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Step-by-step guide to starting and growing a freelance email marketing business

Step-by-step guide to starting and growing a freelance email marketing business

We’re going to take you step-by-step through the process of building a freelance email marketing business from the ground up to making your first $1,000, $2,000 or even $5,000 each month.

Even if you’re starting off with little to NO skills.

This is the exact process we’ve used to build a business from scratch. Nothing is held back.

So if you’re just trying to make an extra $1,000 per month on the side to pay off your student loans quicker, maybe quit your job someday, put some money away for retirement or just provide a better living with more flexibility for you and your family, this is one way to do it.


Obligatory working from beach photo

If you have more ambitions and want to start/grow your own freelance business or company, this is the best place to start.

No matter your motivations.

Here we have your solution.

In this post you’ll learn:
– The TRAP most freelancers fail right out of the gate (and how to avoid it)
– The 8 common problems businesses have and where YOU can make HUGE impacts for a client
– The “Domino Test” and 3-Step Framework you can use to evaluate if a client is going to be worth your time to pitch
– How the “new client process” works and a script of our exact proposals
– The tools of the trade you’ll need to make it all work
– How to find quality resources and mentors to help you along the way

***This guide is LONG and COMPREHENSIVE! Download a free PDF version. Read it offline, whenever you want.



This article is divided into 5 different steps. You can use the links below to jump ahead to each section.

Step 1: Common Problems Businesses Have

Learn to identify 8 of the most common email marketing problems that occur in businesses where YOU can make HUGE impacts for a client.

Step 2: Navigate the New Client Process

Businesses buy services in a certain way. We’ll teach you to navigate this tricky process and avoid the pitfalls designed to reduce your rate. Learn what to look out for and avoid common mistakes.

Step 3: Tools of the Trade

Overview of the most common tools you’ll need for your email marketing business along with insider tips on how to access the people and information you need to get things done.

Step 4: How to Find New Clients

You have access to more potential clients and referrals than you might think. We’ll show you multiple ways you can tap your network for leads, do cold outreach and build a referral machine.

Step 5: Build Your Mentor Group

Successful businesses are built on the backs of many people. If you don’t have both support and feedback, the “growth process” is usually more of a “trial and error process” that sucks up your time. Short cut that time by building a mentor network.

Step 1. Common Problems Businesses Have

Most businesses share the same types of problems when it comes to email marketing.

The biggest problem is the same reason we have sayings like “the pipes in the plumber’s house are always leaky” or “the cobbler’s kids have no shoes.”

The underlying point is that most businesses are so busy they don’t have the time to go back through and optimize what they already have.

They build it and never look back.

Understanding this is important because it sets the stage for you as a freelancer to find these businesses and the amazing opportunities that come with them.

Let me explain…

When you find a business that is so busy they don’t have the time to build and fix their own marketing, you have the opportunity to do it for them!

Right there you have a great prospect for a client.

On the flip side, if a business has everything “dialed in” or has plenty of time to do all the best practices, the chances are high they won’t be a good long-term client for you, the freelancer.

This is for two main reasons.

First, if they do everything themselves they aren’t likely to pay you much to help them.

Don’t try to change behavior or mindsets. There are many businesses that don’t want to pay someone to help them if they can “figure it out on their own”. That’s okay, you don’t want to work with them.

Secondly, if they have time to do things themselves then chances are they aren’t very busy. And if they aren’t very busy, they might not have the cash to pay you.

Both don’t typically bode well for outside consultants.

If you take anything away from this post, it’s those points above.

The best thing you can do when beginning your freelance email marketing business is to avoid bad clients and find the clients that need the most help.

This seems obvious, right?

But it is a HUGE TRAP that most freelancers fall into because they can’t discern what makes a good client or not.

They get a bad or difficult client right when they start and by the time they finish the project, they have such a bad taste in their mouth that it puts them off from finding the next client.

Not to mention chances are high that they spent so much extra time working with these clients they probably made negative $ or their work averaged out to be so low they might as well have picked up a serving job instead.

We’ll go in-depth on the framework we use to find new, non-difficult clients later in this post.

But first, what are the most common problems that you, the freelancer, can solve for prospective clients?

Here are just a few of them:

Problem 1: Not Collecting Leads From Their Website (or doing it poorly):

Businesses have a habit of moving onto the next thing very quickly.

If they find something that isn’t working they are usually quick to cut their losses and move on.

Similarly, if they find something that is getting good results then they also leave it alone and move on.

This mindset is akin to, “We’re getting the result we’re looking for, time to tackle the next open item.”

In terms of collecting opt-ins to their newsletter/list, you’ll see that they either gave up trying or they get enough to say it’s doing okay.

This approach usually means they have not optimized AT ALL because they never circle back to improve what they already have.

In both cases, there is usually room for A LOT of improvement.

We typically see that with optimization we can increase a business’ organic opt-in rate between 400% to 1,000%.

Over a year that is the difference between 1,000 to 10,000 opt-ins for a small website.

Or 10,000 to 100,000 opt-ins for a large site with good organic traffic.

These are MONUMENTAL differences for a business.

Knowing how to unlock this potential opens up a tremendous opportunity to land a new client and help take their business to the next level.

Pro tip: How a business collects opt-ins can tell you A LOT about it. Keep reading to find out how you can use this info to find new potential clients.

Problem 2: They Don’t Organize New Leads Coming In:

If a business IS collecting leads, the next level you can look into is if they’re organizing those leads in a way they can track and use intelligently in the business going forward.

As leads begin to enter whatever platform/system a business is using they somehow ALWAYS seem to end up in the same place. One general catchall pot of leads or contacts.

