Rock Your Letter of Introduction (LOI)
If you opt to go the healthcare marketing writer route (and sometimes even if you go the health journalist route), you’ll need to develop a letter of introduction (LOI). This tool does exactly what it says: introduces you to prospective clients and editors. A great LOI will grab the reader’s attention and make her want to send you work right away. A poor LOI will get deleted faster than an ad for male enhancement pills — and be forgotten just as quickly.
Given the importance of the LOI, you may feel uptight and nervous about crafting one. That’s understandable. I want you to realize there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to LOIs, and you should tinker with your boilerplate constantly. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.
Examples of great LOIs
Great examples of winning letters of introduction abound on the web. I like what my friend Jennifer Gregory has to say about constructing them, and my friend Kelly James-Enger also offers some great tips on exactly how to write an LOI that gets results. Fellow writer and 2014 Blogathon co-sponsor Michelle Rafter wrote a great piece on why LOIs matter, and she recommends this sample LOI by another of our mutual writer friends, Susan Johnston. (By the way, are you getting the point yet about how important networking with other writers is? I personally know every freelance writer I named in this paragraph. We share tips and ‘freelance life lessons’ with each other via various forums on an almost daily basis. My career would not be where it is today without the support of many other freelance writers.)
Because the subjects of how and why to write an LOI are covered in great depth on the web, I want to address a couple of other points about them in this blog post.
Let your personality shine
I sometimes think I’m perhaps a bit too loose when I contact clients and editors for the first time. I’m a friendly person with a great sense of humor, but that can come across as unprofessional in an email. Usually I rein myself in, but I never completely throttle my personality when exchanging emails with editors. People want to know who they’re hiring. They don’t want to hire a robot to do their writing. It’s OK to be relaxed when reaching out by email, as long as you retain some decorum.
Here’s an example of a recent cold email I sent that got a positive result:
I’m speaking on the subject of technology and aging next week, and in putting together my presentation I downloaded one of [company’s] fact sheets. Excellent stuff!
As an experienced freelance writer in the Boomer and aging vertical, I thought I’d reach out to see if [company] ever uses freelancer contributors for marketing materials. I’d love to explore any projects or opportunities you may have upcoming.
Have a great day!
Elizabeth Hanes RN
As you can see, that email message (sent on LinkedIn, by the way) breaks several ‘conventions’ of LOIs and first contact with a prospective client. The “hi” salutation isn’t formal, but, like I said, I’m friendly and wanted to convey that from the start.
Note also this message says very little about me or my qualifications. In fact, the message is more about praising the work of the company than anything else. Granted, this message isn’t strictly an LOI. But it paved the way toward my sending a real LOI a few minutes later.
Play up your credentials
Even as a novice writer, your nursing license will open doors. Everyone trusts a nurse, right? In the reliability department, you vault to the top. (Remember, you can’t misplace that trust by blowing deadlines!)
Your Registered Nurse credential also puts you head and shoulders above other candidates when it comes to understanding health conditions and the healthcare system. You want to shine a beacon on these facts in your LOI.
As a nurse-writer, you should always showcase your license and background in an LOI, but you especially want to highlight these areas if you have few or no clips. Why? Because an editor may be more inclined to roll the dice on an untested nurse-writer than on Joe Newbie simply because of your coveted background knowledge.
Here’s how I now start most of my letters of introduction:
As a Registered Nurse (BSN) and professional writer I provide a friendly yet authoritative voice for many healthcare brand communication deliverables, including blogs, newsletters, websites and more.
It’s not the greatest first line in history, but it gets my credentials front-and-center.
When I was starting out, I wrote insanely long LOIs. Seriously, I just looked up an old one, and it ran to about five paragraphs. [rolls eyes]
You have about two seconds to get an editor’s attention. I’m not joking. They’re busy people. If your LOI runs five paragraphs, it says two things: You’re a newbie, and you can’t self-edit. Neither of those attributes will endear you to a client.
Make your LOI very to-the-point:
1. You’re a nurse
2. You’re a writer
3. You want to make the editor’s life easier by turning in clean copy, on deadline
4. The editor can find clips at your website (give the exact URL, not the URL to your homepage)
5. Include a call to action. One of my favorites is: “When might we be able to chat about working together on a project?”
That’s it! Five brief points, and out. Done.
Don’t be afraid to follow up
Unlike query letters (which I’ll talk about on the blog at some point), letters of introduction don’t always deliver instant results. With an LOI, you’re not pitching a story; you’re pitching YOU. Your target may not have any work for you at the moment. Don’t be skittish about following up.
I usually follow up about one week after the initial LOI; two weeks after that; and then monthly for awhile.
If I’ve had no response at all to five or six emails, I stop following up (for awhile, anyway). If I got any sort of response at all, I begin following up every two to three months for about a year before I throw in the towel. And even then I don’t really give up: I just followed up on an LOI I sent in February, 2012, after having let it go in November, 2012. Reconnecting with that editor now, when I have more and better clips, may confer a more favorable result.
I hope you’re learning a lot from this blog-based course on how to transition from nursing to freelance writing. Please don’t forget to sign up for the RN2Writer Newsletter using the form in the right-hand sidebar. In the newsletter, I’ll be sharing all my best tips and tricks plus discount codes for live webinars and one-on-one coaching!
Do you have questions about how to write an LOI? Please post them in the comments section.
Wishing you well!
Image via David Hayes