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Den Mother of the Freelance Writers Den and writer of the Make a Living Writing Blog
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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #1: The Easiest Promotional Tactic

Marketing the easy way

There are only two types of people in the world.

  • People you know
  • People you don’t know (yet).

The easiest marketing you will ever do always involves that first group — people you already know.

These people already know you! I’m betting they like you, too.

Begin your marketing by contacting everyone you know and making them aware that you are looking for new clients.

Yes, this includes friends and family (unless they’re the sort that keep telling you you’re crazy to be a freelancer and ought to look for a job).

Don’t assume because they don’t have a business to market or aren’t an editor that they can’t help you. Who knows who will hear a business owner griping that their website sucks? Or who will get a new job at a company that needs marketing help?

Beyond current clients, friends, family, and co-workers at a current or recently concluded full- or part-time job — there is one particular group of people you already know who should be your prime target.

Are you in touch with all your former editors?

I’m always surprised at how often the answer is “no.”

How about marketing managers, and other writers you’ve worked with in the past?

Unless you hated each other and it ended in screaming or flaming emails, you should stay connected to each and every one of these people.

Why? Former editors, managers, and colleagues are a great source of referrals.

And referrals just rock.

They’re the marketing that does itself.

Once you let people know you need referrals, they might just send you business.

Beats having to actively market your business, hmm?

You want to get your network working for you, as it’s a real marketing time-saver.

What’s the best way to get started?

My experience is: LinkedIn.

There’s something about this particular social-media platform — it’s the perfect place to get back in touch with former professional colleagues. There’s something casual and friendly, yet businesslike, about the climate on LI.

And sending a message through LinkedIn is a lot less intimidating than trying to call a former editor on the phone. Also more likely you’ll get through to them and get a response.

How to reconnect

A lot of writers have told me they feel uncomfortable reaching out to former editors.

But I’ve done it a lot, and my experience is — it’s fun! Sort of like a high-school reunion, only professionally. And virtually.

Your goal should be to simply check in, catch up and find out what they’re up to now. Then, you’ll drop in your news that you’re looking for clients.

Step one: Send InMail messages to your former editors.

Write something along the lines of:

(SUBJECT LINE): (Long time no talk!)(Hi from one of your writers)(Congrats on your new job)(Just found you — would love to catch up)

Hi (editor name)!

I just noticed you are on LinkedIn — I’d like to stay connected with you on here.

I see you’re (still at X magazine/company)(now over at X magazine/company)

I’d love to catch up sometime and hear about what you’re doing now.

Me? (I’ve been working as a freelance writer for X years now)(I just quit my job/was laid off and have started working as a freelance writer)(Basic facts of your freelance situation here — no sob story, please.)

I specialize in (your specialized industries and/or types of writing here). Recently, I’ve really enjoyed (describe favorite recent client or assignment). If you’d like to see, let me know a good email for you and I’ll send you a couple links. Or you can take a look at my writer site — it’s linked from my LI profile.

(OPTIONAL PITCH LINE:) If you hear of anyone looking for a writer along those lines, I’d appreciate your referral.

Let me know if you have time for a quick phone chat!

Sometimes I prefer to wait until I speak to them live or get an email response to make the referral request. With others, I go ahead and put it right in the connection email. Sort of depends on the relationship you had, and how likely it is that you can line up a phone call or will chat further beyond making that LI connection.

That’s all there is to it. Pretty simple, hmm?

Tip 1: Be sure to remove all the stock language LinkedIn provides. Many busy networkers on LI automatically delete any messages that aren’t customized (including me).

Tip 2: Do NOT put any links in your InMail message. These will cause LinkedIn to reject your message.

Tip 3: Set your message so that the recipient is allowed to see your email address. That will allow you to quickly take the conversation off LI and onto your email, where you can send clip links.

Step two: follow up

Once you’ve connected, try to stay in touch every few months — maybe send them a link to an article of mutual interest.

You might also see what LI Groups the editor belongs to and join, so that you could run across each other in group conversations, too.

Step three: Be patient.

The request for referrals does not necessarily pay off immediately. But it can bring you some great new clients.

Why? Good editors tend to travel in herds — they know each other. So if you liked the work you did for one editor, their referrals will probably be good, too.

Referral work can really add up, and cut back on how much active marketing you need to do. My editor referrals brought me over $6,000 of income in the past year — from clients I didn’t have to spend marketing time to find. Other writers I know have ended up with tens of thousands of dollars of work from former-editor referrals.

Trust me, this is the most efficient marketing you will do.


Homework: Are you in touch with your former editors, marketing managers, or writers you’ve worked with in the past? If not reach out on LinkedIn and connect. If you’re already in touch, be sure these connections know you’d appreciate their referrals.

