$6,250. That’s how much I’ve earned from a single freelance writing gig that I landed only three months after launching my freelance writing business. How did I do it?
The simple answer: cold pitching. But nothing is ever that simple, and the email exchange (which I’ll share with you) confirms this. It was, in fact, ugly. Very, very ugly.
Maybe that’s the experienced writer in me talking? It’s always easy to look back and cringe when you see something your “less experienced self” has done.
Regardless, I’m convinced that the writer I am today would have dealt with the situation better and closed the deal much faster. The responses I gave the client revealed how unsure I was about myself (to me, anyway).
But who could blame me if I lacked confidence? I was new to freelance writing and everything that came with it. From pitching and niching to negotiating rates and closing the deal, I had no clue. I was also scared because this was a writing gig that I was not accustomed to: writing magazine articles.
But you know what? I landed that client, despite being a beginner. Despite my lack of experience. Despite my fears. How? I took action.
I have since written 16 magazine articles, earning $200-$450 per article and my income to date is $6,250 (and counting).
But enough about that and back to why you’re here: to learn how I did it so that you can bag a similar client. In this post, I’ll reveal everything: the exact pitch I sent, why it worked, the email exchange, and the events that resulted in landing the writing gig.
I’ll try to recall the events and my feelings accurately, which may prove difficult as this was a year ago.
Before I proceed, I want to highlight two key points:
Cold Pitching Won’t Work if You’re a Bad Writer
The strategy works best if you can write well. Sure, you may land the odd low-paying gig with poor writing, but that’s not what you want, is it?
If your writing’s bad or you know of someone else’s who is, get hold of our Ultimate Guide on How to Improve Your English Writing Skills.
Cold Pitching is Only One Piece of the Puzzle
A lot happens behind the scenes. Before I was ready to pitch, I positioned myself, built a writer website and updated my social media presence. That was my foundation for freelance writing success.
I also bolstered my social proof by getting featured in a major publication: The Huffington Post. Major publications increase your credibility and allow you to command higher rates. I leveraged that credibility in my pitch.
I also spent hours prospecting for clients. I built up a prospect list and found editors’ email addresses with the help of Google, LinkedIn, and email-finding apps before I was ready to pull the trigger and send my pitch.
The Pitch That Got The Response
It was a simple pitch, one I borrowed from the blogging master, Bamidele Onibalusi. I altered it slightly but kept the core of what makes a solid pitch (I’ll dissect the text later). Here’s what I sent and the prospect’s response:
For those that are on mobile and want to easily “steal” the pitch for their use, here’s the text:
Subject line: Content at (company name)
Hi (insert name),
I’m reaching out to see if you need someone who can help with content at (insert company}.
I’m Nick Darlington. I’ve been featured in (insert publications (s)). And I recently wrote an article for (company name): (insert article titled); this will be published shortly.
I’d like to know if you need a freelance writer who can help with your content needs.
I can help with writing blog posts and guest posts. Here is a link to my writer’s website: www.nickdarlington.com.
If you have any questions feel free to ask me. I am also available to Skype: nickd15
Before I share the email exchange and events that transpired, let’s dissect my original message.
Why The Pitch Works
- The subject line was on the mark. It was concise, not “spammy”, and descriptive enough, while still arousing curiosity.
- I personalised the email. I took the time to find the name of the decision maker. It showed that I was serious about doing business and that I cared. Would you rather read an email directed at you or a generic one that says “Hi” or “Good Day”?
- The purpose of my pitch was instantly clear in the first paragraph: “I’m reaching out to see if you need someone who can help with content”.Keeping the mail on point was the best strategy, especially as he probably receives many emails daily.
- I included social proof to show the prospect that I was a serious writer and could deliver the goods. It put me in a position of power to command higher rates.
- I outlined my services. With a strong subject line, opening sentence, and second paragraph I briefly described my services to show what value I could provide. I also provided a link to my website, where he could get more information. Having a website showed I was a serious business owner, and I didn’t hesitate to share that.
- I encouraged a response. I told the prospect to ask questions if he had any and that we could jump on a Skype call if he wanted.
The pitch has everything to warrant a reply. And the bonus? I had managed to target the prospect at the exact time that he needed a writer.
I had reached out to help with his blog but he responded with other requirements, which caught me off guard: He wanted someone to write profile and cover stories for his magazine.
I had no experience writing magazine articles. Regardless, I continued with what ended up being a lengthy exchange of over 50 emails across different threads. The whole time, I had this thought in the back of my mind: “What am I going to do if I get this writing gig? I have no experience.”
The Email Exchange
I asked if we could jump on a Skype call; he was in the United States, and I was in South Africa.
Thank you for the prompt reply. Is it possible to arrange a Skype call as I am based in South Africa?
But he made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t a fan of Skype with a concise response: “Sorry. Not a Skype fan.”
I remember thinking: “If he doesn’t want to jump on Skype, what’s the point?” I would have to set up my phone to make international calls (yes, I was on one of those prepaid deals). It seemed like a lot of hassle for something that may not work out.
But that was just an excuse. Secretly, I was fearful about what I was going to do if I landed the gig. How was I going to write it? Would I be able to deliver?
Seeking comfort, I consulted a Facebook writing group for advice. Most people said that I should reach out to him because I had nothing to lose. In hindsight, they were right.
