I was casually searching Google for Upwork content using the ‘site:upwork.com’-feature and I saw this project to write 10 articles about digital marketing.
The description sounded great and at the time I didn’t realize that the client wanted it done for $1000.
As I logged in to my Upwork account, the project was nowhere to be found. When I finally found it, it was restricted with access only for the people who live in America.
I thought that was a shame, as I had done similar projects before and knew that I could do a good job.
Fortunately, he had put the name of the website in the description, so, I went on a mission to find his email.
I got lucky after about an hour, found his name and went to work on crafting a pitch email.
(I apologize for the ‘zoom out’ of the emails. I had to do so to fit them properly when screen capping. I also blurred out personal details out of respect for privacy.)
And few have a few back-and-forths as I realize I hadn’t noticed the price, which was a (lucky) mistake on my end.
And there you have it. The payment.
While it looks simple, and it felt like one of the easier projects to get, the tactics and psychology behind it took me a long time to learn.
The best part was that even though I felt lucky to get the project, it felt just like a formality for me at the same time.
However, three years ago is an entirely different story. If things like this happened I would be in total disbelief.
It is fascinating how something that awesome can change to feel totally normal. I don’t think I’m particularly good at pitching, I just got better and better the more I practiced.
When we focus on practicing the skills and the process, we can allow ourselves to forget the ‘I can’t do it’ and other negative self-talk from time to time.
Inevitably, we also land more and more projects as a result. But that isn’t even your real focus- it is just an awesome outcome of you practicing certain skills.
Let’s take some time to breakdown what’s happening here and why it works, so you can replicate it for yourself.
Getting a dream client
The first and most important step is getting the right client. The right client is someone who knows they have a need and wants to pay to solve it.
In this case, the guy, let’s call him Alex, knows that these types of articles will help his business and because he is posting on Upwork, we can assume that he is ready to pay for them too.
Knowing that, as I have worked the market before (the value of niching down), I don’t pitch him how the articles can help him as you can see below.
The closer we are to the money -helping him earn more- the more we can also charge for our help.
The next step is for him to trust that we are the ones to solve his challenges. As you can see in the screenshot, that’s what I’m doing right from the get-go in the email.
Before I had training, I would do all the challenging projects and tasks but not tell my boss or client about it.
As I got better, I learned that they are super busy, so if I don’t tell them about what I do, they simply don’t know. And there are many ways to do that, so it doesn’t come off as a sleazy and self-promotional.
In a slightly joking way, that’s how I start the email to pique his curiosity. I took the opportunity to tell him what I can do while explaining why I’m emailing him.
I keep the email short to save both mine and his time. If this wasn’t the right email address, if he wasn’t interested for whatever reason, it wouldn’t have taken me too much time.
I just want him to write a quick reply back that allows me to move forward. A qualifying email.
I quickly jump to examples of my work and social proof. Fortunately in writing, you can catch two birds with one stone.
To be honest, the fact that I have been so lucky to have my articles shared thousands of times each helps a lot, as clients can imagine getting the same number of shares on their own content. Which to many is an awesome feat.. especially on a new project without much traction yet.
*Quick side note* Unfortunately, the number of shares mostly mean nothing. In my experience, while shares can work well, there is no relationship between the number of shares and the number of leads (e.g. email subscribers) you get.
On one of my most popular articles with many thousands of shares, got me a whopping four leads (yes, four!).
In comparison, I have articles with much fewer shares that I’ve got hundreds of leads from. It feels like those ‘larger’ publications only work as social proof to get clients.
When I look at the content, the one with more shares was much more tactical and not that great, whereas the one that got more leads was much deeper and of higher quality.
In theory, you could guest post articles and buy ads to boost the number of shares. I’m not going to comment on whether that is ethically correct or not but you won’t know your real skill level when you do it.
Moving on… back to the email.
I end it with a basic call to action that is related to the situation, and something casual he can easily reply to without much thinking. In this example, it is whether having a freelancer in a different timezone is a dealbreaker to him or not.
I have actually learned that many people like the idea of having work done while they are sleeping, so this is a perfect time to bring that point in as well.
Many of these smaller tactics are just something I’ve learned from practicing and testing different things over time.
I actually made an error writing “the difference”, it should have been “the difference in timezone”.
As you try more and more things, you’ll quickly realize that these things are minutiae and don’t really make a big difference generally as long as the important parts are covered.