P.S. Next on Marketing 101: Are you invisible?


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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #2: With This Tool You’re Invisible

Freelance writers do different kinds of marketing.

Some writers like to make phone calls, some go to in person networking events and hand out business cards, some reach out on LinkedIn. Some send query letters.

But no matter how you do your marketing, sooner or later it all boils down to one thing: Prospective clients would like to look at your writer website and read your clips, so they can decide whether they want to hire you.

Without at least a basic writer website, you just don’t look professional. Especially in the fast-growing world of online writing markets. You just can’t compete for the good gigs.

So you need a writer website.

But you’re broke.

And technology makes you cry.

How can you get at least a rudimentary website together on the cheap, without having to become a technological genius? Here are a few options I like:

  • Take over your Zoominfo profile. Zoominfo automatically compiles references to people online — but you can take control of your profile and style it up. I actually used this for the first 18 months when I started freelancing in late 2005.
  • Display your work on LinkedIn. This allows you to add many more than the requisite three or so links usually allowed.
  • Use a low-cost service such as Writer’s Residence or OutstandingSETUP to help you get up a site pronto. (Writers Residence even has a free trial, and after that it’s just $8 a month or so.)
  • Join the National Association of Writers & Editors, NAIWE, for $99 and get a hosted WordPress blog. In this deal, you get all the resources of a professional support organization — plus they throw in a hosted WordPress site for you. It’s pre-set up with a portfolio page for your clips and a basic design you can leave or improve. Bonuses: Your blog posts appear in NAIWE’s blogroll on its busy website, and you can get the organization to retweet your posts, too. An instant site that comes with some instant exposure, too.

What needs to be on your writer website?

Once you’ve got a site, you want to turn it into a useful tool that convinces clients to hire you. There are eight basic items you need on a professional writer website:

  1. A professional photo of you. Find a photography student and get a decent-looking shot that says “I’m a writer, and I love what I do.” Not a photo of you with your poodle, or in a bikini, or in a bar. Remember, people hire people. Look accessible and relatable, and real.
  2. Lots of clips. Don’t only put a few. Don’t just list the titles like a bibliography. The main point of visiting your site is to read your work. Don’t force your prospects to download your clips, either — they won’t. Either link to where the clips live online, or link to where they are on your site (you can get them made into PDFs, then upload them in WordPress on the “media” tab). Group them by topic and show the publication name in the title, too. Don’t make prospects click on each clip to find out where it appeared. Make sure your clips are readable — they shouldn’t be photos of the article where the text is all blurry.
  3. Contact information. Don’t hide it under a tab, and don’t make it one of those contact email forms none of us want to fill out. Put it in your header or sidebar so it’s visible all the time. This is the number-one thing you want prospects to do, so make it easy.
  4. Key words. Figure out what you’d like to rank for in search — maybe “Charlotte freelance writer” or “freelance medical writer.” Do some keyword research and think about the types of phrases prospects might put in a search engine when they need your kind of writer. Then get those phrases into your URL, your headline, and/or your tagline. Mention them in your body copy. Keep updating your site to help your rankings.
  5. A strong About page. This is the second-most-visited page on most sites. Tell a compelling story about who you are as a writer — one that a prospect would want to read. Describe the types of writing you enjoy doing. Don’t talk about how you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were five. Prospects don’t care. This isn’t the place for a boring resume with dates and publication names, either.
  6. Testimonials and awards. If you have these or can solicit testimonials, get them on your site. Cut and paste recommendations from LinkedIn and use them here, too. My experience is that prospects are inordinately impressed by testimonials and awards. If you can, get small photos to put with your client testimonials — it makes them more relatable and impactful.
  7. Clean design. Once writers get a site, some tend to go nuts, slapping on three sidebars, flashing ads, backgrounds that make text unreadable, and widgets with little pictures of all their Facebook friends. Don’t confuse prospects with too much information. Keep it simple.
  8. Personality. This is your chance to show prospects that you are unique. Style up the writing so it’s like having a conversation with you. Speaking of which, don’t write about yourself in the third person on the Internet. It’s pretentious — we all know you’re writing it.


Homework: Don’t have a writer website? Get something up in the next 24 hours — a week, tops.

Got a site? Make some improvements in the next week. Then, consider getting your website reviewed by a pro. Freelance Writers Den offers complimentary website reviews to members.

P.S. Next time on Marketing 101: How to find clients — fast.



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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #3: How to Get Great Clients in 60 Seconds

Ever been tongue-tied at a networking event?

Somebody asked, “And what do you do?”

And you said, “I’m a freelance writer.”

So far so good.

But then they followed up with… “So, what kind of writing do you do? Who have you written for?”

And everything fell apart.

You didn’t know what to say.

