Why You Need to Use Direct Email: What 4 Freelancers Say

Direct email helps freelancers succeed

Do you use direct email? Many freelancers don’t know about this awesome way to get high-paying clients, or know about it but think it’s too pushy. But when done right, direct email helps you find and get high-paying clients.

Just ask freelancers Kathleen Labonge, Brandon May, Malaika Hill, and Lisa Baker. Together, the 4 freelancers have gotten 12 new clients through direct email recently.

Direct Email Works

Within a few months of her first direct email campaign, Kathleen got 3 clients. Kathleen is a freelance medical copyeditor and fact checker who helps her clients produce accurate, clear, and compelling content. Her company is Write Point Editing Solutions.

Brandon got 7 new clients from direct email in 2017. He’s a freelance medical writer for continuing medical education materials, medical news, and marketing materials geared toward healthcare professionals. Brandon’s company is May Medical Communications.

Malaika got 1 client and 3 other prospects are likely to hire her when they need freelance help. A freelance medical writer for healthcare communications firms and medical trade publications, Malaika’s  company is MD Writing & Editing Solutions, LLC.

Lisa, a freelance medical writer specializing in publications, got 1 major client through direct email.

And this blog post shows you how Kathleen, Brandon, Malaika, and Lisa are getting clients through direct email—and how you can too. It includes free resources to help you, including a direct email swipe file with templates, examples, and tips.

Turn Skepticism into Success

Like many freelancers, Kathleen and Malaika weren’t sure about using direct email at first.

“I was skeptical about sending an email to complete strangers trying to sell my skills,” says Kathleen. “Now I know that I’m not going to annoy people if I send an email with a great subject line and short, meaningful content.”

Malaika felt like she was being a nuisance, until she realized that she wasn’t bothering people. “As a freelancer, you must put yourself and your work out there to grow your business, no matter what method you take,” she says. “Once people start to respond, you will realize that you have something that they are interested in. If they are not interested, they may just ignore the email and that is okay, too.”

Help Clients Solve Problems

Direct email works because it focuses on helping prospective clients solve their problems, not trying to sell your services.

And it lets you choose the high-paying clients you want to work with, instead of taking whatever work comes along.

Other names for what I call direct email are warm email prospecting, cold emailing, or sales emails. Whatever you call it, direct email is a fast, free, proven way to get high-paying freelance clients.

A direct email campaign is a 3-step process:

  1. Develop your prospect list(s)
  2. Send the direct emails
  3. Follow up.

Choose Your Ideal Clients

When you develop your prospect list(s), you’re choosing the clients you want to work with. So you can focus on better clients who can pay you what you’re worth.

Explore opportunities and develop an action plan

Developing your prospect list(s) is a lot of work—but it’s worth it. “This may seem strange, considering how tedious and time-consuming this process can be, but I love researching new companies and seeing what’s out there,” says Brandon.

Having a prospect list gives Kathleen a plan of action and a way of measuring how she’s doing. “Developing the prospect list is a lot of hard work. But to me, it’s almost like a scorecard,” she says. “I have a big list and I keep track of who I contacted and when, the response, and where I am with each person. This lets me see what I’ve done and where I’m going.”

“I would never have thought of identifying prospects this way myself, but I realized potential clients were right in front of my face,” says Lisa.

Develop Your Prospect List(s)

You can have one or several prospect lists. If you’re targeting the same type of clients, then you’ll have one list. If you’re targeting different types of clients, then put each type of client in a separate list.

For example, Brandon has separate prospect lists for continuing medical education agencies and medical news publishers. And Lisa has one list for agencies working in medical publications.

There are many ways to find prospects. Kathleen, Brandon, Malaika, and Lisa used:

  • Industry directories
  • LinkedIn
  • Professional association membership directories
  • The exhibitor’s list from a professional association’s annual meeting
  • Online lists.

Kathleen started with an industry directory. After finding the companies she wanted to work with, she used each company’s website, LinkedIn, and the directory of a professional association to search for the right contact person/people.

