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Cover letters: Should freelancers have to write them?

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Jenny Stallard Press Releases, AMANDA WATSON, Job Search...

As freelancers there are many things we can say ‘goodbye’ to when we choose not to live in the ‘real work world’. Rude or controlling bosses, asking when we can take holiday, and of course, where and when we work. And while one of the biggest challenges, arguably, is finding new work and clients. Unlike ‘staffers’, we don’t have go through the classical job application for jobs. Or so I thought.

Lately I’ve been looking for contract and part time roles to supplement my freelance writing work and other projects. But I’ve found I am being asked for cover letters alongside my CV when applying for freelance work and it’s rather thrown me. Isn’t the dreaded cover letter another of those things we can say ‘see ya!’ to as self-employed people? It seems not.

While they might give you the eye roll feels initially, they are essentially your CV part two. Cover letters show you’re on top of industry developments, and can add to information with your own style. The thing is, there are some applications I’ve done where I could have left the cover letter out; it was possible to save and submit the application without it. But would that leave me at a disadvantage?

Cover letters can feel show-offy, cheesy and repetitive. How many times can you say how great you are, how dynamic, how you work to deadline or would make a ‘great’ (ahh, there’s that word again!) addition to their freelance team?

One thing the experts agree on is that while it might be rare to be asked, it’s then a non-negotiable to write a cover letter. Louise Roberts, a Virtual Assistant who covers HR admin including creating forms, letters and contracts for HR companies was surprised at the idea of cover letters for freelancers. But agreed they’re a must-do:  “With the smaller jobs that I do, there has been no need to provide a cover letter. However, should a freelancer be tendering for a contract then yes I think it would be the right thing to do for both parties,” she says.

You need to see it as a positive, if you are asked to write one. This is another chance to say “HIRE ME!”. Nigel Sarbutts is founder at The PR Cavalry, a freelancer matchmaker service, and says a cover letter is “an opportunity to present a crisp summary of their advantages and reasons to hire them.  Each letter will be different but should include a line that expresses the special advantages of using a freelancer, that captures the commercial commitment and emotional energy that freelancers bring to an assignment.”

Where to start? Here are some suggestions from those who work in HR and recruitment written with freelancers in mind.

Saying why a freelancer would fit the bill

By hiring a freelancer you are getting someone who is as deeply invested in the success of the programme as you are and who will only recommend a course of action that they are confident can be delivered, precisely because they will be personally responsible for every last detail.

 Nigel Sarbutts, the PR Cavalry: “Each letter will be different but should include a line that expresses the special advantages of using a freelancer, that captures the commercial commitment and emotional energy that freelancers bring to an assignment”

Showing you have researched and know the client
I noticed that you recently [example of activity], which really caught my eye. [Activity] is so important, especially when you consider [tangible example]. Personally, I think that [activity] is important and I’ve also recently [give an example of a recent and relevant activity you’ve participated in]. 

This one’s from Mandy Watson at Ambitions Personnel: “Use something that shows that you have done your homework on the company, but keep it genuine. If they’ve recently started a new service, made headlines in the area or taken part in some sort of charitable activity, then try and make mention of that.”

Giving examples of experience including stats or revenue

As the solution to your requirements, I have [x] years of comparable experience in [x area] and have worked on similar projects such as [x] helping company [x] to achieve a 15% increase in customer signups.

Andrew Fennell, Director and Careers Expert at CV-writing company, StandOut CV explains his line: “Freelancers should still take the time to prepare a cover letter tailored to the gig they’re applying for, as it is one of the best ways of stating how and why you deserve to be successful, and how you can help someone else’s business with your own. For opportunities listed on freelance or mainstream recruitment websites, echoing the wording of the advert should satisfy Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS); commonly used to filter out applicants with less experience.

“However, those freelancers that discover opportunities through networking, or are recommended will ideally present cover letters, detailing the reasons for their professional interest. Such a cover letter should take the form of an ‘elevator speech’, grabbing the attention in a targeted way. Alignment with the mission statement of objectives listed on the client’s website will help in the establishment of rapport and set a positive impression.

Adding a testimonial or reference quote

I have a proven track record of delivering results, on brief and on time. Here’s what one of my clients has said about my work: “[insert quote]”

Huw Moxon from Informi, a small business support service: “A prospective client wants the assurance that you’re going to be a breeze to work with, whatever they throw at you. Backing this up with a client quote ideally from a relevant sector (this could be from an email when you sent them the work e.g. “This is great, exactly what we wanted”) and a link to the work will bolster your credentials. If you have any results you can demonstrate too (e.g. “My work helped to boost website conversion rates by 10%) this will further enhance your covering letter.”

Assuring your flexibility

Working as a Freelancer I believe that in order to build up an effective and respectful working relationship with my clients I remain flexible and easily adapt to any of the clients needs.

This one’s from Louise Roberts, who explains: “The one line that I would advise someone to incorporate into a Cover Letter is maybe how flexible they could be in order to adapt to the job in question. I think that as a Freelancer you need to be able to adapt and accommodate clients’ work in order to maintain the working relationship and ultimately secure the job!”