How to get freelance jobs, without competing on Upwork

"I'm tired of applying to freelance jobs and not hearing back."

Hands up if you're tired of...
...competing with other freelancers on price
...applying to jobs and not hearing back

The issue with job boards is, they're set up to help hirers get work done, for the best possible price.

Instead of fighting for scraps in a buyer's market, you can fish in the blue ocean. What do I mean? Instead of applying for jobs where the hirer can choose from dozens of proposals, you can proactively reach out to businesses you can help with your skills and get hired.

A lot of people think cold email doesn't work because they're sending ones like this:

At first glance, this seems like a great cold email. It talks about their benefits. It enumerates their results. Isn't this what you're supposed to do? But this doesn't actually work well for getting new clients. Why? No matter how great your benefits or results, your prospect has no clue how you'll actually be able to apply your skills and experience to help their business.

The key to overcoming their skepticism? Come up with a few valuable improvement ideas related to your services and tailored for your prospect's business and share this in your first email to them. This is what I call the VIU (valuable ideas upfront) approach.

Now you’re not just offering them skills and experience prospects have to figure out how to put to use (they just won't reply), you’re offering them ready-to-go solutions to improve their business.

Devesh Khanal successfully used this approach back when he was running his website optimization business. He cold emailed Brian Dean with a video walkthrough of 3 great ideas to grow Brian's email list: Devesh Khanal cold email to get new client Brian Dean was really impressed and hired him.

This was also the same approach that Bryan Harris used to land a project with HubSpot: Bryan Harris cold email to get new client

Line by line breakdown of how to proactively reach out to your ideal clients by providing valuable ideas upfront

Use [] to turn your visitors into customers

Make a positive comment about your prospect's work.

Provide a few valuable improvement ideas or a brief action plan related to your services and your prospect's business goals. Why is this much more effective than just talking about your benefits and results? It’s extremely difficult for people who don’t know you yet to get over the hump of "ok, you seem have the skills and experience but how will you actually be able to apply them to help my business?" When you provide concrete ideas upfront, now you’re not just offering prospects skills and experience they have to figure out how to put to use, you’re offering them ready-to-go solutions to improve their business.

Prompt your prospect to reply by asking for their thoughts on your ideas.

View 6 more proven templates to get new clients.

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Step 1.  Who you should reach out to for long-term projects

Since this approach is more time intensive, it is important to be selective about who you reach out to.

If you’re reaching out to a small to medium-sized business, reach out directly to the owner or founder.
If you’re reaching out to a larger company (50+ employees), reach out to the highest level manager who oversees the business area related to your services.

Focus on businesses that have the need and budget to hire you for large projects or regular work. Here are 5 places to find

A few ways to check if a business has a decent budget:

  • They recently raised investment rounds.
  • Go to their Facebook page and click on 'Info and Ads' to see if they're running any ads.
  • Google '[business name] jobs' to see if they are hiring for any positions.
Step 2.  Find and verify the email addresses of people you want to reach out to

Since this approach involves emailing people you want to work with, finding their email addresses is kind of important. ;)

You can look up the email format your prospect's company uses with a tool like Hunter. Based on their email format and full name, you can smart guess your prospect's email address. For example, if your prospect's name is Sam Cook and their company email format is {first}.{last}, then their email address would most likely be

Copy and paste your smart guessed email address into one of these free email verifiers and it'll let you know if the email works or not.

If you need to verify a list of email addresses, you can upload them to Norbert. They verify each email address for 3 cents so for example, if you need to verify 100 email addresses at once, you pay $2.

Step 3.  Speed up this method by 'bucketing' your prospects

The key to speeding up this approach is bucketing prospects who came from the same source into separate lists.

For example, you can put all of the prospects who recently raised an investment round into one list. You can put all of the prospects who use a tool complimentary to your services into another list.

This lets you share the same ideas and insights with every prospect from one list, and have them be relevant and valuable for everyone.

Let’s walk through an example.
Let's say that I offer content marketing services. I can add all the prospects who use Leadbot (a tool related to my services) to one list. Since all of these prospects use LeadBot, I can share a few insights that would be relevant and valuable for everyone.

For the prospect, it still reads like you came up with improvement ideas just for them. This is key to getting a reply.

Template: how to reach out to multiple prospects at once and still provide relevant value upfront

Subject line: Come across your comment about LeadBot

In one sentence, mention where you found the prospect to open the conversation.

Mention you'd like to share your process for achieving a business goal that's important for them (and related to your services).

Share 2-3 key steps of your process. This lets you provide value and demonstrate your expertise upfront and shows them exactly what you can do for their business.

Ask them for an initial call, framed as a brainstorm session so they are excited to learn more from you. The call will give you a chance to build trust and rapport with them and further demonstrate your value to further entice them to hire you.

Download 6 cold email templates to get new clients

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Key takeaways

1. Instead of competing on job boards, networking or paying for ads, you can proactively reach out to your ideal clients.

2. The key to getting a reply? Share a few valuable improvement ideas related to your services and tailored for your prospect's business upfront.

3. Reach out to businesses that have the budget to hire you for regular work or large projects so you don't have to keep finding new clients.

4. You can speed up this approach by bucketing prospects who came from the same source or share similar needs into separate lists. This lets you share valuable ideas that would be relevant for everyone from one list.

Last updated:
"How do I get new clients?" No you don't have to create content, get active on social media or complete on job boards. Yes all of these help, but you're forced to play the waiting game. While your bills stack up... Instead you can proactively reach out to clients you want to work with. Here's how (and no, talking about your benefits is not enough). Yes, let's get proactive
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