One of the trickiest parts of running your business can be finding new clients. So many of us know what we have to offer, but conveying it clearly to the right person at the right time can be challenging. And a lot of us don’t want to sell. You want the work, but you don’t want to be pushy or gimmicky or come across as desperate. So you spend the time to craft a clever, well-written pitch that you believe will connect. You send it out to your carefully curated list of ideal customers. And then… crickets. So many people don’t even bother to respond, and that leaves you confused, disappointed, and wondering what you could’ve done differently.

I’ve been getting a lot of pitches lately. Companies pushing their services for my business. Production people looking for work. Podcast editors searching for new clients. Publicists wanting their client to be a guest.

Most of them don’t get my consideration at all because the person sending them didn’t put any thought into what I do, why my company might need their help, or what my podcast is even about.

Based on what I’ve seen , and what I’ve heard from other business owners lately, here are some suggestions for pitching new clients.

1. Do your research

Before sending out an email, whether it’s to one person or a massive marketing effort, do your research first. Make sure that the person or company you’re pitching is a good match for your services. For example, I’m not going to give a second thought to someone sending me a request to post a guest article on my blog, considering I don’t really have a blog. I do post transcripts from my podcast episodes on my website, and some of those turn into articles on Medium and LinkedIn, but a quick glance at my site would tell them I don’t have any use for what they’re offering. But I get those requests all the time.

Or when someone sends a pitch to be a guest on my podcast, but her expertise has nothing to do with business for self-employed creatives. If you haven’t even taken the time to listen to an episode, you’re wasting my time and doing yourself a disservice – why would you want to be on a podcast if you don’t even know what it’s about?

It becomes really obvious when people are working from a generic list and sending out a templated email to everyone on it. That’s never going to work for me. I’m not going to choose a vendor who put me into a generic category with a bunch or other people. If I need services, I’ll go with someone who has taken the time to learn about my business needs first.

2. Make it about THEM, not you

The most common mistake I see in pitch emails is when the vendor makes it about them and not the potential client. “Here’s what I like to do,” “I would love to work on this because I am passionate about this industry,” or even “I need the work right now.” While it is good to show that you have a personal connection with what the client is doing, that shouldn’t be the focus. Instead, you should concentrate on what you can do for them. “I can save you money through this process,” or “I can help your company grow by doing x, y, and z,” or “by outsourcing these services to me, you’ll have more time available to focus on more important things.” You want to solve a problem for them and make their lives easier. To put it bluntly, if they don’t know you, they don’t care what you want or need yet. When I choose to work with a new vendor, I look for someone who’s considering my needs as a client and not what I can do for them.

3. Personalize it

Let the potential client know why you connect with them – whether it’s a personal experience, a particular set of values, or sharing a similar goal. This is all part of that initial research into the company. Why do you want to work for them? Why should they want to work with you? These days, people are looking for much more than a service provider. They want to build relationships with others who resonate with their ideals.

We all understand the importance of templates and other time-saving tricks, and it’s perfectly fine to keep chunks of your sales emails the same. But you want the potential client to feel that you are talking to him or her directly. I’d suggest opening with the personal touches so there’s a better chance your email will get read and not instantly marked as spam.

4. Be authentic

When pitching a new client, or interviewing for a new job, people have a tendency to say what they think the hiring person wants to hear. This often comes across as rehearsed speeches, catch phrases, and vague descriptions of what they have to offer. But if everyone is basically saying the same thing, what sets you apart?

When I was in my early 20s, the owner of a company had been pursuing me pretty persistently with a job offer. At the time, I was hesitant and thought I should stay loyal to the company I’d been with for years. I told him no several times, but he kept calling. I wanted him to leave me alone, so I finally agreed to meet him at his office to talk about the position. Because I didn’t care about it, I made zero effort. I showed up in jeans & a t-shirt, and I was very blunt in the conversation. I pointed out all the problems I saw with his company, and said pretty much the opposite of what you’re “supposed to” say in a job interview.

But by doing that, it made him want to hire me even more. The other people he had been talking to were giving him the same canned responses and trying to say the “right” things instead of being completely honest. It wasn’t my intention, but by just being myself and sharing my unfiltered opinions, I showed him why I was the right choice. At the same time, having that real conversation helped me realize that it was a better move for me, too. The lesson definitely stood out to me in that situation – be who you are and not who you think they want you to be. That’s true in every element of life.

5. Show your value

The best way to engage new clients is to identify their pain points and offer solutions. Sometimes you can do this before they can – other business owners tend to get so busy that they don’t always have time to think about where they need support. But if you show up with the right offer at the right time, you’ll grab their attention.