LinkedIn is Brandon’s main source for prospects. He searches for companies he wants to work with and then he searches for the right contact person/people within each company.


Learn more about searching LinkedIn for prospects

Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Freelancers


Malaika and Lisa focused mostly on professional associations to find prospects.

Membership directories of professional associations are usually the easiest way to find prospects. That’s how Malaika found most of her prospects.

With a membership directory, you can quickly find companies to target and everything you need to reach out to them:

  • The name of the right contact person/people
  • The email address for each contact person.

And Malaika searched online for lists of award-winning firms and trade publications in her field. She then used LinkedIn to find the right contact person.

Lisa did something a little different. She started with the list of exhibitors at the association’s annual meeting. Many of the exhibitors do the same type of work she does. Then she used the association’s membership directory and LinkedIn to find the right contact person/people.

You may not always be able to find the right contact person, as Kathleen learned. “Finding the contact people is not always easy. Some companies I couldn’t contact,” she says. If that happens to you, just move on to the next prospect.

How to find email addresses

Finding a contact person’s email address can be difficult if you’re not using a membership directory (or if you’re using one that doesn’t list the email addresses of members).

So I’ll share a trick I’ve found that usually works.

Find the email format for company email addresses on its website. This is usually something like:

  • firstinitiallastname@client.org or
  • lastname@client.org.

Try the Newsroom, which always lists media contacts, usually by name and with an actual email address. Then apply that email format to your contact’s name.

You can also use an automated service like pipl to find email addresses. But you need to start with an educated guess.

Persuade Your Ideal Clients to Hire You

Kathleen, Brandon, Malaika, and Lisa all write direct emails that:

  • Are customized to each client
  • Show they understand the client’s need
  • Show how they can help the client meet its needs.

A few minutes of research on each prospect’s website will give you the information you need to customize each email, as long as you already understand the industry. If you don’t know enough about the industry or the type of clients you’re targeting, do some general research before using direct email.

How to write direct emails

Write a short, targeted direct email to each prospect that has:

  • A compelling, client-focused subject line
  • A sentence showing that you understand the organization’s needs
  • 1 or 2 sentences about your most relevant experience and how this enables you to meet the client’s needs
  • A link to your client-focused website (or your client-focused LinkedIn profile if you don’t have a website yet) so that the prospect can easily learn more about you
  • A call to action that clearly says what will happen next (e.g., “Should we schedule a call next week to discuss this?”).

Get direct email templates, examples, and tips

Direct Email Swipe File


Be First in Line for Freelance Work

Find more freelance clients by following up with prospects who:

  • Don’t respond to your first direct email
  • Are interested in your services but haven’t hired you yet (interested prospects).

This is one of the most important things you can do!

Follow up on the first direct email

Most responses to direct email come from the follow-up emails.

If you don’t hear back from a prospect, follow up about a week later. Send a short, polite email with your original email forwarded below that. Doing this may feel uncomfortable, but it works.

“There’s that feeling that they didn’t need help to begin with, so you don’t want to be a pest,” says Brandon. “Then again, many people are so busy that they overlook your email or forget to respond, so it’s always a good idea to follow up just in case.”

“Follow-up is definitely important,” adds Kathleen, who’s gotten positive responses from her follow-up emails. “Not everybody catches your email the first time. They may be on vacation or their inbox is jammed.”

The Direct Email Swipe File also has examples of follow-up emails.

Continuous follow-up with interested prospects

Up to 90% of the time, clients aren’t ready to hire a freelancer when you first contact them.

By keeping in touch with prospects who’re interested in your services but haven’t hired you yet, you’ll be the first freelancer they think of when they do need freelance help.

“I’ve had 2 clients contact me more than a year after the initial email saying they needed assistance, and they’re now my biggest clients,” says Brandon.

This has happened to me too, and to many other freelancers I know.

“I try to make the follow-up less about asking for work and more about offering something of value to the potential client,” says Brandon. “Usually, that can be an interesting article I’ve found that’s relevant to the company.”