The reality is that what most likely got me the project has been a combo of me understand the needs of this client well from past experience, having a great portfolio published that gives great social proof, and going the extra mile to get through to this guy by finding and emailing him privately.
What he particularly gets in this case, that he can’t get from many other writers, are particular expertise (I position myself as an advertiser turned writer rather than a writer- something I have also tested) and first-hand data that can translate into fresh content (not curated or inspired content from elsewhere).
Get in their heads by really understanding them
We have already touched a bit on this, and let’s continue because it is important. Understanding your clients and getting in their heads is hella-important for landing dream gigs for yourself.
What you see in the above email exchange is the result of sending many, many emails.
And in most cases not even getting a reply but with those that did reply back, I’ve tested many different responses and experimented with the psychology behind what I was writing, how they were perceiving it, what they actually wanted and what all of that meant altogether.
Normally, I recommend getting on a phone call to learn more about how your client thinks, especially when you are starting out. This just comes to show that you can eventually be totally remote doing this.
For many people, calling strangers on the phone is a dread, especially with the time difference, if you have that.
As you can see, in my experience, that is doable AFTER you have learned the craft. Not from the beginning.
One of the best things you can do to understand your own market is creating a basic sheet (steal mine HERE, simply click FILE > Make a copy) where you plot your market’s hopes/dreams, fears and barriers/uncertainties as you learn them.
It is surprisingly simple, yet it helps you learn what your market reacts to FAST. You can refer back to the sheet every time you do it and simply pick which of the things you want to play on for each lead.
You can pick their biggest challenge and create your own mouth watering solution for them.
But first, you have to understand what is REALLY important to them. Not what you think is important.
Getting the project and delivering
Going back to the email conversation, because it is an article where my client’s goal is to get organic traffic from Google, I focus on making him happy rather than bringing results as they won’t kick in for another few months at best.
I do that in a balance between what has performed the best based on my past experience, and what he prefers for his brand.
If you feel like you don’t know enough to do the same, you could start by focusing on making him happy and reading up on your market along the way and slowly suggesting more and more ideas as you learn.
Generally, this is not difficult and you’ll learn the tactics and frameworks as you practice more and more. Something that is much more important is thinking the right way about it.
I often debate how much about thinking and mindset to write about because it is really, freaking important. It is something several people in our tribe is challenged with. However, just working to improve on mindset alone, just doesn’t work very well.
You’ve got to apply it to something to get the real rewards. That means working on it while working on e.g. getting clients. That way you get specific situations that you can apply it to and you’ll be able to see yourself growth much easier.
One of the major challenges with this is motivation, or a lack thereof, because you’ll quickly feel as if you are not moving forward even though you are.
When I received my first $1000 for one “standard” article, I was in total disbelief.
I thought they would hustle, try not to pay etc. but all of the sudden while being on the phone one day, the email ticked in.. “you have been paid…” and sure enough, the money was there. Wow.
By the way, if you wonder why I referred this post to the $500-project rather than this $1000-project, it is because the $1000-article I felt was mostly luck.
I did the right things to get there but I felt like it was too much of luck to really share some insights you could take away. I’m not here to brag.
For most of us when starting out, we believe cool things like this are possible.. Just not for us. Or we try to think ‘I can do this’ without really believing it internally.
The first thing when starting out freelancing is to focus on convincing yourself that you can sell services to clients on the internet and actually get real money out “through the wires”.
You can use a fairly low price to accomplish that. Following that, the next step is to convince yourself that you can actually earn some fee for a project you consider meaningful.
One way to approach that is by slowly increasing the price, project by project by, say, 5%-10% per new client you take on to get used to charging a higher fee.
Doing this with new projects for older/current clients can be difficult, and is something we can talk about in another post one day.
Another way is to set a realistic price you’d like to charge (but don’t feel confident enough charging just yet) and pitching new clients that you’ll do it at 50% off for the first few projects to gain feedback.
And if they are 100% happy after a few projects, you would like to discuss going back to your current rate. That way, you also set yourself up for increasing your earnings with current clients.
In the end, this all fell into my lap because I was curious enough to research and wonder if I could find his email, along with my curiosity for whether this would work at all.
Personally, being curious and having the “I wonder if this would work?”-attitude has brought me to amazing.
I’m unsure what exactly to call it, so for a lack of a better word, let’s refer to it as the ‘I wonder if this would work!’ syndrome. It is a little crazy at times and it works about half the time for me. The challenge is you’ll never know which half.