How to pitch agencies for freelance work (here’s exactly what we want to hear)

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As agency owners, my partner and I have received quite a few pitches over the years from freelancers.

Most of them get deleted pretty fast.

But occasionally – one pierces our jaded, overly-pitched hearts and inspires us to at least check out their portfolio.

And even more rarely – we invite one into our fold.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

With that said, if you’re interested in getting more work from agencies, here’s my best advice for you.

1) Why me?

For many agencies, their work is very personal.

They put passion into every pixel they place.

So if you want to work with them – they want to know why.

What about their work, their way of doing things, inspired you to reach out?

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If the answer is, “I just Googled ‘digital agencies’ and emailed everyone” – your response rate will probably be abysmal.

So before you write anything else, ask yourself:

  1. Do I want to work with this agency?
  2. If so, why?

Incorporate that into your email.

Make the agency feel like they’re the only one you’re reaching out to. Sure, we know you’re reaching out to many others, but we want to know that you actually spent time learning about us and that you really want to work with us – and we’re more than just a paycheck.

2) Why you?

Once you’ve crossed that hurdle, it’s time to tell me why you’re a good fit for me.

Here are some good and bad examples of reasons:

Let’s start with the bad:

  • Where you went to college or what you studied (there are just as many amazing self-taught designers these days as college-educated ones)
  • How many years of experience you have (many people are just as bad 40 years into their careers as they were on day 1, unfortunately)
  • How much you love design (your work should say this for you)

Now, for the good:

  • You deliver work on time
  • Your work delivers awesome, quantifiable results
  • You can be available via phone / email at a moment’s notice when deadlines are urgent and pressing
  • Your work looks freakin’ amazing (this should be shown in your portfolio though, not said)
  • You understand the importance of the relationship they have with their clients and you want to create designs their clients will love, thus strengthening those relationships
  • You’re autonomous and can deliver a solid product with minimal time / effort on their part
  • If needed, you’re also very open to and appreciative of critique should they wish to creative direct
  • You feel their agency brings a unique passion to the table that you would love to contribute to and be a part of
  • You have lots of references who can attest to how easy and amazing you are to work with that you’d be happy to provide

Notice that the “bad” examples are very self-congratulating, while the “good” examples show how you help the agency reach their goals.

Remember: You’re reaching out to the agency. They’re not reaching out to you. So that means, initially, you’re not really a “real person” to them.

You’re an interruption.

A step up from an interruption is “someone who might help make my life easier.”

A step up from that is a “real person.”

That’s the ladder you’re climbing here.

Eventually, you’ll form a great relationship and be treated like a real human being, but at first, you’re proving to me why I’m spending my time reading your email.

3) Tell me where to go and what to do next

Assuming you broke through that huge barrier that’s just a part of cold emailing… the next step is to tell me where to go and what to do next.

Basically:

  1. Send me to your portfolio, Dribbble, etc.
  2. Ask to set up a meeting

Make setting up a meeting feel easy for me. Make yourself extremely available, through a variety of channels.

For example:

Again, it would be an honor to work with you. If you’d like to talk further, I’d love to get on the phone and answer any questions you might have.

What’s a good day / time for you this week?

Name a time and I’ll make it happen.

A big part of freelancing for agencies is molding yourself to the various agencies you work with.

Being eager and available shows that very strongly.

4) Some bonus tips

  • Don’t worry about keeping your email very short, it’s sort of a complex pitch, just format it so it’s easy to read
  • There are two approaches you can take:

1) First send a very short, general inquiry, saying why you love that particular agency and if they ever need help with [your service]. If so, you’d love to send over more info about who you are and why you think you can help them reach their goals.

Then follow up with the longer email going into more detail as outlined above.

2) Just go for it. If they don’t have the need, they’ll delete the email right away. If they do, they’ll keep on reading.

I’d suggest testing both out. I’ve gotten great responses both ways.

  • Don’t write in an uber-professional, cold tone. Be yourself. That doesn’t mean write like you’re writing to your best friend, but maybe like you’re writing to a friendly acquaintance.
  • Avoid big words. Keep the language simple and easy. It’s not that agency owners can’t read big words, they’re just boring, and smaller words pack bigger inches.
  • Put care into your email. A lot of it. When you read it, it should make you feel good.

Finally: Take a deep breath, then hit send. At the end of the day, you can only do so much perfecting. There comes a time to let it go, and send your message off to the world.

What about you? Have any advice to share on partnering with agencies or questions about it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave me a comment below.

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.

 

More about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable PSD – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see why freelancers & agencies are head over heels for this amazing new service.

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Comments

  1. Great stuff David! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Robbie Hyman says:

    Excellent article, David!

    I’m a freelancer myself, but I worked early in my career as a marketing manager for a few startups — and your post reminds me of the best pitch I ever received from a creative freelancer.

    The company was looking for a PowerPoint expert to help with executive and sales presentations, and as you’d expect pitch after pitch came in from applicants telling us how brilliant they were with PowerPoint. But one pitch came in as a PowerPoint presentation — using our company’s look and feel to create an original template.

    The words on this applicant’s slides were impressive as well, but that almost didn’t matter. This person had figured out that all we as the client cared about was whether or not she could add value to our company. And she did more than just tell us she could — she showed us.

    Great piece!

  3. Nice article David.

  4. All good ideas. I hadn’t thought about it this way before. Thank you!

  5. Fleur Augustinus says:

    is it reccomended to also put your hourly rate in the 1st mail? or first make them interested and then they will ask themselves?

  6. Very helpful advice and thanks for the list of good and bad, especially to hear it from the point of view of those who receive so many cold calls and emails.

  7. Great tips, this will help as I continue to search for companies to work for. So far I have worked as an in-house designer or freelance for a variety of companies, but would like to branch into working for design agencies. I do have two questions.

    I am wondering about the ratio of offsite work vs needing to be able to work at a design agencies location.
    Is it still beneficial to send out promo packages?

    • Hey Anni, glad you found this helpful 🙂 Really appreciate you taking the time to say that.

      Sorry, I don’t quite follow your question. Would you mind re-phrasing?

      Thanks again,
      David

  8. This is great stuff, it’s always nice to hear an agency’s opinion an view.