How can you prevent this problem?

You need a “me” speech

I was introduced to this concept by IJ Schecter, author of 102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less.

What’s a “me” speech?

It’s a short script about yourself. It tells what type of writing you do — white papers? blog posts? — and what types of clients you do it for. National magazines? Trade publications? Small businesses? The Fortune 500?

If you have a specialized industry you cover, it talks about that too.

I had developed a “me” speech over the years. I just never thought of it as that. But that’s what it is.

If you don’t have one, you should write one.


Networking happens everywhere

Even if you think you will never go to an official networking event, you should write a “me” speech.

You never know when an opportunity to find a client will appear — at a family dinner, in an elevator, at a professional conference. Be ready to take advantage of that moment.

Also, writing the speech helps you clarify what you’re doing, and the types of clients you’re looking for.

What are you looking for?

I remember being flummoxed the first time a networker asked me who my ideal client is. The question made me realize they weren’t small businesses anymore. Which is what that particular room was full of.

I needed to find new networking groups where my ideal clients were hanging out.

Once I did, I was able to get much better-paying gigs.

When you crystallize what you’re looking for, that helps people in your network find it for you. It also helps you ask for it with confidence.

What’s my “me” speech?

Right now, I’d say “I’m a freelance writer specializing in business. I write and ghost business books, and write for big companies in Seattle and around the world.”

My “me” speech has changed a lot over the years. Remember to review and update your speech now and then, as your career progresses.


Homework: Write your “me” speech. Then, practice saying your “me” speech out loud, to make sure it’s conversational. You don’t want to sound like you’re reading your resume, or making a sales pitch. It’s just a short spiel to describe what you do.


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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #4: How to Quickly Mine Job Ads for Gold

Anyone who has spent a week looking at the writing jobs posted on Craigslist knows online job ads are not a great source of top-paying clients.

You find the best clients by doing your own proactive marketing.

However…there are a few creative ways you can use job ads to find good gigs.

The key is to not let online job ads take up too much of your marketing time. You need to scan the ads quickly and move on to more effective marketing methods (namely, just about anything else).

I went through more than a year solid where I was scanning the job ads nearly every day. After a while, I got it down to a system and didn’t spend more than about 15 minutes a day on it.

How did I do it? Here are my seven tips for how to quickly find good leads in the job ads:

1. Look at the ads for full-time jobs. Yes, you’re not really looking for a full-time job. But when a company is advertising for a full-time person, my experience in 12 years of staff-writing jobs says that means the publication or company is now freelancing out that staffer’s workload to avoid overloading the remaining staffers.

Concentrate your attention on the companies that are a perfect fit — you know their industry or read their publication.

Maybe they need someone to fill in until they complete their job search? Maybe they also use freelancers regularly, as well as in-house writers? You won’t know unless you ask.

The full-time job ad simply provides me with a good contact. So if it’s a company or publication that fits my expertise, I go ahead and apply. I say, “Hi there, not looking for full-time, I’m actually a happy freelancer. But I have the skills you need (I usually throw in a few relevant samples here). Do you use freelancers?”

I’ve scored several great new editor connections this way over the years, including two in the past year or so that paid $1 a word. It’s a great way to get your name in front of people that use writers, at a time when they may well need help.

2. Be picky. As I hinted above, you don’t want to apply to a lot of online job ads, as most will be a waste of your time. So skip everything that asks for free samples, or says you can write about any topic you like, or that they have unlimited assignments. These are never good gigs. Be very wary of blind ads, where the company isn’t identified. You’re looking for the ad that seems like it was made for you — it mentions the exact expertise you have, and the company checks out as a real, decent-sized, going concern. That’s the one you want to take the time to apply for.

3. Look at site-specific job ads out of your area. I’m selective here — if it says anything like “meet with us weekly at our Akron offices,” I move on. On the other hand, if the ad title mentions a city, but the ad text doesn’t describe anything that needs to be done in person, and it mentions my expertise, I go ahead and apply if the company seems legit.

Just ask right up top if they’d consider someone working remotely. Play up your expertise both in their field, and your expertise in working remotely.

4. Watch for paid listings. Companies that place paid ads are usually established, legitimate organizations. Specialized job boards and organizations’ job listings are often paid situations. These companies are telling you something when they take out that paid ad — they want to post in more exclusive places as they don’t have time to wade through 300 resumes. The ads on LinkedIn are paid, as are the ads at Flexjobs.

To me, a paid listing qualifies that client right away as a good lead.

5. Use social media. If you’re not looking at the jobs on LinkedIn, I highly recommend it — many of the listings are exclusive to the site.

LI is a great place to find full-time job ads you can piggyback on with your freelance request, as per #1. You can also try to use your connections to get a referral attached to your application, which I’m told greatly increases your odds of getting the contact’s attention in the pile of resumes they are likely receiving.

