Design Nuance (Part 2): Crafting an Email

Sometimes the road to freelancing is paved with face plants that dislodge deep seeded pride, and my earliest/hardest surrounded email communications. Despite using proper grammar in all circumstances, I was failing to receive responses and losing my nerve. Regardless of my efforts, the daunting truth is this: emails are junk, and job hunting is dating. So how do designers land a fro-yo date with their dream job via virtual communiqué? 

Avoid over commitment. 

If you're like me, the prospect of paid work you love finds you slightly desperate, heart on your sleeve, gushing over every proposal and inquiry. This has led to relational damage when nothing manifested and encouraged subsequent bouts of depression. Exactly how many pints of Chunky Monkey I hate-ate before learning to stop premature commitment is a mystery. Over the years I've learned to temper my excitement with cautious language, so I'm not agreeing to anything outright that makes me uncomfortable. This also prevents the subsequent e-vomit of life story and passion for project, in the event I am approaching someone else for business.

Keeping a neutral voice in emails is crucial, as assigning tone is all too easy to do. Overcommitting verbally without having the full project scope smacks of greenness, and excessive punctuation (or lack thereof) can appear ranty or clipped. When being approached by a new client, politely ask for more information on their project and express interest if there is any. "I'm excited to learn more about this potential opportunity," sounds business-y but gives some emotional padding to back out if the project isn't fitting. For the record, I am guilty of the overly enthusiastic double exclamation points- conveying over enthusiasm makes any decline in subject seem flat and annoyed by contrast.


Be concise. 

Receiving gushing emails are extremely flattering, but responding to them becomes awkward and a little difficult if no request is broached. Start off by spelling their name correctly and introducing yourself briefly with your name, title(s) and place of residence. If possible, including a few hyperlinks to portfolios, as links will most likely be opened here than at the signature. Have a topic: a fact or story to share, seek advice, or ask to meet up. As with face-to-face communication, pointless word vomit renders a conversation dead with the recipient gazing at their shoes. When ending an email, include a directive so the recipient knows what to do next. A call to action, like setting a meeting at a certain time and date or asking for their opinion tells your intended your expectations for the interaction.

When making a call to action such as a meeting, always give the reader a date and time range when you are most available. Having an important person's attention span is a gift, so endeavor to lessen the back and forth by getting directly to the point. Being open-ended (i.e. 'Whatever works best for you, just let me know!') sounds flexible, but puts the responsibility back on the client to make a meeting. Currently you are trying to entice them, and adding obligation to their plate backfires. People generally like getting out of the office around midday to snag a long lunch, so opting for a 10- 2pm window is usually spot on.


Know your audience.

When sending emails back and forth to potential clients, I tend to mirror their formatting, minus any grammatical and spelling errors. Mimicking the client's vocabulary can help them feel comfortable and understood, easing the awkwardness of the first few interactions. I've found I unintentionally do this in real life by match a person's level of enthusiasm and volume, with great success.

Generally, I've found most of my emails go to recipients at in-house jobs. One of the perks of working in-house is being free of personal responsibility, umbrellaed under the larger company should something go awry. This is an easy concept to forget as a freelancer, where the business lives and dies on your shoulders. To ease any moments of potential tension– asking a question that demands action, accepting a job, quelling a misunderstanding– refer to the recipient with their company name. "Is it possible to conference call the XXX team on Monday to review the brief?"  "Am I a good fit for XXX's newest campaign?" In tense scenarios, do not refer to your contact by name or second person you, which appears pointed and combative.

I often contact people further down the creative totem pole when cold emailing, as I may admire their personal work or realize they receive less attention than ADs or CDs and may better respond to my requests. If this occurs, I will generally ask if they will point me towards the person most able to handle my questions. Most are happy to acquiesce in passing along contact information, but assuming my contact has infinite power to grant my wishes becomes awkward and increases time between responses.


The silence that follows.

After much pig sweating and anxiety, the send button is tentatively clicked and everything is questioned until a response returns, if ever. I cannot emphasize how much this is every dating scenario I've ever had. Most professionals (especially self-employed creatives and those at well known companies) receive a ton of mail on a regular basis and need time to catch up. Four to seven business days is a reasonable wait time for the average bear, but if you're swinging high and away for the über popular, expect to wait about two weeks. 

Now comes the awkward part- in the event a response it not given, it is okay to reach out again. Likely the recipient became distracted by other nonsense and simply forgot to get back to you. Avoid bursting forth like a glass case of emotion by sending a two step email. Step one: confirm they received the email. Again, it's possible the spam gods funneled your heartfelt plea to the pit of male enhancement promises. Step two: give some dates and times asking if they are available to chat via Skype or the phone. Pressing someone can feel awkward, but politely requesting an audience is the best way to get a direct answer in terms of interest.

Should you not receive a response, know you are in great company. Everyone has their share of missed opportunities and unreturned messages, but there are plenty of jobs in the sea. To catch a big fish/dream client, one needs the perfect hook and lots of patience. Thankfully, these practices greatly reduced my stack of unanswered emails and opened doors to higher caliber contacts. 

Interested in trying out your skills? Feel free to shoot me a test email at or pop a reply down in the comments and I'll do my best to help you out!