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Getting Yourself Clients: A
Freelance Writer's Guide to Locating Work
Every day I do a little bit of marketing—and usually it's a mixture of direct mail, networking, and searching through periodicals for potential clients. You'll have to do the same—even if you already have clients and are earning a substantial income. The difference between marketing and not marketing is the difference between survival and death of your freelance writing business.
"You'll spend at least 25% or more of your time and money marketing your services," says Sheri McCall, a freelance writer specializing in writing corporate speeches.
Consider this all-too-familiar scenario about the freelance writer who ignored marketing her services all together. She figured it was a waste of her time and money—her three corporate accounts were bringing in plenty of money. But three years down the road, when two of her clients began to contract out to cheaper writers and her third client filed for bankruptcy, she found herself unable to pay her bills and eventually she gave up, exhausted and frustrated.
That's why it's critical to set time aside for marketing—and only marketing. How much time is needed?
"I put in at least eight hours a week no matter what," says copywriter George Barnhardt. "If I know that a major assignment or project is ending, sometimes I'll put in more time for marketing. It depends on my conditions and how much I want to be making."
"I'm fairly new at this [freelancing]," says Scot Card. "I usually do much of my marketing over the weekend, so that on Monday I can mail out my promotional material, have a list of people to call, and concentrate on my work during the week."
"I do most of my marketing during my down-time," says PR writer Sharlene Berry. "This is when I am between projects or I want something else to do, I'll do some marketing."
A popular complaint among freelance writers is the lack of time to shoehorn marketing into their daily schedules. Working on lengthy projects, meeting deadlines, keeping in touch with clients and managing a business can place a lot of strain on the freelancer. Because of time constraints, many freelancers market their services in short, quick "spurts"—that is, mailing out huge amounts of promotional material at one time when only necessary. According to freelance writer Joan Berk, this can be dangerous.
"Marketing, to be effective, must be done on a consistent basis—not when you feel like it or only when you need to do so," she says. "When you market in 'spurts,' you put yourself at risk of having to wait for the results and scrambling around to find work to meet payments. If you market each day—or at least every other day—it's much easier to manage, keep track of your results, and you won't put yourself in a state of panic when you lose a client or fall short on a project. You'll have many inquiries, leads and referrals on tap."
One of the most frustrating and time-consuming aspects about finding clients is where to look and whom to contact. "I wish I could tell you that getting clients is as easy as going directly to the source—but where is the source?" asks freelance writer Marsha Marinoldi. "The answer is that there is no one source. There are many."
That's why marketing requires a lot of digging around and preparation. For example, who hires writers? Check this out: corporations; small businesses; PR firms; advertising agencies; large and small publishing houses; organizations; technical industries; colleges; hospitals; politicians; government agencies; individuals and other freelancers; and a lot more.
You must define the types of clients that you are seeking as well as know how much you want to get paid. Many freelancers who are earning between $50,000 and $85,000 (and up) target their marketing efforts toward large corporations and Fortune 500 companies.
"You can find addresses and phone numbers of corporations, along with detailed profiles, in any business directory," advises freelance writer Cynthia Colbert. "Call up the corporations that interest you most. Your first question is to ask if the corporation often contracts work out to freelance writers; if so, ask to have the name and title of the person is charge. Send that person your promotional material. Then follow up in a week or two to see if the person has any questions. If not, ask the person if he/she will have a need for a freelance writer in the coming weeks or months. If not, then move on. If so, an assignment or project may be headed your way."
Another susceptible source of contracting work out to freelancers is your local business community. Opportunities abound everywhere, says Louie Markowitz, a freelance writer specializing in producing newsletters. "I've had success selling my services to local dentists and doctors in private practice, providing informational brochures and promotional newsletters."
If you want to start locally, Markowitz suggest that you take a drive around your town and take inventory of all the businesses located in professional buildings, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on who are usually in need of freelancers.
What businesses interest you? Write them down and skim through the local yellow pages for phone numbers and addresses. Then make your contact.
"Has a new business or professional practice started up in your community? If so, the chances are high that it's going to need some type of promotional material or some type of writing," says Markowitz. "If not in the present moment, the chances are still good that the business will need some sort of freelance writing service in the months to come. Send your promotional package to the owner to keep on file."
Freelancing locally is only the beginning; many freelancers choose to market their services nationally, across the entire U.S., providing freelance writing services to more corporations, businesses and professional practices. Today's technology makes it possible for freelancers to work competently and professionally at home. Communication can be done by phone. Copy can be sent by fax. Mail can be sent via e-mail. Computers and software allow us to re-correct mistakes in an instant and disks allow us to transfer entire documents. Your client can have your completed brochure or newsletter in a day via Federal Express. The advantages go on and on.
One rapidly growing area for freelance writers is technical writing where freelancers are being paid $50 (and up) per hour to write and design manuals for computers, software, machinery, and so on. Many technical writers are placed into technical writing jobs with the help of job agencies, although it is possible to get technical writing assignments through your own marketing efforts.
If you want to go into editorial freelancing—editing books, newsletters, or publications—you can tap into the large and small publishing houses. One familiar resource where you can find contacts and addresses is a current edition of Writer's Market. Businesses are also a rich reservoir of editing opportunity.
According to Markowitz, "You'll find plenty of businesses that need editing for their newsletters. For-profit and non-profit organizations are also another biggie."
Seeking clients can be exhausting for the freelancer, especially if you aren't producing the results you want. So how about having clients seek you? One method to accomplish this task is your basic advertising.
"To get the best results, advertise in top trade publications of your specialty, says direct mail writer, Tony Perez.
Some trade publications where you can advertise your services include Direct Marketing magazine, Publisher's Weekly, Advertising Age, Writer's Digest, Magazine & Bookseller, Quill, and Target marketing.
"But don't expect to rely solely on advertising," advises Perez. "Direct mail marketing is needed the most. Clients are less likely to seek you unless they're desperate or they haphazardly come across your ad and it's a killer."
Miriam Spelling tells a different story, though. As a freelance writer specializing in brochure copy, she says, "I've gotten a good share of assignments through my ad. I've also gotten plenty of inquiries and leads with my ad." "I advertise throughout the year," says freelance writer Maria Sanchez. "It's helpful to publicize my services and it helps me get assignments from start-up businesses or newly established divisions of other businesses."
"I advertise my services to make them available to anyone who can afford them," says freelance writer Gerry Kantrowitz. "If you use only direct mail, you're only targeting your services to one audience at one time. But by advertising, you're providing yourself with the opportunity to publicize your services to other possible sources of income at one time."
If you're a freelance writer just starting out, consider joining a national writers' group or association. Not only will a professional writer's group help you network with other professionals in the field, provide marketing advice, and act as an advocate to help you with legal matters, but also many writers' groups today provide valuable job banks or hotline numbers that will guide you in landing an assignment or project.
Other possibilities to get yourself clients include giving seminars and speeches; writing articles for trade magazines; publishing a newsletter for self-promotion; and networking at trade shows and conferences. There are dozens and dozens of other ways to get yourself clients—the best marketing ways, of course, will come from your own ingenuity and creativity.
Brian Konradt is the owner and operator of FreelanceWriting.com, a Web site dedicated to help writers master the business and creative sides of freelance writing. Mr. Konradt is also the principal of BSK Communications & Associates, a communications/publishing business in New Jersey, which he established in 1992.