Twitter is also a growing place for freelance gigs. Not only can you tweet about the work you’re looking for, but you can use Twitter’s search feature to troll for jobs. Some of the sites mentioned above are on Twitter tweeting about listings, so you could get a jump on the masses this way.

There are an increasing number of job-focused tweeters, too — I’ve checked out  @WritersDigest, @FSsJobs (that’s Freelance Switch), @tweetajob, and many others.

Even Facebook is getting into the act lately — I’ve been spotting some interesting-looking listings going up from Facebook4Freelancers, which has a lot of writer listings.

6. Look for niche job boards. Get off Craigslist and find more exclusive job boards. These usually focus on one niche area. For instance, as a business-finance writer I’ve had good luck with Gorkana Alerts (they’ve got alerts for healthcare and media, too). You’ll have to do some sleuthing to find where your best ads hang out, but it can be well worth it if you find a good board. I got one of my biggest, long-term blogging gigs through my niche board.

7. Try the Junk-Free Job Board. Inside Freelance Writers Den, we’ve developed a job board that scans dozens of the mass job-ad places, screens out all the junk, and then only presents better offers (thanks to some tech help from Ty). Some weeks there’s hardly anything on it — a testament to how few good jobs can really be found online. But the few listings we have tend to be quality, and all are a cut above the usual $5-$10 article offers. You save a ton of time by not having to wade through the junk, and quite a few Denizens have already gotten good gigs from them. The bonus: I pass on a lot of freelance offers I get these days, and when I do, I often add that lead to the job board, too.

In this market, it pays to get creative when you’re looking for clients. If you’re not able to go out and do in-person networking, a discerning scan of the job ads can help you turn up good clients without leaving home.


Homework: For at least a week, don’t look at any Craigslist or other mass-job-board ad sites. Instead, find appropriate, better-quality job boards for your writing niches and scan their listings instead — or proactively search for your own clients. You’ll probably never go back.
P.S. Next time on Marketing 101: One small but important thing to do.

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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #5: What You Need Up Your Sleeve

Today, I only want to talk about one tiny thing. It’s usually less than three inches long.

But it can have an outsized impact on your freelance writing income.

Have you guessed? I’m talking business cards here, people.

That’s right, the marketing tool that’s older than dirt.

There’s a reason business cards are still around. It’s because they’re useful.

Even if you have no plans to do in-person networking, I want you to get some. (There’s really no excuse since you can get free ones from places like VistaPrint.)

Why do you need business cards in today’s digital world?

Because you never know.

You never know when a casual conversation at your kid’s school will turn up the news that Joey’s dad heads marketing at a medium-sized company in an industry you know.

And then you start fumbling around and scribbling your number down on a napkin? That’s not very pro. And that scribble will be easily lost or mislaid.

And then you open your purse and take out a business card and hand it to his wife? Now you’re talking.

Next, Joey gets that card and sticks it on his desk, where it hangs around for a few months until he suddenly realizes he’s swamped.

He needs a freelance writer. And he doesn’t really have time to look through 300 resumes off a Craigslist ad.

Then he says, “Didn’t I get a card from a writer recently?” He looks around his desk, and there you are.

Most businesspeople keep cardfiles of business cards, so the card allows your info to hang around their office until a prospect is ready to use you.

How to make your business card better

Here’s the thing about most business cards: They’re boring.

When you’re a freelance writer, you can’t let that happen to your business card. That little square of paper is an opportunity to show you are a word stylist.

Mine shows my title as “CEO and Janitor,” which almost never fails to get a reaction.

Linda Formichelli’s says “My clients think I’m swell.”

You want something on there that starts a conversation, and gives a sense of your personality. Otherwise, you haven’t made the sale that you’re a creative writer.

You can also use that often-blank other side of the business card to make your card one that’s never thrown away.

How? Put an offer on it — 15% off your first project, or a free half-hour consult. Whatever makes sense for your business.

Now that card is never hitting the trash — that’d be like throwing away money.

21st Century business cards

Beyond the writing, what can you do to make your business card special?

I use one of the most obvious ways — instead of paper cards, make business-card magnets. Those get tossed onto the front of the filing cabinet and then stay there forever.

The minute you hand it over, people feel the weight and start looking it over. You’ve made an impression.

Magnets cost more than business cards, so I’m saying, “I take this seriously. And I’m not cheap.”

Also, when’s the last time you threw out a refrigerator magnet? They’re so useful!

If you’re really slick, you could put a QR code on your business card that leads savvy recipients to more information about you — maybe a special offer page on your writer website, or a free report they can read.

