If you want to make money as a freelancer, you need to get comfortable with selling your services. Many freelancers don’t want to accept this, but sales is a huge part of our job. I’m a big fan of cold emailing, because put simply, it works. I urge every freelancer to at least give it a fair shot — but avoid these 10 common cold emailing mistakes, or you might not have a ton of success bringing in new freelancing clients with this method.
10 Cold Emailing Mistakes That’ll Hurt You as a Freelancer
Cold emailing can and does work. Let’s talk about what to avoid and what to do instead!
1. You Mass Email the Same Message to Everyone
It’s painfully obvious when you receive a generic email that you know a bunch of other people received as well. Here’s a good one.
… Am I expected to respond to an email like this?
Nobody likes getting these emails, so don’t be the one to send them.
It’s tempting to come up with a basic email template and blast it off to dozens of people, but I can tell you with certainty that this will not bring you new freelancing clients. You might send out 100 emails, but you’re not going to close anyone.
Psst! Grab my five proven cold email templates.
This is one of the most classic cold emailing mistakes, and it seems like it doesn’t matter how many times someone is advised not to do it — they still do it because it’s quicker.
While cold emailing is indeed partly a numbers game, quantity does not trump quality 100%. It won’t matter that you sent 500 cold emails if they were all garbage. You improve your odds by sending fewer emails that are better written.
What does this mean exactly?
You need to personalize every single email that goes out. Yes, this means you’re going to spend a few extra minutes on each email, but your closing rate (read: how many clients you close) is going to go up.
On that note, what should you personalize your cold emails with?
For starters, the name of the person you’re contacting — not “To Whom It May Concern.”
Secondly, mention the business name at some point.
These little details show the lead (meaning the potential client) that you took the time to do your homework. It shows that they matter and they’re not just a number.
2. You Don’t End With A Call-to-Action
“So that’s the end of my email. Kthxbye.”
If that’s how you close out your cold email, don’t expect to close any new freelancing clients. This is one of those cold emailing mistakes that freelancers make because they don’t want to sound pushy, but then they end up being too passive.
Your emails should always end with a call-to-action (CTA) — a statement or question designed to trigger an immediate response from someone. CTAs help move the conversation forward. Otherwise, you risk the whole thing stalling.
There are several ways you can do this. For instance, you might say, “Do you have time this coming Thursday for a quick call to discuss it more?”
Notice how it’s specific. While you could just say, “I’d love to talk about this more,” that doesn’t require the recipient of the email to take action.
However, when you ask them if they’re available this coming Thursday, the answer is either yes or no. If it’s no, you plan for another time.
3. You Make it All About You
If you learn nothing else from this blog, at least learn this — all recipients care about when they get your email is this:
What’s in it for me?
Our natural approach is to talk about how good we are at what we do. This is one of the biggest — and most common — cold emailing mistakes you can make.
While the details about your experience are important, you need to save most of them for later.
For that initial cold email, you can very briefly mention your own qualifications (and I do mean briefly — like, a sentence), but for the most part, you need to be explaining what they get out of it. What are you going to do for them?
And on a similar note…
4. You Explain Features Instead of Benefits
Let me explain. Let’s pretend you’re a freelance writer. A feature is search engine optimization. A benefit is increased website traffic and improved rankings.
See the difference there?
A feature is an aspect of your service — something you’re offering. The benefit is what the potential client gets out of the feature. Search engine optimization might not speak to them that much. But increased website traffic and improved rankings? Everybody speaks that language.
Focus on the benefits — not the features — of your freelancing services. Remember: Clients don’t just pay for your services. They pay for results.
5. You Don’t Follow Up
I’ve sent hundreds of cold emails. You know how many clients I’ve closed on the first email I sent to them?
Half the time, they don’t even respond to the first email. So I follow up. And then I follow up again.
I get more responses on my second and third emails than I do on the first email, hands down. If I didn’t make a habit of following up after that first email got ignored, there are many opportunities I would have missed out on.
Yes, it’s true that some leads are just plain old ignoring me, and they continue ignoring me regardless of how many times I follow up.
Then there are other people who forget or get sidetracked, so I pop into their inbox again and remind them that I’m still here and I’m eager for a response — and I get one!
So, how many times do you follow up? I know people who do it as many as 10 times. 10! Personally, I don’t like this approach. Those are just my feelings.
I’ll follow up a third and maybe (maybe!) a fourth time, and then I throw in the towel.
6. Your Email is Too Long
Most of us are overworked and our inboxes are out of control. Some research says we get about 90 emails a day. Other research puts it at over 120.
So, if a potential client opens your email and sees you’ve written an epic novel, how do you think they’re going to feel?
Like a pile of poo.
They don’t have the time, patience, or energy to read a long-winded email, so you need to make a snappy and get to the point. If a sentence or even a single word isn’t absolutely vital to your email, delete it.
I’m serious. I’m so serious that I actually stopped writing, “I hope you’re well,” at the beginning of my emails. I always used to start with this because I wanted to sound warm and friendly. I was worried that if I cut right to the chase, it would come across as cold or rude.
