For a lot of freelance writers, sending out pitches and cold emails is the worst part of the job. I’m here with good news: it doesn’t have to be. Sending out follow-up emails can be infinitely more awful.
There now, don’t you feel better?
Cringe as you might, follow-up emails are a necessary part of being a successful freelancer – so why is it that so many of us fail to send them, or worse, decide against sending them?
I’m going to talk you through the art of the follow-up – why it’s important, plus when to do it, how to do it and when to call it quits.
Why should you follow up your freelance writing pitch?
One: because subscribing to the Worst Case Scenario mindset is no way to run a successful freelance writing business.
Two: because you’re not a quitter. If you’re reading this, it must be because you’re ready to improve the way you do business.
When we send off a pitch email, it’s often something we’ve put a lot of work into. We’re invested in it, and we want it to be a success. It can be a nerve-racking process, and one we’re often glad to see the back of.
So when only silence follows, it’s easier to draw a line and move on, right?
As I’ve said before, the recipients of your emails aren’t just names on a list – they’re people. People with lives, jobs, and SPAM FOLDERS. There’s any number of reasons they might not have come back to you yet, the last of which being they hate you, hate your pitch and think you’re the worst thing ever.
If you put any effort at all into your pitch, how likely is that going to be?
Life happens. Take a second to think about how hectic some of your weeks are. A speculative pitch is never going to be at the top of someone’s list during a busy period, so it’s very likely your email has slipped down the inbox, been forgotten, been put on one side, lost in the system or scribbled down on a to-do list.
Following up isn’t going to do any harm.
When to follow up your freelance writing pitch…
I like to give my cold emails and pitches time to brew – maybe it’s a northern thing, but I think of them as little teabags full of freelance writing goodness. Drop them into someone’s inbox, leave them to infuse and then follow up to see how they tasted.
How long do I leave it? Usually about a week. If I don’t hear anything back after that, I leave it two weeks. If I’ve still not heard anything after another two weeks, it’s time for a quick phone call.
The last thing you want to do is make your point of contact feel harassed or stalked, so I’d advise two things at this point:
- Don’t follow up any more quickly than this unless it’s time-sensitive
- If they’re not interested after the phone call, or they don’t get back to you, leave them alone
How to keep track of your follow-ups
There are a few easy ways to keep track of your follow-ups; it’s up to you which one suits you best. Here are a few of my favourites:
Boomerang for Gmail: this free Gmail add-on can be set up to ping certain emails back into your inbox after X amount of time if you’ve not had a response – very handy if you’re forgetful and find automation helpful for keeping a handle on things.
Email Folder / Labels: if you don’t fancy Boomerang but you want to stay in your inbox, using a designated folder or a particular label on your pitch emails will enable you to see at a glance what needs following up. You could even have sub-folders for your stage one, two and three follow-ups – great option for the super-organised.
Use your calendar: whenever you ping off a cold email or pitch, pop a note in your calendar X days away and set an alarm. Do the same for each step of the following-up process.
How to follow up without being the worst thing ever
If you’re a typically self-effacing writer, you probably feel like you should apologise for even daring to appear in someone’s inbox more than once.
See above: there’s any number of reasons your contact hasn’t come back to you; don’t assume the worst or you’ll make everyone feel terrible. A clear, concise, friendly and non-apologetic email will do nicely – something like…
Subject: Follow-up: Content for SuperCoolWebsite.com
Further to my email of [date], I wondered whether you would be interested in having a chat about my ideas for some content for SuperCoolWebsite.com.
I love what the brand is doing currently with its email marketing, and I think I’d be able to match the great content in the newsletter on your blog.
Would you be interested in a quick call next week?
It’s always a good idea to paste the original message below for reference – no point in making them dig into their inbox for it.
You may hear something back after this, you may not. If you’re treated to another slice of silence pie, it’s time to pick up the phone. This isn’t about playing hard ball – all the previous points about busy lives still apply – but you’re much harder to ignore or brush off if you give someone a quick call. Plus, you get to wow them with your winning personality, right?!
Have a snoop around on the company website and see if you can find a good number to reach them on. If you have to go via the switchboard, so be it, but remember that receptionists are often the gate-keepers to organisations (plus, they’re also human beings) so put on your best smile and be nice!
If the person you want to talk to is available, chances are you’ll get a straight answer one way or the other – it’s all progress, even if it’s not the answer you want, and it’ll allow you to move forward with a new client or tick that particular company off your list.
Even if you do get a disappointing response, stay friendly, positive and professional; you never know what they might need or who they might talk to in future.
When to accept they’re just not that into you
- When they tell you, “Hey, we’re just not that into you.”
- When you’ve emailed them twice and followed up by phone, and still no cigar.
One of the biggest reasons writers don’t follow up is because it makes them feel like gigantic losers. So when you do get the brush-off – either straight-up or by radio silence – it can be a blow to your ego.
What I’m going to end with is this: put yourself in the position of the person you contacted. Would you think a speculative applicant was a loser, simply for getting in touch? Would you think they were a loser for following up with a polite email, or would you admire them for being pro-active?
Even if you weren’t interested in what they were selling, it’s unlikely you’d be making any negative personal judgments on them, right?
Apply the same to yourself. If you’re putting time, effort and research into your pitches – as you always should be – you’ve done nothing to deserve contempt, and it’s unlikely you’ll receive any.
Are you going to squander a second and third chance to open a door with a company you really want to work with on the off-chance that someone is going to think you’re a loser.
It’s hardly a winning strategy, is it?
Follow up on your work, and give yourself the best chance of winning the opportunities you deserve.
Do you follow up your freelance writing pitches as much as you should? How do you keep on top of your follow-ups? Got any stories to share? Comment below or come and chat @LorrieHartshorn!