You can also give your business card social-media style with new formats such as Meet-meme, a baseball trading-card style business card that can include lots of your social media stats…and a QR code, too.

There are loads of eye-catching new twists on the business card you could try. For inspiration, here’s a great post that’s got 21 different examples of ways to use QR codes on business cards.

Whatever strikes your fancy in business-card style, get business cards. They’re as much for you as they are for prospects.

When you hold those little rectangles in your hand, you can’t deny it — you’re a freelance writer. You have a business. You’re looking for clients.

Now, you’re ready to go out and promote it.


Homework: If you don’t have business cards yet, order at least a small number of free cards. If you have cards already, look into how you can improve your cards to be more useful and memorable.
P.S. Next time on Marketing 101: How to get clients to come to you.

Business card photo: contracox on stock.xchng

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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #6: How to Get Gigs Flowing Your Way

It’s every writer’s dream: Great clients just call you, out of the blue, and ask you to write for them.

You don’t have to look at job ads, go to networking events, or make cold calls.

Think it can’t happen? I know it can, because I haven’t had to actively market my business for over a year now.

Marketing-types call this “inbound marketing.” In other words, the gigs just flow in, rather than you having to go beat the streets for clients.

How does it work?

You need a strong online presence, so those great clients can find you, check you out, and decide you’re the one they want.

Essentially, you’re going to build a network of information online that draws clients to you.

It takes a little work, but it’s so worth it.

You don’t need to be a search engine optimization (SEO) genius, either. You can start getting found by taking a few basic steps.

Here are the elements you need:

1. A strong writer website. We talked about writer websites already in this series, but it’s worth repeating. Wherever else you’re seen online, prospects are going to trail back to your website to read your work.

So get as many great clips on there as you can. And make sure they can read them, without having to download anything.

Most importantly, stuff your writer website with words prospects might use to search for you. If you take a look at my tagline, you can tell what I’m trying to rank highly for on search.

You may not believe that putting a key phrase in your site’s headline or tagline can possibly make a difference with all the websites out there in the great, big Interwebs. But it really will.

You won’t believe the quality of clients that are using natural search to find writers, either. I’ve been hired by several Fortune 500 companies now off searches on Google or LinkedIn for writers in my city.

To help your writer website pop up high on searches for freelance writers, keep updating your site. I have a “favorites” sidebar I like to put new articles into, to keep refreshing my content. If it’s a slow month, I try to find a static page to rewrite a little.

Many writers have their blog hosted on their writer website, which is another way to keep adding content.

Tweeting your article or blog post URL adds another link back to your site, which helps, too.

2. A strong LinkedIn presence. Fully fill out that bio and stuff your profile’s tagline with search terms. Mine says “award-winning writer, blogger, copywriter, and writing mentor.” Those are the gigs I’d like to do more of, so I’m helping people who need those types of writing and mentoring help find me.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile links to your writer website, or offers a portfolio of clips right on LI.

Also fill out the “skills” tabs available on your profile with the writing types you do. Skills are basically another way for search engines to help prospects find you.

3. A “hire me” tab on your blog. Especially if your blog is your main online site, it’s critical that you put a up a “hire me” tab that spells out to visitors that yes, you are available to write for others. I know more than one writer who has immediately gotten good-paying offers after adding a “hire me” tab.

4. Consider more profiles. While you might not want to bid against the universe for gigs on Elance, UpWork or Guru.com, it can be good to have a profile posted on heavily trafficked, highly ranked freelance portals. I call this strategy “lurk, don’t work.” When I got an ebook-ghostwriting nibble from one quality prospect, I discovered they had come across me from a Guru.com profile I’d put up years ago and forgotten.

5. Keep updating everything. What keeps your website and LinkedIn profile ranking well is continuous updates. Try to get on both your profile and your writer site once a week and change something. Do a status update on LinkedIn once a week or so that talks about a writing assignment or challenge you’re facing. Answer a question on there. Participate in your groups. Keep expanding your connections (with people you know, not everyone who sends you an invite.) Tweet a link back to a clip.

Yes, it’s a bit of work to create and update your website and LinkedIn profile — but not much. Once your site is up, you shouldn’t need to spend more than 15 or 20 minutes in a typical week.

Is that more work than developing customized prospecting emails, or sitting through those Chamber luncheons? I don’t think so.

And there’s nothing like the feeling you get when the phone rings and a prospect says, “I saw you on LinkedIn, and was wondering if you have some availability to write for us.”


Homework: If you haven’t gotten a writer website up yet, I challenge you to get at least a basic one up in the next week. If you’re not on LinkedIn, get started by setting up your profile with good key words for what you do. If you’ve got those basics already, see what you could add, rewrite, or update this week to help your search rankings.

P.S. Next time on Marketing 101: Making it happen, even if you’re starting from scratch.

