Cold pitching, or approaching individuals and companies to offer your services unsolicited, is daunting as a beginner, but it is also one of the best ways to snag your first clients. Job boards are great, too, but when you’re a beginner, you’re going to have steep competition with ads. If you take the plunge and approach the person/company before they’ve even decided they need someone, you aren’t going to have any competition. The hard part is convincing them that they need your service. To do this, you’ll need to research the individual or company to discover exactly what they need so that you can speak to their pain points and offer them a perfect solution to a problem they may not have even known they had.
Some questions I see frequently from beginners in freelancer forums are, “How much research do I need to do?” “How long does it take you to research each company before you pitch?” “What do I need to look for?” There are beginners out there slaving away doing an hour’s worth of research on one company before they even send a pitch. Sure, it takes a bit longer when you’re first starting out, but Lord have mercy, it shouldn’t be taking you that long. Really, once you have a few templates in place for your pitch, the thing that should take you the most time is finding people to pitch, not researching them.
I’ve already talked a bit about how to find folks to pitch using Twitter in my Twitter cold pitching strategy post, and how to craft a pitch in my How to Make Yourself a Hot Commodity article. So today I want to focus on how you can quickly gather all the info you need to properly personalize your pitch every time. The examples I’m going to use will be related to pitching authors, publishers, and packagers because that is my niche and what I know best, but the principles will still apply to any niche. So let’s get started.
What Do They Need? (Personalize the Pitch)
Step One: Know the Basics Before You Begin
Honestly, you should already know some basic answers to this question before you ever stumble upon a potential client’s website. You ought to understand your target client before even writing a pitch template, so you should already have an idea of what they might need. For instance, if I’m looking for editing clients, I know they need someone to polish their manuscript and get rid of errors. But, if they are currently in the midst of the writing process, they might also want some developmental editing or consultation. Those needs help me tailor my pitch templates.
I also phrase my pitches slightly differently depending on how the client plans to publish. Someone hoping to pitch to agents probably just wants a brush up so that they can impress the agent with how clean the manuscript is (less work for the agent and the publishing company). They may also want a bit of feedback on their first few chapters. Someone self-publishing needs the whole shebang, or at least a copy edit that helps tighten and strengthen the language, because their book isn’t going to be filtered through a publishing house; it’s going straight into the world. So, when I find an author’s social media account and website, I usually do a quick scan of their profile or their homepage to see if they’ve put the notice, “Author seeking representation,” anywhere.
Now, those are basic needs that apply to all editing clients, but I want the client to know I actually took some time to check out their site and their work.
Step Two: Learn Where to Click
If you’re in a different niche than me, you’ll have to learn through trial and error which tabs on a website usually contain the info you need, but you will find patterns quickly. Stick to them and you’ll cut your research time back significantly. A good rule of thumb is, instead of aimlessly clicking and reading everything, find the tab that most closely relates to the service you’ll be providing. If you’re a blog writer, click the blog tab. It sounds self-evident, but you’d be surprised how many people wanna read the whole homepage and then click over to the About page next and read all that before really getting to the point.
The first place I click when pitching authors is their book list. Usually, if they have a project in the works or a project being prepped for publication (that’s the best for me because it means they need an editor right this moment), they will list that at the top of the book page and say something like, “Currently in development,” or “Coming soon.” I always name that book in my pitch. If they have a series, I click on the Amazon listing for the most current one and read the description. If it doesn’t say, “final installment of the ___ series,” I always mention in my pitch that I’d love to “act as a copy editor to help make publishing the ____ book in the ___ series a little easier.”
Another reason I click on the Amazon listings is to see how the book was published. If their past books were published through CreateSpace or something similar, I send the pitch tailored to self-publishing. If they’ve published through a house, I look up that house to see if it’s a vanity publishing or a traditional publisher, and tailor the pitch accordingly. If they worked with a vanity publisher, they paid for the editing, and they may not have been happy with it. If they published traditionally, I focus on the fact that I can help them impress another house or agent. However, I don’t bother sending any pitch if they have traditionally published multiple books through one publisher. That means they already have a good relationship with the editor there and they most likely have a good agent already, so they don’t need me. I won’t waste my time (or theirs) pitching that person.
If you’re pitching a company, first identify that they need people who offer your services. If they have a “work for us” page, that’s excellent, and that’s the first place you should click, but in my niche, those are pretty scarce. When I come across a company that I believe might be a packager (it’s actually hard to distinguish publishers from packagers right off the bat), I go to their services page first, not their about page. The about page is nice for picking up on some keywords to use to make yourself appealing because it usually contains a company motto, but it isn’t the first place you should go. What I look at is the services they offer their clients so that I know if I can offer them services that help them serve their clients. Make sense?
If a company is a packager (my target client for my ghostwriting work at the moment), they will list ghostwriting as one of their services. Now, since I understand my target client, the packager, I know they outsource that ghostwriting work, and often their editing work, too. So, I know they might need me. If they don’t mention ghostwriting/book development, they are a publisher, and they wouldn’t need ghostwriting services, though they might outsource editing. I’d need to dig deeper to find that out.
