Last updated on August 27th, 2023
So you run your own online business. Whether you’re a blogger, vlogger, drop shipper, or coach, at one point or another you’ll have to do email outreach.
You might send proposals to be a guest blogger, contact journalists to get press mentions, or reach out to brands to get sponsorships. This will require you to craft a proposal or pitch which you ideally send to the correct person who will eventually be so wowed that they give you everything your heart desires for your business.
As an experienced freelance journalist with articles in publications on both sides of the Atlantic including BBC Travel, National Geographic, Atlas Obscura, Lonely Planet, and Forbes Travel Guide, I have sent countless successful pitches to editors and also given coverage to a long list of businesses in various industries. I have also gotten international press for my own businesses and celebrity endorsements and gained viral traction with no marketing budget whatsoever. Just the power of pitching.
Being able to send winning proposals will undoubtedly be beneficial to your business whether it’s in its infancy or already a well-oiled machine. Here are 14 email outreach best practice tips for proposals that get read, responded to, and thoroughly relished.
1. Make sure you pitch what the recipient actually wants
The first thing to do before firing off a pitch to a magazine, brand, or individual you want to work with is to check all known sources for information about them.
If it’s a blog you want to feature on, find their guest blogging or write for us page.
If it’s a magazine, check their contributor or pitch guidelines. This should be your first port of call because it’ll tell you the exact kind of stories they want and what they don’t want and you might get some sparks of inspiration.
You can find this by searching for “submission guidelines”, “contributor guidelines” or “writer’s guidelines” along with the publication’s name.
Take Fast Company for instance. In their pitch guidelines for their Work Life section, they state that the company “prefers submissions from contributors who are leaders in and knowledgeable about the types of industries and topics we regularly cover on our Work Life section: productivity, creativity, career development, hiring and recruiting, work culture, work-life issues, and policies, entrepreneurship, and innovation are popular with our readers, especially if there’s a salient takeaway for other professionals”.
Now if you hadn’t read those guidelines and sent them a story idea about health and wellness, you would have wasted your time and theirs.
2. Send your pitch to the right person
Being good at pitching isn’t just about crafting an excellent query letter, it’s also about knowing who to pitch to.
To find out the name of the right person at an organization, have a look on Linkedin which is the best search engine for professionals. Then, add that person as a LinkedIn contact so that you can message them or search for their email address on Google.
If you can’t find their email address with a quick Google search, use email address finders like Experte, hunter.io, or Rocket Reach, look on company press releases or the company’s “staff”, “team” or “who we are” page.
If you know the individual’s name, you can also extrapolate based on the company’s email format.
Most businesses have a standard email format they use like email@example.com. If you can find out the firm’s email format and have an individual’s name, you can use your powers of deduction.
If it’s press you’re after, the good news is that many magazines often have their full print editions online so you can see who to pitch to on the masthead, which is usually on the first couple of pages. Digital submission guidelines are usually available as well.
Whoever you email, try to get the spelling of the person’s name right too.
3. Send your pitch to the right person, in the right way
Great email outreach is also about pitching to the right person exactly how they want to be approached.
If you’re dealing with a prominent individual who is used to getting a lot of emails and proposals, they might even have a section of their website that explains how they deal with cold emails so be sure to look on their website or social media before you reach out.
As a travel journalist, I am open to receiving press releases from travel publicists but anybody who is even just faintly familiar with my body of work will be able to tell that I have a preference for warm-weather destinations.
In fact, my freelance writing portfolio website “about” page literally states that I feel the most at home under the sun. Yet, I continuously receive news updates and blurbs about Antarctica trips and winter fashion.
The right way to win favor with a journalist is by sending them information that is relevant to them and their expertise.
4. Don’t be scared to show a bit of personality
If your writing style is informal in general, then write the same way you normally do in your email. You don’t have to be wooden and overly formal with email outreach. Showing a bit of personality doesn’t automatically mean your message will be sent to the slush pile. You can be personable and still professional.
5. Track your pitches
Keep track of all your pitches on an Excel spreadsheet so you know who’s yet to get back to you and when you need to follow up with them. You can also use it to monitor your progress and track trends.
An absolutely brilliant writer called Lola Akinmade Åkerström started creating an annual freelancer pie chart to show how many pitches she sent, how many commissions she received, and which emails she never got responses for. This is a brilliant exercise to see how you’re doing over time.
6. Anticipate the person’s potential questions
When you send out your pitch, you should already anticipate the kind of questions the person is going to ask you. Think about what basic questions will come next in case they respond to you and require a fast turnaround.
7. Target your dream businesses
If you want to appear in Business Insider, pitch Business Insider. Don’t be scared to approach the big names when you’re starting out. Getting a prestigious feature or collaboration will set your business up for the future.
You’ll be able to get more work, traction, prestige, and money from aiming high right from the start.
If there’s a publication that you dream of seeing your name in, a sponsorship you hope for, or a guest that you fantasize about interviewing, go after them. Study them, follow them on social media, find out who to approach, and then pitch them.
8. Humorous proposals stand out
You can also give your email proposal some flair, personality, and pizzazz with a bit of humor so don’t be scared to make it your ally.
Being funny requires a bit more thought and creativity, but it can really pay off in terms of your email open rates. Making people laugh will always grab their attention and it makes you stand out.
9. Consider an email tracker
Some people aren’t keen on the thought of their emails being tracked but many journalists swear by email trackers as a surefire way to know if their messages have indeed been read, when, and by whom.
Knowing that someone hasn’t yet read your email gives you information to decide when to reach out again and follow up.
There are a variety of free and paid plans you can get from providers like Hunter.io and Mailtrack and they are quite straightforward to install.
10. Reduce uncertainties for the individuals involved
As someone who has both freelanced and sent hundreds of pitches and also edited the work of other freelance writers, I can’t stress enough how important it is to demonstrate that you can do the job, that you’re worth the time and money that’s being invested in the project and that you’ll make the lives of the people involved easier and not harder.
Provide examples and show that this is not new territory for you. Answer questions about your competence and give specific examples of previous occasions where you’ve nailed this task, achieved results, and that you are capable of knocking this task out of the park for them.
PS: If your email already has spelling and grammatical errors, you’re telling them they’ll need to pay more attention to your work later down the line.
11. Flattery will get you everywhere (sometimes)
Sometimes flattery will get you everywhere. Your appreciation and admiration for the publication or potential client you’re pitching to should come across in your email but don’t become a vacuum cleaner.
If that person has done or achieved something you admire or appreciate, feel free to mention it but don’t go overboard with praises and flattery.
12. Fact check
Before hitting send on anything, make sure you’ve fact-checked everything you mentioned in your email. Seemingly insignificant errors can destroy an otherwise solid pitch. These could be oversights like naming a company’s old CEO rather than the current one, outdated data, attributing quotes to the wrong person, or misquoting someone.
13. Practice makes perfect
Practice really does make perfect. Keep working on your art and your skill, because you can always get better at email outreach, and getting better at email outreach means more collaborations, more gigs, more credibility, and more money.
Regularly look back at your successful pitches, is there anything you can learn from them?
14. Be confident.
Particularly if you’re pitching to national publications, reputable companies, or big brands with large audiences and wide reach, competition will be high so you need to believe that you’ve got what it takes to compete with the best of the best.
Don’t think of pitching as you hassling a company, magazine, or business owner. Think of it as you making their lives easier by reducing the time that they have to be generating content and leads, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
When pitching for media features, believe in yourself and remember that publications need new content to survive. They exist to keep their audiences and they do that by continuously delivering great stories – like yours.