This may seem a bit unconventional, but my personal opinion has always been that your success as a freelance writer is based just as much, if not more, on your ability to pitch than it is on your ability to write.
Obviously writing is crucial, but pitching is the barrier to entry we all have to get past. I’d bet the freelance community is filled with more people who are great pitchers and mediocre writers than mediocre pitchers who are great writers.
In other words, a large part of your freelance business is built on the pillar of pitching. And that pillar needs to be in place before you can start writing. This just can’t be done the other way around.
With that in mind, I wanted to really dig deep into this topic and find some common misconceptions freelancers have about pitching. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own, so I invited five veteran freelance writers to share their thoughts about my one seemingly simple question:
“What is the biggest misconception you think most freelancers have about pitching?”
I was really hoping to find some advice other freelancers can use immediately when pitching editors and clients. Here’s what the experts had to say.
Misconception #1: Templates work
I’d say the biggest misconception is that it’s about coming up with pitch templates with stock language, and then sending out the same thing to everybody. Or buying a list from a data house and then mass-mailing all those companies.
I don’t know anyone who’s getting very good results that way. Freelancers get responses when they develop their own lists from their own research, and custom-craft their pitch to address the needs they see that particular prospect might have for marketing help.
– Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing
To be perfectly honest with you, I started my freelance adventure by pitching clients with templates. I believed that after a while, I would develop my own fail-proof template—something that would continue to work every single time.
As you can imagine, that didn’t turn out too well. What I failed to realize is editors and clients are the first readers of whatever I’m pitching. I failed to connect with them on a personal level, and I didn’t demonstrate the kind of deep understanding that comes from a unique pitch.
I’ve ditched templates completely at this point, but back when I was still using them, the results were always hit and miss. Right now, I’m finding much more success by approaching each case individually. It’s certainly not as scalable of an approach, but if we were looking for ways to make our writing less personal , we probably wouldn’t have become writers in the first place.
For the most part, templates are just too obvious. Clients will see through them. So the advice here is simple: To get an assignment, you need to stand out; therefore, your pitch should be unique to that one publication or one company.
Misconception #2: The environment in which you’re pitching doesn’t matter
I believe the biggest misconception most freelancers have about pitching is how much of a role the environment they’re pitching in plays. If done right, and with the right strategy, you’ll get massive results by pitching the right clients. However, in the wrong environment, you’ll get very poor results.
This is why I strongly discourage pitching clients on freelance bidding sites like oDesk.com and Freelancer.com; the environment here is automatically against you, since you are competing against dozens of other freelancers. Now, it is no longer about how much value you can offer to clients but how well you can underbid other freelancers on these sites.
– Bamidele Onibalusi of Writers in Charge
Sites like oDesk and Freelancer are often the go-to places for beginner freelance writers. And it’s easy to understand why—it’s a public space with open access, and at any given moment, you’ll find a lot of available jobs. But as Onibalusi says, the environment there simply isn’t right to build a long-term and profitable business, especially since you probably have to underbid other freelancers just to be considered for work.
Competing on price is ultimately a very poor strategy because no matter what you offer, someone can always go lower than you. So what’s a freelancer to do? Pay attention to where you’re pitching, not just how you’re pitching. And that notion goes beyond digital job marketplaces. It’s tempting to think your story idea will fit seamlessly in a dozen publications, but odds are that won’t be the case. If you’re struggling to get pitches accepted by editors, it might be a result of you directing your efforts to the wrong people and places.
Misconception #3: Your idea is the only thing that matters
It’s absolutely vital for freelancers to recognize that a pitch involves so much more than a conversation about a job or task. When you are first pitching for new business, you need to think about all the other things that a potential client will be looking at.
Think about a job interview: the employers look at things like how well you are dressed, whether you arrive on time, etc., in addition to how well qualified you are for the job. The same is true online. Even if a freelancer is qualified and smart enough, you don’t want to work with them if they are slow, unresponsive, or unprofessional.
My best tip for freelancers is to make sure you start a professional website or blog where you show examples of your work, past clients, testimonials from happy customers and perhaps a nice photo of yourself. This helps to build trust and authority and will actually allow you to quote a better price for yourself with your future clients.
– Ramsay Taplin of Blog Tyrant
Unfortunately, pitching a client is about much more than just sending an email. In almost every case, the client will have some questions after they receive your initial pitch.
Of course, the meat of your pitch, so to speak, is still the most important element, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Just as Taplin points out, clients pay significant attention to your response times, the way you’re responding, and your general attitude.
Those traits all relate to the concept of trust. Your clients need to be able to trust that you’ll complete work on time and not give them headaches during the process. Another important part of earning that trust comes from your online presence. Do you have a professional website? A portfolio will impressive clips? Do all your links work?
A good way to look at it is: Think about how you’d prepare for an in-person job interview and try to adapt those best practices online.
Misconception #4: Thinking that your writing is the main element
The biggest pitching misconception I’ve seen in freelance writers and content creators is that they think they’re pitching an idea, or a service. Nope. That’s not what matters to the person on the receiving end. What you’re really pitching is an outcome.
So when you send me a pitch, I want to know what great things are gonna happen for my business if I agree to your suggestions. Will it increase my authority? Will I get more subscribers? Will my customers spend more money than they did before? And I want you to explain why you believe these great things will come to pass—you can’t convince a client to spend good money without a solid rationale.
If your pitch defines and validates a desirable outcome, you’ll get hired more often and earn higher rates. Simple as that.
– Sophie Lizard of Be a Freelance Blogger
The uncomfortable truth about writing is it’s ultimately a business that relies on art, not the other way around. To some degree, you’re just a cog in a machine, and your writing is just a tool the machine uses to achieve certain financial goals.
This sentiment applies more to corporate writing than traditional journalism, but even if you’re contributing to a renowned magazine, the people in charge—not the editors, the people above them—mostly care about what your writing can do for the company. This is not to say high quality writing isn’t important; after all, if you bring a level of editorial expertise, that should theoretically help a magazine’s bottom line. But the business side of writing is still something to incorporate into your pitches.
So whether you bring a certain level of expertise to a topic or a large social following that will drive a lot of traffic to an article, make sure you tell clients and editors what’s in it for them.
Misconception #5: The editor isn’t a member of the target audience
I’ve sat on both sides of the table, and to my mind, many freelancers misunderstand what editors really need from a pitch. What freelancers must consider is that the editor is the first reader, so hooking the editor with a great intro and article description is much more important than displaying your writing chops. Editors want a great story that suits their audience—your pitch is your chance to show you can write it.
– Sharon Hurley Hall of sharonhh.com and GetPaidToWriteOnline.com
Hall really says it well here. Editors are always the first readers of whatever you’re pitching and the ultimate gatekeepers. No matter how great you think your story can be, the editor needs to give it a green light.
In that sense, if you want to improve your chances of getting a pitch accepted, frame your story the same way you would to a total stranger. It’s easy to assume an editor will get the gist of your idea from a bare bones outline—especially if you’ve worked with the person before—but instead of just offering a dry summary of your topic, you may have more success by setting up a catchy intro that teases details to capture someone’s interest.
What do you think about all these misconceptions? After reading this article, did any others come to mind? Or do you disagree with the five above? If you have any comments or questions, you can contact me on Twitter @carlosinho.