Why Cold Pitches Are Killing Your Freelance Career

Author: Renée Kapuku, Creative Digital Programmes Manager, Supa Network | 5 min read

This article was originally written on Medium


We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom of the bold freelance writer diving into the deep end and advertising their services to unsuspecting potential clients. Many of us have even had some success in securing a few customers here and there. But what many freelancers fail to tell you is how great the trade-offs are when you send a bad cold pitch.

I only realized just how bad cold pitches are when I was on the receiving end of it. I’ve created several independent projects and businesses in the past few years. The one I’m currently working on is an ed-tech social enterprise, which helps young professionals with their goals through a digitally-responsive platform. From time to time, I receive offers to manage social media and copy-writing for the company. In the past week, I received a request which completely wiped out any remnant of faith I had in cold pitches. From that moment on, one of my eyebrows reflexively raises whenever I come across a cold pitch.

So you’ve drafted up a seemingly great pitch. You’ve studied the writing titans on Medium and Youtube. You’ve even bought several courses on perfecting your pitch.

You might need to lay it aside for just a moment. Here’s why.

Cold pitches look like random pieces of spam

Cold pitches, for the majority of the time, come across a bit…spammy. It’s unwarranted, uncalled for, and unnecessary. It seems super inauthentic and sales-like. Of course, being in the business of writing means you need to be a good salesperson. But you are a writer, first and foremost, and it is possible to oversell yourself to the point of it being distasteful.

Furthermore, the golden rule of successful cold pitching is often doing your research into how you can benefit the company. Finding a way to slot your skills into the grand scheme of things, and make it better. However, it’s hedging a bet on the fact that a company or hiring manager will need you at the time. Quite frankly, it’s often not the case.

Pitching to a company if you’ve seen that there is either an open position or a very specific area you can improve is better. That gives you a leg to stand on. For example, noticing that their web copy has grammatical mistakes, or expressing interest in some of their previous work with a keen eye for a specific improved outcome, is compelling. Deciding that they need you, and only you, without an ounce of evidence or reasoning, is likely to get you black-listed.

Relationships are still king

Cold pitching can ruin your freelance career if it is your sole and first port of call.

I did this entirely wrong when I first started freelancing. I’d go to random companies and clients that seemed of interest and send them a message. I’m sure I sounded more like a random fan than an actual potential contractor. Even when I got in a few clients, the relationship was extremely transactional, and I often had to undercut my worth. When I started looking into my network and pulling in acquaintances and introductions, my life became 10x easier. I already had the goodwill and support from someone I had worked with or for in the past, and I was able to develop warmer, long term relationships with clients along the line I desired.

Warm introductions are the doorway into a successful freelance career. Networking can get a bad rep, especially when it comes across as seedy. It needn’t be — think about some of the people you have worked with, or for in the past. Could they potentially have someone within their network that needs your skills? Could you get them to vouch for you?

Cold-pitching is gutsy, bold, and sometimes you just have to do it. But it better be your final card and not your first card — lest you have no more cards to operate at all.

How to pitch right

If you are going to cold pitch, here’s how to do it properly:

  1. Find a way in with the company: If you can find a compelling way in with the company, even better. Perhaps you chanced across a recent whitepaper they conducted and loved their findings. Perhaps a colleague mentioned working with them in person. Perhaps their missions compelling. Your pitch is more likely to succeed if you have a compelling, non-creepy reason for contacting them in the first place. Warm-up your cold pitch.
  2. Identify where you can add value: What can you bring to the table? Identify very specific outputs you’d potentially like to see with the company. Organizations and clients tend to be action-orientated and results-driven — are you looking to increase their website traffic with a killer copy? Perhaps you’ve been on their mailing list and would like to add a personalized touch to increase retention? Or maybe you’ve seen a number of their articles and would like to ghost-write a few to increase uptake? Be specific about the output you’d like to see.
  3. Balance skill with sales: it’s not enough to sell, you need to have sufficient skill. Be sure to highlight exactly what skills you have — it makes it so much easier to sell yourself in a non-creepy way when you have key experiences to back it up with.

Perhaps you don’t have to abandon cold pitching altogether, but exploring your network and seeing if you can get a few people through the door without cold pitching is a lot easier and more effective. It also doesn’t rule you out of the game either — some organizations talk, and you don’t want to be wrestling with the reputation of being the avid spammy salesperson.

If you are going to cold pitch, exhaust other options first, and when it comes down to it — make sure you pitch well.

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