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How to write a cold email that wins freelance clients

Unless you're a freelancer overflowing with referrals, sending cold emails will probably be an excellent addition to your client-finding process.

Alex Dovhyi
Alex Dovhyi
5 min read
How to write a cold email that wins freelance clients

Like it or not, freelancing is a combination of creativity and logic. You can be a great designer, but you'll go broke if you don't know how to run your independent business.

There are a lot of nuances to running an independent business, but there's one point we're talking a lot about in this newsletter. That is getting freelance clients. We spoke in detail about its aspects in the Dream Clients series.

There are two ways to find your clients fast. Today we'll focus on the cold outreach, more specifically, how to write a cold email that wins freelance clients.

Writing effective cold emails and doing it fast can make it easier to find new leads. Unless you're a freelancer overflowing with referrals, sending cold emails will probably be an excellent addition to your client-finding process.

A cold email is when you contact someone you don't know with a specific purpose in mind. The objective is to clarify if the lead can be a potential client in our case.

Before we dive into how to write a cold email, let's outline a few principles that will help us guide the conversation.

Principles of cold email

Keep it short

When sending a cold email to someone, the first thing to remember is that person probably receives a lot of these, and they're busy. Value their time and energy, and don't write a 1,000 words email. No one would read it. I would recommend keeping the email under 150 words.

  • Keep it short and simple
  • Break down large paragraphs into smaller chunks
  • Use lists to point important things

Always personalize

I think it's already a cliche, but you should never send an automated email. It gets deleted 99.9% of the time.

A few days ago, someone asked me which software I'm using to send cold emails on Twitter. The only software I use is the Apple Mail app. No auto-sending software. All manual work.

How to personalize a message:

  • Research the person on LinkedIn and Google
  • Check their working experience, education, hobbies, books, places, etc.
  • Find common topics to talk about (dogs, skiing, cooking, etc.)
  • Compliment their work

Prove your work

If you want the person on the other side to take you seriously, you should think about proof of work before sending an email. These are the markers of your success – awards, recognitions, testimonials, etc.

Social proof is a well-known psychological phenomenon actively used in marketing. It helps the receiver of the cold email see the examples of others who worked with you and got the results the receiver also (possibly) wants to have.

Think about:

  • Projects you were involved
  • Companies you worked with
  • People you learned from

You need to prove that not working with you is the worst decision the receiver can make.

Give value upfront

In my experience, the best way to impress the client when doing cold emails is by providing value upfront.

Before sending an email, do your homework:

  • Find inefficiencies on their website/app
  • Look for small details that don't work well
  • Try using their website/app and find usability issues
  • Find ways to simplify current workflows

What helped me when I started with cold outreach was looking at the client's current product and finding ways to improve it. Yes, you're probably be doing it blindly without knowing the target audience and their preferences, but that's better than not providing any value at all.

Call to action

The whole point of writing the cold email is to make the receiver do something after reading it. This is where the clear, specific, and straightforward call to action (CTA) comes in.

Ensure that the CTA stands out from the rest of the email by separating it with empty lines or highlighting an essential part in bolder font.

There's a great way to triple your cold email response rate. I learned this from Austin Belcak.

The trick is called an "Exit Clause."

It focuses on how you're ending your cold email. Most people finish with something like:

"Looking forward to your reply."

"Let's schedule a call, here's my Calendly:"

"Thanks in advance."

All of these messages are good points to the next step. However, they put a lot of pressure on the receiver. They will probably ignore the email that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Austin provides an example that lets the email receiver know that you value their time and that they don't have to say yes.

"Lastly, I know your time is valuable, and I know this is a big ask coming from a stranger. If it's too much right now, that's fine! Either way, I hope you're staying safe and healthy."

Your recognition and respect of their time takes off the pressure and makes them more likely to reply.

How to write a cold email

Now that we've nailed the fundamental principles let's talk about how to write an actual email and the steps to make the most of it.

Research the prospect

No matter what you are doing: writing an email, publishing content, or designing a website, first, you need to know who you are doing it for.

Understand who is your client, what they do, and most importantly – what you can do for them. You can use sites like Angelist, Glassdoor, or LinkedIn to find prospects.

Identify the right person to contact

Depending on your creative work, you might want to reach out to different people. As a product designer, I contacted VP's of design, directors, and heads of design.

Finding the right person is crucial because this should be the person who can hire you. To get a better idea of who those people are, you can look up the company on LinkedIn.

Write a subject line

People often misunderstand that the cold email is about themselves and their products or services. But cold email isn't about you. It's about the client and what value you can bring to the business.

Ask yourself what subject line would make the receiver open my cold email?

Don't add emojis or "spammy" words. Instead, think of a problem you're going to solve and outline the solution in a few words.

Personalize

We just covered personalization as one of the principles. Here's how to structure your email:

  1. Start with greeting
  2. Introduce yourself, and explain why you are writing.
  3. Follow with a sentence or two about their problem, your proposed solution, and how you can add value.
  4. End with a call to action.
  5. Thank them for their time (don't forget to use "Exit Clause")

Don't overcomplicate it. Start with what you think will work and improve as you get feedback.

Follow-up

This is the number one step people are missing when writing cold emails. Follow-up is probably even more important than the email itself.

The most common question people ask about follow-ups is, "How much should I wait?"

Generally, two or three days is a reasonable amount of time to wait before sending your first follow-up email.

I usually use this timeline:

  1. First follow-up after three days
  2. Second, follow up after seven days of the first follow up

I never send the third follow-up. If the person didn't respond to the previous three emails, chances are they're not going to respond at all. Don't waste your time and move on.

Conclusion

In short, a cold email that is personalized to a specific client or company is a great way to find new leads. As you grow your freelance business, you'll start building a portfolio of clients who will give you more referrals, and, eventually, you will limit your time sending cold emails.

Now that you know how to write an excellent cold email to get more freelance clients, go and write one.