This is the right way to do follow-up, which should be about being helpful, not “selling yourself.”

Brandon sends prospects articles that would be helpful to them and comments on company news he learns about by checking the company’s website. Other great resources to share are relevant reports, blog posts, and podcasts.


Learn more about effective follow-up

How to be First in Line for Freelance Work


Get the Clients You Deserve with Direct Email

Kathleen, Brandon, Malaika, and Lisa are all using direct email to get the high-paying clients they deserve. If you’re willing to do the work, you can too.

But you’re not going to get clients by sending 5 or 10 emails now and then.

“It’s kind of a numbers game,” says Brandon, who got 5 new clients through his 2017 direct email plus 2 new clients he had been following up with since 2016.

Brandon usually gets 1 or 2 new clients for every 100 direct emails he sends. He does even better when he targets companies that he knows work with freelancers. In one case, he got a freelance job the day after he sent the email. But it’s hard to be sure a company uses freelancers unless you know another freelancer working for the company.

Kathleen, Malaika, and Lisa have all gotten new clients with 60 or fewer direct emails:

  • Kathleen: 3 clients
  • Malaika: 1 client and 3 other likely clients (when they need freelance help)
  • Lisa: 1 major client.

And they got these clients within a few months of their direct email campaign.

“I was stunned at the response,” says Kathleen. “Getting a response was a victory, even if they told me they didn’t use freelancers.” Some prospects asked her to check back in a few months.

Lisa only sent out 6 direct emails. Before you get too excited, her results aren’t typical. The client that hired her had recognized her name from volunteer work she had done for a professional association they both belong to.

And one of Kathleen’s new clients is a member of one of her professional associations. Mentioning this in her direct email likely contributed to the positive response.

Networking, especially through professional associations, can be more important than anything else in getting high-paying clients.


Learn More About Networking

Professional Associations: The Best Way to Get High-Paying Freelance Work 

What Happens When You Play Nice (Give More, Take Less)


If you develop a list of about 150-200 good prospects and follow the direct email process described here, you should get a few new clients. This could happen within days or months, or it could take a year or more. If you’re looking for a lot of clients, develop another prospect list and repeat the process.

Grow Your Freelance Business with Direct Email

Direct email is an awesome way for Kathleen, Brandon, Malaika, and Lisa to get new clients and grow their freelance businesses. “I can’t think of a better way to get the word out about your business,” says Kathleen.

“You have nothing to lose by putting your name in front of people and seeing where it might lead,” adds Lisa. “A couple of polite emails are perfectly appropriate—people receive email all the time from all kinds of people.”

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know,” says Brandon. “There’s plenty of work out there that needs to be done, and many people need an outside resource to get it done. You could be their saving grace.”

Malaika notes that success with direct email requires patience, consistency, and persistence. “The results do not come overnight, but results do come,” she says. Malaika suggests doing a little direct email every day. “That way you won’t feel like it is taking up too much of your time, and you are still making progress to market yourself.”


Find the Freelance Clients You Deserve

Kathleen, Malaika, and Lisa learned about direct email through Finding the Freelance Clients You Deserve, my 7-week online course. Designed for new, aspiring, and experienced freelancers, the course helps freelancers learn the most effective ways to target and reach the right clients.

The Fearless Freelancer: How to Thrive in a Recession, has more details about how to find the best prospects and use direct email to attract them. My new book will be published in October.


Learn More About Direct Email

Direct Email Swipe File

Professional Associations: The Best Way to Get High-Paying Freelance Work 

What Happens When You Play Nice (Give More, Take Less)

How to be First in Line for Freelance Work

This Is What Happened When One Freelancer Tried Social Selling

Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Freelancers

Learn More About Kathleen, Brandon, Malaika, and Lisa

Kathleen Labonge

Gaining Confidence and Focus: Case study

Write Point Editing Solutions

Brandon May

Malaika Hill

Lisa Baker