As co-founder of a content marketing agency, I’m a firm believer in the power of inbound marketing as a way to generate interest in our offerings. Leads from our website and guest blogging efforts, as well as referrals from existing clients, account for most of our new business.
But recently, as we’ve honed in on our ideal client profile, I’ve also begun investing time into building relationships with new prospects that fit that criteria through targeted email outreach. So far, it has proven to be a successful approach: I only send out a handful of emails each week, but can attribute about 25 percent of our last six months’ revenue to clients who came in as a result of my cold email efforts.
While I’m not a salesperson by nature, this approach isn’t entirely new to me. Before launching our agency, I worked as a freelance journalist and generated the majority of my business through sending detailed query letters to magazine editors. Here’s how I’ve applied those principles to our email outreach efforts as an agency.
Research the business
As a freelance writer, I took the time to study each publication I pitched in detail to understand their voice, audience and content needs, and to find out what I could from fellow writers about their process and pay rates to make sure they would be a good client.
I apply that same sense of research to learning more about businesses to see if they’d be a good fit for our agency. We work mostly with SaaS companies and other tech startups, so I’ll look at AngelList or CrunchBase to find growing businesses that fit our target industries. Then, I’ll look at their websites to learn more about them and see what their existing content strategy looks like. If they don’t have a blog, that means there may be an opportunity for us to get in on the ground floor. If they already have an active content strategy, we may be able to help them scale. Don’t assume the same cookie-cutter approach will fit all prospects.
Find the decision maker
As a freelance writer, I always studied a publication’s masthead to find out who was the right contact for my pitch. Should it go straight to the editor-in-chief, a senior editor or a section editor? Making sure your message goes to the right person is crucial. There’s a chance it may get spotted if it goes to a generic address, but it may just as easily get filtered out before it gets the attention it deserves.
Now, I study business’ websites, and scour their LinkedIn company profiles to identify the decision maker who would be interested in discussing our services. I have a LinkedIn Premium account, which enables me to email these prospects through the LinkedIn platform. In addition to cutting down time finding emails, it instantly gives people access to my credentials, mutual connections, and testimonials when they click to see my profile, so there’s an element of trust in the relationship from the start. (Disclaimer: LinkedIn is a Eucalypt client.)
Sell your pitch
As a freelance writer for magazines, you can’t just tell an editor “I want to write for you.” Even if you have awesome work experience, the editor will be underwhelmed by the lack of effort you put into your introduction. Instead, come up with a solid pitch that gives a snapshot of what the story is, why it’s important and why it’s a fit for the publication.
Likewise, when targeting a company, it’s important to show why they should consider your agency in particular. Since we’re trying to build a long-term business relationship rather than sell a one-off article, I don’t send specific story pitches. But I do make an effort to show that we understand what their company does, how we might fit into the process, and name-check clients that we’ve worked with in similar industries.
Show what you can do
Magazine editors love a good pitch, but they also want to see what you’ve done in the past. With every query letter, I included several links to articles I’d written on similar topics for other clients. This helps the editor see that I’m experienced and can handle the job.
Now, when emailing prospective clients, I make sure to include a link to our website, which includes our staff blog, and a link to our company’s reviews on Clutch Research, which provides detailed overviews of our client collaborations. I’ll also include an invitation to send them some samples of our work. If they accept, I’ll send a Dropbox link to a clip folder that’s customized with sample content similar to their specific needs and industry. Businesses can also pass along case studies, relevant blog posts and other content marketing collateral that relates directly to their prospects’ needs.
Follow up (but don’t be annoying)
For freelance writers, timing is everything. If an editor is scrambling to wrap up production of the current issue and hasn’t started thinking about the next one yet, your pitch is likely to fall off the radar. Try again in a few weeks when he or she is eager for fresh ideas, and an assignment may be yours for the taking. As a freelance writer, many of the assignments I landed happened on the second or third follow-up message. If you didn’t get a firm “no,” it’s worth trying again.
That’s equally true at a content marketing agency. We’ve landed several large contracts just because we happened to catch prospects at exactly the right time — they were seeking out agencies, and by connecting with them at the point of need, they were happy to explore working with us. If you don’t hear back immediately, it might just be the wrong time. A gentle and polite follow-up a month later might come at just the right moment for a prospect that is ready to sign on.
Keep it personal
It’s true that this approach isn’t nearly as scalable as automated drip marketing campaigns. But it’s far more personal and, as we’ve found, far more effective than a generic message that doesn’t show that you understand your prospect’s needs.
If you want thousands of customers, this may not be an ideal way to get them. But if, like us, you’re interested in developing long-term, valuable relationships with a small group of clients, targeted email outreach — combined with an effective content marketing strategy — could be the way to grow your business.