Guess what? Now, I cut right to the chase, and everything is okay, and my leads have one less sentence to read, so they can get right to what’s important.
7. Your Subject Line Stinks
Entire studies are done solely on subject lines. That should tell you how important they are.
Your subject line is the first impression a lead will have of you. In fact, they might very well use the subject line to determine whether or not they even want to read your email. Some estimates say that 33% of recipients open the email because the subject line won them over.
What exactly should you put in your subject line? Here’s the answer:
There is no one answer.
I know that sucks, but it’s true. The best thing you can do is test different subject lines and see what gives you the best results.
First, let’s start with words you definitely don’t want to use. There are two places you want to avoid being sent in someone’s email: spam and the Promotions tab in Gmail.
Getting Sent to Spam
Gmail is more sophisticated than ever, and it looks at not only the words you use but also the context in which you use them. From my experience, though, it’s thankfully pretty easy to avoid the spam folder.
A few words and phrases you should probably avoid are “free,” “discount,” “free trial,” and “full refund.” Also, if you’re offering free trials, stop.
Additionally, avoid phrases like “no obligation” and “no cost.”
Entrepreneur notes that similar words could also land you in the Promotions tab of someone’s inbox — specifically, anything having to do with money, and even “$$$.”
What Should You Say in the Subject Line?
Okay great. Good. Thanks. So we know what to avoid. Now what the heck do we write?
My best tip? Sound human.
If you say your subject line out loud and it sounds salesy, spammy, or disingenuous, ditch it. Honestly, don’t be afraid to keep it simple. I found that when I stopped overthinking it, my subject lines happened naturally — and they work just fine for me.
Here are a few examples:
Question About [Blank — i.e., Your Blog, Your Social Media]
Working With [Company Name]
Partnering [Company Name]
I know these sound like they should be too boring to work, but they do. Now, I can’t speak for other industries. Maybe in other industries, you’d need to spruce them up a bit.
But when it comes to landing new freelance clients, try these for yourself.
While we’re on the subject of… subject lines… let me add one final note before moving on. Let’s not forget the preview: the first bit of an email your recipients can see without having to click on it first. I’m talking about this guy:
Next to the subject line in the red box is the preview. It’s the first text that appears in the email, and just like the subject line, it’s something you need to consider.
8. You Don’t Have an Email Signature
You’re a professional. You’re an expert. You need an email signature.
There are all kinds of email signatures, but they generally include, at a minimum, your:
- Contact information.
Here’s the thing. I’ve seen freelancers try to get super ~fancy~ with their email signatures to make themselves more legit, and it’s totally see-through. Like I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, be genuine.
I’m telling you, as someone who’s interviewed, hired, and trained many freelancers over the years, if your signature consists of your name, contact information, and “[Niche] [Service]”, (Fashion Writer, Finance Social Media Manager, Medical Web Designer, etc.), that’s more than enough.
I’m seeing “CEO” more and more in email signatures and also on resumes. I highly recommend you look up online what a CEO actually does, and then tell me if that’s your position in your company.
9. You’re Not Experimenting Enough
Test. Everything. This is some of the best advice I can give you.
I know it’s frustrating not to have a straight answer, but that’s because there’s more than one way to do things, and more than one of them can work well.
I have people look me square in the face and tell me cold emailing is dead, and that’s because they’ve had no success with it. I’ve had amazing success with it. Nobody is going to tell me cold emailing doesn’t work.
I hate cold calling. I tried cold calling once. It didn’t work and it made me miserable. I have no plans of trying it again. Some people LOVE cold calling and swear by it.
I know people who still send snail mail to leads. Yes, these people exist! And some of them are getting great results.
This is why you need to test different things, including your subject lines! (Still, start with the three I gave you and test those first.)
If you’re doing the same thing and it isn’t working, that’s a sign that you need to be doing something different. If you’re doing something and it is working, still test additional variables to see if they yield better results.
10. You Don’t Sound Genuine
I know I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s so important that it’s worth addressing again.
People aren’t stupid. They know when you’re trying to sell them something. So what do you do?
Stop trying to sell so hard.
When cold emailing, your goal shouldn’t be to close people. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’m going to say it again:
The goal is not to close people.
The goal is to help them. The close will naturally follow. I promise.
When I changed my mindset — when I stopped trying to land clients and make more money and made it my mission to help them as much as possible — I saw an instant improvement.
People were more willing to talk to me. I started scheduling more phone calls. When my motivation stopped being completely selfish, the universe seriously delivered.
You might think it sounds corny, but I stand behind this 100%.
Have a real, truthful, genuine, honest-to-God interest in helping people, and I’m confident you’ll see the difference, just like I did.
This means your cold email needs to convey exactly that — your goal is to help them. When you keep this in mind, the whole tone of your email will naturally change.
Want to keep learning? I have an entire YouTube playlist about cold emailing. Head there next!