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Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Using Online Databases to Locate Freelance Work Anywhere
by Brian S. Konradt of BSK Communications and Associates

Don't waste your time reading through the periodicals or hardcovered business resources at the library. And don't bother driving around your local business community.

Both of these approaches, used selectively and scarcely by writers to dig up additional businesses that are likely to outsource work, are time-consuming and are often unproductive compared with other marketing approaches. Besides—today's technology is making these two traditional marketing approaches antiquated. Next time you're scouting for prospective businesses to add to your mailing list, stay home and do it. Your time will be more productive and you can generate faster, often acuter results.

With access to the Internet, you can tap into legions of business databases that can whirl through 16+ million U.S. businesses and generate a customized mailing list of prospective businesses for you—within seconds.

Whether you're seeking businesses in your business community, in neighboring towns, or in other states, you can selectively extract specific types of businesses in specific locations that would most qualify to outsource work to you.

That's the approach Cathleen Ross uses. As a specialist who writes copy for mail-order arts-and-crafts catalogs, she generally has a tough time locating businesses in her field of specialty, since many of her clients don't advertise in the Yellow Pages or have store-front businesses. Much of her work is generated via networking, referrals, and compiling names from arts-and-crafts, country-style, and housekeeping magazines.

In recent months she has been using online business databases to locate additional work, both in her own business community and in neighboring towns, as well as in other states. One business database yielded her numerous businesses that produce mail-order arts-and-crafts catalogs. From this search, she selectively culled a handful of businesses that were most likely to qualify as prospective clients.

According to Ross, "...they've [business databases] allowed me to uncover businesses locally that I never even knew existed, and I've been in the business for five, six years."

Whether you're searching for ad agencies, corporations, graphic design firms, PR agencies, small businesses, manufacturers, or specialized businesses to outsource work to you, online business databases can assist in your search. With their lightening-fast speed to sort through 16-plus million U.S. businesses and their flexible features to extract specific types of businesses to satisfy your needs, online business databases may become a favorable marketing widget for writers seeking to expand their existing client base or seeking to glean new work from new clients.

Many online business databases also provide extended features that offer writers additional, wieldy benefits, such as:

• advanced search engines that allow you to "solicit the specifics" of a business. You can search for businesses according to name, type of business, type of industry, location (city, state, zip), revenue, product or service-type, category, and so on. You can also perform target searches in which you locate specific types of businesses in your own business community or within a designated vicinity.

• detailed profiles which not only provide you with contact names, addresses, and phone numbers, but also provide you with descriptions, e-mail addresses, Web site addresses, types of services or products the business produces, number of employees, and other statistical particulars.

• door-to-door directions, if you need directions as to how to arrive at the business.

• links to the business's Web site, which will allow you to obtain much more information about the business before you initiate a sell.

• up-to-date information, unlike traditional hardcovered print resources in which the data is already at least a year old before it reaches the library. Many business databases are updated frequently (daily or monthly), quarterly, or bi-annually.

Not all business databases gleam the same friendly features; some are more opulent and powerful in features than others, but this shouldn't be a concern, since legions of business databases exist to cater consonantly with your needs.

Doing the Detective Work
As much as I've praised business databases for their functionality and speed, they lack two vital features essential to securing clients: they don't tell you if the business outsources work nor do they tell you if the business qualifies as a prospective client who's compatible with your freelance services. For this reason, you must don your detective skills and drum up additional information about the business. Doing so will increase the probability of securing work from the right type of business.

The first step, says Ross, is to know whom your clients are. This process is simplified if you already have an existing client-base and you know the traits, characteristics and needs that comprise your clients.

If you are a beginner who has never secured a paying client, or a writer who wants to solicit work from other types of clients, Ross advises to define the characteristics that comprise the clients you're seeking.

The second step, says Ross, is to plug as many of these specifics that define the businesses you're seeking into the business database's search fields. Doing so will help you narrow your search dramatically and generate acuter results.

"Sometimes they [business databases] take on a mind of their own," says Ross. "When I wanted to find businesses that produce mail order arts-and-crafts catalogs, I first started with mail-order catalogs. The database then asked me what type of mail-order catalogs. I entered 'crafts' and within seconds, it generated a list of businesses that produce mail order arts and crafts catalogs...and also gave me a menu of related searchable topics that I could also try..."

But just as intelligent as business databases may seem, they can also be just as inept—without having some guidance from the user. For example, when Ross entered "arts and crafts" as the type of mail order catalogs she was seeking, the business database yielded her null results; however, when she entered "crafts," the business database yielded her numerous results.

I had encountered the same situation as well. Seeking ad agencies in the New Jersey-area, I entered "ad agencies" into  the search field. Instead of ad agencies, the database spat up "adoption agencies" as a selection. I repeated the process, except this time I entered "ad" into the search field. The business database generated a scrollable menu of selections which included ad agencies, direct mail ad agencies, layout and production services agencies, and many additional derivatives of ad agencies that I know regularly outsource work to freelancers.