I proceeded, thinking: “What’s the worst that could happen? Get the gig? That wouldn’t be that bad, would it? I mean, I could learn on the job.”
I sent a response, agreeing to my first ever client call. Talk about stepping out of my comfort zone!
I can’t remember the exact details of the call, but I recall him telling me a story about how only recently his entire house had flooded with water. Their vintage car (I think it was a Jaguar) was damaged and, as a result of the chaos, they weren’t able to keep up with their monthly release of the magazine. They were in dire need of a writer. Me, perhaps?
After the call, I thanked him for his time via email and said I would be in contact. I didn’t think anything would come of it. The doubts about my lack of experience still lingered. It was scary.
But two days later, I started a new mailing thread titled “Possible Next Steps”. I sent this email, once again thanking him for the chat and proposing a way for us to move forward:
Again, thanks for the chat the other day. I have been reading the material in your online editions. Sharing and writing inspiring stories like these resonates with me, as is evident through my blog www.getbutterflied.com. In short, this interests me.
I propose the following and I welcome your suggestions:
Send me through some material and I will put together a short test article, no more than 150 words, to see if I can nail down the style of writing that you are looking for.
I also thought that I would ask you at this point what your budget is. There’s no point in working on a piece if your budget and my rates are out of sync (of course, we can negotiate).
I look forward to your feedback.
I got this response:
I haven’t forgotten you.
Your email just got buried with some other urgent business.
I really do not have any “150-word” interviews. Most are 600-700 word stories to 1500 word stories to 3000+ word stories.
What can we do from here?
I would love to have you interview.
We pay between $300-$500 per article (editing included).
Sure, I know it is below where most good writers like yourself are, I could supplement that with an ad in the magazine with an added value of say $1500/month for a half page.
Let me know if you are interested in moving forward or not.
All I read in that email was “Pay between “$300-$500” and “Most good writers like yourself”.My pitch, which included my social proof, had apparently struck a positive chord. It didn’t matter that I was a newbie; they didn’t know that.
With that jolt of confidence, I was certainly interested in moving forward. I enthusiastically sent the following email:
I understand you don’t have short pieces like that. I was just offering to write a short piece to see if I can nail down the style before we forge ahead. That’s an offer that still stands.
Regarding payment, that sounds fine. Can we agree on $0.12 per word then, together with a half-page ad?
When you say you’d love to have me interview, what you mean?
Yes, yes, I know $0.12 a word is nothing. But as a beginner, it felt right. We all have to start somewhere, right?
I received a short reply where he mentioned that he would have to chat to his wife (who is the editor):
I meant “audition” by writing an article.
We have interviews that need writing, but not 150 words.
I’d rather pay a flat fee plus the ad.
Let me discuss the arrangement with (name).
We then jumped on one last conference call and agreed that I would write a test article, which was due in a couple of days. Things were looking good.
But I was still reluctant to land the gig.
In one last effort of self-sabotage, I emailed the client, asking them for an extension due to an emergency (which didn’t exist). When the client responded saying that they couldn’t extend the deadline I told them I would make a plan. My fate was sealed.
I would have to write the article, and thankfully so. Only a few days after submitting it, I received an email saying they needed my help:
Can you please call me sometime today or over the weekend?
I need your assistance with a couple of articles.
I am taking (name) out of the editor’s chair for a little while, until she is out of pain, has her hip replacement surgery and then is “on the mend”.
I need to turn around a few stories asap.
Thanks in advance,
I jumped on that final call, sent a follow-up email asking for their budget, and before I knew it we were finalising the article rate. Here’s that chain of emails:
The Follow-up to the Call:
Was great chatting.
Just thought I’d send this mail out quick before I sleep.
What is your budget for these two pieces – I’m happy to work on a fixed rate per article.
I invoice via PayPal. Do you have PayPal?
Usually, it is about $100 per page.
Of course, I am giving you a 1/2 page (horizontal) ad in (publication).
I have attached our rate card with the mechanical requirements for same on the last page.
Please let me know.
$200 per article works, together with the ad. You happy with PayPal?
They agreed to pay via PayPal, and I wrote my first ever magazine article with absolutely no prior experience. I learned on the job and delivered what the client wanted by matching their publication’s style (yes, that involved reading and re-reading content on their site).
The first article was a hit: he agreed to increase my rate to $300, and I haven’t looked back.
I have since written 16 magazine articles for them, including cover stories for $450, and have earned $6,250.
Beyond the monetary value of the deal, I’ve refined my writing skills by ruthlessly editing my work and hiring an editor. Shout out to Spike Wyatt.
The quality of my writing has increased tenfold in a year. And to think that I nearly didn’t land that gig because of my fears? Crazy.
Cold pitching. That’s the technique I used to land my most lucrative client yet. On paper it’s simple: send a beautifully crafted email, and you’ll land that client. The reality is that it’s never easy, and it’s even harder when you’re a beginner who’s fighting fears of inadequacy.
But if you’re someone who writes well, lays the foundation and builds credibility through guest posting, it’s only a matter of time before one of your pitches hits the mark, and you get a positive response.
The only things stopping you now are your fears. As you take small steps, such as jumping on your first client call and deciding how to negotiate your way through a deal, you’ll slowly overcome those fears. Before you know it, you’ll wonder why you were ever afraid.
P.S. If you want access to other pitches that will help you bag high-paying clients, grab our Pitching Template Cheat Sheet.