Advice — Brutally Honest: How to spot opportunities and reach out to new contacts

Posted 12 December 2018 Written by Emily Cohen

Starting out as a freelancer, business or creative studio comes with many an ongoing challenge. For US-based business consultant to creatives, Emily Cohen, embracing these challenges has become second nature. In her book, Brutally Honest, she compiles her top tips for helping design businesses get into shape. From looking at proposals, staffing and everything in between, she imparts essential advice from years of practice and valuable insights. Here, in an excerpt taken from the book, Emily gives her pointers on one of the most important parts of building your profile: attracting and maintaining clients and collaborators.

You never know where new opportunities will come from. You can meet people in the elevator, while waiting in line, or on a subway, plane or train. But you have to take the initiative. It’s not about exchanging business cards willy-nilly or being overly aggressive. It’s about reaching out and talking to people that you admire or want to work with or for. Look for opportunities to connect, not just ways to build your business.

Read and research
Stay aware of trends and trendsetters. Stay updated on industry publications, blogs and social media postings. Listen to podcasts. Then narrow your focus; identify companies and specific individuals you admire or who are doing intriguing events in their field.

Attend events
Whether it’s local, smaller events or large national conferences, attend events where your potential collaborators and connecters meet and gather.

Nurture relationships with industry connections
These connections are your best ally and strongest referral source for new business. Give them something to say about you by doing great work and providing them with anecdotes and stories to tell others. 

Stay in touch and follow up
Send a message after you meet someone new. Why not even send something in the post? Most people are inundated with emails, many of which are left unread or sent to spam. On the other hand, most people don’t receive ay enticing mail anymore. But if they receive a coloured envelope or a personal letter, they become intrigued. 

Support your clients or collaborators
Personally and publicly promote and praise the work and efforts of your clients and collaborators. If they wrote an article, read it, quote it, post on social media about it and tell others. If they win an award, congratulate them. If they have a baby or get married, send them a gift. Spread the love. They will reciprocate. 

Reaching out and sending emails

When you’ve compiled a list of people you’d like to reach out to, how do you go about saying hello to someone new? The following are very generic examples of the first and last paragraphs for a variety of different types of emails. Obviously, these should be further customised (or entirely re-written) to reflect your unique voice and personality, as well as your relationship or knowledge of the recipient. These examples are meant for inspiration only.

Cold email to someone new
“I have heard about your work in XXX and was inspired to introduce myself, as I think we have some common interests. I would love to schedule a brief call or meeting, at your convenience, to learn more about what you do and explore ways we can potentially help each other out or collaborate.”

Email to your crush (or someone you admire)
“I recently read the article you wrote in XXX [or saw you speak at XXX] and was inspired to introduce myself. [Here, you add a sentence that mentions what inspired you in particular or what you related to – i.e. the compliment sentence].”

Email to a colleague or client
“XXX mentioned I should introduce myself to you as [here explain why]. [Here, in one sentence, say how you know XXX such as: “I have worked with XXX for two years developing her company’s brand identity.”]” 

Now, just do it

Embrace Yoda’s philosophy: “Do or Do Not, There is No Try.” If you don’t know who Yoda is, look him up. Start introducing yourself to strangers. Meet new people – one way to do this is to attend conferences or events within your specialisation. Build relationships. Be patient.


A brutally honest consultant, Emily Cohen has worked with many leading design firms across the United States and Canada, helping firms to become more effective, profitable, and fun to work at. She is also fast-talker, a designer by degree, an avid reader, a trend-spotter, a connector, and her client’s advocate.

Posted 12 December 2018 Written by Emily Cohen
Collection: Advice
Disciplines: Graphic Design
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