, and what’s going to make them read (and respond) to you, before your competitor. To make things more challenging, you’ve got but a limited amount of time to make that stand-out first impression before someone else does.

On average, it takes a person around 100 milliseconds to form an initial impression of someone. Pitch recipients take a similar amount of time to process whether your message is worth reading. If your message even remotely looks like spam, or comes off disingenuous, expect it to remain unread forever.

Here are my four steps to writing highly engaging messages that make an incredible first impression.

1) Make your pitch personal

Before reaching out to a potential client, take some time to really do your homework on them. Can you learn anything about their personal interests or advantageous details about their business from browsing through their websites and social media accounts?

One of my best long term client relationships started with the subject line, “A Mutual Love for Animals and Content Marketing.” Because I took the time to research that client, and discovered that they post tons of dog pictures on Instagram (which I loved), I was able to reach out with a much more personal touch.

I highly recommend using first names in your emails, as calling someone Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So instantly places a professional barrier between the two of you. Nothing shows relevance as much as personal connection.

2) Deliver on your expectations

Having a potential client open your message is one thing, but sustaining their interest and actually delivering on your clever subject line is something entirely different. Be sure that the first sentences and paragraph of your message contains enough relevant details to keep them reading.

A quick mention of how you discovered them, reiteration that you’ve already put together a plan/strategy for them, and statistics or an example of a relevant project you’ve done in the past (include a link), are all imperative to building on your momentum.

3) Keep it short and sweet

I never exceed three short paragraphs in my cold reach out messages. This goes back to having an understanding of how we all use our messaging platforms. Most of us have very short attention spans, and clients often want to skip straight to the point when it comes to hiring on much needed help.

Keeping your pitch messages short and impactful will help you avoid overwhelming a potential client with content. Structure your message for ease of readability using paragraphs no longer than 3-4 lines, clear sections, and bullet points. Avoid long sentences as much as possible, trimming your draft to the minimum number of words without losing quality and impact.

4) Establish trust and credibility

First impressions generally stick. If you can establish trust early on, then you’re off to a great start. Your pitch needs to clearly demonstrate that you’re a subject matter expert or thought leader in the topic you’re convincing them you’re qualified to help out with. Do that without being verbose or trying too hard to look authoritative. Let your previous work (that you already linked to in your pitch) speak for itself.

At the end of your client pitches, always include a call-to-action. What comes next? I always close out my cold pitches with something along the lines of, “Please let me know when you have a moment to chat this week,” which shows that I’m ready to get this started right away.

When you’re following up on your pitch, be sure to provide value each time you reach back out. Stray away from simply asking for updates on whether or not they’d like to move forward with your pitch, and instead add some small details about the plan you’ve already started outlining for them. Showing you’re willing to invest in their business before even being chosen for the job, will set you apart from your competition.

For much more on my personal system for establishing meaningful client relationships and effectively pitching, check out my course on Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal.

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Ryan Robinson is an entrepreneur and content marketer, teaching people how to launch meaningful self-employed careers at ryrob.com.

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