We all start somewhere.
For me, it was 500 word posts about pest control and carpet cleaning for $12 a pop.
You might be in the same boat, or you might have moved up a few rungs, but regardless, you probably want to keep climbing.
I was thinking about the beginning stages of my career recently, and I realized that much of my success as a writer in the marketing space could be traced back to a single email pitch – a six email exchange that resulted in $5,600 and 28 articles published on one of the web’s more popular marketing blogs.
While the pitch itself wasn’t perfect, the full exchange is a fantastic example for new and intermediate freelancers wanting to gain traction in a field where they may not have significant experience. Today, I’m going to show you the entire exchange, break down why it worked, and show you how to make it work for your business.
But I’m also going to take it one step further.
In the two years since this email exchange, I’ve managed to create an optimal pitching method for freelancers that I call The No-Risk Pitch Method. It’s a refined pitch template that has worked for me time after time after time, and while I was originally planning on keeping this exclusive to my book, I’ve decided to make it available as a download, because frankly, many freelancers are really, really bad at pitching, and I think you deserve to have access to this at no cost.
But keep this in mind.
The No-Risk Pitch Method is designed specifically to get quality work in front of decision makers.
In other words, it won’t help you land gigs with crap writing
IF, however, you are a quality writer who is having a hard time getting editors and business owners to give you a shot, this pitch method will put the ball in your court and give you a chance to prove your worth. If you have the skills, this method will give you the opportunity.
Let’s get started!
The Pitch Context
If you’ve read my 3-year career blueprint for writers, you know that the job board at Problogger.net used to be one of my three go-to spots for landing new gigs. I haven’t needed to prospect in the last two years, but I still recommend this job board for anyone still in the prospecting phase of their careers (Years 1 + 2 in the blueprint).
Because the gigs tend to be a bit higher quality there. Employers have to pay $50 to post their job, so it tends to weed out the lowest of the lowballers. At the same time, this means a lot of writers are pitching the jobs listed here.
In fact, you should just go ahead and expect that any job listing worth applying for is also being applied for by a hundred other freelancers.
Welcome to the meat market that is freelance writing in the 21st Century.
Fortunately, you have one MASSIVE advantage over these other applicants.
You aren’t a terrible writer.
Here’s the reality that these job posters are facing. Their inboxes are literally blowing up with obviously awful applications. I’m talking barely-speaks-English-while-applying-for-an-English-writing-gig type shenanigans.
- Can write with solid English grammar
- Have the barest scrap of writing talent
- Understand how to write a decent pitch
… you are figuratively literal light-years ahead of the competition.
I’m guessing you check off #1 & #2, and by the end of this article, you’ll be pretty set on #3. In other words, as soon as you are done here, go land some frickin’ gigs.
(Look, I have literally nothing against you if you can’t write competently in English. Just understand that to be a successful WRITER, you really need to have an incredible handle on the language you are writing in. I can speak a bit of Spanish, but I would make an absolutely abysmal Spanish writer. If you are determined to enter the English writing market, make mastering the language your top priority, and one of the best ways to do that is to READ A TON of English literature… trust me on this!)
Okay, back to the story.
The context is a job listing on Problogger.net’s job board.
I don’t remember what it said, but it was looking for writers on the subjects of conversion rate optimization, a topic I didn’t know a ton about but had just started to get into.
So… I sent them my pitch.
The Opening Pitch
Here it is – my pitch and his initial response the following day – screenshot straight from my Gmail in all it’s glory. Take a gander.
In case you’re on mobile, I’ve included the text below:
Subject Line: I’m Your Conversion Optimization Guy
You’re probably wading through boatloads of writer applications, so I’ll make this brief.
I do content marketing for a living with an emphasis on copywriting. I’ve written blogs for a number of sites and can provide a variety of samples, but this particular sample is most relevant, so I’ll leave it there and let you contact me if interested.
Optimizing Conversions: It’s All About the “Why”
I also did a video cast on the topic for Learnable.com
Thanks for your time and consideration,
And here is his response:
I like your writing style. We do want articles to be very in depth with case studies, examples, etc. Can you send me any samples of articles you’ve written like that?