What you think is happening in a business vs. what is actually happening:

This catchall is the result of not properly tagging, sorting, and eventually segmenting the way leads enter the system.

In the catchall, the business has NO IDEA how they got this person’s contact info.

If you run a coaching business, you don’t know if this person opted-in because they were interested in personal productivity or nutrition or fitness – you would focus on highlighting different aspects of your business for each of these.

You also have no idea if they’ve purchased something in the past and if they did was it your $10 product or the $2,000 product?

You don’t want to upsell someone who has never bought ANYTHING from you before and you don’t want to be caught giving major discounts to someone who has already purchased your product for full price!

All this information is extremely important because it determines the type and tone of messaging going out.

When you don’t organize new leads, this ultimately leads to a situation where everyone receives everything that gets sent out – whether they want it or not.

This leads to a blended average of sales and results since everyone is getting everything.

If the messages, content, and offer aren’t being targeted to what your customers want, then eventually people begin to tune out and quit responding.

At no point in time is the marketing being utilized to its fullest but just getting the overall average.

When a business is getting average results on their email marketing it is easy to make HUGE improvements.

This first starts with:

  • Deciding on a strategy to organize leads (Think about the broad areas your customers are interested in or different products)
  • Tracking how the leads got there (Using the coaching example, was it an opt-in about nutritional information or productivity?)
  • Deciding what they should and shouldn’t receive in terms of marketing, content and offers (Don’t send someone emails about productivity if they only want to know about nutrition)

By knowing where a customer came from, what they purchased and various other important factors, you can then send targeted messages that hit the right group and far outperform bland generic messages every time.

Problem 3: Frankenstein Platform:

A “Frankenstein platform” is a term we use to describe businesses that are using dozens of services (apps, plugins, software, websites, APIs etc.) instead of the 2 or 3 that can do everything they need.

The biggest thing to remember with platforms is that technology and features change very quickly.

Unless a business has a full-time team in place to plan for these changes, execute when they happen and capitalize on them, the chance are that what is currently being used is not only dated but a hodge-podge of random services strung together.

The biggest issue with this common setup is that things break (usually at the worst time).

The more systems and 3rd party vendors being used, the higher the chance of something going wrong.

Even if by some miracle something isn’t breaking (yet) it is most likely costing them a TON of money for this service and that feature. Most of which probably aren’t needed or have become outdated or incorporated into their provider.

What you can do is offer to streamline these ineffective processes.

Most businesses don’t even KNOW that their processes are ineffective and can benefit from you coming in with fresh eyes to ask the question as simple as – “why do you do it that way?”

Streamlining and removing the number of things that can go wrong strengthens the system, leads to a better user experience and can often even save the business money!

Problem 4: Outdated or ZERO Tracking/Analytics:

Most business’ systems and processes start simply, rightfully so.

When there is only one product you’re selling or one place you’re collecting leads, then long-term planning and analytics don’t seem necessary.

But, many businesses don’t add tracking after they pass this initial point.

Over time, new processes or strategies are put into place along with existing ones and before you know it you have 10 campaigns and initiatives running all at once.

This is the point where a business loses the ability to accurately track where results are coming from and what is actually working vs what’s not. Instead of hard numbers, they rely on a gut feeling or intuition.

We know those assumptions are often wrong and usually wildly so.

Without proper tracking, analytics and reporting in place a business will often put good money in the wrong place and not double down on the things that are working, simply because they don’t know.

More often than not a business can use at a minimum an upgrade to their reporting and tracking, most likely this will be the first time they’ve implemented tracking.

Knowing what is driving revenue and what is costing revenue can make a huge difference to sales and net profit for a business.

Additional Resources: Want to get a primer on Google Analytics tracking? Check out this post from Growthlab

Problem 5: Not Segmenting Their List:

Organization and segmenting are not the same thing, but they are related because you need to know things about your audience in order to properly segment.

By properly segmenting your customers and audience you are sending the most relevant message to the largest number of potential people.

Most businesses don’t segment their audiences and messages either because they don’t know better, don’t have the time or are too lazy to do so.

You can see this most commonly when a business sends a “marketing blast” email to the whole list of people they have.

Or everyone, no matter what, receives their monthly newsletter.

In most cases, it might be 10 times more effective and profitable to send 5 emails to 5 smaller segments.

Most businesses either don’t know who to send those emails to or they don’t have the time/creative ability to craft 5 separate emails for those groups so instead they decide to send 1 email to everyone.

At best, this will get you an average response.

Most likely, this will result in list fatigue and people either deleting your emails or opting out altogether.

If properly tended, a list doesn’t need huge influxes of people to continue same or better sales.

Additional Resources: Learn more about segmenting from Zapier

Problem 6: Not A/B Testing Or Improving:

Like we hinted earlier, once a business finds something that works they tend to leave it until they can get back to it.

Unfortunately, the “coming back to it” part rarely occurs.

Almost everything can be tested, tweaked, improved, updated and made better.

In most cases if you look at a business’ calls to actions or email drip funnels you’ll see the exact same thing they set-up originally, from 2, 3, or even 5+ years ago!

It is highly probable that they are leaving a lot on the table in terms of conversions and results.

In our experience it’s more likely that businesses haven’t done even one or two tests before they moved on to other more “pressing” matters.

When you get a new client here are just a few things you can test in their email marketing.

  • Subject lines
  • Pre-header lines
  • Call to action links and buttons
  • Offers
  • Prices
  • Packages
  • Upsells
  • Sales funnel
Additional Resources: Dive deep on A/B testing here A/B Testing Guide

Problem 7: No Sales Process/Funnel:

Continuing with the theme here of either not setting things up to begin with or not updating as things progress are business sales funnels.

