Developers: David Colgan helps you escape 9-to-5 employment by building an effective freelance business you'll love to run.

Nobody cares about you, and why this is a good thing

No, I am not looking for app development.


The other day I was looking through my spam folder (as normal people often do), and found what is quite likely the worst possible outreach email. This is probably why Gmail decided it wasn't even worth showing me in the first place. Let's dissect!

From: Mark Martel Subject: Hello, Are you looking for App Development?

Dear

is the America's most trusted app development company for startups and enterprises. We work with cool clients and make apps that excite us. We don't settle - and neither should you when it's time to hire a mobile app development company.

A strong intro with the botched mail merge forgetting to put in my name which they apparently don't have. Unless you are in a relationship with me, let's not be calling me "Dear".

If for some reason I haven't already trashed this email after the first word, the first full line is 100% all "me me me". Our company is the most trusted. We only work with cool clients. We only make apps that excite us. We don't settle. Swell! I too like to think I'm kind of a big deal like everyone else.

We're ready to build your mobile success. I would appreciate if you can reply back to me with the best time & number to reach you to discuss your project in detail.

Our expertise is in following areas:

  • Android Application
  • iPhone Applications
  • iPad Applications
  • Enterprises level Applications
  • GPS/Location based Applications
  • Field Force Management Application
  • Travel Based Mobile App Development
  • GPS Based Real Time Application
  • Business Based App Development
  • News Based App Development
  • Ecommerce Based App Development
  • Finance/Banking Application
  • Sports Based App Development
  • Address Book Applications
  • Health, Fitness Based App Development
  • Social Networking (Facebook/ Twitter)
  • Calendar based Apps
  • Weather Reporting Based App Development

Oh boy, now I have homework. Not only do I have to sift through this giant list of even more irrelevant categories, you want me to give you my phone number? Someone I've literally never heard of until now? And we'll discuss this project you seem to think I have laying around ready to hand off if only somebody emailed me about!

Are you are interested? Click Here to Get a FREE Quote.

Building World-beating Apps is our Business!

Regards, Brandon Miller

Yes, we've been over this before a few lines earlier. You are literally the greatest thing in the world.

Am I interested? No! You did no research to even consider if I was. I'm definitely not clicking that link.

And my favorite part: Mark sent this message, but it's signed Brandon! If you are going to use a CRM tool, don't botch the mail merge! Nothing says "I don't care at all about you" than feeling like you are sending this exact email out to everyone you know.

Fun fact: nobody cares about you.

This is a fun fact because most people are so worried about themselves that being others focused is actually pretty remarkable.

The above email is an extreme case, but I've seen many emails like one from real freelancers. They boil down to "Look at me! I'm the best! Give me money!"

I try to make it a rule to never ask for something the first time I contact someone. That just wouldn't be nice anyways, but it also violates the rule of Provide Value.

When in doubt: Provide Value

Are you feeling sleazy about the idea of pitching your services to others? Well, why do you feel that way? Is it because you feel like you are imposing, tricking, or lying? That you are some kind of used car salesperson who is trying to pull a fast one on this poor potential client? Do you feel like you are spamming like Mark and/or Brandon above?

Well then here's your new mantra: Provide Value.

Instead of sending emails that are me me me, send emails that are you you you. Give before you even think about getting. You'll stand out in a sea of self-focused freelancers out there. Eventually you'll have to pitch yourself if you want to actually close any deals, but that doesn't have to be the first step.

How can you provide value?

1. Complement their work

Even if you think you have nothing to offer someone, you can always complement their work.

Anyone you might be outreaching to has probably done something visible online, and if you do a little research to check it out, you demonstrate that you actually care about them, and not just what you can get from them.

Having steeped myself in this outreach stuff, all of these techniques are incredibly transparent to me at this point, and yet I still appreciate complements. Putting yourself out there online is often a difficult and emotionally risky thing to do, and it's very easy to find criticism. Getting a sincere compliment always makes my day, and I bet that's true of nearly everyone.

I had a mindset for a while that people who are important get so much feedback and compliments that it would basically be annoying for me to add one to the pile. I've literally never actually heard anyone say "Stop giving me compliments. They are annoying." On the contrary, I've heard many online voices say, "Thank you so so much for your compliment. It meant so much to me to hear."

2. Share something you think they'd find interesting or helpful

The internet is a vast landfill of awful content punctuated by small chunks of gold hidden between the poo and trash and vitriol. Put your early morning web surfing habit to good use by sending particularly good pieces of content to someone who you think would enjoy it. Curation is a task anyone can do and can be highly valuable, especially for people who have more money than time.

I've shared online articles, podcasts (especially specific episodes, don't give them homework!), conference talks, code libraries, etc.

3. Offer to keep them in mind for referrals

An exchange I've seen repeatedly:

Me: I'd love to add you to my referral database. What does your ideal client look like?

Them: I do X for Y. Thanks so much! What do you do?

And then it's natural to share what you do since they asked.

4. Actually make a referral or introduction

If you are keeping track of all of these people you are contacting in some kind of system, you actually can make connections between what different people are looking for, and connect people who might benefit from connecting. If you introduce someone to a valuable connection, you've provided a huge amount of value.

5. Answer questions

If you see someone you are outreaching to ask a question somewhere, and you know the answer, write them your answer. Don't assume someone else has already done so. I see this on Twitter fairly often.

The Abundance Mindset: Business is not a zero sum game

There are a lot of other ways to provide value beyond the above ways. Identify what you think a person would appreciate and see if you can contribute to that.

People like to buy from people they know and like. People get to know you by repeated exposures to you, even small ones. People like people who are positive and helpful and friendly. Casual interactions and small talk build rapport.

Consider providing a disproportionately larger amount of value for every ask you make of someone. This is what I've heard called "The Abundance Mindset" - there is enough money, business, opportunity, and wealth to go around. Unlike what some rich and powerful people seem to think, business is not a zero sum game. In order for me to get some, I don't have to get it by taking from you.

Discussing how to actually pitch yourself will be the subject of a future letter! But this should be enough to get you started on opening conversations.

Additional reading: Seth Godin and Permission Marketing

One of my virtual online mentors is Seth Godin. He's written a slew of short, easy to read, but highly valuable advice-giving books that I can recommend all of. One that stands out in light of this discussion is Permission Marketing. Seth's whole shtick is: people hate being sold to. Years of TV advertising has trained everyone to ignore unsolicited pitches. In order to find a receptive audience, you first have to get permission to start a conversation before even thinking about a sale.


I send everything I make first as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!

Learn to Freelance from
The Less Boring Letters

Learn freelancing from someone who's gone down this path before. In the the Less Boring Letters, I'll teach you everything I know about ditching the 9-to-5. Build a profitable new business that you love, benefitting from all of my trial and error.

"I send all my newsletters straight to an email box I almost never read... except David's! Insightful, honest, sometimes downright hilarious, and truly helpful even after years of freelancing."

Elise Fog
It Must Bee: Websites with a Buzz!