Ink-Dipped Advice: Research To Prepare Your Perfect Pitch

 

The best freelance gigs I land generally come about when I get interested and excited about a company and decide I want to be a part of their team. Which means convincing them that their lives are better/easier/more profitable if I’m part of it.

When I was younger, I used to emphasize my flexibility – my chameleon-like ability to adapt to most situations (unless I find them unethical or feel my integrity is being compromised).

As I’ve aged and gotten more experienced and more confident, my angle has changed to be more about being very much myself instead of what I think they want. At this point in the game, I bring a lot to the table. Either it will be a good fit to move their vision forward, or it won’t. I’d rather know by the end of the first interview than find out six months in. The best way to do that is to be unabashedly MYSELF from Moment One.

But Moment One won’t happen if I don’t do my homework.

When I find a company that interests me, with whom I think I’d like to work, I go through the website. I go through press clippings. I read about the members of their staff, about what’s important to them as human beings as well as well as the overall company vision. I go through social media, articles, interviews, newspaper articles.

Then I figure out how and where I’d be an asset. Where do my skills, and, even more important, my energy and enthusiasm for what they do, support and fit their platform? How can I expand and engage their audience? Spread the message in a way that is positive, productive, and truthful?

From there, I craft the pitch/cover letter. I mention what I like about their company and how I think my unique skill set would add to what they do and what they WANT to do. I don’t tell them they’re doing something “bad” or “wrong.” I might not agree with the current approach in their marketing/web content/etc. materials, but I don’t know the story behind it. As someone who claims to be excited by their vision and want to work with them, why would I shame them? If there are things I think could use a different approach, I can talk about it in the interview, but within a positive construct.

As someone who regularly gets spammy emails from content mill marketers and faux writers stating my content is “bad” and theirs is better, I know how off-putting it is. Also, most of these generic emailers stating they want to “help” me reach a wider audience are full of errors AND have obviously not spent any time reading ANY of my sites – or they’d know my specific needs and vision.

If I wouldn’t hire someone like that, why would I want to BE someone like that?

I don’t.

I do try to find an individual to whom to send the pitch, not just a general, vague email. I have a cover letter template, but I slant each letter to highlight the parts of my experience I feel are best suited to their unique situation. I read carefully to decide which of my several resumes are most suited, what kind of samples to send. Of course, if they demand unpaid, project-specific samples written just for them, I stop the process and look elsewhere (see last week’s post).

Of course, there are always companies that, once you do the research, don’t look so inviting. I’ve ditched more than one pitch when they demanded that contact be to a specific individual at a specific email, but then didn’t have a staff list and stated “no phone calls.” If it means digging all the way back into the articles of incorporation filed with the state, it’s probably not a place that’s a good match. Or, if, as I do my research, I get that feeling that maybe they aren’t working along lines I can agree with. Of course, when I read negative or positive pieces, I then research THE WRITERS of those pieces, to see what the context of the article/interview/critique is.

I also keep detailed notes, much like my fact check sheets when I do an article, to follow the path in case I need to double back and reconfirm a piece of information.

I also see if any of my colleagues know anything about the place, and what their experiences were.

Yes, it takes time. But, if I really want a gig, it’s worth it.

In the course of my research, of course, I come up with some of the staff. Still, I prefer to check a current staff list just before I send something, to make sure I’m not sending a pitch to someone who just left. Or was promoted.

Or, if there’s an “online application” through a third party head hunter, and I have to re-enter, manually, everything that’s on my resume – pass. Waste of everybody’s time.

My rule of thumb now is, if I find the process of contact irritating, that’s probably a good indication of what it’s like to work with them. Best if we don’t put ourselves through the pain.

Because there are an awful lot of exciting, passionate, ethical entrepreneurs out there.

It just takes a bit of work to find them!

Ink-Dipped Advice: Fake Pitches That Alienate

The new websites are working. So are the contact forms, which makes my life easier, although I’m still getting too much spam. I’m getting positive feedback and informational requests from possible clients.

I’m also getting lots of demands to host paid guest bloggers and for re-design.

That’s right, not a pitch or a request. Demands.

Not only do most of these idiots make it clear they can’t write a coherent sentence, they haven’t bothered to look at the site, comprehend the content, or craft a reasonable pitch.

What they guarantee is that I won’t have anything to do with them, and if anyone else asks me about them, I won’t have anything positive to say.

“what content to do you post and how much do you pay?” is not a pitch that gets you the work.

First of all, look at that sentence. All in lower case. No salutation. At the bottom, was the individual’s first name only, again in lower case letters, and no website. No credentials, no pitch.