More often than not, these funnels don’t exist or if they do they haven’t been properly mapped out or updated in a long time.

This usually results in bottlenecks in the sales process. Sales teams can end up wasting a lot of time doing things that could be automated or eliminated altogether.

Tasks that are repetitive or time-consuming for a sales team should be automated as much as possible allowing them to spend more time talking and working with customers.

If run properly, the automated sales funnel can even do some of the heavy lifting of sales, vetting potential prospects and acquiring information about customers’ needs and wants.

This information gives sales teams the ability to quickly solve customer problems and offer the best solutions.

A smooth sales process instills a lot of confidence in a customer and helps keep the cash flow consistent and predictable.

Having an old outdated sales process or none at all could be the difference between a banner year or a dud.

What you can do to help these businesses is to map out a sales process from start to finish, automating as much as possible allowing sales pros to stay focused on sales and not minutia.

Problem 8: Not Leveraging Assets (Content, Platforms i.e. Facebook/YouTube etc.):

It is also common for platforms and audiences to get left behind.

For example, a business might have someone helping with marketing or content that knows how to use one platform really well like Facebook.

They’ll post and manage that asset extremely well but don’t manage others they are less familiar with like email newsletters or the company blog.

This happens for a variety of reasons, but most likely it’s because they don’t have a plan in place.

Developing a plan for people to leverage the assets they have makes it easier to create, post, and share new content for customers to engage with.

Customers and users have preferences where they consume content.

Some like video, some like articles and others social media.

The key is making sure they see the content wherever they are most like to spend their time.

Having a plan in place helps a business move from reactionary posting/sharing and into proactive campaign-driven promotion.

When businesses know what promotion or content to push and when they can ensure all the content hits the right platforms at the right time, and it will have the maximum effect.

We suggest building out a 90, 60, 30-day rolling calendar of campaigns and content.

  • 90 Days – You plan what promotions and campaigns you want to run (think Christmas promos in Aug/Sept).
  • 60 Days – The content for the promotions is being built and organized for all of the channels.
  • 30 Days – The focus is on executing the content calendar, scheduling emails, posts and content release (this is the doing portion)

Each month the calendar shifts up a month and the process starts with adding the next block of campaigns and goals 90-days out.

Now that you know several ways to improve a potential client’s business, you’ll want to start looking in your local area for potential clients.

What to look for when you’re looking for clients:

A great question you should be asking right now is “How do I know which businesses to look for as clients?”

This is a two-step process that we use and are willing to lift the veil to help show you.

The first step is something I refer to as the “Domino test.”

If you ever played with Dominos as a kid, you know that in order for that huge, complex structure to fall over just right, it all starts with flicking that first domino.

When we evaluate businesses to determine if they’re worth pitching, what we look for is that first domino.

Because we know that if that “first domino” isn’t setup correctly there isn’t a chance in hell that the rest of the system is setup well.

In this case, the “first domino” is collecting leads.

If a business isn’t collecting leads on the front end (their website, Facebook, etc.) then we can assume they aren’t doing the rest of the things we listed above either.

What’s nice about the “Domino test” is that it lets us (and you) narrow your focus.

There’s no way you can tell if a business is running on an outdated platform or has no analytics setup from the outside, but you can see how they collect their leads.

The second step here is to evaluate how a business collects their leads by using a framework we call the 3-Level Client Framework.

In this framework, we split most of the businesses that we come across into three levels (surprise!) based on how they collect their leads.

Level 1.
These are the “dialed in” businesses and unfortunately probably not very good clients for you.

They will have multiple options for opting into their site from welcome mats, to lead magnets, even blog posts are optimized with content upgrades that collect opt-ins. And probably a full-time team to run it all.

When you’re just starting out, these aren’t the best businesses for you.

It’s hard for one single person to really move the needle for them.

Level 2.
These businesses are doing okay. They MIGHT have 2 or 3 of the things listed above working well for them. They probably have a “Sign up for our newsletter” opt-in form on the bottom of each page and an email drip funnel in place.

But they definitely don’t have all of the pieces dialed-in.

Pro tip. Sign up for their “newsletter” and see what happens. You probably have a good client in the making if:

  1. Afterwards it doesn’t take you to a “Thank you” page
  2. You don’t get a double opt-in or welcome email
  3. You don’t get ANY correspondence within a month or so

These are all MAJOR improvements that you can make.

Level 3.
These businesses are probably good businesses BUT they don’t do a good job of marketing themselves.

How can you tell?

  1. The owner/operator handles all of the marketing along with the rest of the business
  2. They don’t have ANYWHERE on their website to sign-up for an email list
  3. Or they don’t even have a website

Contrary to what you might think, the “Level 2” businesses are the ones we want to target for our services.

These businesses have shown they’re interested in email marketing but at some point – something fell flat, ran out of time, or didn’t have a roadmap in place.

The important part is that you can now go in and offer that business a solution!


Key Takeaways:

The most important thing for you to take away from this section is that no business is perfect. All businesses have problems that you can help solve and all business are looking for ways to grow.

Chances are that any business is going to have a problem with one of the above. Keep them in mind when you’re talking to new prospective clients.

Step 2. Navigate the New Client Process

Once you’ve identified a new potential client – what’s next?

We’re going to walk you through how to navigate the process from new potential client to new client.

Typically, in this process, you’ll jump through the dog and pony show of calls, meetings, proposals, etc… before terms are agreed upon and ink on the signature line dries.

