The Do's & Don'ts of "The Approach"

Recently I had an encounter which really bothered me: I was sent a very generic email from one of those "job board"-type websites; namely one where freelancers can post their profiles and bid on jobs posted by people looking for help.

Generally I don't use these websites, as aggressively bidding for a contract doesn't generally foster the kinds of trustworthy, friendly relationships that I want to establish with my clients (but that's just me). Either way, this wasn't what bothered me enough to write about it.

What set off red flags was that he mentioned seeing my profile on a content marketing website where I've never registered as an active user. I double-checked to make sure that there wasn't a fake Alyson Shane trolling around it's user base and, as I suspected, no such profile existed. 

I have no idea why he decided to add this untrue statement to his email, but it definitely rubbed me the wrong way and I sent him a polite reply thanking him for his time and stating that I wasn't interested in using his job board at this time. End of story, right?

Or not.

A few days later I received another email, from someone at a different email address, asking me if I was looking to take on new freelance work. I always am (shameless plug, let's work together!) and I sent back a friendly reply asking about what sort of work he wanted to do together.

The reply I got was something like this:

"It's great that you're looking for new freelance work! Why don't you try posting on our job board at [website name here]?"

After some quick digging I realized that this was a different person associated with the same website that had sent me the weird, generic, obviously-not-researched at all email a few days prior.

This isn't the first time that I've encountered people who approach me this way, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but I wanted to make a quick list of Do's & Don'ts when approaching someone to give you their business, or to collaborate with you in some way, because these simple rules seem to elude some people:


Be shady. Like the example that I outlined at the beginning of this post, it's disrespectful to try and weasel someone into using your service or working on a project with you. Be honest.

Assume you know better.  If someone declines to work with you, don't send a snarky reply insinuating that they will be doing their audience or reputation a disservice.

Leave a million messages. If you call and someone is unavailable, leave a short voice mail (or follow-up email) and wait a reasonable amount of time before calling again. 5-6 voice mails in the span of a few hours is unacceptable unless your house is on fire.

Expect people to work for free. Most of the time you can expect to pay for people's services and their time. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they are situational and can be negotiated in the moment. Don't reach out expecting for free work or promotions.


Do your homework. Read their blog, follow them on Twitter, add them on LinkedIn, whatever you feel is necessary to gain an understanding of who they are and what they do.

Be professional. See above. It's not okay to send nasty emails to people just because they didn't give you the response that you were looking for.

Be Clear. People can't help you solve your problems if you can't articulate them. Skip emails full of buzzwords and get straight to who you are, what you do, and what you need.

Be Available. If you've scheduled a specific time to have a phone call or Skype meeting, give some notice if you will be unavailable and, if you can reschedule, make a point to be available at that time. Other people's time is as important as yours, so try to be available when you say you will.

Email whenever possible. This is more of a personal preference, but personally I find that sending an email (or filling out a contact form) is much more respectful of my time and allows me the opportunity to do a bit of research before responding. This way I can be prepared. 

See? It's easy! By following some simple rules we can make every interaction a much more respectful and pleasant one! 

Do you have Do's or Don'ts to add to this list? I'd love to hear them!