How to Land Jobs as a Freelancer – How to Write Winning Proposals and Cold Pitch Emails

Proposal - Cold Pitch Email

We are in the digital age. Tarmacking looking for work is not working anymore. If it works for you, you will probably end up working in a job that pays way below what you deserve. The fact that you have rent and other bills to pay makes you keep working in the job. But, what if you could become a freelancer and work online with clients who are willing to pay you what you deserve?  Sounds nice, right? Right!

One thing that eludes people when it comes to landing jobs online is how to write good proposals and cold pitch emails. Today I decided to wear my work vest and shoes to write an article on how to write good proposals and cold pitch emails. I know this first part of the article is beginning to bore you. You came here to learn how to craft proposals and cold pitch emails that land you jobs, not to know whether I wore my work vest and shoes while writing this article. So, how about we move on to the good stuff?

Sorry, I forgot to tell you. This article will be divided into two sections. The first section will show you how to write good proposals. The next section will show you how to craft nice cold pitch emails. There is a difference between cold pitch emails and proposals.

Part 1: How to Write Nice Proposals That Land You Jobs as a Freelancer

Proposals are generally sent by freelancers on freelance marketplaces. I only have experience working on a freelance marketplace known as Upwork. Furthermore, this is the best freelance marketplace currently. Therefore, you should expect guidance on how to craft nice proposals that get you jobs on Upwork. I will be including real-life examples to drive all my points home.

When crafting your proposals, there are some things you need to keep in mind. The proposals should:

  • Instantly stand out. On a freelance marketplace like Upwork, where there are thousands of people offering the same services as you, you need to stand out from the pack.
  • Build trust quickly. The potential client has never met you. You need to use your proposal to get him or her to trust you.
  • Resonate with the potential client. A good proposal should resonate on an emotional level with your client. This will compel the client to get back to you as soon as possible.

To achieve all of the above, you will need some counterintuitive strategies. Pay close attention. Feed your pet. Make sure your kid has something to keep him or her busy. Tell the neighbors to not bother you. We are going to be looking at the counterintuitive strategies you need. We will be covering a lot of ground, fast. Hence, interruptions cannot be allowed!

3 Most Important Guidelines for Writing a Great Proposal as a Freelancer

I have applied to a ton of jobs on Upwork in the past. I got some. I didn’t get some. When applying for different jobs, I have been testing different proposal guidelines. 3 guidelines got me the most results. I will be taking a deeper look at the guidelines, below:

1.    Avoid “Selling Yourself” Too Much

I get it, when you find a job you like on Upwork, you immediately tell yourself, “I have to make this client hire me!”. This knee-jerk reaction makes you list the reasons why you think you should be chosen by the client in your proposal.

This is very understandable and natural. However, the “Selling Yourself” approach does not work. In fact, it is riddled with flaws. Fatal flaws. These fatal flaws include:

  • Clients are not interested in you. They are interested in accomplishing their goals and obviously, themselves. If you focus on talking about yourself in your proposal, the client will ignore you. He/she will prefer to hire a different freelancer who focuses on his/her needs.
  • Your competitors will be using the “Sell Yourself” approach too. Instead of standing out, you will sound like everyone else who applied for the job.
  • People hate being sold to by strangers. Remember the guy who tried to sell you an accident insurance cover while you were waiting to catch a bus? Did you like the guy? If you are being honest, your answer will be a no.

Below is an example of a freelancer who used the “Selling Yourself” approach too much. I am not looking to get sued. Therefore, I have redacted a lot of parts from the proposal below that could be considered as personally identifiable:


2.    Build Rapport

You may think that clients choose freelancers based on their experience and qualifications. This is not always the case. When you take a deeper look at how the hiring process works, you will get to learn a whole different story.

Below, I have an example of a freelancer who left a comment on Freelance to Win indicating that the client did not hire her because she was the most skilled and experienced freelancer. The client actually hired her because she cared more about the project!

I found another Tweet from a freelancer who reported that he was not hired because he had skills and experience. He was hired simply because he resides in Boston:

Building Rapport

The 2 examples above stress the importance of building rapport with the client. Freelancing is more of a people business than a resume business. This tells you that you need to focus on building a personal connection with the client when crafting your proposal.

You may be wondering how you are supposed to build rapport/personal connection with the client. Here are some ways you can use to build rapport:

  • Don’t sound robotic. Write like you are talking to a real person.
  • Don’t just focus on getting hired. Focus on helping the potential client.
  • Say something friendly.

3.    Avoid Telling. Instead, Show

Most freelancers will focus on telling. They will be like:

  • I am good and writing PHP and JavaScript.
  • I have a master’s degree in computer science.
  • I have been writing code for 5 years.

Freelancers like telling because it is easy. However, to clients, this is boring. Telling does not prove anything. Comedians will say “I am funny!” 10 minutes later, they will be booed off the stage.