During this timeframe, you should be watching how your new potential client communicates and does business.

I’m a very firm believer in the ol’ saying “how it begins, it ends.”

Meaning that how your business relationship begins will also be the same way that it continues for the entirety of the relationship.

This truism is right most of the time and every time I’ve gone against it things didn’t work out.

During these first few meetings, initial audit, and proposal stage you will be putting in a lot of effort, time and maybe even hard dollars.

Remember, this is a two-way street. You should be evaluating the potential client as much as they are evaluating you.

If at every turn the potential client is demanding, constantly late, pre-occupied while meeting, dragging things out and asking for more and more without paying, then there is a 99% chance for the entirety of your business relationship you will constantly be treated this way.

You can curb check these types of behaviors as they come up and keep clients in line, but you have to decide if that is a game you want to play ALL THE TIME because they are not going to change who they are without some divine intervention.

My best advice is to not settle for a shitty client, cut your losses early, and move on to a better prospect.

Even good clients can be tough, but bad clients will make you question your sanity.

Best to avoid those at all cost.

We’re going to walk you through the 5 major steps of a typical client cycle:

  1. How to nail the initial call/meeting
  2. The bulletproof follow-up and “foot-in-the-door” audit technique
  3. Writing kickass proposals
  4. How to get the sale
  5. How to build the client relationship

Phase 1: How to nail the initial call/meeting

This is the first time you are talking with or meeting the potential client.

Ideally, this meeting is short and sweet to learn about their goals, objectives and sticky points.

When you’re first starting out, making this call to businesses can seem very intimidating, especially if you don’t have the confidence in your ability to do what you’re promising yet.

You will stumble and no one starts off good at sales.

The best mindset for you to adopt is “I am helping this business. I can provide a service to this business that they need and will help them grow.”

So when you’re on the phone with them or meeting in person, you aren’t “selling” them, you’re trying to help them grow their business.

If you need some motivation, check out some vintage Gary V. – all the way from 2008! But still as relevant today as it was back then.

The initial meeting serves four main purposes:

  1. To assess what kind of client they might be
  2. To see if you can help them
  3. To see what kind of budget and resources they have allocated for marketing
  4. To determine what their goals are

You can determine a lot about a client by asking open and broad questions that allow them to ramble.

Here are some good open-ended questions that we like to ask:

  • Can you give me a little history/backstory to how you got where you currently are?
  • What kind of email marketing campaigns have you run in the past?
  • How were those results?
  • What are your current 12-24 month goals for your business?
  • Do you have any campaigns/sales already in motion?
  • What type of platform are you using for marketing/email/CMS?
  • Do you have any upcoming timelines for holiday or special event sales?

As they touch on certain points like their needs, timeframes, goals, objectives, and their technology stack, you can ask them to elaborate more.

This type of “questioning” feels less threatening and more conversational than peppering them with a list of 20 prepared questions.

Use this first call as an opportunity to not only build rapport but learn about where they are planning to take the direction of the company.

When asked why he was so good at hockey Wayne Gretzky replied; “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

Your goal is to help a business get to where they want to go.

Let them explain what that destination looks like from their perspective and then show them how you can help them get there.

You can figure out and ask all of the detailed technical questions later, but it is much harder to follow-up with big-picture questions after the fact.

Key Takeaway: Don’t be scared to make the call and set the meeting. If you understand what a business owner’s goals/objectives are you can use that to show how your services can help them get to the place they want to be.


Additional Resources: If you’re not confident on how to approach this conversation or need a primer in sales, check out this podcast

Phase 2: The bulletproof follow-up and “foot-in-the-door” audit technique

After your first meeting, it is common to follow-up with a quick recap and next steps (assuming the client seems like a good fit).

During the follow-up you want to:

  • Recap the meeting and their business goals
  • Ask any important questions you didn’t get to or forgot about
  • Establish a timeline of next steps to close the client
  • Bring up completing an audit for the client

A common approach you can take here is to setup an initial audit for a one-time fee to go through the client’s system (or lack thereof) to see how they conduct their business and offer suggestions to optimize (almost no one will turn down an offer to optimize their business).

This will get you access and allow you to familiarize yourself with what they sell, their database, how they collect leads, how they organize leads, etc. Basically everything we outlined in Step 1.

It will also let you craft a better proposal because you can see EXACTLY what is going on in their business and then tell them how you can improve it.

You can also ask more questions to clarify some things like what other technology/services they might be using or get some more specifics on their sales goals.

Here’s an exact script you can use:

Alan, it was great chatting with you.

Where we usually start with businesses like yours is to go through an audit of your existing services, website, online presence, email funnel, opt-ins, etc., so we can really get a grasp on how your business runs.

This process takes one week and is priced at $500. After the audit we’ll meet to present our full list of feedback and recommendations of improvements for your business.

There we can decide to move forward with a proposal and implementing the recommendations OR you can go another direction.

If the audit process sounds good to you we can kick-off starting on the 4th and plan to present on 11th.

Here’s what we’ll need to get access to in order to get started…


So, what does this do and why does it work?

First, it benefits the business owner in several ways.

  1. Psychologically, this is a classic “foot-in-the-door” technique. It gives them a low pressure way to start working with you because you aren’t hammering them with a contract for a $1000/ month retainer up front.
  2. Even if they don’t decide to go with you, they now have some recommendations on where they should be going.

Second, it benefits you.

  1. It gives you access to their system so that when you make your proposal you have a VERY good idea of where you can make the greatest impact. Think of it as being PAID to write your proposal.
  2. Through the audit period you can see the style of communication from the business owner and decide if you want to keep working with them afterwards.

