Email marketing simplified: A step-by-step guide for freelancers

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Email marketing is one of the most impactful and cost-effective marketing channels out there. It is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter, and is said to have a return on investment of 3800 per cent. But, is email marketing a good fit for freelancers? 

Yes, it is. Read on to learn how freelancers can use email to market themselves and acquire new clients.

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What is email marketing?

It is the practice of sending promotional messages about a product or service through email. It could be in the form of newsletters, invitations, announcements, lead nurturing campaigns, transactional emails, and so on.

As a freelancer, you can use email to reach out to potential/existing clients, with an aim to build relationships, develop top of mind recall, keep them updated, pitch your services, and close deals.

Is email marketing dead?

There was a notion that the emergence of social media networks would render email marketing useless. People thought it would face the same fate of dinosaurs. But the reality is quite the opposite. Email marketing is going stronger than ever. The numbers below very much back this up:

email marketing statistics


  • According to a study by DMA, email ranks the highest among marketing channels in terms of conversions. A remarkable 66 per cent of online customers have purchased something after receiving a marketing email.
  • DMA also found out that the ROI for email increased from £30.03 for every £1 spent in 2016 to £32.28 in 2017.
  • Adobe found that email is the most preferred channel among millennials to be reached out by companies. 
  • The same study found that people spend an average of  5.4 hours per weekday on email.
  • Statista estimates that total email users worldwide will exceed 4 billion by 2022.
  • Google recently announced that Gmail has more than 1 billion monthly active users worldwide.
  • Ascend2 Email Marketing Strategy Survey found that increasing email engagement is among the top priority for 54 per cent of marketers.
  • According to Econsultancy, email marketing leads to £29 billion worth of retail sales in the UK annually.

Email marketing is not dead. In fact, it is very much thriving. As a freelancer, it would be a great opportunity missed if you don’t take advantage of email marketing.

The benefits of email marketing to freelancers

Now that we know email marketing is alive and well, the next question is, why freelancers should use email marketing. To answer this, we have listed down the possible benefits or ways in which email marketing can help freelancers:

  • Generate and nurture leads through drip email series.
  • Unlike other channels, it lets you test and optimise every tiny aspect of your campaigns — body, subject line, layout, messaging, call to action, and so on. 
  • Allows you to set up extremely targeted campaigns.
  • Stay in touch with your former clients and potential clients with email newsletters.
  • Add value to potential clients by sending them helpful resources and downloadables.
  • Showcase your expertise with client stories and testimonials.
  • Establish yourself as a thought leader by sharing explainers, walkthroughs, and templates relevant to your target audience.
  • Get high-quality referrals that convert.
  • Inform potential and existing clients about offers and discounts.
  • The ROI of email marketing is considerably higher than all the marketing avenues.

There are many more reasons why freelancers should use email marketing; you will get know them as you progress further into this guide.

How to do email marketing as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, email marketing success can’t be achieved overnight. You have to start working on it weeks in advance before you send your first batch of emails. There are multiple steps involved here, let’s explore them in detail.

Step 1: Iron out your objectives

As a freelancer, you can use email campaigns for a multitude of things. So, it is imperative that you are clear about what you want to achieve. You can’t go in with a reactive approach. Review your requirements, set clear objectives, and frame strategies accordingly.

Here are a few different ways in which you can use email campaigns:

  • Gain referrals: Get your former clients, ex-colleagues, alumni members, friends, and relatives to refer you or introduce you to relevant people in their network.

How to ask for referrals?


  • Content distribution: Share your content with people who you think will find them useful. The end goal of such campaigns is to drive traffic to your website and establish credibility.

Content distribution

  • Stay in touch: Build top of mind awareness among your potential clients and former clients.

stay in touch - email marketing


  • Showcase your work: Share your work samples and achievements with potential clients to convey that you are capable of performing at a high-level.


  • Understand pain points: Offer free downloadable resources to learn more about the problems faced by your potential clients.

1 / 1 – Downloadables - email marketing

  • Nurture leads: Use email drip series to nurture leads and ease them on to next stage of the client funnel.

