The most underutilized method of acquiring new clients

Photo used under creative commons courtesey of Blake burkhart

Photo used under creative commons courtesey of Blake burkhart

One of the most underutilized methods of acquiring new work is direct outreach.

Direct outreach includes e-mail prospecting, sending letters in the mail, etc.

Many people are afraid of this. They are afraid of putting themselves out there and reaching out to someone new.

Others don't believe it works. They are inundated with spammy requests all day and thus, they think all direct outreach is spammy.

But the truth is, direct outreach is an effective method of acquiring new work and it doesn't have to be spammy. 

Personally, direct outreach has lead to 30% of my income this year. 

My goal with this post is to share with you a few methods on utilizing direct outreach to grow your freelancing business.

The secret ingredient to direct outreach

We all have received canned spam messages from someone who blasted an e-mail out to several hundred people.

The e-mail is cold, impersonal and more often than not completely non-relevant to your business. 

Within a second, we see the e-mail is canned and click delete.

But what separates that e-mail from every other e-mail in our inbox? 

Why do we immediately write that e-mail off as spam and delete it?

The e-mail lacks the one thing that makes us want to read e-mails.

The e-mail lacks relevance.

Relevance. This is the secret ingredient of successful direct outreach campaigns. 

If your outreach is not relevant to the prospect, then you won't succeed and you will fail just like every other spammer out there. 

If you can make your communication relevant and personal to the recipient, then your direct outreach campaign will be a success.

One creatives approach to direct outreach

Kurt Elster, co-founder of ethercycle

Kurt Elster, co-founder of ethercycle

When Kurt Elster was starting up his web design agency, he utilized direct outreach as a tactic in closing new business.

He grabbed a clipboard and a sheet of paper and went around some of the classier parts of the Chicago area. As Kurt walked around he wrote down business names until he had a clipboard full of potential prospects in the area. 

Kurt then turned to the internet where he researched each of these companies online. He looked up their websites, the names of the store owners, and even searched their LLC filings online. 

Then Kurt crafted individual letters to each business. 

In the letter, he talked about their individual business, introduced himself, and mentioned that he had redesigned website for several other local businesses in the area. 

Then Kurt sealed the letters up and put them in a  white envelope. On the front of the envelope he wrote the first name of the owner of the store.

Kurt returned and slipped each envelope underneath the door of each local business.

"There is no way if you get an envelope with just your first name handwritten on it that you aren't going to open it and read it," said Kurt over a podcast interview. 

Kurt's campaign was successful and he closed a large amount of business from it. 

The secret. 


How I utilized direct outreach to land clients remotely

While Kurt had success by slipping envelopes under doors, I have had similar success in the online space. 

When I was starting my web design business, I only had a few clients under my belt. I didn't have much marketing traction so I turned to direct outreach as a method of acquiring new clients.

I had just finished up a website for a local trade association, and they were ecstatic with the results. I had a great testimonial from the President of the association and I put together a PDF case study.

That was when it hit me. This is a local trade association, there are 49 similar associations in other states.

I hopped onto Google and started researching all of the sister associations. I put together a list of which association could use a redesign, and searched around for contact information. 

I e-mailed roughly 30 out of the 49 remaining associations who looked like they were in need of help.

Two of them ended up hiring me for a website and put me on a retainer as well. 

Why did this campaign work?


I had just completed a project for an association that was almost identical to their own. They had the same needs, same desires and the same issues. 

The offer was relevant and the campaign was a success.

Don't fear direct outreach

Too many people are afraid of this method of direct marketing. They are afraid to put themselves out there and risk rejection.

But in reality, with e-mail and mail communication these days, rejection isn't so bad.

Rejection simply looks like a lack of response.

And in reality a majority of the people you reach out to in direct response will never contact you.

They may not need your services.
They may already have someone else.
Or they may not have the budget to pay you.

But if 1 in 50 people hire you for a project, then more often than not direct outreach campaigns will be a success. 

If you contact enough people with a RELEVANT and PERSONAL offer, someone will bite. 

I can't emphasize the relevance and personal components enough. 

Don't be a spammer.

But do utilize direct outreach. 

It can be a powerful addition to helping you bring in new work.