Most importantly for the follow-up, the clock is ticking and you don’t have a lot of time to waste.

As Oren Klaff the author of Pitch Anything would say, “Time is the enemy of all deals.”

The longer you let things string out, the more likely that deal is to fail or you’ll get jammed on price.

The last thing you want to do is find yourself in a “bake-off situation” where you are competing for their business against another group/agency.

In fact, this happened to me recently.

I didn’t even know I was in a bake off but the client was being very slow to respond and since I was busy and didn’t need the business I let the timeline get loose.

Ultimately, they told me they chose someone else, “What the F*$&!?”

I didn’t even know I was competing…

If you set firm timelines right out of the gate and understand when the next meeting is, you’ll have a proposal submitted and they’ll make a decision. Then you have the ability to hold the client to those timelines and understand if you are being played.

Key Takeaway: An audit will help you get associated with their business to write a proposal they can’t turn down. Get specific deliverables in place and set and confirm the next appointment/meeting times. Don’t drag out this process. It won’t help you. If they are not ready, move on to another client.

Phase 3: Writing Kickass Proposals

A lot of factors go in to what kind of work you’ll be doing and what to charge for it.

In this section I’ll cover:

  • How to determine your hourly/proposal rate
  • How to present your proposal

How much to charge:

Here is the formula on how much to charge…

    1. Decide on an hourly rate.

A lot of people get too caught up in the beginning for this. A good rule of thumb is to take whatever you’re making and drop 3 zeros. So if you make $40,000/year. Drop 3 zeros and your hourly rate is $40/hour.

    1. Add up all the time you would dedicate to the product then multiply that number by 40%.

Humans are terrible at guesstimating all of the time and costs that will accrue, this lets us build in a nice safety margin.

  1. Don’t worry if you think it is too much – contractors have to charge more because they have a lot more costs/responsibilities.

Here is an example:

Your hourly rate is $40/hr, you estimate the project to take 60 hours to complete.

$40x60hrs = $2,400

Take that number and multiply it by at least 40%.

$2,400 x .40 = $960

Add together for your total proposal price with margin.

$2,400 + $960 = $3,360

If someone asks how you arrive at that number (most of the time they won’t), you can either give them the new hourly rate with margin ($56/hr) or the number of hours estimated (84 hrs). Either way will get you to the same number. I prefer the hourly rate over time.

How to present your proposal:

The best way to present your proposal is in person directly with the person that can make the decision.

Never rely on someone else to relay your information or proposal to their superior, boss, CEO, whoever.

Nothing good can come from that. More likely you run the risk of losing the deal or being renegotiated down in price.

If Mr./Mrs. Big Shot can’t be there, reschedule a time/place where they can attend.

If you show up and they the surprise you with Mr./Mrs. Big Shot not able to attend, don’t get comfortable, don’t pull out your presentation, simply ask when to reschedule the next meeting and leave.

This hopefully shouldn’t be a problem but it comes up and happens more than people would like to admit.

Before your meeting, practice your presentation. Read your proposal out loud. You’ll be amazed at how many little wording mistakes you’ll have throughout your presentation. You want to make clear and concise statements. No MBA Double-Speak, Industry Jargon, Confucius sayings or anything else that doesn’t belong.

People like to see/read information in a particular order.

  • Overview
  • Restate the Client’s Objectives/Goals
  • Proposed Services and Their Outcomes
  • Timeline/Deliverables
  • Cost
Additional resources: To estimate client projects follow this guideline

Phase 4: How to get the sale

The best thing you can do to get the sale is be as specific as possible.

Outline the project timelines and deliverables, when the first payment takes place, when the first deliverables will happen and what other documents, files and access you’ll need in order to get started. Then, all you need is an agreement to get started and a check.

People will delay or stall making a decision for a ton of reasons: legal needs to review, we’re waiting on a feature to be released or a million other things. The best way to combat that is to get a time commitment down and agreed upon.

Ask the questions to narrow down that timeline.

How long does is take legal to review? Two days? Great, let’s kick-off one week from today…

If they can’t agree to a reasonable time in the near-future they either aren’t serious or don’t have their act together. Either of which is bad news.

With a verbal agreement, begin gaining access, compiling related docs/files, etc.. but don’t begin working until you have your commitment.

If they blow their timeline you can begin to apply pressure.

If they are not signaling things are moving forward by helping and getting the things needed, consider it a red flag.

Ideally, you get a signature and ask where the accounting department is for your check before you leave the building.

Key Takeaway: The proposal process is where the rubber meets the road. Don’t shortcut the process, skip steps or go in unprepared. Even under the best circumstances deals still get lost here, but even more so if you don’t prepare.

Phase 4.1: Kickoff-Initial Cleanup/Building

Most of the heavy lifting is usually done upfront. Once you’ve completed your audit, proposed the solution and begin working you’ll start with the biggest, most impactful pieces. These often involve a lot of communication and understanding how things connect on a granular level. You’ll also need items from the client in order to complete projects, etc.

It is usually best to have a standing weekly meeting throughout the kickoff and first phase of the proposal. This will help manage expectations, move things along quicker and build up the client relationship.

Key Takeaway: Over communicate. People can get squirrelly (official terminology) when they don’t understand or see what is happening. To prevent confusion or questions of value, over communicate. Do this especially in the beginning when they don’t understand how you work and execute.

Phase 4.2: Monthly Reporting/Invoicing

Naturally we all want to get paid and keep getting paid for a job well done. Each month, ideally you should deliver a report on the progress on the scope of work and objectives from the proposal.

