Cold Pitching for freelancers – A Stupid Simple System

If you want to make money fast as a freelancer, you should start answering job posts straight away. But if you want to choose who you work with and land dream clients, cold pitching is the way to go.

I know fear of rejection is real.

I know you don’t want to sound like a salesman.

And I know that you are worried about your online ‘reputation’.

But I also know…

  • Most freelancers don’t pitch at all
  • The few who do send bad pitches
  • You don’t need 100s of pitches
  • Cold pitching straight up works

My last email campaign had a 60% open rate and a 25% response rate.

Those are pretty good metrics, that I only managed to achieve by sending few, highly targeted pitches, with a template that worked and some customized bits here and there.

Let’s see how you can do the same.

1. Take a few hours to research

Good pitching takes research. You need to know:

  • Which companies you want to pitch
  • Who you need to contact at those companies
  • What their motivation is (more on that in section 4)
  • What communities they’re in and what they post
  • What’s the email address of the receipient
  • If there are similar companies to pitch

This doesn’t have to take forever. Ideally, you’ll start from a short list of ideal clients, then you’ll just need to find similar companies.

Google is all you need to create your list.

2. Create a list of companies to pitch

Starting from a list of a few companies, first go to Google and search for their product/service. You are going to need a few searches: [Product/service] ‘Best [product/service]’ and ‘Best [product/service] for [their ideal clients]’ and ‘[Company name] vs’.

Let’s say you write email sequences for SaaS companies and you want to target companies in the accounting field. But you only know two companies in the field: Freshbooks and Quickbooks.

You are going to search: ‘Accounting software’, ‘Best accounting software’ and ‘Best accounting software for small businesses’.

Google search result to find more companies to send your cold pitches to
First 4 results for the Google search ‘Accounting software’

The first results of this search are all roundup posts. Going through them, you can triple your list so that you have at least 10 to 20 companies. Keep scrolling for a few more pages, and you’ll add more to the list.

Once you are done, you can search ‘Best accounting software’. See what happened? The search result changed, and now Google is suggesting a number of companies. Add them to your list, then go through the results as you did earlier.

A list of more potential companies to target in your email campaign
Companies suggested by Google when you search ‘Best accounting software’

Last, take every company in your list and type in the Google search bar ‘Company vs’. What’s interesting here is the autocomplete feature – Google will automatically recommend companies in the same area as the one you used. See if you can find some hidden gems.

Google auto complete can suggest more companies to target
Google auto complete is your friend

Sponsored search results are a goldmine! These are often paid by smaller companies who are trying to get traction. Based on the specific niche, it’s possible they paid top dollars to be there. Which means they have money to invest.

Sponsored search results show you even more companies to pitch to

3. Find a contact person and their email address

Ideally, you now have a list of 50 to 100 companies you can target. It’s time to find out who to target at the company, and what their email address is.

You are going to need LinkedIn to find names and a platform to get email addresses.

For each company you found:

  • Open LinkedIn and search for the company name in the search bar
  • Click on the company name in the search results
  • Click on People under the company name
  • Search for the position you need to find in the dedicated search bar
  • Go through the results and note down all those that have potential
Here is a LinkedIn company page. Search for the position in the dedicated search bar
Company page on LinkedIn

If you are not sure who the best contact is, note down all those you need. When in doubt, it’s best to contact the position higher up on the company ladder. They are more likely to be able to give you the green light.

Once you have your list of companies and contacts, it’s time to get their email addresses. How do you find them?

It’s easy.

Just use a tool to find contact information. I have tried a couple over the years, and my favorite is Rocketreach.

It’s not free, but it’s not expensive either. You can get all the email addresses you need with a one month Essentials package, priced at €49/$53.

Rocketreach pricing table
Rocketreach pricing, February 2024

4. Study your prospects or their businesses

At this point, you have everything you need to kickstart your cold pitching campaign. It’s time to decide what to write.

You don’t want to go through the research phase only to blow it up with a bad pitch.

