Can Handwritten Letters Get You More Clients?

At the start of last year, I was in a tight spot.

I’m a freelance writer, and my steady flow of work had slowed down and dried up. In February 2014, I made just over $7,000. In February 2015, however, I made just under $2,000. That’s a 70% pay cut when compared to the previous year’s earnings.

With my income declining rapidly to the point at which it was well below my cost of living — one of the tricky aspects of living in Tokyo is that it’s one of the most expensive cities to live in — I was forced to take action.

I did what most freelancers did: I sent out email after email to my old clients.

The results were weak, one small project and a one-off gig.

So I decided to try something a little different and turned my shortage of work into an interesting marketing experiment.

From my own experience, and speaking with other freelancers, it seems like the typical freelancer’s response to a shortage of work plays out like this:

  1. After a few weeks without a project, begin to worry, and start contacting old clients.
  2. If that doesn’t work, start sending out cold email after cold email to new prospects.
  3. If there’s no response, go for low-budget jobs on sites like Upwork or
  4. Panic. Offer a huge discount to the prospects you meet, trapping yourself in the low-pay/low-reward freelance cycle that so many talented people end up being stuck in.

Basic analysis of this strategy shows that it doesn’t work. I know because I’ve experienced it myself, as have many of my friends who also freelance for a living. The truth is that low rates don’t sell. At least not with the type of awesome, high-quality clients you want.

A far stronger approach to getting more work and increasing your income is to focus on getting high-quality clients by selling to them really, really well.

It’s the "more wood behind fewer arrows" approach. Market your service to fewer prospective clients, but put much more effort into each one of them. I learned this concept from entrepreneur and business-growth advisor Bryan Harris (founder of Videofruit) who used it to market his video creation service to tech companies. The main idea is to offer so much value that it’s impossible for any prospective client to ignore you.

Sending Out Handwritten Letters

Here’s what I did to get my freelancing business going again.

Instead of sending cold emails, which are effective in bulk but have a terrible response rate, I snail-mailed handwritten letters to all of the companies I wanted to work with. The letters were mailed to design and digital marketing agencies throughout the U.S.

In total, I sent out just over 100 letters, half of which were hand-addressed, and half of which were written entirely by hand.

All of the letters contained this exact same message:

Hi [person’s name],

Do you work with freelance writers at [company’s name]?

I ask because I am a freelance writer from New Zealand and I would love to work with you. I write for big tech companies like [mention one of my previous clients], as well as small to mid-sized agencies. I can write press releases, blog posts, articles, website content, landing pages and more.

My content is extremely good and very modestly priced.

I understand you’re probably suspicious of letters you receive from strangers, so to ease your concerns I would be happy to write a few custom samples for you, free of charge.

If you’re interested, just send a letter to my return address.

Just kidding! You can email me at [my email address]. That’s definitely more convenient.

Looking forward to working out how I can help you in your role at [company’s name].


Nick Gibson

Along with the letter, I also included:

To find the right people to contact, I manually went through the Google results for search terms like "digital agency in [some city]" and found the person in charge of content and public relations. I tracked down their LinkedIn profile to check that they were the right person to contact, then wrote the letter and mailed it to them.

Since I was sending the letters from Japan, they were packaged in Japan Post envelopes with a Japanese postage stamp. I’m sure the novelty of receiving a hand-addressed letter from another country was one reason for the campaign’s success, since it instantly inspires curiosity.

The Results

All in all, I received 14 responses from the slightly more than 100 letters I sent out. It cost me about $200 to ship out all the letters, so it ended up being roughly $14 per lead.

Of the 14 responses, one made a significant 5-figure order and two others made small 3-figure deals with me. The 5-figure client has grown into one of my most important clients today.

I also followed up over the phone with the clients that didn’t respond to the letter. Almost all of them reported that they were amused and surprised about receiving a letter from a writer on the other side of the world, and many said I would be first in line for any extra writing work they had available in the future.

Final Thoughts

As a writer, letters are a great strategy. For designers, I think they’re even better. Imagine if you could put your favorite portfolio items right in front of a client on beautiful card paper instead of emailing them a link to your online portfolio or Dribbble account, hoping that they’ll click through and browse through your work.

If I were a freelance designer, I would try mailing out pop-up books with website layouts, cards with sample logos and testimonials from happy clients. As a developer, you can use the exact same strategy I did, but mention your previous development work instead of written content.

The point of all this is that sometimes it’s better to use "old fashioned" technology to market yourself, especially in an industry like design and development where the vast majority of marketing is done online.

Simply by doing something different, you can stand out in a very good way.

Since I started doing this in early-2015, I’ve had a steady flow of clients from the letters I’ve sent out. My rates are back to where they were before, and on occasion even better than before.

If you’re ever short on project work and can’t get a response with the typical way of cold-emailing prospective clients, give handwritten letters a try. It’s old fashioned, it’s unique, and it’s exactly what you need to do to get the attention of great clients and give your freelance business the push it needs.

Nick Gibson is a freelance writer who specializes in writing content for tech companies and marketing agencies. Originally from New Zealand, he’s currently based in Japan. Contact Nick through his website:

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This was published on Mar 3, 2016


Rochelle Dancel Mar 03 2016

This is a great strategy. One of the things I do when I want to pitch people is to send them a book I know they’ll like after following them on Twitter for a bit. I’ll pick out a passage I think they’ll appreciate, mark it with a post-it note that has my contact info on it, and handwrite a comment on it. It’s always good to see books still on their desks when I walk in several months later. Might sound expensive, but done a few times, it’s totally worth it.

    Nick Gibson Mar 04 2016

    Thanks for commenting! Your book idea is great. Anything that makes the interaction more personal gives you a huge advantage, since most people will just send a template cold email and give up. A little persistence, personalization and extra attention can go a long way.

    I’ll give the book strategy a try in the future. Another one I like to do now is send relevant blog posts to my clients (eg. I’ll send a post on a specific aspect of content marketing to one of my writing clients, if it’s relevant to them) to show how we can implement the post’s advice into our campaign.

    Small things make a big difference. Since most people don’t do them, you gain a huge advantage if you do.

Great tip! I’m a big fan of handwritten letters, perhaps I will try this strategy in the near future.

Nico @ Where In The World Is Nico Mar 09 2016

Great read! This is definitely an awesome way to stand out from the crowd.

Or send them a cookie with an mail, so you make it more sweet :D

Nick, you said: “In total, I sent out just over 100 letters, half of which were hand-addressed, and half of which were written entirely by hand.”

Was there a measurable difference in response according to whether the letter, or just the envelope, was handwritten?

For those of us without copperplate handwriting (!) would a handwritten envelope and a printed letter give adequate response?

Or should BOTH be handwritten?

    Nick Gibson Mar 14 2016

    The typed ones actually performed better in terms of revenue, but the sample size was too small for me to really get any useful data. The point is that any type of personal touch, even if it’s just a handwritten address, helps you get noticed and stand out as someone who actually cares.

Sadaf S. Mar 13 2016

You did something few would do and in doing so you returned the human touch which is missing today. I do some freelancing aside from my part time job and run two blogs of my own. I love writing but I feel like typed words have taken away the charm and depth of words. I treasure handwritten letters from my friends and often write poems by hand as gifts for my loved ones. I don’t think you can ever beat the impact of handwritten words. I like how you followed up via phone, that is something that makes you memorable too. Nice strategy. Glad it paid off :) Regards, Sadaf (Incubasys Singapore )

This is so interesting to see how times have changed, earlier only handwritten letters was possible, now it actually helps you get noticed. Really great strategy.

Brett Golding May 07 2016

Awesome post Nick.

Useful info!

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