This maintains the value that you bring to the table. Even if the client doesn’t ask for specific metrics or a report, provide them with updates on the scope of work you’re responsible for.

The more clear you are with roles/responsibilities/outcomes, the better you can do your job and the more they’ll appreciate your value. Billing can remain stable and drama free when you remind them of the value you’re providing.

Key Takeaway: Over communicate. Provide updates on the objectives you worked on and how that affects KPIs like revenue, traffic, conversions, etc.

Phase 5: Upselling/Ongoing

As you work more together, opportunities present themselves and open the door for assisting in other areas beyond the original scope of work. In fact, if done right each client engagement should grow.

If the client receives more value than what they are paying for they will continue to want more and more. As they begin to ask for more help on this project or that new objective, the answer should almost always be yes (assuming they are within your capabilities).

But, with a yes needs to come with an additional charge for the effort. There is a line between nickel and diming a client for everything like a lawyer but you are running a business and don’t work for free.

Avoid project creep. The client asks for a little more and a little more without paying more. Eventually, you can be doing twice the work for the same price.

This is why it is important to have a scope of work or proposal agreed upon along with periodic check-ins to establish what is being worked on and the results.

If/when the client asks for more things you can say yes and that you’ll provide them with the estimated costs, timelines and other details as needed. Don’t let clients guilt you into doing more work for free.

You don’t ask your local car mechanic while he’s replacing your brakes to also change the oil and expect not to pay for it. The same goes for contract/consulting work. But far too often that is what people do.

If at all possible, try to build into your proposal ongoing monthly services. Whether that is for continued back-end support, customer segmentation/management, handling certain parts of their marketing/creative/design or any other services you offer. The best kind of client is one that pays each and every month, on time…

In an ideal world, all clients are low-demand, high-paying, monthly recurring clients. Again, that is in an ideal world. If you made a Venn diagram of those three I’d chose low-demand and monthly recurring 9/10 times.

Recurring revenue/clients is the lifeblood of a business because they allow predictable cash flow.

Low-demand clients allow you a lot of flexibility and are usually easy to get along and work with.

High-paying usually mean high pain in the ass. They usually take a long time to close. Sure, these are worth it, but with the price comes a lot of demands, back/forth, ego checking, ego stroking and when they end it can be both painful (financially) and messy (contracts, lawyers, etc.). If you don’t have the team in place or the experience, tread lightly.

Key Takeaway: DO NOT: allow project creep.  DO: allow more services, but charge accordingly. Also, find a way to bill monthly if at all possible.


Step 3. Tools of the Trade

There are A LOT of online tools out there, but the best way to think about it is there are varying degrees of what you can use.

For example, to dig a hole you can use a shovel or you can use a backhoe.

Either one will put that hole in the ground but the backhoe will do it faster and requires more moving parts.

The fundamentals are the same but there are two different ways of doing it.

When you understand the fundamentals of a given tool you can scale up or down as needed.

Some clients might need some industrial strength email marketing and CRM platform that can perform all sorts of sales and automation features (our backhoe in this scenario).

Another client might just need a simple way to send a monthly newsletter (our shovel).

With this in mind, what we’re left to do is learn the difference between the tools and the best possible ways to apply them.

Learn the tools of the trade

It is virtually impossible to go to school and learn effective online/email marketing. The technology and strategies change and adapt far too quickly for a teacher to develop an effective curriculum around it.

Here are the 3 best ways to learn how to master email marketing.

  1. Do it. That’s right, just jump in there and try stuff, see what happens
  2. Utilize each tool’s training videos, webinars, help sections and documentations
  3. Find a mentor (See #5 below), someone who has been doing this longer than you

The majority of people learn how these tools work by having a specific problem and trying to solve it.

For example, I need to add an email Preference Center link to each of my marketing emails that will allow people to opt-out of marketing emails and not all emails.

Some platforms make this preference updating easy, others take more effort. But really the best way to figure it out is to look through their help sections, call support or ask someone that knows.

Now onto some of the most common tools you’ll encounter:

Most Common CRMs

There is a CRM for every type of business with every type of need. Each has their strengths and weaknesses depending on what you’re trying to sell or promote. Knowing how these platforms work and what they are great at is crucial to helping a business get the most out of their online marketing.

Infusionsoft – CRM geared for small businesses. Highly in-depth at marketing and sales automation. Allows you to take payments for e-commerce, products and services. Ideal for people with more than a couple thousand contacts.

Drip – Email marketing and advanced personalization with drag and drop simplicity. Also features split testing, dynamic content and visual reporting. Great for businesses that primarily sell online and looking to deliver a highly personalized experience.

SalesForce – Industrial grade, sales, marketing and customer management platform. Not for the average small business.

Mailchimp – Easy email automation with lots of testing capabilities. Connects extremely well to the largest e-commerce platforms such as Magento, Bigcommerce, Woocommerce and shopify.

Constant Contact – Email marketing with good out of the box email templates, split testing and reporting.

Convert Kit – Specialized for businesses centered around content such as bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers and other content creators.


Google Analytics – Free powerful marketing analytics solutions for companies of all shapes and sizes.

Graphly – Bringing great visual reporting to Infusionsoft. Dozens of custom graphs, charts and reports that fill in the missing pieces of your sales and marketing reporting needs.

WickedReports – Marketing and CRM reporting tool that connects your marketing effort to ROI. Works on many different CRM platforms such as; Infusionsoft, Ontraport, Active Campaign, Maropost, Click Funnels – Actionetics and Drip.

