How to Trigger New Business – When Starting Out or Already Established

Today we’re going to talk about a simple email that triggers referrals and inquiries from your existing professional and personal network. It is amazing both in its simplicity and effectiveness.

It’s a great way to get started out – and it can even be reused periodically to generate new referrals and inquiries. That’s how I still use it.

This technique has directly generated tens of thousands of dollars of freelancing income for me. Indirectly it’s likely accountable for a bit more, but I can’t determine that for certain.

I did not think to send out anything like this systematically until, embarrassingly, about three years ago. This was well after I’d started freelancing (and well after I’d made some other vague ad hoc attempts to email my network about my availability and services).

I call it the “launch” letter. It is strategically designed, both in form and wording, to facilitate referrals and inquiries both immediately and over time.

It can take the form of an email sent to those who already know, like, and trust you as well as a standard business letter sent to the same individuals and possibly a slightly larger portion of your network.

It can be used in three situations by both new and established freelancers alike:

  1. When you’re getting a new freelancing practice going
  2. After you’ve been freelancing for a while (when you realize you haven’t formally “launched” your business to your network)
  3. Every couple of years to “relaunch” (a way of updating your network on what you’re focusing on right now and reminding them about what you do, since they’ve probably forgotten, and to do so in a friendly way.)

I did not invent this idea. I first read about an approach taken by Thomas Myer in From Geek to Peak: Your First 365 Days as a Technical Consultant. I took the concept and tweaked it to my personality and practice, then ran with it.

Here’s how Thomas describes it:

The goal of the email is very simple: tell them about your “new news” and describe what you do in a very easy-to-understand way.

And the key to success:

The key to making this email succeed (90% of which will be received by the recipient and then filed away or trashed without comment) is to stay non-salesy in your approach and ultra-specific with the details.

Further:

These people are probably not going to hire you personally but each of these persons has connections to someone who might hire you …treat this email as though it might end up being forwarded to someone else, because it very well may be.

The nifty thing about this email is that it can be used to both launch as well as (periodically) relaunch your freelancing business …and it works even if you aren’t (yet) following up with your network / mailing list in any other way.

Now when I first set out freelancing I did sent out emails to various folks I already knew. Those emails, however, were vague and informal. I had not put the thought into figuring out how to relate to the recipient nor make the email “forward-friendly.”

When I discovered this more systematic approach, I ran with it on faith. The results, thankfully, were impressive. Now I aim to “relaunch” myself every 12 to 18 months.

So I’ll share with you that first “launch” email I sent out. This one, specifically, generated half a dozen inquiries and a referral of an IT manager at a large institution. Two inquiries became clients soon thereafter.

Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2011 14:11:28 -0800
Subject: Update on Josh’s consulting practice
From: Josh Richards <jtr@JoshRichardsConsulting.com>

Friends, Family, and Colleagues:

Well, it seems that 4+ years into my solo consulting practice, one thing remains the same… To quote Alan Weiss: “I’m constantly amazed at how stupid I was two weeks ago.”

Seriously. I was talking to an old friend recently. He had referred a prospective client to me and I was showing my gratitude. I expected a low-key discussion.

Instead, he “called me out” on a mistake I’d been making — as only a good friend or trusted partner can do.

Obviously, I had to pay attention.

It seems that, even though he refers folks my way periodically, he is not clear on what I do and who I’m working with these days. He hinted that he’d missed (and even avoided) referring potential business my way due to his uncertainty about my acceptance of it.

Doh! I’d screwed up and I really wanted to fix it. Immediately, but not just for him. So I slapped myself on the forehead (figuratively speaking) and got to work. Hence, among other things, this email.

I am embarrassed to say this, but there is a decent chance that you don’t know what I do, or at least not all that I do (even if you think you do, and even if you’ve referred someone to me, or I’ve helped you with a project). Yes, even if you are related to me (Hi mom!) or married to me (Hi honey!).

I apologize for this oversight. On that note, I would like to remedy the situation.

Q: What do you do?

A: […]

Q: What does that mean? What do you actually do?

A: […]

I’ve been fortunate to work with many of the region’s strongest, most successful, and highest growth organizations. I typically work with the CIO (sometimes CTO), the VP of IT, the IT director, the IT Manager, the CEO or President (sometimes the business owner). What I do is not (typically) industry specific and I’ve worked with clients in many different industries, ranging from solo entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 corporations.

If you know anyone like that in your personal network of friends and associates who needs help with their IT department or technology infrastructure could you make an introduction? I would appreciate any and all connections as I continue to grow my solo practice. In fact, to make it easy for you, feel free to forward or “cut-and-paste” this email to those individuals that come to mind. At a future date, if I come up in conversation, you can do the same or simply direct folks to my main web site at http://www.JoshRichardsConsulting.com.

Here is all of my contact information, so please update your address books:

(office)
Telephone: +1 805-xxx-xxx
Fax: +1 805-xxx-xxxx
(email)
Primary: XXX@JoshRichardsConsulting.com
Backup: XXX@gmail.com
(web)
Site: http://www.JoshRichardsConsulting.com
Blog: http://www.JoshRichardsConsulting.com

Thanks again for all your encouragement and support over the years!

-jr

Something humorous happened the first time I sent the exact above email to my network: That IT manager that was referred to me, as a result of this same email, was referred by two separate individuals within minutes. That is, he received forwards from both of them. :-) He, at first, thought they’d ganged up on him, but they actually had no knowledge of each others’ actions. Yes, he became a client. :-)

If you are just starting out as a freelancer, you can make the above email far simpler, basically following the same approach: A quick “Hello, I’ve been thinking about freelancing for a while now and feel I’m at a point in my life where I would like to start pursuing it on the side” and a list of skills or business problems saying something like “I’m available for the following, on a freelancing basis. If you run across someone who would benefit from my skills, please pass along my contact information (below) and/or this email. Thanks!”

I prefer email over letters, because they are easier for the recipient to forward as well find (using their email programs search feature) to refer back to. Letters work for folks you don’t know as well (you don’t want to spam folks with email).

If you’re just get started, do these four things over the coming week or so:

  1. Compose a launch or relaunch letter/email similar to this.
  2. Compile a list of 25-50 people that already know, like, and trust you.
  3. Send your launch or relaunch letter to your first 25 people, either by email or my mail (or both if you want to cover all your bases).
  4. Post your launch letter, or an abbreviated version of it, to your blog and social media accounts
  5. (bonus) Compile a list of another people and repeat until you’ve exhausted your personal and professional networks.
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