Have you been sending out letters of introduction, trying to get freelance writing gigs — and nothing’s happening?
I’ve learned this is a fairly common problem.
How do I know? I started a letter of introduction review thread in Freelance Writers Den and began reviewing LOIs every week.
It’s been very educational.
Most LOIs could be improved, I’ve discovered.
The first step to a winning LOI
To start at the beginning, you want to know whether your prospect is the sort of market where a letter of introduction will even work.
I had one new writer tell me she’d been sending LOIs off to consumer magazine editors…who no doubt threw them straight in the trash.
Those editors, you have to pitch story ideas in a query letter, not just write them to say hello, please hire me.
Where does an LOI work? They’re a good marketing tool for pitching your services to businesses and trade publications.
They can’t expect you to guess what subject matter they might need covered, so you can send a letter that simply pitches your knowledge of their industry and your writing experience.
Once you’ve got an appropriate prospect identified, what are the biggest LOI pitfalls? Here are my top five:
- No market research. Many writers ask me if there’s a template they can write up and send to all the companies or publications they want to target. You could come up with one, but it wouldn’t be very effective. Good LOIs reflect your research into each prospect and include an appropriate pitch for the kind of writing work they might need. For instance, you research a business site in your niche and discover their blog hasn’t been updated in six months — and bingo, there’s your pitch.
- Lacks a ‘warm’ connection. The best situation is if you meet someone who knows this prospect and you can use their name as a calling card. Barring that, you need to use that market research you just did and comment on a recent article or piece of company news in your LOI. That sets you apart right away as somebody who’s done their homework.
- Reads like fan mail. The next problem that crops up is after writers research their prospect, they often want to gush for several paragraphs about how great the company’s news is, or how fascinating they found a recent trade-mag article. With this type of intro, your email may easily be mistaken for a fan letter and zapped without being read to the end. You’ve got to mention that you’re a freelance writer early, so your target knows why you’re writing.
- Stiff as a board. A lot of LOIs are written like business letters from the 1950s, as in: “I am a freelance writer focusing on healthcare topics.” New writers seem to think companies and business publications want a formal tone like this, but few of them do anymore. While you’re studying your market, soak up the style of how they talk to readers or customers…and then use that (usually more casual and conversational) exact same style in your LOI.
- You don’t prove you’re the right writer. The main point of the LOI is to demonstrate to the prospect that you have something to offer that most writers don’t — knowledge of their arcane industry such as agribusiness or metalsmithing, for instance, or past work experience in banking or retail. If you target your pitches only to prospects where you can stand out with your knowledge, you’ve upped your success odds.