The wrong way to get freelance jobs

September 3, 2014

by Jake Poinier

wrong way freelance jobsThere are countless strategies and places to find freelance jobs, but this week, I received a note that represents a classic example of the wrong way to go about it: soliciting work from other freelancers with whom you have 1) no relationship or 2) no understanding of their businesses. Exhibit A is a pitch I received from out of the blue on LinkedIn:

I saw your profile and wanted to introduce myself.

For 30+ years I’ve been a writer, editor and proofreader for individuals, businesses and government.

Writing has been a life-long passion. For me, it’s never been work. It’s who I am.

Seeing people moved by what I write or how those messages change them and their business means a great deal to me.

I often see businesses struggling with writing to connect with their customers. That doesn’t need to happen.

Would my services be of any benefit to you and the projects you’re working on?

The writer makes several assumptions here, all of which undermine her pitch. Let’s go line by line:

  • “I saw your profile…” Who cares? If you want my attention, you need to demonstrate that you actually know something about my business, blog, or books.
  • “For 30+ years…” If you actually did know something about my business, you’d realize that we basically have the amount of experience. In other words, I’m not a terribly good prospect.
  • “It’s never been work…” First of all, I don’t believe you. Second of all, if this is true, we’re probably not a good match to be friends or colleagues. (Freelancing is work, even if you enjoy it.)
  • “Seeing people moved…” Um, OK. I’ll take you at your word.
  • “I often see businesses struggling…” Do you realize that you’re basically implying that my writing isn’t connecting with my customers? It’d be insulting, if it weren’t downright hilarious.
  • “Would my services be of any benefit…” See previous bullet.

Keep in mind, I am a huge fan of cold calling. It’s not for everyone, but quite honestly it’s what built my business in the early days. But a note like this is *not* a cold call; this is an uncustomized shot in the dark. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s lazy, because there is no indication of even a modicum of research: This email could have been sent to any random freelancer just by changing the “Dear So-and-So” to whom it was addressed. For that matter, this email doesn’t tell me anything concrete about why I should be interested in the individual who sent it.

The bigger picture, however, is something Yo Prinzel brought up in a comment the other day to my post “Writing revisions and doing the right thing”: This business is all about relationships. Repeat: All. About. Relationships.

Indeed, that’s true of any service business, not just freelance writing and editing or graphic design. Our customers aren’t just buying widgets—they’re investing in specific experience, talents, and people, which means I have to deal in known quantities. When it comes to subcontracting, I’ve got hundreds of freelance writers, editors, and designers with whom I’ve worked over the years. Networking can also be virtual: I have contacted people I know as “blog friends” with business opportunities on many occasions, and they have reached out to me, but that’s because we have a relationship built on mutual trust.

Look, I recognize that it can be a tough, competitive market out there, and it’s worthwhile to experiment with different ways of marketing yourself. Reality dictates, though, that results corollate with effort over time. There are no shortcuts to building a network and a client base, regardless of how wonderful your creative skills are.

If the author of that email happens to read this blog post, please accept my apologies for making an example of you, and I hope you can use it in good spirit to hone your approach. In the meantime, I’ll wonder how many of these you shotgunned out there. If it worked to get you a freelance job or two, consider it a victory.

Photo courtesy of penywise.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy Miller September 3, 2014 at 6:44 am

I have come to the conclusion, Jake, that part of the problem is people are impatient. They want results NOW. Relationships take time. They are an investment in your future. Sadly, too many freelancers (and other business professionals) want to take shortcuts to success. Sorry. That rarely happens.

I’m just full of business taglines today. ;-)

Jake Poinier September 3, 2014 at 7:38 am

True confession, patience isn’t necessarily my strong suit, either. But freelancing puts a premium on it.

And put those business taglines to good use, while the Muse is hot!

Dava Stewart September 3, 2014 at 7:41 am

I’m confused. Why would she send that email to a person who is basically a competitor? It would make sense to send it to a CPA, a store owner, an owner of a factory…but to another person who makes a living WRITING?

People are weird. That is all.