To personalize a packager pitch, I check out their backlist of books they’ve helped write and publish previously. Very similar to clicking on an author’s book list. By scanning their backlist, I can get a great sense of what type of books they prefer to deal in, and I can quickly assess if my specialties will fit in. Sure, lots of packagers list some genres on their homepage, but they are usually pretty broad categories like self-help or education, and sometimes they list more genres than you’ll actually find in the backlist. Those genre lists quickly let me know if I should keep digging, but they won’t help me make the perfect pitch. By looking at the backlist, I can tell exactly which of my current samples/past projects aligns best with their previous work, and then I will highlight the crap out of that sample/project in my pitch.
The key is to minimize your clicks and your reading time by learning to pinpoint where the necessary information is AND learning to forget about the rest. Honestly, pitching is a numbers game, and you can’t afford to spend more than ten minutes on a website. You don’t have to read everything on the site to personalize your pitch, so quit doing it.
Find the Right Contact
Finding the right contact info can end up being the most time consuming part of the whole process.
Where to Look for Individual’s Emails:
Some authors/individuals have a contact page that either lists their email or has a contact form. If you’re pitching an individual, don’t fear the forms. They most likely go straight to the individual’s personal email; they don’t have anywhere else to divert it to. They usually opt for the contact form to cut back on spam because they can include a captcha and bots can’t pick up their email address right off the page.
However, if they don’t have a contact form, things can get really tricky because you have no base to start guessing from. For instance, you don’t know if they use gmail, hotmail, etc., so the quick guessing game that often works for companies (I’ll get to that in a minute) doesn’t work. You’ll just waste a whole lot of time, especially since many authors just use their regular old email they made up in high school (not kidding, I’ve sent pitches to some hilarious email addresses).
So, it’s time for some heavy duty digging. First, check other places on the website. Many times you can find an email at the bottom of an about page description. I’ve even found emails hidden in the website footer. If that doesn’t work, I do a google search: “author name + contact” or “author name + @” I’ve gotten lucky that way a few times. If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to opt for social media. PM them through Facebook or Twitter, but only as a last resort, as most people ignore PMs from strangers.
Where to Look for Company Emails:
I guarantee you’ll have no trouble finding the generic inbox for a company. They post that thing everywhere, and that’s most likely where their contact form goes, too, but you want to avoid that email at all costs, if possible. Why? That “email@example.com” email gets filled up with spam and all other kinds of nonsense in addition to messages from clients, hopeful employees, etc. It’s also probably an intern’s job to sort through it, and you have a far less likely chance of getting your pitch in front of a decision-maker’s eyes.
So what do you do?
Go to the About Us page. Some companies have a drop down menu from their About tab that has About the Company and About the Staff (the actual names may vary, but you’ll be able to tell the difference). You don’t need to know what year the company was founded, you need names. Forget the company history and go to the masthead that lists the top dogs in the company, usually with headshots, sometimes with emails.
If the emails are listed (hallelujah!), you next have to decide who is the right contact. If you’re in my niche, you want either “Head Editor,” “Managing Editor,” or even “Freelance Coordinator.” Yes, some companies have those. If you’re in a different niche, you’ll have to do a bit of research of your own about who would be in charge of hiring freelancers, but as a general rule of thumb, you can’t go wrong with the “Hiring Manager,” or even the CEO. If you’re totally stuck, just email the person who sounds like the most likely fit and keep your fingers crossed that if they aren’t actually the right choice, they will forward your email to the right person. Most of the time, if you get in contact with a head hancho, they appreciate your initiative and will take the few seconds needed to forward your email. Even better if they’re nice enough to tell you that they did it and give the name of the correct contact.
If the emails aren’t listed, you can still use the names to your advantage. Pinpoint the right person and then begin my favorite guessing game. You already have all the pieces you need: the company name and the contact name. Most companies aren’t very creative with their emails. Try all these variations, and you’re almost sure to land on the right one after a few tries:
- first name + last name @ company name
- first name initial + last name @ company name
- first name @ company name
- last name @ company name
If for any reason no staff members are named directly anywhere on the site, you’ll have to resort to the generic info inbox. Make sure your header really sticks out so your email has a better chance of being clicked on.
Speed is the name of the game. Sure, it may take you an extra ten minutes the first dozen times you do this, but eventually you will learn exactly where to click and how to scan through the provided info to find the little tidbits that will make your pitch shine. For the love of queso, people, don’t read everything on the website! There isn’t some secret code hidden there that you have to figure out and provide the answer to in your pitch, okay? You just need to have a few keywords that show that you took some time to understand what this company or individual needs and that you know and admire what they do. For me, it’s naming past or current book projects, showing that I know an author’s preferred publishing method, and highlighting my expertise in the most relevant genre. Find your formula, figure out where to find the pieces, and stick to that pattern.
If you do, you can up your pitch output and, consequently, your response rate. Get out there and land those jobs!