It does not matter whether you think you are amazing at what you do or not. The potential client has never met you, let alone see you do what you say you are good at. This is why you need to show the client that you have already done what you claim you do before. The client needs you to SHOW him/her proof. This can be done by:

  • Offering a suggestion.
  • Sharing a rare piece of knowledge with the client.
  • Showing the client relevant examples of your work. For example, if you are a freelance writer, you can always start a blog and use the articles on your blog as examples.

Putting the 3 Guidelines into Practice

If you are just getting started, It would be unfair to just show you the guidelines you need to follow when writing an Upwork proposal and not show you a real-life proposal that uses the 3 principals. I have an example of a proposal below:

Great Proposal

If you look at the above proposal, you will realize that:

  • The freelancer started out by recognizing the potential client’s accomplishment. The freelancer did not start talking about himself immediately.
  • The freelancer showed that he cared about the client’s project by offering information for free. He offered the information without caring whether the client did hire him or not.
  • Instead of focusing on giving the client a list of boring credentials, the freelancer told the client a story about a similar project he had worked on.

Did the client hire him? You bet he did:

Proposal Upwork
Upwork Proposal

Part 2: How to Write Great Cold Pitch Emails

Let’s assume that you just don’t like using Freelance Marketplaces. Or maybe, you created an account on Upwork and unfortunately, your account failed to be approved (it happens). You can always find clients without having to use freelance platforms. What you need to do is send cold pitch emails.

For cold pitching to land you the clients, you need to know how to write great cold-pitch emails. Below, I have the steps you need to follow to write an effective cold pitch email:

Step 1: Make Sure That the Heading is Irresistible

Your headline will only be useful if the individual to whom you are sending the cold pitch email will read it. While it could be highly persuasive, it will be 100% useless if your potential client does not read it. When you are writing a cold pitch email, you have to keep in mind that you are emailing individuals you have never met before. These people did not even know you exist half a second ago.

An Interesting headline should aim for various triggers. Examples of these triggers include:

  • The desire to get results.
  • The sense of urgency.
  • Curiosity.

On top of this, the headline should be able to make your potential client read the rest of your email.

Step 2: Personalize Your Cold Pitch Email

Busy people get hundreds to thousands of emails each and every day. Imagine getting hundreds of phone calls each and every day. You would want to burn your phone and then make sure that the wind carries all the ashes away.

To make your cold pitch email appealing to someone who gets hundreds of emails every single day, you need to personalize it. The easiest way to personalize a cold pitch email is to take your time to learn the name of the person you are sending the email to. Starting an email with something like “Hi” or “Hello” won’t cut it. You expect the person you are sending the email to take 5 to 10 minutes out of their busy day to reply to your email. The one thing you can do is take your time to learn the person’s name.

Step 3: Make Sure You Make the Purpose of Your Cold Pitch Clear

Look, not everyone you send a cold pitch email to will have work to give to you. It, therefore, makes absolutely no sense to waste time with stories which try to convince someone who probably does not need your services. Save your time and your client’s time by making the purpose of your cold pitch email known immediately.

Step 4: Ensure You Introduce Yourself and Also Establish Credibility

This step involves telling your client who you are and why he/she should hire you. You have never had coffee with the potential client to whom you are sending the cold-pitch email. For him or her to trust you enough to take a chance on you, he/she needs to know who you are and why he/she should hire you.

Establishing credibility involves showing your client that he/she can trust you if he/she hires you. For example, if you are a freelance writer, show your client publications/blogs you contribute to. Also, you can show the client awards you have received, your achievements, and high profile interviews you have done. All this will help prove that you know what you are doing.

Step 5: Outline the Services You Offer

Even though you have already informed your potential client the purpose of your email, you should still go ahead and show them the key services you offer. Maybe you informed your client that you would like to help him or her with content creation. This could leave the client wondering whether you specialize in writing press releases, blog posts, copyrighting, etc. Outlining the services you offer will clear things up. In this step, you can even go ahead and link to your portfolio website.  

Finally: Conclude and Make Sure You Encourage Your Client to Reply

When creating your cold pitch email, you need to show your client that you are interested in hearing from him or her. You could encourage the client to ask any questions that he/she might have. Encourage him or her to voice any concerns that he or she might be having.

A Real-Life Cold Pitch Email from an Established Freelance Writer

Instructions make more sense when people see an example. If you get instructions on how to take apart a car engine, the instructions will make more sense to you when you see someone taking apart a car engine. Below, I have an example of a cold pitch email that made Bamidele Onibalusi over 5000 dollars in a couple of months:

Good Cold Pitch email

Learning How to Craft Great Proposals and Cold Pitch Emails Can Land You More Jobs!

The inability to communicate to your client that you can offer the value that he/she needs will keep you from getting the job you know you deserve. This article shows you how to communicate that you can offer value to clients. If you have read to this point, you should start seeing results from your efforts.

It may take a while before you manage to land your first job via either sending proposals on a freelance marketplace or sending cold pitch emails. When Elna Cain (one of the freelance writers I look up to) was just getting started, she had to send over 40 pitches before landing her first freelance writing job:

The key here is to never give up. Always remember, you are only one more proposal or cold pitch email to getting your dream freelance job.

Go get them, tiger. Good Luck!