There are only a handful of freelance writing colleagues that I turn to on a regular basis to bounce ideas around. Lori Widmer is one of those writers. And one issue where I wouldn't hesitate to consult her for advice is freelance marketing.
Lori comes from a business writing background, but also pursues creative writing projects (currently focusing on poetry). She knows how to adapt her business and marketing strategies to appeal to different groups of clients and readers, no matter what project she's taking on. More importantly, Lori understands that there's more to marketing than direct sales, and that relationships are at the heart of it.
She was kind enough to let me interview her so we could share some of her thoughts on marketing writing services with you. Her thoughts might be especially interesting to those writers who have a particular dislike of marekting. Enjoy!
The Interview: Marketing Freelance Writing Services
1. Why do you think so many freelance writers have an aversion to marketing their services? And what is the most important thing they can do to get past that?
I think it’s the word. “Marketing” sounds corporate, complicated, hard. It’s not. It’s reaching out to clients and telling them who you are, what you do, and how you can help them. It’s about selling, but in my mind it’s so much more than that. For me, marketing and networking are linked forever. And maybe that’s what freelance writers need to think of to get beyond the fear – in networking, you’re introducing yourself and your services.
You may or may not be asking for a sale, but you’re building the relationship. You’re sending a holiday card or saying hello on social media or even simply asking a client if you can help with something. You’re communicating a value you have even if you’re not doing it overtly every single time. It’s the first step in the marketing process, and it’s the easiest.
I think the best way to get past the aversion to marketing is to keep it simple. For instance, you could send out emails introducing yourself to potential clients and mentioning some of their current writing and how you might help.
You can send a brochure, attend a seminar, send out a Twitter update on your latest published clip or career success, increase how many business cards you give out in a week, etc. You don’t have to make this complicated, hard-to-follow marketing plan. You simply have to reach out to people in a way that fits your personality.
2. Many writers likely market themselves on a regular basis without even realizing they're doing it. Can you give us a few examples of this?
It’s funny how often that happens, too. I know one writer who said he couldn’t market. This was a writer who’d secured ongoing assignments from me by taking me out to lunch and getting to know me, so I reminded him of that.
For me, I like to talk to people and create friendships. In one case recently, I’d been bantering with a company rep on and off for about a year and a half on Twitter. I was surprised when he hired me last week – I hadn’t talked with him in months. But the relationship had been built without me realizing it.
The same thing happened to another writer I know, who landed an ongoing client just because she took an interest in a PR woman’s recent pregnancy and childbirth. Also, I interviewed a guy a few times when I was on staff at a magazine. He became a trusted source, but years later, he became a client when he contracted with me to work for his marketing firm. He liked how I’d interacted with him during the interviews.
3. In your e-book, you focus on all of the little things we can do to market our writing services and how those tactics can add up to an effective marketing strategy. How much time would you say an average freelancer (especially a brand new one) should spend on these tactics before they start seeing results or pursue something else? Do you recommend trying as many marketing tactics as possible, or would you suggest that writers try a few and see them through for a while before moving on to other options? At what point does testing cross the line to too scattered of an approach to be effective?
How much time a writer spends is dependent on how well the person markets. For instance, you could spend 15 minutes a day sending out targeted emails to specific clients and have the same results as a writer who spends two hours sending out generic emails or brochures.
I would say the new freelancer will definitely spend much more time marketing than someone who has established a solid client base and/or reputation. And that’s okay in the beginning just as long as the writer makes a regular, consistent effort.
As to how many marketing tactics a person should try, I think that also depends on the person. I think in the beginning, it’s easier to keep it simple. Try two or three methods to start, but make one a more concentrated effort and the others easier ways to connect. For example, magazine queries mixed with Twitter connections and LinkedIn updates. Keep them simple! If you go too overboard, you’re never going to follow up.
My own marketing mix right now includes letters of introduction, Twitter updates, and emailing existing clients. Next week, it may be query letters, a seminar, or an email special. My plan is to keep it consistent and unfussy. When I first started marketing in earnest, I didn’t add anything too complicated nor did I add too much too quickly. I got used to what it was that worked for me first, then I added as I went.
