March 25, 2024

How to Send a Good Cold Email

Pollen Team
Cold emails don't work–until they do. Here's everything you need to know in order to turn a cold email into a freelance client relationship.
How to Send a Good Cold Email

What is a cold email?

A cold email is an email sent directly to someone you don’t know and have not been introduced to. A warm email, in contrast,is when a person in common makes an introduction between two people. It’s similar to cold calling, which is when you call up someone you’ve never spoken with but who you think might be a business prospect.

What is the purpose of a cold email?

Cold emails are usually sent because the sender has something they would like to gain from the receiver. For example, they might want an introduction to their network, for them to purchase a product, to sign up for an email list, or they might even send a cold email for a job. 

Sending cold emails serves multiple purposes for freelancers. The most common reason is to pitch your product or services to potential new clients. In this sense, cold emails are basically sales emails.

For example, a copywriter could identify a website that has poor copy. A potentially profitable move could be cold emailing the company that owns the website with a proposed project plan to improve their website copy. 

Getting placed in reputable publications or featured by a popular influencer can help establish your credibility as a topic expert. With that in mind, cold email outreach to journalists and influencers in your field can result in product (aka you) placement that reaches their audiences.

Must-haves in a cold email

Cold emailing is tricky because you have no previous relationship with the recipient. Sometimes all you have is a name and an email address. Plus, if they’re a high-value prospect, they probably get (and delete) multiple cold emails per day. However, with a little bit of effort and some simple tricks, cold emailing can be productive and profitable for freelancers.

1. Content tailored to the recipient

While the most efficient approach to cold emailing might be sending the same email to everyone on your target list, it’s also the most efficient way to get zero responses. There’s also a high likelihood that your email ends up in the spam folder, which can affect your email deliverability moving forward. Make sure that each individual email is tailored to the recipient, even when you’re running a cold email campaign. 

Some easy ways to do that include:

  • Mention their existing work, like previous articles or projects they’ve worked on. This shows you’ve done your research and are emailing them for a reason.
  • Using the correct name. This seems super basic, but you’d be amazed how many people forget to change the name when they copy and paste an email.

2. Why you are credible

As a freelancer, you’re going to need to talk yourself up a lot — and a cold email is not the time to be shy. Make sure to include a short bio paragraph with  links to relevant work. Show them that you’re the best person for the job and that they will miss out if they don’t respond.

3. A problem you are solving for them

When you’re pitching to a new client, you want to make sure that you’re solving an actual problem for them. This is even more important when you’re cold emailing, because most people are going to X out of that email within the first couple of lines if you don’t make it very enticing.. 

Do your research and figure out: What value can you bring to them or their business? This goes beyond proving your value (you did that in the last step) and shows the potential client that you’ve done your pre-work. Make it as easy as possible for them to say “yes” to your proposal and you’re much more likely to land them as a client. 

However, you are going to want to make sure that this email is short. Assume that the recipient doesn’t have a lot of time and definitely isn’t going to read a full, thousand word job proposal. Be clear, succinct, and leave them wanting to know more.

4. A thank you

Finally, thank the person for their time. If they’ve read all the way through your cold email, that’s awesome. Their time is valuable and it’s always a good move to acknowledge that.

How to write a cold email 

If you google “cold email templates,” you’re going to find a bunch of things you can copy/paste to your potential prospects. But here’s the deal: Everyone else is using those templates, too. If the goal of a cold email is to stand out and intrigue your target audience, then using a template is not the way to go. 

Instead, follow these steps to create effective, personalized cold emails.

1. Nail the subject line

The subject line of your email is important because, like an online headline, it’s going to determine whether or not someone opens your email. The key to writing good subject lines is twofold: be intriguing and be relevant. 

Being intriguing means piquing their curiosity. Depending on your work, that could mean being funny, hinting at a deal or offer, or offering something you know that they need.

Being relevant means making sure you’re talking to them. That means including their name, where appropriate, and making sure that “intriguing” doesn’t translate to “totally not related to the actual email.” In other words, don’t use a subject line that says something like “John, you’ve been chosen for a great opportunity,” but then not actually present an opportunity for them.

Here are some examples of good cold email subject lines that can increase the likelihood of the recipient opening your email:

  • “I think I can help with your [X]”
  • Intrigues them because they want to know what’s wrong with their “X.”
  • “[NAME], I noticed your [X] is [X]”
  • Uses their name, shows you’ve done your research by identifying a problem, intrigues them because they want to solve the problem.
  • “[NAME], welcome to [X]”
  • Uses their name, intrigues them by welcoming them to something they need.

Here are some examples of bad cold email subject lines:

  • “You’re a winner!”
  • Too spammy
  • “Click here for the best deal of your life”
  • Too sales-y and also likely untrue
  • “The grass is always greener on my side”
  • Totally irrelevant, unless you’re a lawn care professional 

We’ve all clicked on clickbait headlines only to realize that the accompanying article didn’t address what the title promised, right? It’s annoying. Be relevant, intriguing, and don’t clickbait your potential prospects. 

2. Write an introduction

While it’s tempting to dive right in to talking about yourself, a cold email introduction should actually be about your client. You have two to three sentences — about four seconds — to convince them to keep reading and the best way to do that is to speak directly to and about them. 

What do you know about their work? How can you help them achieve their goals? Top-load your email with the good stuff so that they want to keep reading, respond, and hire you.

3. Show your value

Once you’ve squared away your intro, it’s time to start talking about yourself. Give a quick bio (one sentence with a link out to your website or professional bio should do) and then outline what you can do for them.

Be specific — and focus on what they need, not on what you can offer. If that sounds like a broken record by now, that’s on purpose because the most important characteristic of a good cold email is personalization. If the subject line and the intro are the hook, then this section is the bait. Give them a little bit of meat, but make them want more. 

4. A call to action

The last thing you’re going to offer this potential client is a specific call to action (CTA). End by asking for them to take a step toward responding, like “Do you have 15 minutes this week for a quick call? I’m free from 10 am to 1 pm Pacific every day.” Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes and you’re much more likely to get that next step scheduled. 

5. Include your signature

Last but not least, make sure to include an email signature with all of your relevant contact information. The important part here is relevance: If they need to call you, put your phone number. But if you just want them to email you back? You probably don’t need it. 

At minimum, your email signature for cold emails should include your full name, a title, and a professional URL. 

Final tips for sending effective cold emails 

  • Quality, not quantity. It takes more time and effort to write personalized cold emails than it does to follow a cold email template. But those spammy templates sent out to thousands of people have a terrible return rate. That’s why it’s important to focus on quality (personalization) over quantity (template). It seems like more work up front, but you’re much more likely to land a client when your cold emails are personalized, relevant, and short than when you send out a high number of emails.
  • Ideal length. Speaking of short: the ideal length of a cold email is as short as you can make it while still hitting your main points. Aim to keep the whole thing under 200 words and use links to things like your bio and a larger project plan to help keep word count in check.
  • Sending follow ups. Subsequent emails have a much higher open rate and response rate than the first one. In fact, one study even found that first emails get only an 18% response rate, while the sixth email got a 27% response. With that in mind, build a follow up email schedule into each cold email you send. 

Test things out. Finally, test things out. Change up your subject line and see which one gets the most responses. Use different CTAs. Track your stats with a cold emailing tool like Woodpecker or Saleshandy and iterate on the information you get from them. Constantly refine your process and you’re likely to see those response rates tick up, up, up.

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