Do you have a specific idea for that person’s company? Can you provide a case study that shows the value you provide? Do you have any free resources you can share? And by free I don’t mean a freebie that requires an email subscription, or a lead magnet that end in a sales pitch, but something genuinely free like a blog article or podcast episode that relates to your pitch. You don’t want to send an attachment, but you can include some direct links in your email, giving the option to explore further if they want to.

6. Make it easy for them to learn about you

People like to find out as much as possible about someone they’re considering hiring. Make it easy for them to find helpful, positive information about you. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and clearly shows what services you offer. Is your LinkedIn page up to date? This is often the first place people go, so it should be as detailed as your resume, if not more. Be sure to include recent projects, clients, credits list, portfolio samples, or whatever is relevant to your industry and the people you’re trying to attract.

Don’t forget they’re going to look for you on social, so you always want to be mindful of what you post, even if it’s on your personal page and not your business ones. You can learn a lot about a person by what he or she shares. Not long ago, I was approached by a designer who sent a thoughtful email about some things I’d been thinking about outsourcing anyway. But as I was doing my research, I found her Facebook page to be full of complaints – daily posts about everything negative… not political, just life in general… and it made me reconsider. Her design work was good, but her attitude was a big red flag for me, so I went in another direction.

7. Have strong references

I’m fortunate because my business has been almost entirely referral based. It can seem like new clients just appear when I need them, which might look like luck from the outside. But while there is always some element of luck at play, I won’t discredit the years of hard work and effort I’ve put into building that reputation that gets me recommended. My work ethic, and willingness to go the extra mile for my clients, has led me to more opportunities than my specific experience.

When I first started Aardvark Girl, I had never worked on a live show. But thanks to someone I’d only worked with for a couple weeks, I landed a 9-month project manager role for a huge event. She knew from that short amount of time together, and the years of friendship that followed, that I would be perfect for that job.

More recently, I was referred to a producer who was looking for a production manager for a popular cable series, but he really wanted someone with experience in reality TV. I was honest with him that I’d never worked on a show, but added that I’ve worked on a presidential debate, a feature-length documentary that required 200 interviews in 25 cities in 3 months, and a rocket launch, so I was confident I could handle any level of chaos a show might involve. He talked to my references for a few minutes, and now I’m working on the entire season.

Never underestimate the importance of having strong references available for your potential clients. List them on your resume. Get recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. Post testimonials on your website. It can be uncomfortable to brag about yourself, so let other people do it for you! But, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that you’re good at what you do. People need to know that if they’re going to work with you. It’s important to act confidently so others know they can trust you to get the job done.

8. Don’t take it personally

No one likes rejection. It’s hard when you put all this effort into building your business, sharing your value, and writing a pitch… just to hear a “no,” or, worse, nothing at all. But it’s important to remember not to take it personally. Rejection isn’t always about you. You never really know what’s going on with the other person. She might not have the budget or need your services right now. He may have had a bad experience with outsourcing and doesn’t want to trust someone new yet. They might be overwhelmed with something in their personal lives and just aren’t reading all those emails right now. It has nothing to do with you at all.

I’d even say it’s rarely about you. It’s easy to think, “Oh, I didn’t hear back from that person so my pitch must’ve been bad” or “Well, she said no, so maybe I’m not as good as I think” or all kinds of negative self-talk. But try to ignore that. And I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but those people likely didn’t give you a second thought. And that had nothing to do with you but was entirely about where they were in their own lives at that moment. Timing is everything and sometimes it’s just not the right time. It has no reflection on your talent, ability, or personality.

9. Manage Your Expectations

Pitching new clients isn’t easy. It can be time consuming, nerve-wracking, and frustrating. Remember to manage your expectations. Most email marketing studies in 2020 show average open rates of 20% or lower – that means that only 20% of people are even opening emails, let alone reading them and converting into clients. So give yourself a break!

10. Send it and let it go

Word of mouth can go a long way, so talk to the people you know, especially those with whom you’ve worked in the past. Let them know what you’re offering and ask if they need your services, or know anyone who does. And when you’re reaching out to new people, put yourself in their position and think about how you’d like to be approached, and what would make you accept someone’s offer. Put your best effort into it, hit send, and let it go. Don’t obsess over any lack of response, or beat yourself up thinking you’ve failed. That’s simply not the case. Remember that the time you’re spending is an investment in yourself, and keep trying. You never know who might connect at the right moment and become your next big client.