Waterfall: MEJones – stock.xchng

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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #7: How to Find Clients Without Clips

Does freelance writing seem like a closed club, and you can’t find the clubhouse door?

One writer told me this week:

The biggest problem is you can’t break into magazines unless you already have clips.

You can’t get clips without experience, and you can’t get experience without clips.

I know that’s the conventional wisdom. But it just ain’t true.

Yes, it is more difficult to get an assignment without any clips.

But you can do it.

Every single freelance writer working today once had no clips. And yet, they somehow managed to start their career.

I did it — without a j-school degree (or any college degree actually), or any inside connections or media contacts.

Here are seven ideas for how to jump-start your freelance writing career and get those first few clips:

  1. Believe you can do it. As long as you think it’s an impossible task, you’re going nowhere.
  2. Volunteer. When I first moved to the Seattle area, I wanted some local clips so I could start pitching publications based here — so I wrote a few pieces gratis for my regional library’s newsletter. Somewhere near you is a nonprofit that would love your help, give you a byline, recommend you, refer you, and give you a testimonial. Find them.
  3. Enter contests. I got my first two steady clients by entering writing contests the publications held. Those essays led to offers to do reported stories. I’m not a fan of contests where you pay an entry fee, but keep your eyes peeled for contests in the publications you read.
  4. Create your own samples. Your blog posts are samples — so write them like they are $1-a-word magazine assignments, and you can use them to get gigs. You want to write white papers? Write a white paper about how hiring a freelance writer can help grow a company’s customer base. Find a local, small business that needs web content and help them out. Presto! Samples.
  5. Try the alternative press. I find alt papers (such as the Village Voice) are pretty open to new writers. Are you going to a concert, or maybe a protest? Call them up and ask if they have anyone covering it. If not, they might just give you a shot.
  6. Take a class. You don’t need a degree, but take a magazine-writing or copywriting course. You’ll improve your skills, and my experience is professors can be a good connection for referrals.
  7. Just go for it. I know writers who have sent query letters to the major national women’s magazines with no clips — and gotten an assignment. Learn how to write query letters, pitch your knowledge of your topic rather than offering clips, and get the gig. Or make cold calls until you line up business clients.

Yes, those first paying clients may not be for the big bucks. But they get you a few samples. Soon, you’re not a writer without clips. And you’re on your way.

Homework: If you don’t have any clips yet (or many clips), use the tips above to come up with a game plan for landing some new clients. Then, take action on your strategy.



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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #8: How to Get Free, Targeted Online Ads

If I told you there was a way to get free online ads in front of your best target prospects that lasted nearly forever, would you believe me?

Well, there is.

This free-ad scene is a little bit hidden, and takes a bit of searching to find the right spot.

But if you can uncover the right place for your niche and know how to get your ad in, you can advertise yourself to your exact target client without charge, for years.

What is this piece of magic?

Let me introduce you to the joys of online resource guides.

Most professional organizations and associations — for lawyers, dentists, naturopaths, accountants, you name it — have an organization website.

On this website, they often have a page of resources for members that help them run their business. A list of web designers, CPAs who specialize in their industry, marketing consultants…and freelance writers.

The trick is sleuthing out where good resource guides for your target market are hiding.

The challenge is that every organization likes to call these pages a different thing.

For instance, for advertising my Freelance Writers Den community, The Writers Market online would be a great place. They have a Paid Services page — many pages, actually — that lists professional service providers such as writing coaches, lawyers, and editors.

You’ll have to scout around to see where you might find a resource directory for the sort of clients you want. If you really get lucky, you may get a chance to list in one where you are the only freelance writer in the directory. Win!

The best thing about resource directories

What could be better than the fact that they’re free? My experience is, they are rarely updated or reviewed.

That means once you’re in, you often stay in for simply ages. Professionals in your niche who’re looking for a freelance writer just keep finding you on their association’s resource page.

Beautiful, huh?

In some cases, the association would like you to make a special offer to their members in exchange for being listed.

In other cases, these type of listings are paid. Even so, it may be worth it to get in front of a hand-picked audience of well-heeled professionals.

Not every association creates these, but if you can find one, reach out and ask if you can be listed. They may want to vet your credentials or get some referrals, they may not.

But you could jump through a hoop or two and offer a half-hour free consult or 10 percent off a first job for exposure like this and it would be well worth it.

If you’ve tried things online such as Facebook ads — which I have — you know you can spend a lot quickly, and not necessarily get a result.

I’d much prefer to be parked on a resource page for years that my top-dollar prospects might browse, at little or no charge.


Homework: Research and find at least one appropriate resource guide where you could be listed, and approach that organization about adding your information to their database.

P.S. Next time on Marketing 101: Blogging your way to paying gigs.