He wanted case studies. He wanted examples. He wanted a sample of an article I’d already done with all of these things.
And I didn’t have one.
I had never written an article like this before.
I had read them. I had wanted to write them. I had just recently tried to write one and had it rejected.
In other words, I had nothing to show him.
So what did I do?
The No-Risk Pitch Method
I started by embracing the fact that he had no reason to trust my expertise.
Why should he?
I had none.
I had never written the type of article he was looking for. So why should he risk anything to give me a shot.
Simply put, HE SHOULDN’T!
Accordingly, I pitched him a scenario where there was absolutely zero risk for him.
Here’s the full text:
I have not had the opportunity to write articles like that before, as the research required makes it unprofitable for me to do so with my current gigs. That being said. A lot of the content I read is in that style, and producing the required content on conversion optimization would not at all be difficult.
I would be more than happy to write a risk-free test article for you. If I can’t deliver, you wouldn’t have to pay me a cent, and if you like it and want to bring me on, I’d just bill it at the standard rate we agree upon.
And his response:
That’s fair. Send me a few topics you want to write on and I’ll approve one and go from there.
And just like that, I had an opening – a chance to deliver something valuable and put myself into a higher pay bracket as a writer. Of course, I still had to deliver, but the whole point of an effective pitch is to put you in a position where you can be tested based on the actual quality of your work.
Why does this strategy – what I call The No-Risk Pitch Method – work so well?
Because it is a win-win scenario for the employer. If you can’t deliver, the only cost to the employer is the 5 minutes it took to read through your work. If you can deliver, it’s a big win for the employer who has been having a heck of a time finding quality writers.
No risk. Nothing to lose.
Now, let me just say that not everyone will respond positively to this idea.
Because (A) the world is full of idiots, and (B) it’s not hard to find experienced writers in certain niches.
But if you are pitching a non-idiot in a niche that is hard to fill, congratulations my friend, you just got a shot at the heavyweight title.
Couple other points of note:
1. Notice that I didn’t offer a discounted sample rate.
Discounted sample rates (when you offer the first article at a discounted rate as a trial piece) are the stupidest thing of all time. They don’t eliminate risk for the employer, and they encourage predatory employers to scam for discounted articles. If you are pitching an employer that wants quality and is willing to pay for it, they will happily pay the full rate for a completed, high-quality piece of writing, particularly when they are free to reject the piece if they don’t like.
If they want to publish it on their site, they should pay full price for it. If they don’t, they shouldn’t pay anything at all. Period.
2. This email would have been better if I had proposed a few headlines at the end.
This is something I’ve learned over the last two years, and I cover it in detail in my book. Notice how the employer responds by requesting a few topics I’d like to write on.
What I SHOULD have done is include those topics preemptively in the above email. This couples the risk-free element with proof that I understand the employer’s target audience and have a plan to create quality content they will enjoy.
The Proposed Topic
So far so good, but now I had to actually deliver a compelling topic. How could I pull that off with no unique expertise in conversion rate optimization? How are you supposed to write something original when you are limited to researching what others have already written?
Put a spin on it.
Look at what everyone else is saying and identify a legitimate way to say something else.
Here’s how I did just that.
Here’s the full text:
There’s a lot of content on hard and fast rules for optimization, so what about something on the importance of intuition and testing – a look at 10+ examples where A/B test results broke the rules and what we can learn from it.
On a more traditional note, I could write something like “The Top # Rules of Website Conversion Every Business Owner Should Know”
I could also do an in-depth write up on my video cast topic – common mistakes web designers make that sabotage conversions.
My rate is 10-15 cents per word, so we’d be looking at around $200+ for a 2,000 word article. Let me know if that’s in the same ballpark as what you’re looking for.
And his response:
Lets do the article about the importance of intuition and testing. Make it around 1500 words and the price is fine. We can also let you use your name as the author if you want to reduce the price.
After looking through article after article and case study after case study, I realized that a lot of case studies weren’t displaying results that agreed with CRO best practices.
Now, this didn’t mean the best practices were wrong or that I should now write an article about how everyone needs to start using sliders on their homepage.