Lead Opt-in 

SUMO – Consider us SUMO fanboys from the start. They continue to improve an already great platform that quickly allows any website to increase their leads with pop-ups, opt-in forms, welcome mats that trigger at exactly the right moment. We see up to 40% opt-in rates on some of our pages with their tools. We can’t say enough good things about the tool.

Landing Pages 

Unbounce – Build landing pages fast and get more conversions. Whether you’re a newbie landing page creator or a pro, Unbounce makes it easy to build custom landing pages and add overlays for even more conversions on your existing site.

Click Funnels – With a few simple clicks you can build beautifully-designed sales funnel that actually converts website visitors into happy customers…so you can finally turn your ideas into reality and live your dreams!


Shopify – Whether you sell online, on social media, in store, or out of the trunk of your car, Shopify has you covered.


Flywheel – Scale your business with Flywheel’s managed WordPress hosting platform a gold standard for WordPress development.

 LMS (Learning Management System) 

Teachery – A quick and easy tool to build your own unique online courses. Use Teachery to create and sell beautiful online courses in minutes with no transaction fees!

Step 4. How to Find New Clients

There’s an elephant in the room and it’s called “the voice in the back of your head.”

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably starting to wonder and have some doubts if you’re “qualified” to help people with email marketing.

The truth is, you are qualified to help. To our knowledge, there isn’t a college course on how to setup an email drip campaign from start to finish, fill it with leads and convert those into sales. And if there is, it’s probably horribly outdated.

The reason you can’t go to school, sit down in a classroom and learn this is because technology and methods change so rapidly online that any curriculum will be outdated before it even gets taught.

There is no PhD in email marketing, there is only the practitioner.

Email marketing is the ultimate learn-on-the-job training. A constant trial and error process of continuing to do the things that work, then test, test and test again.

Think of this another way. You are probably the person that your mom or grandma calls for help with their computer or tv.

Now, are you an electrical engineer or a Comcast employee?

Or do you solve their problems because you have an idea of how it works and can use resources like Google better to find the solutions?

The same goes for email marketing.

You don’t have to be an “expert,” you just have to know more than the business you’re trying to help and your skills will build over time.

Each platform has their own help sections, support, tutorials, documentation, etc. The rest of the on-the-job training comes from trial and error.

But, with all of that said the best way to avoid hurting a client or failing is to start where your skill is at. Keep it simple in the beginning.

Start with the easy to do projects like setting up a newsletter or a drip campaign.

Then as your confidence and experience grows move to more complex systems like personalization, sales, marketing, conversions, moving platforms…

There are plenty of clients that don’t even have the basics in place. Start with those and progress accordingly.

The most common problem people have when starting is trying to find new clients.

But the reality is you probably already have more than enough leads to get started within your own personal network.

Below, we cover just a few of those examples and how to go about reaching out to them.

Idea 1: Put The Word Out:

Start with your inner circle of friends, family and acquaintances.

The best thing you can do here is be authentic about your skill level.

Send out a personal email, message some acquaintances on LinkedIn or simply post this on your Facebook.

If you are reaching out via email to people, you can setup your canned responses in email providers like Gmail. Simply write out the email and leave some blanks you’ll fill in for things like the person’s name and company, etc.

Then pull up a new email, select the email template you want, update the one or two things needed and send away. Here’s an in-depth link on how to do that and an example email template you can use…–cms-28076

Example Email:

SUBJECT: reconnect

[FNAME], I wanted to quickly reach out and give you an update on what I’m working on. Also, to see if there was any potential overlap between [Their Company] needs and what we have.

Over the past few [timeframe months/years] we’ve been working with companies on their digital marketing. The bulk of what we’ve been tasked with is [list 2-3 thing out like…] setting up lead opt-in pages, driving traffic and converting those leads into sales using email marketing.

Would love to chat for 5 minutes next week to see if this is anything you need help with or if you have some ideas on potential clients you might know.

How does next Tues 10am PST or Fri 1pm PST work? [put this out far enough to make it easy to say yes]


Idea 2: The Helpful Quick Audit:

Another way to open the door to bigger opportunities is to give away real value upfront. For example, if you see something wrong with a business’ email marketing strategy or a simple way to improve their results, let them know.

Write in detail your observation, what is good and bad about it, how they could easily fix/improve with screenshots/resource links, etc. Tell them this is what you do for a living and you’d be willing to give them a simple audit.

It’s best if your initial critique and audit is not viewed as being critical but helpful and informative. You can do this by giving them the FIX with specifics so with or without your help they can improve their business. If they need outside help and expertise, they’ll bite. If they don’t, then you can quickly move on to another business.

When you’re building up your business you could do 1 or 2 of these quick audits for local businesses each day. By doing 20-40 of these a month you should easily be able to build a book of interested businesses within a month or two.

Here is an example of exactly what we’re talking about. This newsletter is an image of text that is extremely tough to read.

Here is an email you could send the owner of the company to help increase their understanding of what might be wrong along with the fix and invite to discuss.

SUBJECT: re: newsletter


My name is [Slim Shady], I run the email marketing agency [Aftermath] locally here in [Detroit].

I’ve been a member of your newsletter for a while and noticed that you are using images with the majority of your text within the image. What you might not have noticed is that in general it is hard to read especially on mobile devices. This might be hurting your conversion rates.

In our experience, it is common for business to use this technique because it allows for complete flexibility in the formatting and design.

But from a user perspective it might be doing more harm than good.

I would suggest taking the main content out of the images and using plain text. This will ensure people can read the main message easier. This would also free up more space in your awesome images to focus on the offer/special information that you want to ensure catches their eye.

