July 27, 2020

Email Marketing for Freelancers: 14 Automation Tips to Get (and Keep) More Clients

Reading time about 14 min

Far too many freelancers overlook email marketing as a way to grow their freelance business.

In fact, most freelancers I’ve spoken with and coached over the last decade don’t actually have a email marketing strategy at all. 

Often written off as “too complicated” or “not worth the time,” email marketing might just be one of the most lucrative marketing channels you’re completely ignoring.

In fact, email trumps social marketing in a big way when it comes to getting new business. One report suggests email may be 3 times more effective than social media when it comes to getting new customers or clients.

So while other freelancers are spending time pinning and Instagramming, you can surpass them all with a little concentrated effort in email marketing.

Today, I’ll share some of my top email marketing and automation tips to find, pitch, win, and keep new freelance clients using email marketing.

Here’s how to win and keep new clients using email marketing:

Begin to grow your email list

Before you can see much progress in terms of email marketing, you’ll need to actually begin to grow a list.

But unlike social media, you don’t need hundreds of thousands of followers before you can start leveraging your following to build your business.

With as few as 50 or 100 quality email subscribers, you can easily generate a good amount of new and recurring freelance business.

As with any marketing channel, there are plenty of list-building tactics that work really well.

Here are just a few of my favorite for you to try out:

1. Create an incentive to encourage subscribers

If you find you have a fair amount of visitors to your portfolio site, you’ll find that offering a small incentive (a free download or a discount coupon, for example) can drive up the rate at which potential clients subscribe to your email list.

The key here, however, is to add as much value as possible. People aren’t likely to enter their email for a watered-down checklist, a “free quote” or a 5% discount.

Ask yourself: what will make subscribing to my list a “no brainer” for my site visitors? 

Sophie at Thoughtfully.co.uk offers great free marketing resources

2. Capture subscribers at critical points

There are a few critical moments at which you’ll want to most capture email subscribers to groom them into becoming future clients.

For example, when a potential client has a really great experience with your content or your portfolio, ask for their email address. This can include at the end of blog posts, or alongside your best projects.

Example of an exit intent popup

Imagine a client being blown away by something in your portfolio after which they’re greeted with a prompt that reads: “Did you like this project? We can do great work for you too. Enter your email and we’ll send you a 25% discount on your first project.”


3. Build a “wait list”

Even if you’re not booked out for months like you want to be, adding a wait list to your website can be a great way to build anticipation and suggest your services are in-demand (which allows you to charge more).

Wait lists also have two other added benefits: they’re somewhat exciting and they feel like less of a commitment.

They become easy things to sign up for because, as your client will rationalize, “I might as well get on the waitlist and I can decide what to do when I reach the front of the line.”

Or add value to someone else’s email audience

Before moving on to some of the tactics you can utilize to build your freelance business via email marketing, I want to be clear about one thing:

In order to do email marketing, you don’t technically need your own email list.

While I won’t dive deep into these strategies in this article, there are a number of ways you can collaborate or even buy your way in front of the email lists of others.

Here are just a few:

1. Write guest posts and do interviews

I know many freelancers, startups and other entrepreneurs who never build their own email list because they’re so busy doing guest posts and interviews for lists that already exist. 

If your target client is likely to subscribe to an email list with a certain brand, find creative ways to collaborate with that brand, adding as much value as you can. As you offer genuine support to them, you’ll eventually feel comfortable asking for placement in their newsletter.

2. Offer some kind of trade for feature in an email

While you may not have a large email list to offer as a trade (although, this works really well if you do), you can still collaborate with lists that are likely to have your target client as subscribers.

For example, you might offer to post to your large Pinterest account in exchange for placement in an email newsletter. Or you might agree to posting a few quality backlinks for a blogger if they’ll include you in the next email send.

These kinds of quid pro quo exchanges can be very valuable and help you grow lucrative business relationships.

3. Just pay your way into an email send

If collaborations and contributions fail, you may just want to try buying your way into an email send.

Just to be clear – we’re not talking about buying an email list (you should never buy an email list). This about securing a sponsored slot in someone else’s newsletter.

Many bloggers and brands offer placement in their newsletters or even full dedicated sends to their list or segments therein.

4. Use other lists to build your list

Finally, piggy-backing off of other lists can be a fast(er) way to build your own email list. As you get in front of relevant audiences (whether collaborating or paying your way in), a small percentage of them is likely to enjoy your work enough to subscribe to your email list.

Build automations to steadily deliver value

Once you’ve finally got a few email subscribers as potential clients (remember, you don’t need thousands of emails here) it’s time to build some systems to start talking to them.

In truth, you may want to build out a few of these before you have too many subscribers since part of the power of email is the ability to stay in touch repeatedly (instead of radio silence for years followed by a random promotional email).

There are a few automations every freelancer should be utilizing within their email marketing in order to get and retain more clients.

Here are some of the critical automations you should consider:

Email automations for pre-clients

First, we’ll tackle automations you could send to email subscribers who aren’t clients yet. These “pre-clients” have shown interest in hiring you and have subscribed to your email list at some point.

1. Send a genuine “welcome” email to manage expectations

When a subscriber first joins your email list, it’s important that you welcome them to your list and explain what they can expect as a new subscriber.

