A Step-by-Step Guide for Going After Clients You Really Want

A Step-by-Step Guide for Going After Clients You Really Want

To find clients, most freelance writers — especially new ones — need to get out there and approach them.

But this strategy, known as direct marketing, can be intimidating if you haven’t tried it before. Most of us don’t like marketing ourselves because we’re afraid to appear sleazy. Who wants to come across like one of those pushy door-to-door salespeople?

Here’s the truth: direct marketing is awesome.

While you may already use blogging, referral programs and social media to strategically position yourself in the market and allow customers to come to you, you can’t rely solely on this inbound marketing to get new business. If you want more clients, you need to use direct marketing: reach out to them instead of waiting for them to come to you.

Make sure that your direct marketing efforts make an impact by using the following strategies.

Do your research

Don’t just blindly send out emails or marketing messages. Look up every business or individual that you want approach. What’s their background? What are their goals? And more importantly, why would they need your services? Find out everything you can about your prospects.

For instance, whenever I reach out to a business to offer my writing services, I make sure to check their website, read their blog, view their latest tweets, etc. This research ensures that I’m totally clear on how I can help them and whether they’re a good fit for my business, and leads into my next step.

Direct your messages to a specific person instead of a general mailbox

Make sure the right people — the decision-makers — see your message. When pitching your services to a larger company, it’s best to approach the marketing department instead of customer service or the general mailbox. If you’re dealing with a small business or startup, the company’s founder is usually a good bet.

Go back to your research and figure out your ideal point-of-contact. Look them up on LinkedIn and Twitter, then figure out the best way to approach them.

Personalize your approach

Use the intel you uncover to customize your message. Show the prospect that you did your research by mentioning company-specific information or referencing recent blog posts or tweets. For example, if you read that the business recently won an award, include a note of congratulations in your message. Your thoughtfulness will impress the client and they’ll be more inclined to respond.

Quick tip: To easily find information about your potential clients, check out Rapportive, a nifty browser plugin for Gmail that shows handy social information about your contacts right from your email interface. While you’re composing an email to Jane Doe, the plugin will display her social media accounts, blog, and recent tweets, so you can quickly find info that you can use to personalize your message.

Be specific and sincere with your compliments

Flattery will get you nowhere — true or false?

Compliments can further personalize your pitch and help you get off on the right foot with your client — as long as you’re being genuine.

A good way to demonstrate your sincerity is issuing specific compliments. Don’t just say “cool website!” or “I love your company.” Be more detailed. What exactly do you like about their company? Which particular website features do you love?

Giving genuine and specific words of praise will help you make a stronger impression and increase the chances of hearing back from the potential client.

Offer tailored recommendations

Go beyond the compliments and tailored messages to show exactly what you can do for the client. Give them useful information that will help them improve their content — no strings attached. (Click to tweet this idea.)

It’s a powerful client outreach technique because it’s incredibly effective. Personal finance and behavioral psychology author Ramit Sethi calls it the “Briefcase Technique,” because you’re pulling an incredible menu of ways you will help the client right out of your briefcase.

Before pitching one prospective client, I studied their archived blog posts, then suggested headlines, topics and even some formatting tips.

The result? The prospect got back to me after a few weeks and hired me to write eight blog posts per month.

What are your best tips when it comes to approaching potential clients?

Filed Under: Marketing


  • capsclub says:

    Robert/Nick: Very good opinions. I would be interested to hear associated with any advantages in your WEB OPTIMIZATION advertisments as soon as this is put in place.

  • Layla T says:

    Great advice Francesca! I’ve read so many wonderful tips here this evening. As a night owl, I do my best thinking in the wee hours. But I’ve been at it for hours. And now I think it’s time for some much needed, and well deserved relaxation.

  • Ashley Nance says:

    The unsung but (I think) equally important benefit of researching the prospect and making suggestions in your outreach efforts is that you can quickly and (relatively) painlessly determine when a prospect is NOT a good fit. It’s easy for freelance writers to think of their target market as ( anyone who’ll pay me), but it’s empowering to be so consciously engaged in your on on boarding process. For example, if I find out that my prospect has been involved in shady business or I can’t stand their “voice,” I can “fire” them before they even know I exist – repercussion free! And if I find out they seem more interested in financial planning topics than marketing strategy, then I can spare myself the time and energy required to craft a beautiful pitch email. Then finally, when I do find a perfect fit, I begin the relationship process excited for the opportunity and confident I can add value, and that not one minute spent on outreach is wasted time. Thanks for sharing!

    • Such a great point, Ashley — a freelancer’s target market shouldn’t be “anyone who’ll pay me,” and that leaves room for her to find ideal clients. Thanks for sharing your strategy!

      TWL Assistant Editor

  • Amanda says:

    Love this ~ thank you!

  • Cris Lim says:

    Thanks for this very useful article. I just left my TV scriptwriting job to go freelancing and it points me in the right direction. The comments also provided some needed info. Hope to be among you successful freelancers soon.

    More power.

  • Debashish says:

    Excellent post, Francesca. I have been trying my hand at direct marketing recently, and find that it is exciting and scary at the same time.

    I believe that research is definitely needed before a cold pitch, but it is also important not to waste too much time on the research as one never knows if the prospect will hire you. It is better to start out with an email asking for permission to give some recommendations. (This is my major take away from Ramit Sethi’s Earn1K course)

    • Hi Debashish,

      You raised an excellent point about doing research. It’s certainly important to look up prospects before approaching them, but we don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of what they’re about to reel them in.

      I also know other writers who ask permission before sending samples or suggestions and this strategy works really well for them. I suppose I’m just a fan of immediately laying it all out for the prospect. 😉

      I say writers should go with whatever works best for them. Maybe try out a few things, and go with the ones the generate the best results.

      Thanks for the input Debashish! 🙂

  • Francesca Nicasio says:

    “We should strive to provide info that’ll make our target clients see how our services will benefit them.” –Yep, and emphasis on *benefit them*.

    The key to effective marketing is to have the “It’s not about me, it’s about them” mindset. I use that to guide me when I’m pitching businesses or even I’m brainstorming article ideas. 🙂

    Thanks for the comment, Jovell!

  • Jovell says:

    No one ever goes wrong using the direct approach. And thanks for bringing up Ramit’s Briefcase Technique. I almost forgot about how effectively it works.

    When we think about it whether we’re doing inbound or direct marketing we should strive to provide info that’ll make our target clients see how our services will benefit them. More often, this is what will make our marketing efforts successful.

  • Kimmoy says:

    These are great tips Francesca! I’m a fan of Ramit’s work as well and have used that Briefcase Technique in my favor.

    • Yep, same here! I haven’t gotten the chance to *literally* try out the briefcase technique because I don’t do a lot of in-person interviews, but I have applied the principles behind it (i.e. researching the biz, tailored proposals, etc.) and they’ve worked really well.

      I’m happy to hear that they worked for you too. (Ramit would be proud.) 😉

  • Alicia Rades says:

    Thanks for these tips Francesca! I’m personally terrified of direct marketing. I would much rather “be the bait,” but I know I have to start getting serious about it, so thanks for all the advice.

    • You’re welcome, Alicia! I’ve been there. I’m a naturally shy person who’s scared of approaching and “bothering” people, so I resisted direct marketing for the longest time.

      I have to say though, the approach grew on me and enabled me to connect with some great people. It’s now my favorite client-hunting approach. (Although I still recognize that it may not be for everyone.)


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