Lead nurturing email

  • Ask testimonials: Ask your former clients to write testimonials for the impact you made and the professionalism with which you worked for them.


  • Pitch potential clients: Run highly targeted cold/warm email campaigns where you pitch your service to clients.

Pitch template email marketing


It is not necessary that you focus on one goal at a time, you can have a combination of four or five, it all depends on your audience. For instance, if the majority your list are new subscribers, you will have to nurture them and add value first. While if it is mostly made up of former clients, you should focus on getting referrals or repeat business.

The key here is to ensure you have a very clear idea of your target audience.

Step 2: Build an email list

Simply put, if you don’t have an audience, whom will you send the emails to? That’s why you need to build an email list first. It is a collection of names and email addresses of people who have explicitly shown an interest in what you do. 

It could be anyone — former clients, Facebook Page followers, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, website visitors, blog readers, Instagram followers, and so on. The question is how do you get them to be part of your list. One way to do it is by setting up an opt-in form on your website. But, worry not if you don’t have a website, you can still build email lists. We’ll come to that later, let’s first learn how to go about building email lists if you have a website.

a. If you have a website

If you already have a website, you need to set up an opt-in form and also, make sure people are signing up to your list.

Setting up an opt-in form: It is an online form that captures the contact details of people who are interested in hearing from you. By opting in, they are giving their permission to be contacted and also, expressing their interest in your product/service. This concept is called permission-based email marketing or opt-in email marketing.

Simply put, opt-in forms will help you unify your audience in one place. Here’s how you should go about it:

  • Sign up for an email marketing software. To send emails on a larger scale, you need a tool like that. They also make it easier to set up, send, and manage email campaigns.  You get features such as templates, reporting, improved email deliverability, automation, and so on.

If you are working on a budget, you can use free email marketing software such as MailChimp (2000 subscribers and 12000 emails per month), Mailjet (Unlimited subscribers and 6000 emails per month), MailerLite (1,000 subscribers and unlimited emails), or TinyLetter (5000 subscribers and unlimited emails).

  • Select an opt-in plugin that fits your demands. Some of the basic features they offer are A/B tests, re-targeting, pre-designed templates, integration with your email marketing service, intent-based forms, different layouts (widgets, sidebars, pop-ups), analytics, and so on.

Some email marketing software such as MailChimp lets you build opt-in forms as well. If not, go for a plugin such as Sumo, Opt-in Panda, and WP Subscribe. You can even use Google Forms to do the same. All you have to do is create a form and embed it on your website.

  • Install the plug-in to your website, and then integrate it with your email marketing service. The key here is to ensure your opt-in plugin is compatible with your email marketing service.

Get people to sign-up: A simple form saying subscribe to read more may not fetch expected results. You have to offer visitors incentives to sign up.

The incentive could be a free consultation call, a coaching session, calendar planners, templates, guides, step-by-step tutorials, and so on. These kinds of incentives that you provide in exchange for contact details are called lead magnets.

The key here is to regularly review and optimise your forms — the layout, the content, the placement, the incentive offered, and so on. This will help ensure you know what’s working and what’s not.

Pro-tips for building a great form

  • The incentive you offer should solve a specific and immediate problem. For example, if you are a freelance SEO specialist, the incentive can be an on-page SEO checklist.
  • Be sure to write a brief description of your service that informs the readers about your capabilities. You can also add your rates and experience, and a link to your portfolio website.
  • The downloadable should include your contact details and also, tell them what to do next.
  • Be sure the incentive can be accessed quickly. Limit to as few steps as possible.
  • The CTA should be clear, engaging, and specific to the problem at hand and not generic.
  • Your copy should clearly state what they can expect upon signing up.
  • Be sure to tell them why they should subscribe to your email list.
  • Include trust logos in the form if possible.
  • Assure them that you won’t spam their inbox.
  • The form should be placed above the fold.
  • If it is a pop-up, the ‘close’ button should be clearly visible.
  • If you have multiple steps involved, add a progress bar.
  • Personalise your opt-in forms based on the visitor’s referral source, geographic location, intent, and more.