If this person took a look at this particular website, he would see that Fearless Ink focuses on the business and marketing aspects of my writing. Reading the Welcome page and the Navigation Menu give an idea of what the site is about and what I do.

This blog, Ink-Dipped Advice, is clearly about how I approach business writing. There are no posted guidelines stating I am looking or accepting guest posts. If I want a guest, I’m going to go and invite one. There are no posted guidelines about payment.

At this point, this blog is not a paying market. I’m not trying to lure fellow writers to work without pay. I may do trade invites with fellow freelancers, provided we are all comfortable with the situation.

If this blog becomes a paying market, I will post guidelines and state payment. And any pitches that don’t meet said guidelines will not be accepted and paid.

That’s the way it works.

The above pitch isn’t a pitch — no research, no ideas, no background, nothing. Not someone I would invite to guest or with whom I would contract to guest.

The same individual sent the same one-line post on ALL the contact forms on ALL my sites. If you look around at the sites connected with the books I write, you know that those are sites about the books, not sites that support or invite guests. They are about MY WORK. That is their purpose and their focus — to give readers and potential readers of my books interesting content beyond and around the books themselves.

The sites also have a contact form for the press, which means if someone wants to do a story on something I write, that’s the address through which to funnel it. There’s nothing about hosting anyone.

I host fellow authors on A Biblio Paradise, but that is by invitation-only, and there is, specifically, no contact form on that blog.

No hook, no research, no understanding of what I do, no information. That equals no invitation.

It’s not even the virtual equivalent of a cold call, because professionals who cold call actually dig up information about the business before they call.

It’s insulting.

Other emails, which go directly into the Trash or Spam folders, are from people who call themselves “designers” or say they edit photos. They send short emails berating the look and content of my sites and DEMANDING that I hire them.

No specifics, mind you. Nothing about the specific site. Just a vague email full of insults and demands.

Do I believe my sites are perfect? Of course not. They are a work in progress, organisms that grow and change with my work.

But why would I pay someone who insults me?

Especially, again, when it’s obvious they haven’t done the least bit of research on what I do or what I need.

When you pitch to guest on a blog:

Read the blog. Or, if you’ve come across a website and you want to write content for them, read the site. What is the tone and the slant of the content? What are the topics? What’s the length of a post? How many links or other resources, on average, in a post?

Read the guidelines. Does the blog accept pitches for guest posts? What should the pitch include? What should the post include?

Follow the guidelines. Submission guidelines are there for a reason. They streamline the process. They are a good indicator if the person pitching/querying is a good fit. They are a good way to weed out the unprofessional, who tend to be the ones who think they’re too talented to bother with pesky guidelines. They’re not.

Craft a great pitch SPECIFIC to that market. Include a salutation, hook, one-paragraph ACTIVELY WORDED pitch. Add a few sentences with your credentials, and why you wanted to pitch to that particular site. Sign off with your name and your website.

Be positive and polite. Even if you believe you can write better than those currently writing for a site, don’t insult them. Pitch yourself as an addition to the team, not that you’re so great they should fire everyone they already have. You don’t yet know their story or their dynamics.

Proofread. When I worked for a publisher in NYC, part of my job was to screen unsolicited submissions, aka The Slush Pile. If I found something good, I wrote up a report and sent it up the editorial/acquisitions chain. However, in addition to content guidelines, the rule was that if there were more than THREE errors in the entire submission package (query letter, synopsis, sample chapters), it was rejected. That was especially true of the author obviously didn’t know the difference between a possessive, a plural, and a contraction. I still use those rules.

I know I’ve lost gigs because I sent off the pitch/query package too quickly and, only later when I filed or logged the submission, did I catch the errors. And the editors were right not to hire me. I did not demonstrate the proper care in my pitch.

Track your pitches and submissions. I have an entire Topic Workbook called Setting Up Your Submission System that tells you how. This is important. You need to know when and where you sent material.

Know when to follow-up, how to follow-up, and when to let go. Again, read the guidelines. They often give response time. Do not nag during that time. If you’re doing simultaneous submission and get a bite elsewhere, then, yes, definitely let the other markets know. But if the guidelines say four months, don’t start demanding a response in a week. In fact, because most sites are overworked and underpaid, I usually give an additional two to three weeks outside of the stated response time before follow up.

Be polite when you follow up. That should go without saying, but there you go.

Don’t argue if the answer is no. Arguing, threatening, insulting is only going to get you a reputation as unprofessional and not worth the work.

Precise, polite, professional. That’s how you craft a positive pitch and land the work. It TAKES work to LAND work.