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How to avoid clichés when writing pitch emails

Illustration by

Jon McCormack

August 23, 2021

There’s nothing more disheartening as a freelancer than spending your precious valuable time crafting pitch emails to prospective clients, only to get zero response. Even a negative response would be better than nothing - at least it would prove they read the darn thing!

One way to ensure that your pitches are immediately relegated to the ‘Bin’ folder is to write generic emails packed with clichés. People reading them will think you’re either lazy, unimaginative, or simply copy-and-pasted the same email to 50 other people, (the latter might be true, but we don’t want them to know that).

Stop wasting your time and boost that response rate with this guide to avoiding those go-to clichés.

 

Have a unique start

The first few sentences of an email is where some of the biggest email clichés lurk. Honestly, how many times have you heard the phrase, ‘Hope this finds you well’? This phrase, along with the likes of ‘Hope you’re having a good week’, might sound harmless in theory. In practice, however, they’re overused to the point of having no meaning and sounding insincere.

Plus, generic lifeless greetings like this can make your pitch sound like spam. So, if it actually gets past the spam filters and reaches its intended reader, they will likely zone out quicker than you can say ‘Happy Friday!’.

These openers are essentially email small talk. One option is to scrap them altogether and get straight down to business. But small talk isn’t always bad and if you do choose to include it - this is the important bit - make it personal.

This doesn’t mean you should insult them. It means that, rather than reciting the same old greetings that the potential client will have heard a thousand times before, write something that relates to them personally.

The best way to de-ice your cold-call email is to have an ‘in’. Have you met the person before? Do you have a friend in common? Highlighting your connections early on will not only show the reader that the email is specifically for them but also make you more human in their eyes.

While connections are a freelancer’s best friend, annoyingly they don’t always exist. If this is the case, do not fret. There’s more than one way to personalise an email opener. Do some research: read their recent article; listen to their latest interview; check their LinkedIn for companies you’ve also worked for. ‘In’ or not, a more personalised greeting will be less likely to cause a potential client’s eyes to glaze over.

Side note: ‘sorry’ may not strictly count as a cliché, but it is a phrase that’s used far too often in pitch emails. Dropping the s-word gives a terrible impression so avoid it at all costs. By using it you’re starting the conversation on the back foot when you should sound like the confident professional freelancer that you are. Keep your ‘sorry’s for when you really have something to apologise for.

 TL;DR? 

Avoid:

“Hope this email finds you well.”

“Hope you’re having a great week.”

“Happy Friday!”

Try:

Personalised introductions that won’t be confused or SPAM. For example:

“I read your article on bee dance rituals. I found it fascinating when you said…”

“I enjoyed chatting with you at the gardening talk. How did you find the rest of the conference?”

“Our mutual friend Sam from Oak Enterprises recommended that I email you…”

 

Talk like a human

A mistake many new freelancers make is to word their pitch emails the way they think professional emails are written, rather than the way they should be written: like one human speaking to another.

Read your email out loud before clicking ‘send’. Does it sound like you? Does it does like one person starting a conversation with another? Or, like a business robot with a fondness for terms like ‘blue sky thinking’ and ‘synergy’? Rewording an email to match the way you would speak in person often weeds out pesky business clichés.

Freelancers often fall into the trap of thinking that successful pitch emails use this ‘business speak’ (aka nonsense jargon). Often, the opposite is true. In fact, according to a Boomerang survey, the best emails are those written at the reading level of a nine year old.

While that seems extreme, it’s true that writing rambling emails full of generic business jargon is often the lazier option - plus, it seems a bit try-hard. Communication is a skill in itself. Being able to express your thoughts clearly, simply, and succinctly often shows greater professionalism.

Simply put, in a pitch email every word counts so don’t throw them away on clichés that the reader will skim past.

 TL;DR?

 Avoid:

“Per our meeting…”

“Wanted to touch base…”

“Let me circle back…”

“Leverage a best practice…”

“Synergy”

 Try:

Talking like your professional and polite self.

 

Show appreciation 

Keeping things simple also extends to how you end your email. Contenders for the most cliché sign-offs include ‘Best’ and any variation of ‘Regards’. If you wouldn’t say this to someone face-to-face why use them in a pitch email?

Generally speaking, you can’t go wrong with a good old fashioned ‘thanks’. In fact, another Boomerang survey, looking at over 35,000 email threads found that emails with a ‘thankful closing’ had a response rate of 62 per cent - that’s almost 10 per cent higher than both ‘Regards’ and ‘Best’.

Certain generic remarks also risk closing your email on a passive aggressive note. The main culprit of this is: ‘Looking forward to hearing from you’. Much like its distant cousin, ‘Hope this finds your well’, this phrase and others like it sound generic, lazy, and just bog-standard. Even worse, potential clients could well read it and imagine you muttering “you better write back!” through gritted teeth. 

One solution is to remove these cliché statements altogether. While another is to end your email on a call-to-action. This means including a question that requires a response from the reader within a specific time frame - for example, asking them for a face-to-face meeting.

This not only sounds less passive aggressive but, similarly to personalised email openers, it injects a bit more character and colour into your closing remarks.

 TL;DR?

 Avoid:

“Regards”

“Best regards”

“Best”

“Thnx” 

Try:

“Thanks”

“Thank you”

Avoid:

“I look forward to hearing from you”

“...at your earliest convenience”

“Thanks in advance”

Try:

A personalised call-to-action.

E.g. “I’m in town on Thursday, would you be willing to meet for a coffee to discuss this further?”

“Do you have time for a quick call before the end of the week?”

Annoyingly, there’s no sure-fire way to write a succesful pitch email. But there is a wrong way and that includes packing them with clichés. So, if you’re looking to boost the responses in your inbox, try letting your personality shine through. And put in the effort – that’s important too.


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