The third step, says Ross, is to evaluate the results of your search. "At this point, your objective is to evaluate your results to determine if these are the types of businesses you're seeking; if not, repeat the process by adding new specifics to your search."

You can determine if you've solicited the right types of businesses by identifying:

The name. Many businesses craft a business name which blatantly explains what type of business it is.

Type of specifics. The type of specifics you plug into the database's search fields determines the slant of your search and what types of businesses you solicit.

Profile.  Some business databases provide a brief or detailed profile of the business. A description alone can tell you if you've solicited the right types of businesses.

Links. Some business databases allow you to click on a business name to be transported to its Web site, where you can obtain additional information about its products or services.

The fourth step, says Ross, is to make contact with the business "to uncover their needs and to find out if they can use a writer like you."

Making Contact: The Important Chore
The initial contact with a prospective business to uncover its needs and potential use for a commercial copywriter is a sensitive subject because many debatable approaches can be implemented. The best approaches, of course, are the ones that produce the best results and those which are more commonly bestowed by other writers.

Ross admits, that although many businesses are netted to the Internet, she still uses traditional marketing to make her initial contacts, although, she says, you can contact businesses via e-mail to "subtly find out their needs."

If you opt for the e-mail approach, Ross advises to focus your approach on personalization, not unsolicitation. And, she advises, do not use "bulk e-mail," an ulterior Internet term known as "spamming" or sending unsolicited Internet junk mail to the masses which violates and insults the silent code of "Netiquette."

"I'm always averse when contacting businesses via the Internet," says Ross, "especially asking them, in one form or another, if they have use for my services...I favor the traditional approach."

Ross' traditional approach usually includes sending the prospective business her promotional package which includes a sales letter, business card, brochure, and other informational material. Within seven to ten business days, she makes her initial call, if the prospective client has not already contacted her.

"Sending a prospective business a promotional package not only gives you a reason to call the prospect to find out his needs, but it [promo package] also helps establish a relationship [or some type of 'credible existence'] between you and the prospect, which you can build upon."

A second alternative, which writers have been favoring, is to somehow, in someway, lure the prospective client to your Web site where the prospect can obtain information about your services, see visuals of your samples, and read how your skills have achieved results for similar or competing clients.

A third alternative is to craft a short, personalized e-mail message in which you try to lure the prospect of the business to your Web site or in which you ask the prospect, in some form or another, if he or she has use for your writing services.

"This approach," advises Ross, "can backfire on the writer. First off, you don't have the name of a contact person; secondly, the prospect may look upon your e-mail as unsolicited; and thirdly, an e-mail message has less potency to establish a credible relationship or even build rapport."

If you use the e-mail approach, follow these guidelines to achieve better results:

• Try to get a contact name to assure that the message is read attentively. A contact name also prevents the prospect from looking at your message as unsolicited e-mail.

• Personalize your e-mail message so you grab the prospect's attention and so he or she does not hit the Delete key immediately.

• Visit the business's Web site to obtain additional information about the business to aid you in crafting a personalized e-mail message and focusing on the business's needs.

Generating a Mailing List for Initial and Repeat Selling
Your Internet browser—whether you use Netscape or Microsoft Explorer—is geared with two very useful, time-keeping features: the Print or Save (screen) feature. These features will allow you to save your generated, customized mailing list(s) into printed or disk format, so you're not required to copy the names and addresses of businesses by longhand.

Once saved to a disk or printed on paper, you can plug the names and addresses and e-mail addresses, if available, into your mailing list database program. Your mailing list is the lifeblood of your business: you will use it for initial and repeat selling to increase your chances of securing clients.

Because your mailing list contains freshly, Internet-generated names, you must first take some precautions. Don't mail your slick, $10 promotional package to every name on this mailing list, or set plans to call every business. You must first evaluate your mailing list for "authenticity"—i.e. are these businesses the type that would give you work?

One way to determine the authenticity of your list is to mail a narrow, focused mailing of about 15-20% of the names on your list. Then wait and see what type of responses you receive. If you receive a null response, make sure you follow up with a phone call. Ask to speak with the person in charge who outsources work, and ask if he or she received your promotional or informational mailing—and if he or she has any questions. At this point, you can justly ask the contact person his or her needs: does he or she have a need for your copywriting services?

Call about fifteen to twenty businesses and assess the responses to determine the effectiveness of the names on your mailing list. If your responses verify that you've tapped into the right types of businesses, then continue with the rest of your mailing or selling approach. If your responses are amiss, you may have to tighten and tweak the specifics which define the businesses you're seeking, and perhaps, repeat the process of digging up businesses.

Online business databases may not be the all-purpose marketing solution we desperately want it to be to get us work, but they can help us uncover potential businesses that could potentially give us work. The most important process of finding work and securing clients is you, providing you specifically know what who you're looking for. Then online business databases can be effective.

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.









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