Here are a few great examples:

1. When the aim is to get people to download a resource.

Ebook lead magnetSource

2. When the aim is to get them to subscribe to your newsletter.

Newsletter opt inSource

3. When the aim is to showcase your capabilities.

For more lead magnet ideas, check out this great post from OptinMonster.

b. If you don’t have a website

It is not necessary to have a website to build an email list. There are several other ways to do it:

  • Host a giveaway or contest using Rafflecopter.
  • Create a simple landing page using LeadPages. These pages are hosted on the app itself. So, you won’t need to have a website. Then use social media to drive traffic to that page.
  • Use platforms like and to build personal pages, and lead people to these pages.
  • Use a website publishing tool like Wix and Squarespace build an online portfolio.
  • Invite your former clients, colleagues, members of your alumni groups, social media followers, and people you meet at conferences and community events to join your email list.
  • Add a subscribe link to your Twitter bio, Facebook Page, LinkedIn profile, email signature, project proposal, and so on.
  • Use Facebook Lead Ads to generate leads from Facebook.

Things to keep in mind while building an email list

  • Don’t buy email lists, it is considered as a spammy tactic.
  • Always get permission before you add someone to your email list. No one likes unsolicited promotional emails. In some countries, unsolicited promotional emails are considered illegal.
  • Always keep an eye on your domain’s health. Use websites like UltraTools or for this.
  • You should periodically review and clean your email list.

Step 3: Segment your email list

Once you have a list in place, the next step is to segment it. Remember there are different types of individuals in it. If you send the same email to everyone, people will find it annoying and irrelevant. This means more people will unsubscribe or mark your email as spam. And that will hurt your email deliverability. Ultimately, the purpose of segmentation is to ensure greater relevancy.



Most email marketing services let you build custom segments, and some even have pre-built segments. You can use the ones that fit your needs and requirements.

Here are a few different ways to segment your email list and how to personalise your message for each:

  • Type of relationship: What kind of relationship do you have with them? You could have prospects, collaborators, acquaintances, former clients, blog readers, and so on.

For prospects, you can start with an email series with useful and relevant resources. At the end of the series, you can pitch your services.

  • Duration: How long have they been on your list? Create separate segments for people who are new to the list, people who signed up six months back, and so on.

For new subscribers, you can send them a welcome email series with helpful resources. This will help you make a great first impression.

  • Source: How did they sign up for your list? Segment your list based on how they landed on your sign up page. The sources could be Facebook Ads, a particular lead magnet, a particular article or video, your Twitter bio, your email signature, certain LinkedIn or Facebook group, and so on.

For segments such as Facebook Ad, lead magnets, you can send them an email series with helpful resources, and pitch your services at the end of it.

  • Engagement level: How did they interact with your emails? Whether they opened your email or whether they clicked on your email, and so on.

For more engaged subscribers, you can send them special offers as rewards.

  • Preferences: Nowadays you see a lot of people use multi-stage opt-in forms that allow subscribers to choose the email frequency or the type messages they prefer to receive. If you have such forms, you can create list segments based upon the subscriber’s preferences and interests.

For subscribers that prefer monthly emails, you can send a monthly roundup of your articles with a small additional section featuring the samples of your most recent work.

Step 4: Test and optimise

Setting up campaigns is not enough to fetch results. Like every other marketing channel, you have to proactively test and tune your campaigns. The best way to go about it is to create split test email campaigns.

But before you get into testing and optimising, you need to understand the email marketing metrics that matter. You will be able to view this in the analytics of section of your email service. Be sure to keep an eye on them. It will help you test and optimise better.

Spam score

Some email providers let you evaluate the spamminess of your copy. This will help you understand what to avoid to ensure your email doesn’t land in the subscriber’s SPAM box.

Open rate

Open rate calculates the total number of subscribers that opened your email. You can use it as a reference to optimise your subject line and preview text.

Click rate

Click rate indicates the total number of people that clicked on the links you had in your email. This will help you optimise your copy, get an idea where to add links, what kind of CTAs work, and so on.

