How to find work: pitching

Here it is, the final post in my ten-part series about how to find work as a freelancer: all about pitching.  

The methods I’ve already written about on this blog are:

What Is Pitching?

Pitching is the process of proposing yourself as a professional to work for a company, organization, or individual in a particular way.  

Pitching is a very important method of finding work in certain industries, especially freelance journalism. For some types of freelancers, pitching won’t be nearly as prominent or effective, but if you think of pitching as a method of sales, you can see how it can be useful for any kind of freelance professional.

Pitching is distinct from approaching an organization to apply for a job or gig for which they are soliciting applicants. Instead, this strategy is about approaching a potential employer when they haven’t solicited your input or work, or when they’ve only put out a general call for ideas but are not defining what exactly they want you to do, as in the case of a call for pitches from magazines.  

This tactic looks different in each industry. For freelance journalists, this is a major—if not the primary—way of finding work. But even writers who do more marketing work and those in other industries who want to find clients can still pitch themselves or their ideas to companies, organizations, and individuals.

What Does a Pitch Look Like?

A pitch can look many different ways depending on your industry, the work you do, and the target you’re approaching. Oftentimes it’s what’s called a “cold email”—an unsolicited email you send to someone to present what you propose to do. It can also be a “warm email,” which is an unsolicited email sent to a prior contact or someone else you’ve corresponded with before.

It is also possible to pitch by phone or snail mail, but I imagine that few freelancers find this a productive method anymore. My guess is that most clients don’t prefer getting pitches by phone. They may or may not find snail mail a good way to receive a pitch; it probably depends on the person and the field. However, because fewer people use phone and letters these days these could be good ways of getting attention in a crowded field.

There are many sites that advise about how to write a pitch email, whether you’re pitching an article idea to a magazine or pitching your services to a new potential client.

The key in all cases is to be brief—as brief as possible while still being informative and sounding professional. Think of the pitch as a knock on the door; you want the client to open the door and invite you in. After they’ve invited you is when you can fill in more details about yourself, your services, or your specific pitch.

While brief, pitches should at the very least get across why the potential client should hire you to do the work. Why you in general? Why you for this specific thing? “Because I want to work for you” is not a good reason. Think about what the client needs and wants. Present how you can solve a problem they have.

Does Pitching Work?

Pitching has gotten me a decent amount of interesting work over time, mostly with magazines and editorial websites. An example is this article I wrote about women in the solar industry for Earth Island Journal. I responded to a call for pitches about environmentally focused stories, laying out what I would write about, who I would try to interview, and why I was a good person to do this work. Another example is this piece about how food companies use Twitter, which I pitched to the Contently blog via short cold email.

The biggest example of a pitch I’ve created was my proposal for the book I published in 2012. A book proposal is basically an extensive pitch that you (or, ideally, your agent) send to publishers to try to convince them to publish your planned work. My proposal was 69 pages, including an overview, a marketing plan, a list of comparison titles, six pages of potential sources, a chapter list and two sample chapters, and links to my relevant published work. (This is an exception to the “be brief” rule; if a particular situation calls for specific things in a pitch—even if that makes it long—follow the instructions to the letter.)

So as you can see, a pitch can be anything from a phone call to a one-sentence email to an extensive, formal document. The commonality among them all is that you’re proposing what you can do for a potential client and helping them see why they should agree to work with you.

Pitching can be intimidating; after all, you’re putting yourself out there for someone’s judgment. It’s best to expect that you’ll see much rejection—even tons of it—for every success you encounter. I’m not saying you should expect to fail, just that rejection is part of the game. Don’t get hung up on every “no thanks”; just shrug and move on to the next.

If you take this attitude, consider what you can do for the person you’re pitching, keep it brief (except where appropriate), and send ideas that you’ve fully thought through, you’re likely to eventually succeed, even if it take some legwork to get some traction.

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