How to Use Cold Emailing to Land New Clients: 8 Tips for Success

Being a freelancer means knowing how to land new clients and grow your business. Here's eight expert tips for succeeding with cold emailing.

  • Sep 15, 2019

You know you're good at what you do. I know you're good. I know you know I know. So why aren't you making more money? You might be a phenomenal writer, coder, graphic designer, whatever, but if you don't know how to land clients, your skills are a moot point. That's where cold emailing comes in. Let's talk about what it is, how to do it, and why it works so well.

What is Cold Emailing, Anyway?

Cold emailing is when you send an unsolicited email to a recipient who has no prior relationship with you. They’re not yet familiar with you or your service. Simple.

You’ve probably heard of cold calling. Odds are that at least once in your life, you’ve made or received a cold call. Has a total stranger ever reached out wanting to sell you something? That’s cold calling. Cold emailing is the same concept.

Man checking email on a laptop

We call it “cold” because the lead is cold — meaning you haven’t yet “warmed them up” to you or your services. They are cold leads, not warm leads.

I know what you’re probably thinking. “I hate receiving cold calls, and I hate spam emails. Why would I ever even consider cold emailing?”

Hold on a second. Let’s clear up one thing, first.

Cold Emailing is Not the Same as Spam

This is an incredibly important distinction to make because cold emailing and spam really and truly are two different things. Yes, both involve unsolicited emails, but that’s where the similarities end.

Spam is sent with little to no consideration for the recipient — who they are, what their interests and goals are, etc. Spam emails aren’t targeted, and nobody is qualifying the leads first. They’re not personalized, and they’re typically sent in large numbers, where hundreds or thousands of people (or more) receive the same identical message.

Essentially, there’s no thought or strategy behind spam.

Red door with mail slot

Before you ever send a cold email, you source and qualify your leads (or at least, you should be doing these things). You send personalized emails to each recipient, tweaking them to address that person’s goals, needs, and interests. You do not copy, paste, and send the same thing to countless people… unless you’re trying to look spammy.

For these reasons, it’s safe to say that cold emailing isn’t the same thing as spam. In fact, it’s not even in the same neighborhood.

The main reason I’m so confident in saying this is because whereas spam is a waste of time, cold emailing works. Like, it really works — and I’ll argue that it works better than any other method of client acquisition.

Wait, Why Does it Work So Well?

There are a few main reasons why cold emailing is so powerful:

  • You’re in control.
  • You can track and measure it.
  • It sparks genuine relationships.

Let’s talk about each of these, and why cold emailing excels in these areas while other kinds of client acquisition fall short.

You’re in Control

Don’t wait for clients to come to you. They won’t. Instead, you need to take action, pull the trigger, and go to them. Cold emailing is an efficient way to do that.

Because you’re qualifying your leads before you email them, you pick who you want to work with, instead desperately trying to win over any client who will give you a second glance. You weed out the brands you have an interest in, who you believe have the budget to pay you what you want — instead of settling for whatever money people are willing to give you.

In a nutshell, cold emailing puts you in the driver’s seat.

Such isn’t always the case with other methods of client acquisition. Some people swear by Facebook ads for lead generation and sales, and truthfully, they can work wonders. However, you don’t hold the same power that you do with cold emailing, because you run an ad and wait for a positive response. You’re waiting for people to come to you.

We don’t want this, because that makes it harder for us to control our clientele and our income. You want to be in control as much as possible, not at anyone’s mercy.

You Can Track and Measure It

How can you know if something is working? Guess? Assume? No. Please, no. This is where so many of us fall short as professionals. Across the board, if you’re not tracking and measuring something, you can’t know if it works or not.

One of the best parts of cold emailing is that it’s fairly straightforward to track, measure, and split test. Plus, it’s super cheap to do. You can easily split test individual factors — like subject lines — and compare the results to see what earns you the most favorable responses.

Man checking email on a smartphone

When you think of other options — like going door to door and cold calling — these don’t offer the same benefit. The chance of rejection is much higher, and it’s harder to isolate independent variables in order to split test and compare them. That’s why you’ll likely have a harder time finding success with them.

It Sparks Genuine Relationships

This is for a couple of reasons.

First of all, and I know I’m repeating myself here, cold emailing allows you to tailor your outreach to each individual recipient. You can start a real conversation with them. Yes, you might be able to reach more people faster with something like Facebook ads, but what you can’t do is address their individual concerns.

You can with cold emailing.

Secondly, cold emailing allows you to “date.” Dating is the period where you’re getting to know your leads. You wouldn’t propose to someone the first time you talk to them. Similarly, you shouldn’t try to close the sale the first time you talk to a lead.

Cold calling and door-to-door don’t allow for this. You’re not going to walk into someone’s business, unannounced, and try to get to know them. You’re going to go in, offer your services, and then get rejected.


Not really.

Write this down: People know when they’re being sold to, and they don’t like it. Nobody wants to feel like you’re talking to them just to get their money. If you want to cultivate real relationships with people — which is vital if you want to grow your business and make more money — then cold emailing is going to be your new best friend.

Two people having coffee

Alright, I’m Sold — Now How Do I Get This to Work?

Yes. Let’s get to the good stuff. Here are five tips for making cold emailing your beyotch.

1. Qualify Your Leads First, Please

Repeat after me: “Everybody isn’t my client.”

This is really important because so many of us think that the goal is to contact as many people as we possibly can, no matter who they are. False! Everybody isn’t your client.

It’s perfectly okay to be picky. In fact, you should be. Do you want to cold email people who don’t have the money to pay you? Who aren’t selling a product or service you aren’t interested in or can’t get behind?

