There was a time, an ancient time, when dinosaurs ruled the earth.
Massive, off-white creatures lumbered lazily upon very “high-tech” desks with pull-out keyboard extensions, devouring disc-shaped prey, and screeching their brazen, fax-like calls across the land. Eager new owners listened to the call in anticipation… composing an exciting new message to Aunt Pearl or Johnny in 9th grade… desperately awaiting their chance to send that mind-blowing new thing called… Email.
Now, many of you may remember these ancient times, but some of you won’t, and that’s okay. While the thought of dial-up internet might conjure up images of an old horror movie, the fact is that email, which debuted in the mid-90s commercially, still continues to be a highly relevant and useful tool.
Reinforcing a connection with a recent acquaintance, asking for client testimonials, and communicating important information to current clients are all essential parts of freelancing that can be facilitated effectively via email.
“Involved in a Pina Colada situation right now. I will return this message once it’s been rectified.”
Sometimes, you’ve just got to take a vacation. Less glamorously, sometimes you’ve just got to drive your grandma’s dog to a specialist veterinarian three hours away, or serve jury duty. The point here is that the freelance life is not exempt from time off the job, and it’s important to be able to communicate that to current and prospective clients. This is where the automated “out-of-office response” comes in.
There are two basic bits of information that should be included in your automated response:
-How long you’ll be away from your email, and when you’ll return
-If there is someone who can be contacted in case of emergency
From there, though, the rest is up to you. This is a prime opportunity (especially in the case of work inquiries) to showcase your brand. How can you be creative with this auto response? What kind of a response does your business’ brand call for? If your company caters to a more corporate, business suit-type of clientele, then use this opportunity to showcase your formal professionalism with a thorough, reeled-in email.
If your work allows for some creative wiggle room, try and have some fun with it! Potential clients looking for a creative mind will appreciate an out-of-the-ordinary auto-response, and will remember you more vividly because of it.
“You’re cool. I’m cool. Let’s work together.”
All right, so that’s probably not the best thing to put in your subject line… but the sentiment is absolutely appropriate. Whether you exchanged business cards with someone at a conference or networking event, or are checking up on an estimate, learning how to craft a follow up email is essential to starting a new working relationship.
Personalize it. The last thing a potential client or collaborator wants to trudge through is a boring template-style email. It’s likely that they receive those on a daily or weekly basis, and the fact that you’ve got a unique, twinkling personality doesn’t mean that it shows up subliminally between those predictable lines. Write specifically about the recipient’s company or product, and describe the ways in which you can complement it.
Craft a deliberate email signature. Email signatures can be super cool, right? When I was a wee technological cave lady living amongst those hefty plastic dinosaurs, I delighted in the hunt for the perfect quote, as well as the perfect lip print icons to place at the end of that brilliant quote.
The reality is that something like the lyrics to my favorite angsty pop song should never have been in the automatic signature that got sent to potential bosses and college professors.
You need to make it easy for the recipient to find your contact information, website, and portfolio. If you feel like a quote is appropriate, make sure it’s meaningful and relevant to your brand.
Don’t get too eager. If you’ve already sent one follow up email with no response, reevaluate the client. Do you really want to work with someone who, (A) hasn’t responded to you and (B) needs more than two attempts in order to decide to work with you?
“You like me? You really like me!”
I haven’t personally met you, but I’m guessing you do good work that clients appreciate. One way to bring in more of those happy clients is to use that appreciation to promote your business. One way to do that is by displaying client testimonials on your website and other marketing materials.
The first rule of asking for testimonials? Don’t feel weird about asking for testimonials.
Client testimonials are common practice these days, and a satisfied client will almost always be willing to help you out. If you make it seem like an awkward situation, it has a much better chance of actually becoming one. Before you ask for a quote, however, there are a few things to look for:
Have they expressed their satisfaction? Look for a client who has already complimented you on their experience. You want to be sure the person you’re asking will have something positive to say. Every freelancer has a “least favorite” out of their list of previous work; that client is probably not the person to talk to.
Have they complimented you via social media? An easy way to score a testimonial is to find one that your client has already created. If they mentioned you in an appreciative tweet or specifically complimented you in an email, ask them if you can quote them for a client testimonial.
When you’re doing the actual asking, there are a few key elements to include:
- A compliment
- Recognition of the client’s busy schedule
- How the testimonial will be used
- An offer of assistance
While a client testimonial may only be a few sentences long, it might not be an inherently easy task for the client. Be sure to compliment the client (reminding them of the positive working experience you had together), acknowledge that you know how busy they are, tell them where you’d like to publish their quote, and offer some help with the testimonial if they don’t know where to start. Here’s a sample:
I hope this message finds you doing well!
Working with you on the Eggplant Lasagna Project was a wonderful opportunity, and I greatly appreciate your business and insights.
Would you be willing to provide me with a testimonial about your experience that I can publish on my website? I realize that you’re quite busy, so (if you’re interested), I’d be more than happy to send over some questions or sample quotes to help you get started.
Thank you so much for your time!
A few more tips:
- Don’t be afraid to email older clients. In addition to snagging a testimonial, you could actually land some new work!
- Create a database of all of your clients and their contact info. This will make it much easier for you to send out requests in the future.
- Edit before you send. Creative entrepreneur Kathleen Shannon does a great job of emphasizing the importance of this: “Re-read your email before you hit send. This one is tough, I know. Sometimes you’re in a rush but you can avoid lots of confusion and really say what you mean if you quickly proof your email.” (See more from Kathleen on this here.)
You do good work that people appreciate; make it a priority to share that with the world. And never forget to say “thank you.”
Embrace your inner caveperson. Embrace the email.
Social media can provide lucrative and effective communication opportunities, but each platform comes with its own quirks. Email, however, is a solid line of correspondence to anyone with a computer. Because of its inherent, letter-like simplicity, email allows you to communicate with a wider range of potential clients and colleagues.
From behemoth, off-white plastic beast to tiny, shiny smartphone, email has spanned the technological ages, and can bring you closer to bigger clients.