Cold-pitching (and following up), scheduling meetings, and reminding clients to pay you—effective communication can be as important to a freelancer’s livelihood as the work itself. These days, most external business communications are transmitted via email, and like anything else, there’s an art to it.
When it comes to outreach to prospects with which you do not have a relationship, your email is only as good as its open rate. People will almost always prioritize messages that come from familiar parties, so you really only have three opportunities to win strangers over in the inbox: your email address, the subject line and the preview text—each of which can be leveraged to prove you deserve a chance.
Here are some quick tips to ensure your messages are opened and acted upon.
Don’t neglect the “From” field
Stats from HubSpot show that email addresses with your name rather than just your company’s name are more likely to be opened. Even if the name itself is unknown, seeing a specific person reach out gives the receiver the impression that this isn’t just another generic form email. And it should go without saying, but keep your email address professional. Nothing sketchy, provocative or sophomoric.
State your purpose
Think of puns and wordplay as a privilege you earn with time. Big brands can get away with cheesy dad jokes as subject lines because they’ve already proven themselves to you; you open their emails more because of brand reputation than a funny subject line.
But if you’re not quite at Bed Bath & Beyond level of notoriety, stick with clear subjects that tell the reader exactly what you’re offering. Is it a timely pitch for a website’s health vertical about Obamacare? Then don’t be afraid to make the subject say exactly that. Are you following up with a past client? Then start your subject with “following up” or “checking in.” Responding to their call for submissions on Twitter? Then say so.
Whatever you do, don’t start an email with RE: when it’s your first time reaching out. It’s not clever or sneaky. It’s just irritating.
Consider the preview text
When composing an email, remember that the recipient can see the beginning of your message before even opening it. Use this as a chance to show that you’ve done a little research by putting the recipient’s name in your greeting.
If you’ve done all of these things correctly, there’s a good chance your recipient has opened your email. Hooray! But don’t pat yourself on the back quite yet—opening and responding are two very different things and the former doesn’t guarantee the latter. Here are five more tips that might get you that elusive reply.
Keep it short
People don’t have time to read a tome about all of your achievements and grand schemes for their company, so opening an email and seeing a giant block of text is going to be a huge turnoff. Concise paragraphs, line breaks for visual breathing room and easy to read font will work in your favor.
Brevity becomes more important when you consider that nearly half of all emails are read on a mobile device. Five sentences on a desktop might be manageable, but within the confines of a phone screen a few extra words can add several lines. Read (and re-read) your email and ask yourself, “Does every word count?” Remove the fluff.
Be your own hype-person
Part of your job is to sell yourself. Use a paragraph to explain your expertise, provide examples of work you’ve done in the past and say how you can use your unique skill-set to benefit the company. Remember, it’s not about you, but rather what you can do to bring value to the individual and/or his or her business goals.
You’ll have the most success if you show that you’ve studied the company’s work and have insight into why you and only you are the person they’ve been looking for. Whether that’s through citing a piece an editor published recently and relating it to your own idea or following up a brief critique of a company’s web page design with specific suggestions for how you would improve it, demonstrate to the recipient that you took the time to do your homework before hitting “Send.”
Use links to provided context without adding length
If you have a portfolio, include a link. It’s one thing to say you’ve done something impressive, another to let them see it with their own eyes.
Mind your manners
It should be obvious, but keep your language professional, yet friendly. Get a read on the company’s voice from their website or look at the recipient’s Twitter account to learn their sense of humor and try to match it. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and go formal.
Pick an optimal time window
A study by MailChimp found that email open rates are best on Tuesdays and Thursdays and between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. Of course, the classic best practice of knowing your audience trumps this research, as compelling as it may be. Is your target a busy agency executive who arrives at the office early so he or she can reserve the evenings for family time? Schedule your note for 8 a.m. If the recipient is a known night owl who uses evenings to play catch up on email, perhaps you should hit “Send” 12 hours later.
One last thing to remember: if you don’t get a response, don’t get discouraged. Any experienced freelancer will tell you that you can do everything right and still never hear back, so keep working and fine-tuning your approach. Most importantly, take note of is working so you can optimize over time.