The goal of a freelance cover letter (AKA proposal) is to get a response. A response moves you one step closer to money in your pocket. Some freelancers write cover letters as if they were sales letters following the old adage “length equals strength,” but how long should a freelance cover letter be?
On average, a freelance cover letter should be 1-3 paragraphs long and no more than 4 paragraphs total. The longer a cover letter is, the more likely it is to be ignored by the client. Freelance cover letters that go over 4 paragraphs eat up the client’s time and cause them to lose interest in the freelancer as a candidate. To give your cover letter the best chance to get a response, keep it short and avoid revealing too much.
The longer your cover letter is, the greater the chances are that you’ll say the wrong thing and trigger the client to pick someone else. Now that you know how long your cover letter should be, let’s go a little deeper with the question.
Why You Shouldn’t Write Long Cover Letters
You should definitely take your time to craft custom proposals for every client, but some freelancers go overboard and write a novel. Not only does that waste your time, but it also wastes the client’s time.
Seriously, would you read something like this?
It’s too long, and though there’s not that much text, it looks like a lot of work to read.
Even worse than time-wasting is the fact that the more you say, the more likely you are to say something stupid (in the client’s eyes). The longer your cover letter becomes, the higher your chances are to say the exact wrong thing.
As soon as you say something the client doesn’t like, they’ll ditch you for someone who is a better fit.
Here are some other reasons long cover letters don’t work well:
|Longer cover letter increases your chances of spelling and grammar errors.|
|Clients are busy and don’t like to waste time reading long cover letters.|
|The more you say, the more likely you are to say the wrong thing.|
|The longer your cover letter, the higher the chances the client won’t read any of it.|
To give yourself the best chance possible to get a response, keep your cover letter short and sweet.
Here’s exactly how long your cover letter should be…
What is the Perfect Cover Letter Length?
The perfect freelance cover letter length is around three paragraphs with a call-to-action (CTA).
Your CTA can close out the third paragraph or it can be a separate line.
This guy got it mostly right:
Most freelancers have no reason to write more than three paragraphs, although a fourth paragraph may be okay in some situations.
Some job posts ask for very specific details.
- Please describe your experience
- Please share your education
- Tell us about a time when you…
- How would you handle…
Questions like those are practically begging for a lengthy response and should be given greater consideration.
However, most freelance cover letters should stay within that 3-4 paragraph sweet spot.
At that length you have just enough room to say what you need to say without revealing too much.
It keeps things short enough to be read in one minute or less and it helps you get your proposal sent before the gig fills up with other applicants.
What Should Each Section of a Cover Letter Talk About?
In general, the first paragraph should stand out and grab the client’s attention. To say the exact right thing, think about what the client wants what they really care about (hint: it’s not your experience or your degree).
Clients care about the following:
|Themselves||Does this freelance focus on me or on their self?|
|Their problem||Does this freelancer specifically address the problem I stated?|
|A solution for their problem||Does this freelancer indicate that they have an actual solution?|
|Specialization||Does this freelancer appear to be a real specialist in solving this specific problem?|
Avoid starting your cover letter with the words “I,” “me,” or “my,” because those words show the client you’re more focused on yourself and making money than solving the client’s problem or doing a good job. You can read more on that in another post I wrote here.
Instead, stay focused on the client, their problem, and describing your solution in a way that proves you’re a specialist in that area.
Your second paragraph is for credibility. It’s where you can go deeper into your expertise.
If you’re going to talk about your years of experience or your degree, then this is the place to do it. It’s okay to talk about yourself a little, but only once you’ve shown interest in the client and their problems.
The third paragraph can describe things like your work process, deliverables, or can share a link to your portfolio. This paragraph should kind of wrap things up too.
At the end of your third paragraph you’ll have a closing statement that directs the client to contact you in some way.
Should I Add Attachments to My Freelance Cover Letter?
No, you should not add attachments to your cover letter. Attachments have to be downloaded which clutters the client’s computer and creates more work when they have to hunt down those files and delete them later on. Attachments also come with a risk of harmful viruses and malware.
Problems with attachments:
|Must be downloaded||This is frustrating for clients.|
|Causes clutter||Downloading freelance files adds junk to the client’s computer|
|Adds extra work for the client||The client has to hunt down files to delete them which wastes their time|
|Puts the client at risk||Every download comes with a risk of infecting the client’s computer with harmful viruses and malware|
|Clients may not have the right software||A client who doesn’t have Microsoft Word can’t easily open a Microsoft Word document.|
If you don’t like those, we’ve explored other options in this post.
As a client, I hate attachments, especially Word docs.
We live in the 21st century, and cloud-based platforms exist for the sole purpose of sharing your work in a safe, friendly way.
Not every client has Microsoft Word, so it’s a bad idea to send Word docs because they may not be able to open them, and they probably don’t want to download anything to their computer.
So avoid adding attachments because they’ll likely get you passed over.
Should I Ask Questions in My Freelance Cover Letter?
In the past I recommended asking questions, but I’ve changed my stance on that a bit.
Most freelancers should not ask questions in their cover letter. Not only does it add length to the proposal, but freelancers tend to ask the wrong questions.
For instance, a new web designer might ask questions like:
- What is your audience?
- How long have you been in business?
- Why did you use X theme?
In other words, freelancers tend to ask questions for the sake of asking questions. The idea is that asking questions should prompt a response and demonstrate your expertise.
But an expert wouldn’t ask those questions. An expert’s questions would be more like:
- Can you share an example of the style you want?
- What is most important to you in your design elements?
- Do you have a WordPress theme preference?
In some ways the questions are kind of similar, but they come across very different. The problem is, most freelance cover letters get it wrong, and as a result, they scare the client away.
So skip the questions for now and stick to the 3-4 paragraph cover letter design.
How Else Can I Make My Freelance Cover Letter Attractive?
The best way to make your freelance cover letters more attractive is to be good at what you do, respect the client’s time, and say things that prove you really care about them.
Writing freelance cover letters isn’t hard.
Your goal is to prove you are someone who can get the job done right and well. You do that when you give the client just enough info to show them that you are smart, capable and that you really want to help them out.
The only way to do that is to respect their time with short freelance cover letters that stay focused on the client, their needs, and describing what makes you the best solution for their problem.