Pitch your ideas like a winner
Teacher: Anne Hollyday
Success as a free agent often depends on your ability to pitch good ideas to potential clients.
Doing that well is part luck, part timing — and partly an art form. You have to make sure your pitch letter:
And you have to keep it short — chances are the person you write to is barraged with information every day.
Yes, it's a tall order. But it's not impossible.
Here are some tips on successful pitch letters from professional writers. Their advice is worth following even if you're a gardener, a photo stylist, or a microbiologist.
Do your homework
Before you write your pitch, learn something about the potential client. Find out all you can about the company, its business, its partners, what makes it unique and how it presents itself to the press and the public. Potential clients want to know if you're a good fit for their mission.
Your research might involve extensive reading and phone calls to employees who are willing to take a few seconds to explain the company's position in the marketplace.
Joshua Wolf Shenk, a writer on drug policy, pharmacology, and mental illness, says it's important to understand your clients' needs and make sure your expertise matches them.
"You could be an expert on the ecology of snails, and it wouldn't matter," he says. "Having an area of expertise counts when you know that people in that area are in demand."
Before you write your letter, call the company and try to unearth the right person to contact about getting work. Once you have the name of a contact, you can make a short pitch over the phone — a skill in itself.
"Part of the trick of navigating this territory is to know the fine line between persistence and annoyance," Shenk says.
It helps if you can show why your work is timely. Shenk pitched a book review about troubled boys to The Nation that the editors ignored until the shootings at Columbine High School. Then they ran it.
Yes, it sounds trite, but it's true: A great way to find contacts is to network.
"It's important to have contacts. The whole business turns on that," says Paul Sweeney, a New York-based business writer.
Sweeney knew the cartoonist Jeff Danziger at the Christian Science Monitor, who put him touch with The Monitor's business editor. The editor accepted an article by Sweeney on the tax rules governing foreign companies.
Time to start typing
Your letter should probably consist of three parts: the opening, or "lead"; the body; and the close.
The lead: The opening of your letter is your best chance to hook a client. If the lead doesn't entice the client to keep reading, you're idea is dead. Here's an example of a good, provocative opening that also nicely sums up what will follow: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth."
The body: The body of your pitch should be smooth and logical with brief and informative text. The middle section of the pitch is where you present the heart of the story. It should flow easily toward your ultimate point.
The close: Once you've given the compelling evidence for your proposal, there are standard ways you can wrap it up. Most pitches by saying they will call to make sure the client will pursue the project. They also give their phone and email information.
While it's often good to follow up your pitch with a phone call, use discretion — some people prefer to contact you.
Your pitch letter is crucial to generating good projects. Take the time to analyze your subject, call the client, write a catchy lead, compose brief and interesting text and wrap it up quickly.
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