If you’d like to discuss more, my contact info is below. If you need any help with your digital marketing we’d love to be a resource for you. Either way, it would be great to connect with another local business.

Slim Shady

Idea 3: Abandoned Lists/Newsletters:

Look for newsletters that have been abandoned.

Sign up for the email list of as many local businesses in your area as possible (that you’d want to work with).

Keep a list or group of newsletters in your Gmail folder, when you have time go through and see ones that haven’t published in a while.

Reach out to those people/businesses and ask if they need help with producing/scheduling those newsletters. See if they stopped for a particular reason like:

  • Running out of time to make the emails
  • Didn’t have a content roadmap or calendar
  • Not sure where to go from it or gave up because it was too confusing

Even if they don’t want to send emails to the list of people they could connect that database to services like Facebook/Adwords and continue to market to those audiences.

SUBJECT: your last offer


About [4 months] ago I [was interested in/needed] some [product/service] and signed up on your site.

I haven’t heard/received anything from you in a while and wanted to make sure I was on your marketing list. Is that something that you handle internally or outsourced?

I run an email marketing agency locally here in [Scottsdale] and would be willing to share a few ideas with you to help produce and expedite the newsletter creation process to make it more manageable.

I’m available next Thursday for 15 minutes if you care to discuss. My number is below.

Also, can you make sure I’m signed up to receive your marketing email.

Thanks, Josh

Idea 4: Ask for Referrals:

Probably the single best place you can get good client leads from is your own referral network. These are people that know you and probably have a vested interest in your success. These range from friends and family, to current and former clients and also other businesses you know.

In business, you should always be talking with people and putting the word out on the types of projects and clients you’re looking for as well as what types of needs your friends and acquaintances might have. You never know who knows who and what you might be able to help someone accomplish. Eventually, what goes around comes around as they say. But one thing is for sure, the more you talk with people and communicate, the further your potential reach goes.

Referrals from friends, family.

Simply put the word out and tell the people closest to you what you are doing and what you are looking to achieve. Since they are a captive audience, you can take the time to really tell them what you’re looking for and what would help you the most. Since most of these people are in completely different industries, businesses, niches and have different interests than your own, you might run into good opportunities that would never have crossed your mind.

Ask them for an introduction and referral to one of their contacts if there seems like there could be a good fit.

Dealing with family can be a little sensitive so be careful not to overdo things.

Business referrals.

If you have a current or past client that you feel like you have a good relationship with, ask them for a referral. You can mention that you’re growing/expanding your business and would like to take on another “good” client and looking for introductions. Assuming you’ve done great work with them and helped them out they should be more than willing to make an introduction or two on your behalf.

Even better yet, if you’re targeting a business or someone they know, you could ask if they’d be willing to make a personal introduction for you. Unless the business is a direct competition, most business owners should have no problem making that intro and singing your praises.

Reach out to other similar businesses.

We all know the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The same goes for business.

You might know a number of businesses within your niche that have the same types of clients but aren’t necessarily competition. For example, if your core business is email marketing and you know a graphic design firm, you might be able to work out a quid pro quo of referring business to each other.

This is an old technique called the TRADE RING. You find a number of similar but not direct competition businesses to refer clients to. You do email marketing, maybe someone does Facebook advertising, you could cross-refer business to each other when it makes sense.

It’s better to find businesses that don’t do what you do or have no desire to do what you do. For instance, if they are a custom development (programming) shop, they probably don’t want to be producing content or advertising. The same goes for you. You probably don’t want to hire programmers and do custom programing.

Setup a meeting with these local companies and follow up with them periodically. Once you have a professional referral relationship in place, you should be able to constantly feed business back and forth.

Here is an example email asking for people to refer business:

SUBJECT: re: connect


I wanted to quickly introduce myself. I run an email marketing agency here in [TOWN] and have seen your work.

From time to time I run into clients looking for [THEIR SERVICE] and don’t have a good partner to refer them to. Thought it would be a good idea to connect and see what types of clients you’re looking for.

Probably makes sense to hop on a quick call. How does next Friday 1pm PST work?

Agency Name


Step 5. Personal Help/Mentorship

The quickest way to replicate success is to find someone that has already achieved what you want to achieve and do what they are doing.

The world is full of mentors and mentees.

This is no different from architecture, to hunting, sports, finance, etc.

People who have been doing things longer have learned through years and years of experience. They’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and know what to look out for and what will make things easier.

We’ve been working with online sales, automation and email marketing since 2006 and have been working with websites and networking since 2000.

To say we’ve experienced a few things is an understatement. From event sales to product promotion, e-commerce, online memberships and content/social marketing, we’ve seen it all.

The one thing that ties it all together, the one thing that keeps all of those businesses running, is email. Whether you get an order confirmation, newsletter, sales script or other content, it most likely came through email.

In our course, 10X Your List, we take you through everything you need to know about email marketing to start your freelance business. We go over how to generate leads, move those leads through a sales process, create email drip funnels, test those emails and make sure they get delivered. This is 13 modules and 5+ hours of content to get you to up to speed on email marketing.

If you want to shortcut your way to finding clients, managing clients, writing proposals, understanding what to charge and how to handle certain situations, technology, tips, tricks, best practices, etc., attached to the course we have the 10X Your List community.

Anything we don’t cover in the course, we can answer in the 10X Your List community of email marketers. In the community, you’ll have access to professionals who do email marketing for a living and can guide you through any places that you get stuck.

If you’d like to join the course and community, it’s a small investment and we’ll help guide your freelance business to $1k, $2k, $5k a month or beyond!