The letter of introduction, or LOI as it’s known among freelancers, is our written equivalent of an elevator speech, the 20-second blast job-seekers use when shaking hands at interviews. Instead of pitching a new story idea—the classic way freelancers seek work—a written intro describes a story you already know by heart: your professional experience.
LOIs can be vital assets to freelancers because they initiate a relationship instead of a single assignment. And to get results, they should be precise, not flowery or filled with your life story.
A narrow focus is key, according to Kelly James-Enger, a writer based in Illinois, who landed multiple assignments with a custom publisher after responding to a Craiglist job posting for a health and wellness writer.
In the beginning of the email, which stayed true to the style of a business letter, James-Enger mentioned she was responding specifically to the ad, outlined her specialty in the world of health, fitness, and nutrition, and listed publications she’d written for, such as Self, Fitness, and Shape. In the next paragraph, she described her unique qualifications for the job by mentioning her personal training certification and her consulting business, Bodywise. She then wrapped up the letter by thanking the recipient for taking the time to consider her and attached two writing samples, which the ad requested.
She included all of this information in just under 200 words. Think of it as a long-term pitch with personality. “I’m finding an LOI to be more effective than listing 18 years’ experience,” she added.
The most common mistake freelancers make when introducing themselves is packing in too much information. The second-most-common mistake, which James-Enger said is particularly common in the world of content marketing, is “not demonstrating some knowledge of the client, something showing you did some research about the company.”
What else lands with a thud? A surprising number of freelancers inflate their skills and experience, explained Aphra Communications writer and project manager Randy B. Hecht. “If you have something that distinguishes you, then market that,” he said. “I want to contact the people who are a good fit for me, and I for them. I don’t want you to pretend you have a level of expertise that you don’t have.”
However, for those introverted freelancers who struggle with networking and don’t overplay their skills, LOIs can be an effective alternative. “I feel like I get most of my business with letters of introduction,” said Milwaukee writer Nicole Sweeney Etter, whose freelance business is two years old. “It’s a low-key way to approach a new client, and I almost always get some sort of response.”
For those of us who aren’t interested in practicing to pen an epistolary novel, Sweeney works with a simplified LOI model. “The way I approach them flies in the face of what I’ve read about how to do them,” she said. “Instead of customizing them, I use boilerplate letters for different industries. Higher education is one of my writing specialties, so I use a boilerplate version for that.”
Finally, Sweeney Etter stressed patience when waiting to hear back about your letters. “So much of it is about timing and following up, because you never know,” she said.
In one rare instance, she sent a letter of introduction to a local nonprofit on a Friday and was asked to come in for a meeting the following Monday, which has led to consistent work ever since.
As the saying goes: Teach a freelancer to pitch, and she can land an assignment; teach her to write a concise letter of introduction, and she can find work for a lifetime… or something like that.