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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #9: How to Get Gigs With Just Your Blog

Are you writing a blog? If so, great — blogs are one of the best marketing tools around. Yet, most blogs fail to snag their authors any good-paying writing gigs.

Why? It’s because the blog fails as an audition piece. It isn’t set up to show prospective clients that you are a blogging pro and that you would be a great hire.

I’ve done a lot of paid blogging, which all began when I used this blog as a sample. Over the past few years, I’ve written for companies, publications…even a TV network. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about $10-a-post type work — I’m talking about landing real-pay gigs at decent hourly rates. I’ve gotten as much as $500 a blog post, and haven’t ever made less than $50 a post.

In my experience, there are some basic elements prospective clients want to see on your blog that make them go “Aha! This person is a pro blogger who could help me build my audience.”

Many blogs have some of these features, but most blogs don’t have them all.

Here is my list of the top ten things you want to show on your blog in order to turn it into a client magnet:

  1. You know how. Most of you will have this one nailed, but to take it from the top, clients want to see you know how to put up a post. It looks nice and clean, in a big readable font that’s consistent through your blog.
  2. Your design is uncluttered. There aren’t a bunch of goofy widgets, flashing ads, mutiple sidebars, or dark backgrounds with white letters. Clean design also means not having .blogger or .wordpress or something in your URL. Pay the tiny fee and get hosting — you look a lot more pro.
  3. You write compelling posts in blog style. Your posts are short, focused on a single topic, and scannable, with numbered or bulleted points or useful subheads that guide the reader through your post. Paragraphs are short, too. Each post has several links to other useful information that are successfully anchored to appropriate key words, not ‘naked’ or dead. You don’t use ten exclamation points, three different colors of fonts, or otherwise make your posts look like a note a gushy high-school girl is passing her friend in class. As far as quality, you write your posts like they are $1-a-word magazine articles. You tell moving stories, report trends with interviews — whatever it takes to create content that’s a cut above.
  4. You write powerful headlines. If you are going to blog for pay and help a client drive traffic, you must understand what makes a headline that readers will click. Learn how to write great headlines.
  5. You stick to a niche. In my experience, it doesn’t really matter what your niche topic is (as long as it’s not your love of porn or something). What matters is showing you understand niche blogging. The prospect sees you can develop a lot of post ideas on a single topic. You’re not blogging about what your cat ate or whatever comes to mind that day or weird YouTube videos you saw…just about your chosen subject. Every paying client will want you to stick strictly to their niche, so it’s really important to show you get this.
  6. You find, upload and credit images. They should be simple, clean images installed at the top of each post, nice and big, half-column width (not taking up the entire top of the post so that the first paragraph is pushed down below it). If you’re really slick, you understand sightlines, and eyes in faces or diagonal lines in photos point readers toward your copy, not away from it. If required, you have a citation and link.
  7. You use social sharing buttons and are active in social media. Most paying clients are hoping you’ll know how to retweet your posts and help promote your content. Buttons on your posts (not just by your name with the exhortation to “follow me!”) show you get social-media marketing.
  8. You get and respond to reader comments. Prospects want to see you know how to write the kind of posts that can engage readers enough to leave comments. If people do leave comments, they can see you respond appropriately.
  9. You have a ‘hire me’ tab. Don’t let prospects wonder whether or not you are available to blog for others. I know writers who got inquiries immediately after they added a ‘hire me’ tab.
  10. You are easy to contact. If the only way to reach you is by filling in an email contact form, know that you are sending many prospects away. Who wants to fill that out? Not me. Post at least one real email address (or a clickable graphic that links to one, if you’re worried about scrapers) on that ‘hire me’ tab — or better yet, in the sidebar so it’s visible from any page. Ideally, include a phone number, too.

Yes, it takes more time to put up a blog with all of these strengths, versus the usual slapped-up, visually unappealing junk that dominates the blogosphere. But a few design tweaks on your blog and a stronger commitment to working on your headlines and posts can really pay off in landing you quality paid blogging gigs.


Homework: Find at least one feature about your blog you can improve this week to make it more appealing to prospective clients. If there’s more to do, set up a calendar and try to make a weekly change until you can check off all ten of the points above.

P.S. Next time on Marketing 101: Tapping pent-up demand.


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Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #10: Here’s Where the Good-Paying Clients are Hiding

Have you wondered if all the great-paying writing clients are all hiding out under a rock somewhere? Writers constantly tell me they’ve looked and looked at those online job ads, but they can only find the $5-a-post gigs.That happens because most of the really good writing gigs are never advertised. To find them, you’ll have to understand how these prospects think, and why they need writers.

Then, you’ll have to go out and proactively locate and contact these prospects. That right there is the difference between low-paid writers and well-fed ones.

