I’d gone through a few droughts as a freelancer, but this stretch was particularly dry. Each time I thought I had a client, they’d slip out of my grasp like sand through an hourglass.
The magnitude of every new client meeting ballooned greater and greater. Before each meeting, I went in knowing one thing: I need this job.
It’s the nature of being a freelancer. By definition, the work ends.
Their reasons for backing out at the last minute were always different. Some would have a change in plans or strategy, others balked at my rate, but most just stopped replying altogether. I knew it was something I was doing wrong.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a hole in my sales funnel.
As a freelancer, you have a lot on your shoulders. Your client work, accounting, marketing, contracts—the list goes on and on.
And the truth is these things cause you to miss the problems with your business. In fact, there’s one huge problem that almost every freelancer I’ve met suffers from: they use a phrase that hurts their credibility and repels clients.
“Let me know how I can help.”
When I said this I honestly thought I was being helpful. I’d close almost every email with some variation of “Just let me know…” It felt like the right way to end an email. Heck, it seemed professional.
“Never end a client email with ‘Let me know how I can help.'”
Inevitably conversations with new clients would reach a point where we needed to discuss solutions, and I thought by letting the client dictate what they wanted from me, I was allowing them to get exactly what they were looking for.
But the reality was this was a steaming pile of crap. By ending my emails like this, I was dropping a wheelbarrow full of work on my client’s desk and saying “Here. You deal with it.”
It reeked of incompetence.
After all, these were the very problems I was (not) being paid to solve. So I began to do the complete opposite and prescribe solutions at the end of every email.
At first, this felt wrong. I felt like I was encroaching onto the client’s domain and barking orders. Could I really boss the client around and tell them what they needed to do? It was intimidating (until I became drunk with power anyway).
But I slowly started to notice a change. Clients were increasingly respondent to my emails. Even prospects were beginning to chirp back more times than not.
Just by suggesting a next step at the end of my email, I was able to double the amount of people who responded to me.
This next step was different for every email, but it always followed the same 2-step structure. I would include:
- My suggested next step
- What we could do in the event they don’t want to do that
Sometimes every line in my email would lead up to this 2-step solution. Sometimes the solution was the entire email.
“Suggest a next step at the end of your email and double your responses.”
If someone wanted a meeting, I’d suggest a time and instead of saying, “Let me know if this works for you.” I’d switch that out for, “If not, than X time/day also works or I’m free at X time/day.”
Think about that. You’re not just saving yourself the extra time of writing 2 separate emails, you’re saving you (and your client) the time in between these emails.
That set the tone that my time was money.
Beyond just setting the tone though, it actually proved I was a professional capable of making the right decisions by exhibiting these qualities instead of just claiming them. In a way, it showed my hands wouldn’t have to be held throughout the entire project.
At the very least, it signaled my clients would just have to muster a “sounds good” in order to reply to my emails. I made sure that was the case throughout the project, too.
Most of all, though, it meant I was shoveling work away from my client and taking the burden on myself. This is the entire point of freelancing: to take work away from clients. That’s how I look at every interaction now.
“If a client can just reply ‘sounds good’ to your email, you’re right on.”
You’re probably ending a lot of emails with “let me know.” That’s okay—most people end emails like that. In fact, when we read that phrase at the end of an email, our brains automatically transform “let me know” to “I just got to the end of this email, and I don’t know what to write next. So there.”
Don’t sweat it. Here’s how you stop writing bad emails:
- Before writing an email, start by knowing the next step you’re going to propose, then write down that part first. Do this for every email.
- When you write your email, don’t begin by wandering aimlessly from topic to topic. Make every sentence reinforce this next-step.
- By the time you get to the bottom of your email and it’s time to propose the next step, you’re done. You’ve already written that.
A good rule of thumb: if a client can just reply “sounds good” to your email, you’re right on.
This was originally published to my newsletter.
I wrote a short book on writing emails that win you more clients in less time called: Emails That Win You Clients. I also run a service for design and development shops called Workshop, where I find you clients to email every day.