The best way to do that is through an automated “welcome email” which you can set up to send automatically when someone subscribes.

There are lots of great ideas for what to include in a welcome email, but generally you want to thank them for subscribing and relay important information like:

  • How often they’ll hear from you
  • What kind of emails you’ll be sending
  • How you’ll respect their privacy and their inbox

The more clear you are upfront, the lower your unsubscribe rate will be later on.

2. Send high-value drip campaigns to court potential clients

One of the best aspects of email marketing is its ability to build trust with potential clients. 

That’s where the power of drip campaigns come in.

A drip campaign allows you to send regular communications with your potential and current clients via email—all on autopilot. Using software like Brevo, you can write a full series of emails as far into the future as you wish and set them all to send at whatever interval you choose.

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These campaigns can include high-value, non-sales information and should also include occasional offers or reminders of your service.

The idea with drip campaigns is to “court” or “date” your list. Don’t go in for the ask right away—just like you wouldn’t propose marriage on a first date—instead, let your relationship with each subscriber grow over time. 

A proper sales email sequence can pay off in spades later on.

Email automations for current clients

Next, you’ll want to build some automations for email subscribers who choose to hire you and become clients. These subscribers are your most valuable subscribers and deserve extra care and attention.

1. Build onboarding email sequences for new clients

Every new client should receive a high-quality onboarding email sequence from you.

This sequence might start with a transactional email, thanking them for hiring and paying you.

From there, the automated emails could ask them to schedule your first meeting via calendly and fill out a creative brief so you come prepared for that meeting.

Imagine if a potential client could hire you, pay you, schedule your first meeting, and fill out a creative brief all before you ever had to do any work.

That’s the power of automation!

2. Trigger milestone check-ins with clients so they always feel in the loop

Once you’re moving along nicely with your client, you’ll want to ensure they always feel “in the loop” when it comes to their project.

A great way to do that is by sending a weekly (or some other interval) email explaining how the project is coming along.

It took a lot of work to get your freelance clients in the first place, the last thing you want to do is upset them or make them feel ignored by failing to communicate. 

While email automation is typically used as a marketing tool, you can utilize the same ideas and strategies to keep your clients happy as their projects progress.

For example, once you finish your first milestone, simply go into your email marketing software and tag or update that client’s email to trigger a pre-written update, assuring them the project is coming along nicely.

If you only work with one or two clients at once, this process could start more manually.

3. Automate project completion and final payment via email

Once you’ve successfully completed a project with a client, you can also trigger automatic emails to collect important information and get paid.

For example, once the deliverables have been sent to your client and they’re happy with their final product, trigger a final “thank you” email and add them to a “former clients” automation (which I’ll give ideas for below).

Email automation for former clients

Just because you’ve successfully completed a project with a client doesn’t mean you should cease to communicate with them via email on a regular basis. 

In fact, there’s still a lot of value to extract on both sides of your relationship—much of which can be facilitated via email. 

Here are a few automations you could try with former clients:

1. Automate payment requests

While I recommend you get paid upfront for your work (or, at a minimum, before you send final deliverables) you can use email automation to follow-up on any missing payments or monetary loose-ends when a client doesn’t pay.

Many freelancer invoicing apps will do this for you automatically and some will even tie directly into your email software to work together seamlessly and help you get paid as a freelancer.

For example, every Monday, your app will check if payment has been made. If not, it will send another payment reminder email to your client. 

2. Ask for reviews and referrals

Two extremely valuable pieces of information you’ll want to collect from former clients are honest reviews of your work (to be featured on your portfolio site and marketing material) and referrals.

A week or two after a client is added to your “former client” email automation, send them a friendly email asking for a review or testimonial of their experience working with you. 

A week or two after that, send another email asking them if they know anyone who could benefit from your services.

You might also choose to send regular emails (every quarter, twice a year, etc.) asking for referrals to fuel your future business.

3. Add ongoing value to your client’s life

Above all, adding ongoing value to your client’s life and business is a great way to build lasting relationships via email marketing.

These lasting relationships can lead to years of friendship and business growth. While sending completely customized emails to each former client every week may require too much of your time, automated emails can again help here.

This may be as simple as re-adding former clients to your general list that receives weekly updates.

Or you could create a more customized “former client” drip automation to continue to cultivate those relationships. Whatever you do, genuine copywriting, impactful subject lines, and value-driven content will be the best approach.

The key to making email work (and not flop)

The biggest piece of advice I can give you when it comes to making email work in your favor (more clients, more revenue, more subscribers) instead of against you (angry subscribers, people marking you as “spam”, high unsubscribes) is this:

Be yourself.

People naturally connect with people. We crave connection. Our world is built on it. And just because you automate your email sequences or plan ahead of time what you’ll say and when doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be 100% authentic.

Write emails like you talk to a friend. If your personality is fun and energetic, your emails should too (animated gifs anyone?). If you’re more professional in nature, your emails can be too.

The point is to be yourself, communicate clearly, and understand that the real magic behind email isn’t software or ones-and-zeros, it’s you.

Guest post by Preston Lee. Preston is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade with their freelance jobs lists, podcasts, articles and active community.

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