Jake Poinier September 3, 2014 at 8:24 am

You’re cracking me up, Dava, and you’ve asked the $64,000 question. I can’t imagine the motivation.

Laura Spencer September 3, 2014 at 8:41 am

Great discussion!

I’ve gotten this type of pitch from complete strangers too. I don’t know for sure, but I think they might be trying to take a shortcut to finding work.

You’re absolutely right about relationship building. When I do need to hire someone to help me (which doesn’t happen very often), it’s always someone who I have a relationship with. It’s never a complete stranger who emailed me out of the blue.

These pitches are so common, it makes me wonder if they ever work.

Mihai September 3, 2014 at 8:50 am

I’ve received a lot of private messages and emails even worse than this. Actually, to compare, this one is actually a good one.

Dava, it’s amazing but I’m also being approached only by competition. And even more weird, they seem to think that if I just responded to the message then we can just start working together like we’ve known each other for years…

I’m really curious if this “strategy” ever works.

Jake Poinier September 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Thanks, Laura (and thanks for the RTs). I’ve gotten these types of pitches on occasion, but this one caught me in just the right moment and mood that I couldn’t help myself.

Mihai, thank for commenting. I am having a hard time understanding how it could be effective, other than sheer volume and blind luck.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter September 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm

I get these on occasion. Sometimes it’s someone saying they want me to hire them, clearly clueless that I’m a sole proprietor without employees or that someone like me – similarly to Jake – is unlikely to give work to someone else, and certainly not to a stranger. Sometimes it’s someone wanting me to hand off any “overflow”; equally clueless, since I would never hand off work to a stranger. Other times, it’s someone wanting me to give them contact info for my clients; words fail. I’ve also gotten requests to refer or recommend strangers to my clients. Ain’t gonna happen.

These are people who don’t realize (or care) that I’ve spent years building not just relationships with my clients but a reputation for quality and reliability. I’m not going to jeopardize it by involving anyone I don’t know in my freelance business.

I don’t think I would ever make such a pitch to anyone who didn’t already know me, and can’t imagine why someone else would think it worthwhile. The most I might do is offer to partner with a colleague on a particular project where I need or want skills I don’t have, or respond if a colleague asked for help with handling an overload of work or project of theirs needing my skills.

Some of these are actually pretty funny, especially the ones full of typos or who get my name wrong. Who cares if his/her writing has moved people? Is s/he any good? Does s/he have paying clients?

Chutzpah has its role, but there are limits!

Jake Poinier September 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm

The “overflow” line is an oldie-but-goodie. I can’t figure out how someone would think they could jump the queue ahead of people I’ve known and worked with for years. I’ve never had someone ask for client contact info, but I’ve heard stories from other freelancers. THAT is chutzpah!

Thanks for commenting, Ruth. Can’t wait for the Communication Central conference!

Barbara Nordin September 3, 2014 at 4:58 pm

This pitch just makes me sort of sad. It could have been sent by someone who really, really, really needs work right now and simply isn’t up on the niceties. Why pull out a hammer without knowing the first thing about the sender’s circumstances? Delete keys are usually available.
Barbara Nordin

Jake Poinier September 3, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Hi Barbara, I was honestly hoping I’d get a dissenting opinion at some point, so thank you for jumping into the breach.

Perhaps you are correct about this person’s situation, but desperation isn’t an excuse to ignore the niceties, IMO. I’d expect someone touting 30 years of experience to make a more personalized, thoughtful pitch.

Again, thanks for commenting and offering an alternative perspective.

Eileen Burick September 4, 2014 at 6:23 am

Great reminder, Jake — ultimately it’s the business relationships, on or offline — which are the solid foundation needed for building a strong business over time. That’s why getting to know your customers and prospects has been and always will be the key. The digital age only changes the methods and the tools, not the basic principals!

Jake Poinier September 4, 2014 at 7:22 am

Eileen, that’s an excellent point about the digital realm, and it’s pertinent in this circumstance. LinkedIn provides people quick access to vast numbers of business contacts, and that has its positives and negatives—one of the primary negatives being that you con yourself into thinking you can speed up the process.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post: