Freelance Matters | How to Write An Email


The ability to compose a good email is imperative if you’re a freelancer. I’ve read a few tips from people I admire about how to write an efficient email. One tip was your email should be no longer than 5 words, but I think that can come off cold and inaccessible. So here are a few tips on how I write my emails. Here I’m going to focus on correspondence to new prospects, in particular.

• If a potential client is emailing you to ask for rates consider having a standard response and maybe even a PDF that walks your client through your typical process, deliverables and rates. This will save you so much time in the long run, especially if you’re getting lots of requests.
• On that note – make your attachments under 1MB – it’s polite.
• Don’t worry if your proposal doesn’t match exactly what they’re asking for. Yes, acknowledge the request but maintain control of how you work and what you can bring to the table. If your client-to-be feels like you’re a good fit THEY will be flexible to you (versus the other way around).
• If your rates are firm say something like: “my minimum engagement fee is $X” or “My houly rate is $X/hr. with a minimum of X hours.”
• If you are open to negotiation or lowering your rates wait until the second conversation to discuss options. You don’t want to come off as desperate and you don’t want to work with whoever is simply looking for the best deal.
• Always let the new prospect know the best way to get a hold of you with additional questions or discussion. For me I always like to follow-up with a Skype session or in-person meeting – but I thrive on face-to-face interaction.
• Avoid emoticons and using language like “LOL”. Especially when something isn’t funny. An example of what not to do: “I typically charge $X. LOL! :-D”

Here is an example of an actual email transaction between me and a client-to-be: 

Hi Kathleen,

I’m starting a photography business.  I am trying to find someone to design a logo, business cards and a website.  Can you let me know what your rates are?

Thanks so much,

Here is my response: 
Hi Brian,
Congrats on taking the leap and starting your own photography business! My business partner, Tara, and I, through Braid, are best suited to work with small independent businesses, especially creative entrepreneurs.

We are typically hired by artistpreneurs, because we help them clarify their business vision along with a clarified brand identity. It is woven together with their brand positioning, story and look & feel.

How we do this is through our Braid Method. It is a $X engagement. The Braid Method is how Tara and I take small business owners through their barriers, opportunities and truths and finds patterns and common threads that rise to the top to create their authentic brand. A bit like brand therapy, actually. 

What you get with the Braid Method:
– business vision findings visually laid out in a multiple page PDF (get some perspective)
– business positioning + purpose more clearly defined (actually explain what you do!)
– brand story and messaging platform (bring it to life in a consistent & often emotional way)
– a new logo & identity (no more logo “shame!”)
– and one bonus design (typically stationery or a web header)

At the end of this process you will have this physical, visual guide to help you implement your cohesive brand. Not to mention loads of confidence moving forward in your creative business venture.

See the attached outline that shows how this step-by-step collaborative method works, and what you get. Let me know if you think we might be a fit, or if you have any questions about how we work and we can set up a call or a Skype! I would love to hear more about your vision.

Talk soon!


• Your emails should always be guiding your client, client-to-be or vendor along your process. Never leave them guessing what’s next.
• Forget witty and make your subject line relevant & specific to the content of the email – especially if it’s a client you have lots of projects with. It will make emails easier to find down the road.
• I always assign next steps or actionable items and timelines to every email. I also clearly establish who needs to take action – whether it’s me or the client.
• Write everything in bullets and/or numbered lists. This makes it easy for both parties to respond.
• I also like to bold or highlight action steps needing to be taken. 
• If you’re including an attachment say so in your email. Sometimes it’s easy to look over.
• If you’re sharing work describe what you’re showing with a brief creative rationale – even if it’s something simple and seems obvious to you sometimes it’s nice for the client to know why you made certain choices.
• Re-read your email before you hit send. This one is tough, I know. Sometimes you’re in a rush but you can avoid lots of confusion and really say what you mean if you quickly proof your email.
• Sometimes you should just pick up the phone. Nothing beats a candid back-and-forth conversation when you’re trying to work something out. But follow up with an email to confirm what you talked about and what action steps came out of it – this is great for future reference and a great way to avoid confusion.

In conclusion, I’m not saying that there is just one way to compose an email or that you should feel ashamed if you throw winky-faced emoticons in your email. I just think we should all be a little more aware of what we’re saying before we hit “send” (myself included) in order to get the most out of some pretty amazing technology.

I’m always reading on Twitter about people having hundreds of unread emails in their inbox. Now, I’m not going to pretend to be an organizational genius with color coded folders and labels in my inbox – but I never have more than a dozen unread emails at a time. Here’s what I do:
• If I can respond to an email in less than 5 minutes I respond RIGHT THEN.
• If I can’t respond quite yet I will read the email and then MARK AS UNREAD. This keeps the email from falling through the cracks. And if you use Gmail set your inbox type to “unread first”.
• Unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters and other email subscriptions.
• At the end of every Friday I archive all my emails. (What a great way to end the week).

Do you have any emailing tips you would like to add? 

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  1. I could go on and on about this. I have received requests that are in different fonts,text sizes and colors, all in one e-mail. I have had people who contact me multiple times after I have said no to their request, but they act like each e-mail is the first time they are talking to me. And the best was a week or so ago a woman who I had politely turned down 4 times this past year, she sent me a meeting announcement. Not a request, it said “our meeting to discuss blah blah blah is set at such and such a time and date. Talk to you then”. I didn’t respond. I love twitter and FB and all of those casual mediums, but if you are trying to do business, then I expect you to act like a professional. Great post K. Can I forward a link to the people who send me bad e-mail requests? No, I guess not.

  2. Danielle – YES. There are so many different scenarios that can go down via email it would be impossible to address them all. I should definitely add “Use one font size and color” to the list.

    I think overall, it’s just important to use common sense and remember that just because email correspondence can be convenient that it should still be considerate.

  3. Laura

    This was such a great post to read as a freelancer! I’m always looking for ways to improve my business and this information was top notch! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’m a big fan of the incomplete sentence iphone response. Or responses are that are spread out over 5 emails. Especially when I spend such thorough, diligent time making my emails organized, thoughtful, and comprehensive, this sends me an indicator that you are too busy/cool/disorganized/SOMETHING to be a worthwhile client or vendor of mine.

  5. Laura – I’m so glad it was helpful!

    Ben – Speaking of concise and thorough emails – you write some really killer emails. I do like the custom iPhone signatures that say something like “please excuse the brevity of this email – sent from an iPhone” so when it is short or riddled with typos I know why.

  6. Kate

    Thank you for this post, Kathleen!

    …so I’ve never archived my emails. That explains a lot.

  7. Laura

    Fantastic information! Thanks, lady!

  8. AWESOME post, Kathleen. It took me a little while to comment on this one because I’ve been a bit confused (read: frustrated) by one professional I’ve been working with who has been unable to respond to emails in coherent ways and ignores most of the action steps I send in emails. The only thing I would add is to make sure the email is complete when you proofread — Did you answer all of the questions put to you? Have you done all that’s requested before emailing back (if possible)?

    You handle clients brilliantly. That’s why they keep flowing in.

  9. Anni

    This is such an awesome post – I’ve had a messy (at best) system of replying to emails for the entirety of my photography business. I’ve been struggling to come up with good “canned” responses that I can personalize a bit in the beginning of the email, like you showed. I think my weakest point is what you so helpfully termed as asking for an actionable response – I feel like so often I don’t find one that “sounds” right to me, and then they don’t have anything they need to write back to, and I never hear from them again. Not sure if that’s just a not a good fit type of situation, or a client I could have otherwise worked with more.

  10. These are some excellent points. I’ve never understood people who have hundreds of unread emails either – especially those who use gmail. Gmail has such a good spam filter and tagging system, that there shouldn’t ever be an excuse for that many messages (when you know full well that 80% of those are probably advertising). I’ve tried to explain this concept to people before (filtering out spam, unsubscribing to solicitations, etc), but they just look so overwhelmed by the “task” of organzing it – don’t they realize that by marking spam as they go or unsubscribing from unnecessary things as they go that it doesn’t every have to get to the point of overwhelmingness?? It baffles my mind, really, because it’s such a simple solution.

  11. This article is extremely helpful for me. Although I am a web designer I was able to use this e-mail examples and tips to write a more friendly and approachable email. The PDF is a great idea – I was also considering adding packages on my website. And I can communicate the process via phone, in person, or skype! =)

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