To craft a good pitch, you need something that’s interesting for your potential client. What’s interesting for them depends on their role in the company. Most people, however, are tasked with increasing one or more of these:

  • Leads
  • Conversions
  • Profits

Examples? If you are a content writer, you can pitch content that will keep their readers on the page for longer, so that their articles rank higher on Google and they ultimately get more leads.

If you provide virtual assistant services, you allow CEOs to save time so that they can focus on what really makes a difference for their company – and bottom line.

Your task in this phase is to find out how your services can increase one of these for your potential client. The more specific, the better.

5. Craft your Subject Line

General advice about subject lines goes as follows: ‘Try to tell as much as you can about yourself in the subject line. This way, the recipient immediately knows whether or not they are interested – and you’re saving their time’. Resulting headline – ‘English to Italian translator specialized in marketing & transcreation’.

Now, do you really care about saving the recipient’s time? Cause that’s very generous, but won’t help you.

The subject line is there to convince the recipient to open your message, and go through your wonderfully-written, highly-targeted 200 words. If that’s not interesting to them, they’ll delete it. Our goal is for our message to be remarkable, so that the recipient wants to get in touch even if they don’t have an immediate need for your service. And for that, we need people to open your email.

Data is clear on what the idea subject line is: ‘[Name and surname] suggested me to contact you’, or a variation of it. Including the name of someone the receipient knows can boost your open and response rates significantly.

So, if you have a referral, mention them in the SL. If you don’t, I have seen pretty good result using an alternative: mention something the receipient wrote, a community they are part of, or an interview/podcast appearance they did.

Examples: ‘I saw your article on Forbes’, ‘I read about your epic launch on [paid community name]’, ‘I listened to your interview with [interviewer name]’.

This has worked amazingly well for me.

6. Write your email

If you have done your research, you know very well what you can offer that is valuable to the client.

Pretty great cold emails lead make that the focus, not with your presentation.

Ideally, you want 150 to 250 words that:

1- Explain how you found their website

2- Mention what that’s missing

3- Explain the advantage they could get by adding it

4- Show why you are a great option to do that

5- End with a call to action

Important note: #4 is about you. The rest is about them!

Here is what this looks like in practice:

7. Follow up

Following up is not begging.

In fact, if you did your research right, you are offering potential clients something that can really help their business – by following up, you are helping them to make more money.

Data is clear – 55% of replies to cold email campaigns come from follow-up emails. AKA more than half of your potential clients, people who are actually interested in your services, need more than your first email to give you an answer.

How many times should you follow up? I recommend at least three times over 2 weeks. If you haven’t heard back from them by them, follow up 2 weeks later, then 1 month later, then once every couple of months.

You don’t need to get creative. Just do it.

Keep in mind the receipient knows why you are following up and they are used to this, so you just need to come up with a reasonable enough excuse. I have found this works pretty well for me:

1- Offer expansion. Use this email to clarify part of your offer, include a case study, or answer a common objection you have faced in the past.

2- Simple reminder. Don’t even try to pretend you want to add anything – simply say Hey, I know we all suffer from inbox fatigue, and I’m not surprised you haven’t replied. But if you are interested, here’s a reminder.

Following up on your cold pitches is really important.
I never would have heard back had I not spent 30 seconds to follow up

3- Is there anyone else I should contact. If they have not replied to my cold pitch and 2 follow-ups, in my last email I ask if they are maybe not the right person to contact, and in that case, could they please refer me to the right person at their company?

Frequently Asked Questions

The shorter your cold pitch is, the better, but don’t be fooled – I’d rather send a great 500-word pitch than a mediocre one in the ‘ideal length’ bracket.

As a rule of thumb, when I send a highly targeted cold pitch I always try to stay under 200 words. Quick pitches (as the name suggests) can be much shorter, and the email template I posted above is less than 50 words.

When you know how to do it, cold pitching alone can launch your freelance career and build you a sustainable freelance business.

Most freelancers are scared to cold pitch – they feel like salesmen, and they avoid doing it altogether. The few who do usually send pretty bad pitches. But freelancers who are not afraid to send cold emails and actually know how to do it get pretty great results.

  1. Identify a company you want to work with
  2. Find the right contact person within that company
  3. Send your cold pitch
  4. Follow up 3 times over the following 2 weeks

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