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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.