Ask an Anchor: How do I send non-sales-y cold emails?


Hi Sarah, 

I finally took the plunge, and I am officially freelance full-time. The clients who were once my side hustle are now my full focus. It’s scary, but I’m enjoying the freedom and the clarity of not being so scattered.

I know that some of the ongoing client work will keep me afloat, but I am hoping to create some kind of pipeline or, better yet, a financial buffer so if my client relationships change, I’ll be prepared. 

Here is my question: I know I have to start marketing myself, specifically doing outreach. This is totally new for me, and I am really struggling. How do I start doing outreach without being too sales-y? Help!  

Thank you, 

Resistant but Persistent 

Resistant but Persistent, 

Woah! Huge congratulations to you! The world of freelance is lucky to have you. You have your head on straight and know what you need to make this work. 

Toggling between the work you do every day and the work that keeps your business running is one of the most challenging parts about being independent, whether it’s freelance, small business, entrepreneurship, or whatever you’d like to call yourself. 

In regards to being too sales-y: 

Let this fear go. You have to talk about yourself and what you do in order to get work. But the key is that the people who are hiring don’t care who you are per se - they are already short on time and are looking for help. They only care about what you can do for them (and that you’re not going to steal their money). When you get them on the line, it’s your job to understand who they are and what they need. 

Ask them questions about their business to clarify your understanding of what they might need, and tell them how you’re going to help. 

Bad sales tactics are when you promise too much or (the worst offense) pressure people into saying “yes.” Tell the truth about what you can do and clients will respond to that. 

Get these potential clients on the phone quickly, actively listen, tell them what you can (and can’t) do. Send a proposal as soon as you can (or if you’re swamped, tell them when they can expect it and send it on time.) If they are ready to move forward, send the contract and invoice quickly. Once they’re in and saying yes, get the paperwork done and the deposit in motion. Even those who are ready and willing have a tendency to back out, so lock them in and get started. 

Setting realistic expectations and delivering above and beyond will help you with your future sales cycle in a big way. Happy clients lead to happy referrals. 

I know you’re asking about cold emails to potential clients, but I look at businesses holistically, so I need to make sure you have a few more things in order before we move on. The following list is very basic, but will really help you. When it comes to professionalism, which is what clients are looking for, this is essential for a new freelancer.  

Consider some of these assets:  

  • Website / Social / Marketing - nothing fancy, but if you can afford design and some customization, it makes a big difference in the eyes of clients who, frankly, don’t know who the eff you are. Testimonials of any kind are gold. Simple social media effort works, and so does consistent and targeted outreach.

  • PDF overview of your work - when we talk about cold emails, I’ll reference this. Clicking on an attachment in an email keeps people in their inboxes (not distracted) AND is a quick peek to prove you’re as talented as you say you are.

  • Systems - contracts, payment terms, delivery time, will all be something your client will ask you about so have those answers ready.

  • Work hours/response times - boundaries will save your life. Decide how you want your week to look and don’t forget to build in some lunchtime, times to move your body, and times when you are not looking at a screen.


The Cold Email

In my experience, and because of the nature of my work, cold emails have nearly never worked. But that’s just me! When people are ready to work with me, they’re looking for my services and find me by asking their friends and searching for articles. 

If they aren’t ready and looking, the concept of working with a business consultant is too new (or cold) to even try to pitch. What has worked is my happy clients talking about the solid work I do with other people. When those referrals come my way, I make sure I have all of the assets I listed above ready to go.

Whatever your business is, do take into consideration how your customer wants to find you. For example, if I grow my services to be more workshop based for bigger companies, I think cold emails will end up being a massive part of building that aspect of my business. What's working now is getting a warm introduction from my network to companies or people I want to work with. 

(Sidebar! We can talk about retainer clients another time because long-term contracts are also going to be a huge part of how to stay sane and cash flow positive)

Ok ok. The cold email. The below outline should be three short paragraphs with a closing line AT MOST. 

Get a warm introduction if you can, then...

  1. A simple headline, like “Copywriter looking to work with [Insert Company Name]”

  2. Keep it short
    > Brief introduction
    > Tell them how you’re going to improve their business
    > Tell them about your services and expertise

  3. Link out to your website AND include a PDF of your services and expertise (it might seem redundant, but think of it as thorough instead.)

Upon response:  Create another short email and include a link to book a call with you. This system is a HUGE time (and fumble) saver.  Calendly is excellent, but I know there are a few other services that will help people book you automatically. Assume your client is busy — make their life easier from the get-go. 

And have fun! 


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