Bounce rate

In every campaign you send, there will be a few emails that don’t get delivered. It could be due to incorrect or invalid email addresses, or down to some server issues. Bounce rate calculates the total number of emails that bounced in a campaign. You need to routinely clean your email list to ensure this doesn’t happen. Otherwise, your email deliverability will suffer.

Spam complaints

It is normal for people to mark your email as spam even if they voluntarily added themselves to your list. They might be annoyed at your emailing frequency or your email content. Spam complaints measure the total number of people that marked you as spam. Again, if you repeatedly get higher spam complaints, your email deliverability will suffer.

Unsubscribe rate

Unsubscribe rate is the number of people that have unsubscribed from your list after a campaign. You are bound to get a few after every batch. But if it is significantly higher than usual, you should analyse and find out what caused it.

Landing page bounce rate

Measuring click rate is fine, but that’s not enough. You also need to find out how people are interacting with the landing page. For this, you need Google Analytics. 

If the landing page bounce rate is high, that means your email copy and landing page are not consistent. Another reason could be the landing page is too slow to load. You have to figure out the cause and resolve it.

The next step is to use those insights to test and optimise your campaigns. Here’s how:

  • Timings: Find out what are the best time slots and days of the week to send your emails.
  • Subject lines: Find out the kind of subject lines that are working — curiosity evoking, scarcity evoking, and so on. Also, find out how the subject line is influencing your email deliverability.
  • Preview text: Learn to write email preview text that complements or supports your subject line.
  • Email signatures: Experiment with different elements — your logo, your headshot, a link to your latest blog post, social media handles, and so on. Ensure it always contains links to your online portfolio and your LinkedIn profile.
  • Length of the email: Experiment with long, medium, and short content. Find out what kind of copy is fetching you the best click-through rates.
  • CTA: Experiment with the copy of the CTA, the words used, colour combination, the size of the button, and so on.
  • Layout: Most email marketing services offer a wide range of templates for you to choose from, experiment with them and find out what’s working.
  • Images: By default, most email services don’t display images. So, always add an alt text. Besides that, try to limit the number of images to one or two. The more images you add, the higher the chances of your email ending up in spam or promotions folder.

How to ensure your email doesn’t land in the Promotions tab?

Most email services now automatically categorise incoming emails under different tabs such as ‘Primary’, Promotions, Social, and so on. In Gmail, the Primary tab is where you can see all the emails that Gmail thinks you should read or are important to you. It is dictated by a sophisticated algorithm and also, user interactions.

Often you see newsletters and promotional emails ending up in the promotions tab. This can significantly decrease your open rates. Here’s how you can overcome this challenge:

  • Ask your subscribers to add your email address to their contact list.
  • Ask your customers to drag your email from ‘Promotions’ to ‘Primary.
  • Don’t use promotional and spammy words in your subject line and preview text.
  • Make sure you personalise the email copy and subject line by adding the subscriber’s name.
  • Don’t add more than 2-3 images. Also, remember to add alt-tags to your email.
  • Avoid complicating your email with multiple HTML structures.
  • Be sure to add an unsubscribe button.

Final thoughts

Because you can do so many things with email, it is quite easy to get overwhelmed. Too many aspects to optimise, you have to reply to emails, too many metrics to track, and so on. But, that’s the wrong way to approach it.

Instead, take adequate time to prepare before you send your first batch. Develop a long-term plan. Work on building a form first, then get people to sign up, and so on. Limit your experiments to certain focus areas. Use a project management tool to track and optimise your efforts.

Email marketing success can’t be achieved by accident or luck. Stay organised, be patient, be helpful, and never stop adding value.

This blog post is part of our marketing series for freelancers. We have also written about LinkedIn marketing and Facebook marketing.

Want to further your freelancing career? Check out TapChief. It is a platform where you can find open projects, interact with prospective clients, join communities of freelancers, and more.


Sucheth is a Content Marketer at TapChief. He is a marketer by day and an avid reader by night.

2 thoughts on “Email marketing simplified: A step-by-step guide for freelancers”

  1. Great article with facts and very well explained for begineers. Thanks for sharing, keep writing interesting and useful articles.

  2. Great article. It covers every aspect of email marketing properly. Going to bookmark it and tweet it to my readers.

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