Inside the mind of a great writing prospect

The good jobs begin when an editor or marketing manager is sitting at their desk, amidst piles of overflowing workload. They work at a major publication, custom publisher, company, or nonprofit. They are thinking something like this:

The stable of freelance writers I have now leaves something to be desired. These writers don’t turn things in on time. They’re less than brilliant.


One of my staff writers just quit, and I don’t know how I’m going to get my stuff written by deadline. I can’t overload the other staffers, or they’ll quit, too.


I wish I could find some new writers. But I don’t have any time to look. I definitely don’t have time to look at 300 resumes off a Craigslist ad.

So now you know the sort of situation you want to find — a quality publication or company that needs writer but doesn’t have time to search for them.

Identifying good-paying publications

It’s pretty easy to find publications that pay the best. Besides asking around in your own writer community, you could get the Writer’s Market online. Then you can set their database search to $$$$, the top pay level, and start searching.

Presto! A nice list of top payers to target. You can also scan publications including the Wooden Horse magazines database, Editor & Publisher, and Media Bistro’s How to Pitch Guides for more publications intel.

One of the best and least-frequently looked niches for good-paying publications is trade publications. Trade pubs cover a particular industry in-depth, for business owners in that field. Daily Variety, for instance, is for executives in show business, and Ad Age is for marketing execs. You can see lists of them at tradepub.com, or just Google “[industry] trade magazine,” and see what comes up. If you have some related knowledge, think about marketing yourself to trade-pub editors.

Another great niche is custom publications. These are magazines and newspaper inserts created for companies by a publishing company. You can check out custom publishers — many of whom publish many publications in an industry niche — at their industry group The Content Council. I’ve had one custom-pub client — easy, $.50-a-word work on newspaper special sections, where they hand you all the sources. These can be steady sources of good-paying work.

Identifying good-paying companies

The key here is to think big. Many writers get stuck writing for solopreneurs or small businesses. These don’t have big marketing budgets. To earn more, you need to identify larger organizations with bigger budgets.

How big? Well $1 million is a good start, $10 million is better, $100 million better than that, $1 billion really terrific, and the Fortune 1000 are awesome. Depending on where your writing career is at, one of these categories should work for you.

For example, my first copywriting client was a small local startup that sold call-center software. The second was a $1 billion global corporation. You don’t have to pay your dues for years and slowly inch your way up.

To get started, target industries where you have some experience or find the business owner easily accessible. These could be:

  • An institution you have personal life experience with, such as a rehab clinic that took care of your sick mom.
  • A local, independently owned store you love to shop.
  • A small business in an industry where you once worked.
  • A small, local nonprofit where you’ve volunteered or whose cause you believe in.

If you’ve got a few clips from small-business clients and are ready to move up, here are seven resources for finding bigger clients who may need marketing writers.

  1. The business section of your local paper. Scan for news of growth, acquisitions, new locations, new products, new funding. All of these may spur new marketing efforts. You can assume most of the stories you see here originated with the business doing publicity to promote what they’re doing. They do marketing, so they may use freelancers.
  2. Your local business weekly. Similar to the above situation, except these are all business news, all the time. Smaller ones may flat-out reprint companies’ press releases or do pages of release-driven “business updates.” Grab an issue, and you’ve got a prospect list.
  3. A Book of Lists. These directories of the top and fastest-growing companies in every imaginable industry are available for more than 60 markets.
  4. An industry directory or guidebook such as the Chain Store Guides. The deal with these is they give free trade-publication subscriptions to all the companies willing to give them their data for the guide…which often includes revenue, so you can quickly focus on larger companies with bigger marketing budgets.
  5. Venture capital news. It’s my experience that newly funded startups spend like big companies — they often need to quickly ramp up their business to satisfy investors. VCAOnline has a great searchable news database where you can search by city name or industry buzzwords to find companies that have landed venture funding.
  6. Your library’s database subscriptions. Many libraries have useful databases they subscribe to that could make your searches easier — maybe they’ve got the paid level of Hoovers or Lexis-Nexis for searching press releases. Be sure to ask your librarian what resources they might have to help you identify companies and their size.
  7. Niche job boards. As I mentioned in installment #3, there are better boards to look at than Craigslist. Find them and use them.

I can’t tell you how many writers have the misimpression that if it’s not on Craigslist, a writing gig doesn’t exist. Start using these prospecting sources, and you’ll discover a whole new world of quality clients just waiting for you to reach out to them.–Carol

Homework: Take the one-week challenge. For one week, don’t look at any online job ads. Instead, use your marketing time to do your own research and identify some good clients you’d like to target.

P.S. Next time on Marketing 101: How to do a lot of marketing, but-quick.


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