What it DID mean is that I had the makings for an intriguing article. Are you sabotaging your conversion rate by following everyone’s best CRO advice? Heck, I’d read that.
Conclusion + Pitch Template
In the end, I was paid $200 for this article – https://blog.crazyegg.com/2014/06/11/conversion-optimization-rules/ – and hired to be a recurring staff writer for the company Crazy Egg. I wrote 28 articles for them before they began receiving so many guest submission they didn’t need to pay writers any more, resulting in a total gig value of $5,600.
And perhaps more importantly, this gig opened up numerous doors for me in the marketing space. In addition to Crazy Egg, I have now written for the following marketing blogs (and probably a few more I’m forgetting about):
And now for that template I promised you. I’ve made it available as a download. This is designed with writers in mind, but it can work for any freelancer business. It’s basically fill-in-the-blanks, so all you need to do is add your info and you are ready to go.
Jacob, great piece! The level of detail is what I especially appreciate here.
I’ll be pitching you shortly but for now, could I draw your attention to typo near the end of the article.
“I’ve made it avoidable as a download”
I’m thinking that’s meant to be available not avoidable.
Hey Gary, thanks for the head’s up! Haha hopefully it ends up being more available and less avoidable.
You’re a funny guy!
Super helpful article Jacob! Thanks!
Thanks Sacha, glad you found it helpful!
Loved this article. Thank you.
This is awesome info Jacob, thanks for putting it together. I just got your ebook as well – can’t wait to see what it does for my business!
Thanks Bill! Would love to get your feedback after you’ve read it!
“For me, it was 500 word posts about pest control and carpet cleaning for $12 a pop.” Those were the days, no? 😉 Bummer this article wasn’t around when I was just starting out, but I’ll make sure to pass on the link to others who’re in that boat!
Haha they were indeed 🙂
These are excellent tips Jacob. Such a nice resource.
I am back here to report that I got some great gigs from ProBlogger. As an engineer turned copywriter and web designer, I have been devouring your articles like crazy. Wanna position myself and get a fair share of the cake.
Hey Kegesa, oh man, I’m super late on seeing this comment LOL but that’s amazing! If you see this, let me know how the last two years have gone for you 😀
Hello Jacob. As I told you, you are always on my radar. I am still drumming up my online business (But I am still nothing like you). I am approaching where you were 5 years ago.
I always receive your occasional emails and they are value-packed.
This year, I am buying land and a new car from article copywriting.
The no-risk pitching method still works- better than before.
Hey Danvas, amazing! Congrats on your success! I’m thrilled my training has been able to help along the way 😀
Nice piece Jacob! Amazed at how you sealed the deals. Getting my share of the cake soon. (smiles)
Thanks Okuto, go get that cake!
This is awesome Jacob. I am a newbie, i hope and believe that the
information i have read will work great for me.
You’re phenomenal. I was a business consultant and later moved to advertising and filmmaking, mostly created ad films for social media platforms for our clients. I started with freelance writing a couple of months ago when covid forced us to shut our 2-year-old business.
Your website has been the best thing that has happened over the last few months and I say this without exaggerating one bit. I have been relentlessly reading your articles and they are a treasure cove of valuable information that you’ve decided to generously give away for free. Thank you.
The only question that comes to my mind as I went through this brilliant piece is how do we actually look for the right clients to pitch and where? I have read hundreds of articles around pitching and yours is hands down the best but no one seems to tell where to look for opportunities other than job boards.
Oh! and your write bites are just as brilliant. All the very best to you.
Hey Dev, thanks for the kind words! They keyword you are searching for there is “prospecting”. I have an entire lesson devoted to this in my course, but the TLDR is you want to use a combination of creative Googling and looking for people in your niche who have already done the work to create databases of businesses.
These seem like great tips, but I have no idea what so many of the terms mean. A/B test results, website conversion….
I guess you’re a copywriter for advertising businesses–a marketer for marketers–and so you know the terminology. But I don’t know any business terms or how business works; I just write like a pro.
Is it a waste of time for me to learn this copywriting stuff if I never took any business courses in college? That seems like a prerequisite for this line of work, which is very disheartening.