What Freelance Writers Can Learn From Junk Email

I doubt any of you are strangers to spam. My favorites, if you can call them that, are all of the terrible pitches I receive from marketing and design firms as well as other freelancers. Here are the most common I see:

  1. "Your website isn't ranking on the first page of Google," (followed by all of the reasons I need their SEO services to get me there). Yet I seem to get these most often for my sites that are on the first page of Google for their most competitive keyword phrases.
  2. Pitches for Web design services that note it might be time for an "update" -- for domain names that have never had a site developed on them in the first place.
  3. Emails from other writers, who have never been in touch before, asking me for work. I don't mean they want me to hire them to write for my sites either. They don't even ask me for subcontracted work or referrals if I hear about a gig I can't take on (neither of which I would give anyone who isn't a trusted member of my network anyway). Instead they flat out want my clients; they ask who my clients are and how they can contact them to start working for them. Needless to say, I ignore them.

These are far from the only ridiculous pitches I get. Don't get me started on the lousy guest post requests I receive from people who can't be bothered to read my guidelines much less compose a coherent email.

Sometimes the pitches are obnoxious. A lot of these spammers troll WHOIS records and hit up anyone they find who recently registered a domain name. Others take it a step further and look up all domains registered to an individual. I currently have between 60 and 70 domains. And when these folks come-a-calling, I get dozens of the same spammy pitches all at once.

At other times, these email pitches are downright funny. That includes one I received yesterday. It was from some firm pitching services for my business site where I advertise things like copywriting services.

The pitch was littered with typos. It was so bad it became unreadable.

I brushed it off and tweeted that I was tempted to counter that email with one pitching my email copywriting services to the company. Several followers joked that I should. I was tempted to write an open letter to crappy email marketers here on the blog instead, but as it turns out I deleted the email. So instead, I thought it might be nice to see what we, as freelance writers, might actually learn from these incompetent marketers. Here's what I came up with.

1. Triple check your email copy.

A design firm might be able to get away with a few typos (not that they should try). An SEO firm is less likely to given that so much of their work revolves around content. Freelance writers get no slack. If you contact a company or editor pitching writing services, your email might be the first writing sample they see. Make sure it's pristine.

2. Know who you're contacting.

Untargeted email marketing isn't going to bring about the results you're hoping for. Most of your emails will go ignored. And you run the risk of pissing off more people than you pique the interest of.

Targeting goes beyond avoiding spammy mass mailings though. Make sure you know something about each individual you contact. For example, don't pitch another professional copywriter your own copywriting services for their website. They'll likely find you ignorant or insulting. And this is someone who might otherwise have been a beneficial member of your network.

Each prospect has specific needs. Your email pitch needs to address those needs and show how you plan to meet them. If you're sending the same email to each prospect, you're doing it wrong.

3. Don't get lazy about follow-ups.

The only thing worse than a lousy email pitch is receiving even more poorly-targeted follow-ups to those pitches. For example, I recently had someone email about advertising opportunities on one of my sites. The email was clearly a group email, with his list name appearing in the recipient field rather than my email address. Despite that, it was a far more legitimate request than most I receive.

I responded, letting him know I wasn't interested. Well, wouldn't you know it, I received another email from this guy about a week later. It was a follow-up, reminding me of his previous email and mentioning that he never heard back. Only he had. Again, it was clearly a mass email. I suspect he just sent the follow-up to everyone on his original list.

If you send an email pitch to a prospect, following up once can make sense. But if you're ignored again, stop hounding people. Either your emails are being flagged and they aren't even getting through, or you're building name recognition, just not in the way you want to.

Now it's your turn. What are some of the most common email pitches you receive? What ones bother you the most (if any do)? And what could you, or other freelance writers, learn from some of these poorly-written pitches? Tell us about them in the comments.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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7 thoughts on “What Freelance Writers Can Learn From Junk Email”

  1. Hi Jenn,

    I receive many web design and guest blog pitches.

    The one that bothers me the most is the guest blogger. Why? Because I’m a member of Jon Morrow’s GuestBlogging Course and learned the right way to pitch a blogger a post. For example, I actually read the blogs I want to guest post for. It takes me a while before I send a pitch because I want to get to know the blogger and their community. I comment on posts and do my best to add value to the conversation. I feel I need to backup “why” I believe I would make a great guest blogger. It’s not about me — it’s about the blog owner and his/her readers.

    I think all of us can learn that people want to be listened to and seen. Instead of thinking about what you can get from someone, try to be helpful, first. Be sincere. Ask for a favor later.

  2. Your #3 had me laughing out loud, Jenn. I can’t say I ever had that one. 🙂

    The most annoying to me are the website design companies that lead by insulting the heck out of your business site. Yeah, there’s an effective marketing strategy – insult the prospect whose business you are trying to get.

    And, like Amandah, I hate the bajillion lousy guest post requests. It has brought me to the point where I no longer accept guest posts from people I don’t know.

    • I wouldn’t take any offense. Their insults are usually generic, and they seem to send the same ones to everyone (I’ve gotten the same ones for different sites countless times).

      I’ve been pushed to a similar point with guest posts. I don’t accept any unsolicited ones here for now. That’s in part because this is a new site and brand and I want to get a better feel for things without relying on too many outside contributions. But it’s also because I need time to figure out how I want to handle guest posts in the long run. Until I bring an editor on to deal with them so I don’t have to sort through the garbage anymore, I’ll probably keep the current policy. I don’t mind if people I know well stop by from time to time. But most requests are ridiculous or in direct violation of my guest post guidelines anyway. I’ve just gotten tired of it.

  3. If you’re the average freelance writer then you probably need to send dozens of pitches/query letters every day, each written in a unique voice and tailored towards the person you’re contacting.


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