5 Cover Letter Writing Tips for Freelancers

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Arguably the trickiest part of the job hunting process comes long before you start picking out interview attire. Writing cover letters is difficult, dull, and can feel like an exercise in futility.

This is especially true when you're looking for a freelance gig instead of a full-time job. If you're not even trying to talk someone into covering your health insurance costs, should you have to go through the teeth-pulling and self-promotion?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Cover letters are even more important when you're looking for freelance work, because you're not just trying to woo a hiring manager into investigating your resume: you're flat-out selling yourself as a provider of a service. In short, it's a sales pitch, and you need to know how to create one that works if you want to stay in business.

The good news is that wrapping your head around that one fact -- that you're selling your services -- is enormously helpful when it comes to simplifying the process. Here's how to do it.

5 Cover Letter Tips for Freelancers

1. Focus on being the solution to the problem.

Why do they need you? Because they have a problem they need to solve. Your goal is to show why you're the best person to provide that solution.

This focuses your cover letter right off the bat. No longer are you thinking of your entire work history or even the skills of which you're most proud. You now have a laser focus on the thing that really matters: fixing what's broken, turning the merely good into the truly excellent, and saving the company time and money as you do so.

2. Format for the bored and busy.

At its most basic, the freelancer's cover letter looks a lot like everyone else's. You need at least three paragraphs in your letter: an introduction explaining how you found the job or lead, a middle paragraph outlining your skills and abilities, and a closing paragraph indicating how you'll be following up.

Beyond that, focus on making your letter easy to scan. Bullets are your friend, especially when you're listing your relevant skills or projects that demonstrate your talents. Assume that the person reading your cover letter will spend only a few seconds on it, and make sure that he or she can see the highlights in just a quick glance.

Don't forget to include keywords, especially if your materials will have to go through some sort of screening software in order to make it to a real, live person.

3. Give it a personal touch.

At least 60 percent of all jobs are acquired through networking, and freelancing is no exception. It's always better if you can have a mutual acquaintance pass along your materials, including your cover letter.

If you can't dig up a connection through colleagues, friends, family, or social media, take the time to find an actual name to include in your salutation. Avoid "to whom it may concern" if all possible. Generic addresses let the hiring manager off the hook. Think of how responsive you are to email solicitations from companies that can't even be bothered to figure out your name. (Not very.)

4. Let your work speak for yourself.

Don't forget to include URLs to online clips, sites, or projects, or references to an attached portfolio of your work, along with an explanation for why these particular work samples are relevant to the company's needs. Don't include everything you've ever done, or anything unrelated to the industry or the company.

5. Follow up, but don't stalk.

Close your cover letter by letting the hiring manager know when you're going to follow up, and then keep your commitment -- but don't continue to pursue the contact if things don't pan out.

If you don't hear back after your initial communication, or at the designated time of follow up, it might be appropriate to try one more time, after two weeks or so, to make sure that you haven't slipped the manager's mind.

After that, though, you have to assume that it's not going to happen with this particular potential client, at least at this time, and move on. If you exercise restraint, you won't close yourself off to future opportunities to work with the company.