I suggest writers stick with their chosen method for a while – a few months at least. You may send out 1,000 emails or letters and feel like giving up. But it could be #1,001 that gets you that long-term client.
Part of the problem I see with writers failing at marketing is they don’t stick with it. They try it once and drop it. I know myself there are days I send out queries that never get responses, then the next week I get three or four. If I’d stopped that first week, I’d never have scored those potential clients.
Resist the urge to feel defeated if your initial efforts don’t net instant results. If it helps, think of each letter as your potential to build a relationship, not secure a sale. That way, you’re more inclined to check back in later, and to continue your marketing efforts.
If you can’t keep up with your own efforts, you’re doing too much. Testing crosses the line when you need more time to market than you have to complete other projects or when your efforts are netting zero results two months later.
There are exceptions to that, like with magazines. Sometimes they don’t have the money or the time or the staff, and sometimes your idea misses the mark. Just keep it simple. Learn how you communicate best, and keep an eye on how often you get a positive response.
If no method is working, look at what your message is. It could be that you’re attempting to reach the right audience with the wrong message or vice versa. There’s a strategy in the book that pushes you to reexamine your message by flipping it around --- you’re now the customer and you’re facing your own pitch. Would you buy?
4. With networking being such an integral part of your marketing strategy, what is the single most important networking tip you would give freelance writers? How can they make more valuable connections and build stronger relationships that will help them move forward in their careers?
Don’t approach new prospects with a sales pitch! Don’t be that person at the party who shakes your hand and won’t shut up about themselves and their business and how they can sell you exactly what you need. I hate that person. So do you, I’d bet.
Instead, find common ground. Introduce yourself, give a one-sentence summary of who you are and what you do, then ask a question. People love to talk about themselves and what they know. Find ways to let people show their knowledge. I’ve been known to take notes – people are impressed that someone cares enough about what they say to write it down.
You can make valuable connections and build strong relationships by being yourself, showing interest in the client’s business or knowledge, and finding those clients who need your type of expertise. Most of all, be friendly. Remember, you’re here to build a relationship first and foremost.
It’s funny how you become infinitely more interesting the more questions you ask about a person and his or her background. Smile, laugh even, and enjoy getting to know this person in front of you. And relax – you’re not on trial! You’re simply making an acquaintance.
5. In your own freelance writing career, what has proven to be the most effective single marketing tactic you've ever used? How much emphasis do you put on that tool or tactic currently compared to other marketing efforts?
I love a good conference. I plan months in advance for the one conference I attend every year. I contact clients before the show, arrange meetings at the show, and follow up after I get back. One conference two years ago resulted in six new clients and eventually two more a year later (never stop following up!).
I like conferences and trade shows because the clients are in one place and they are in the zone – they’re ready to talk business. It’s also a good time because they’re more willing to talk about how to improve their writing and communications amid all that competition.
Also, there’s a psychological advantage you get when you’re meeting your clients face-to-face versus email or phone calls. Plus if you attend the same show every year, you get recognition. You’re part of the community and you’ll start getting work based solely on your presence. People start seeing you as an expert in their industry.
Another great tactic I use is the letter of introduction (LOI). It’s like a magazine query letter with a twist; you’re selling yourself. I would say between the LOI and the conference prep, that’s about 70 percent of my current marketing effort, but only because the conference is five months out and now is when I normally start preparing. Any other time of year, my marketing efforts are split between LOIs, follow-up, magazine work, and social media. That mix seems to work well for me.
But to me, it’s less about the mix and more about the effort. The most important networking component any writer can have is this: consistency. You can have the world’s worst marketing plan, but if you keep trying, someone will buy. I compare it to hockey – if you keep shooting the puck at the net, eventually one will go in.
About Lori Widmer
Lori Widmer is a veteran freelance writer and editor with over 15 years of experience. She has written over 150 articles and has worked with large global corporations and individual clients. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, daughter, daughter’s fiancé, and a 14-year-old goldfish who just will not stop growing. You can find her at her writing blog (https://www.wordsonpageblog.com) or at her business blog (https://www.mitigate-me.com).