Of course not. You only want to contact people who you really want to work with. This is why we qualify our leads. There are two things you need to ask yourself before you send an email:

Do these people look like they have money to spend on me?

Go to their social media channels. Go to their website. Scope ‘em out. Does it look like they’re putting time, effort, and resources into your online presence? If yes, then this is a good sign that they’re likelier to have the money to pay you and will also be open to hearing what you have to offer.

Woman typing at her computer

However, if their whole online presence is one big, sloppy, embarrassing, unprofessional mess, then they either don’t have the money for anything better, or they do and they just aren’t putting it to good use. Run.

Does their stuff get me pumped?

If their brand doesn’t get you excited, why pursue them? You didn’t become a freelancer to do work that you hate.

2. Personalize Every Single Email You Send

Yes! Every. Single. One. I’m not kidding.

I can feel your eyes rolling. “This is going to take me foreverrrrr. It’s not that big of a deal.” Yes, it is. Mark my words: You recipients will 100% know when you’re sending them the same email you sent everyone else. Don’t do it, or you’re going to waste your efforts. This is one of the biggest cold emailing mistakes that you can make.

I’m not telling you to write every email from scratch. I certainly don’t do that. Instead, I have a template that I modify based on the recipient. Think of including details like their brand name, something on their website or social media that caught your eye, or anything else that drew you to them.

You can do this in less than a minute, and your cold emailing results are going to be so much better.

And on a similar note…

3. Send Each Email to a Human Being

I can’t stress enough how much of a difference this makes. At all costs, avoiding sending emails that begin with “To Whom It May Concern” or anything of the like.

Gmail inbox

Again, this goes back to the importance of personalizing your emails and forming real relationships. You can’t form a relationship with “To Whom It May Concern.” Do your homework and find out specifically who you should be contacting, and address them by their name. This will yield significantly better results.

4. Keep it Short and Sweet

Getting people to open emails in the first place is challenging. If they do, you have mere seconds to grab their attention. Use that time wisely and get to the point. If you don’t absolutely have to say it, don’t.

I used to start every email with something like, “I hope this finds you well.” I realized I’m wasting valuable time and space on something that doesn’t really contribute to my efforts. Yes, I was just trying to be warm and friendly. But I can be warm and friendly without that generic (and frankly, boring) introduction.

So, I deleted it from my emails.

There will be opportunities later on in the relationship to get chatty. This isn’t the time. Now, what should you say in that first email?

5. Focus on Them — Not Yourself

Cold emailing is about them, not you! It’s about acknowledging their needs, goals, and pain points. I see a lot of freelancers make the mistake of using that first email as an opportunity to talk about their own skillset and experience. Wait. It’s too soon.

When you’re trying to land a new client, your goal should be to help them — not make money. Therefore, your email should convey how they’ll benefit from this arrangement. What will they get out of a relationship with you? Why should they care? Why do they need you? How can you help them?

Question mark

If your cold email doesn’t answer these questions, you’re on the wrong track.

Here’s an example. When I’m cold emailing a brand to pitch my writing services, I mention that my content helps improve website traffic, boost rankings, and grow email lists. These are some of the benefits that they receive as a result of working with me.

6. End Every Email With a CTA

A call-to-action (CTA) is a statement or question worded to get somebody to do something — to take action.

For instance, “Click here to view my calendar and schedule a meeting” is a call-to-action because it tries to get the recipient to schedule a meeting.

You always want to include a CTA in your emails because, put simply, it works. When you tell people exactly what you want them to do, they’re likelier to do it. Don’t assume they’ll just figure it out on their own, because they probably won’t.

Your CTA should make it as quick and easy as possible for your recipient to respond favorably. For instance, instead of saying, “Do you have time this week for a call?” say something like, “I’d love to hop on a call this week. Which of these times would work best for you?” and then offer three options.

Woman writing in her calendar

The difference is that the first question requires only a yes or a no. The purpose of a CTA is to move the conversation forward, and the second option does that much more effectively. It also makes it easier on them by proposing three times. All they have to do is pick.

Don’t let your email die out in the end. Always be moving the conversation forward.

7. Always Follow Up

Here’s your official warning: You’re not going to close clients on your first email. This is very normal and it’s to be expected. In fact, they might not even respond. This is also very normal, and you shouldn’t let it discourage you.

If I didn’t follow up, I wouldn’t have the majority of the clients I have. People will blow off your first email or just forget it. You need to give them another little nudge. I’ll follow up a second and third time before I move on and toss them in my reject pile. I know people who follow up as many as 10 times. While I personally don’t encourage this, I do encourage you to test different strategies and see what works best for you.

Charts and graphs

Your follow-up emails can be casual and brief. No need to send them an epic novel. You’re just trying to get a response.

8. Test Everything

You can’t assume that you’re going to hit the bullseye on your first attempt at cold emailing, because you probably won’t. Honestly, what are the odds of that?

It’s crucial to experiment and test different approaches. Try a different subject line. Use a different CTA. Pick a variable of your cold emailing, change it, and track the results. This is the only way to narrow your approach down to what’s going to work best for you.

Some people swear by using emojis in the subject line. That didn’t work for me. I try to schedule a phone call in my very first email. Some caution that it’s too soon to do that.

How can you truly know what works and what doesn’t? Just try.

Being good at what you do is one half of making good money as a freelancer. The other half is knowing how to bring in new business. If you want an efficient, reliable way to land new clients, cold emailing should be at the top of your to-do list.