21 Small Things You Can Do Today to Find New Clients

The Freelance Writer's Guide to Pitching With Confidence

It’s probably one of the most clichéd lines in the freelance writing world, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Freelancing is a numbers game.

The more you put out there in terms of marketing, the more likely you are to get more work and more clients.

My strategy, as most of you know, is to make one marketing effort a day, no matter how busy I am or what else I have on my plate. But marketing doesn’t necessarily mean sending out a full-fledged query letter or e-mailing thirty letters of introduction. It could be as simple as updating your LinkedIn profile or sharing contacts with a friend.

Remember, all it takes is one marketing effort a day, no matter how big or small. Here’s my list of the 21 small things you can do today that will help you find new clients.

Action Item #1: Revamp Your Website

In over a dozen years of owning and running websites, I can tell you one thing for sure: There’s always something that needs to be done.

I could have updated my website yesterday but I can guarantee that there’ll still be something left to do today. It could be a new technique that I’ve learned or a page that I haven’t optimized or a new piece of work that I haven’t yet added.

Pretty much the first thing you should learn to do is to update your website yourself. If you’re waiting for your developer to make tiny changes to your website each time there’s an update, you’re falling behind. It reminds me of businesspeople in the nineties who would print out their e-mails in order to respond and then have their secretary type it up on a computer to send it out.

Don’t be a dinosaur. Getting a website set up and then making small updates to it is the easiest thing in the world and in this post, I even show you how.

Action Item #2: Talk to Potential Clients, Meet Them When You Can

It’s easy enough to get work sitting in your office from clients across the globe, but when you can, it’s essential that you go out and meet people. I’ve found that editors I’ve met never ignore my e-mails and are often keen to give me additional work. When meeting isn’t an option (most of my clients are US-based), I set up phone calls with them. People who can put a voice or a face to a name are much more likely to give you work and then once they like what you’ve done, give you more of it.

Action Item #3: Ask a Freelancer Out For Coffee

It’s fantastic to meet your editors when you can and you definitely should, but also take out time every once in a while to meet up with fellow freelancers as well. Over the years, I’ve received thousands of dollars worth of work from editors that fellow freelancers have recommended and I’ve personally helped a few break into their target publications. Freelancers talk about editors, fact. We talk about our good, bad, and weird experiences. Especially when we get together in person and can share the real scoop. Fellow freelancers have also warned me away from publications that didn’t pay on time, thereby saving me thousands of dollars in money and hours in time.

Action Item #4: Ask an Existing Client for a Testimonial

This is one of those marketing tips that are so quick and simple to do, taking no more than a few minutes, yet most of us don’t even think to do it. The next time you successfully finish an assignment for a client, ask them for a testimonial, either for your own website or for LinkedIn. Most of your clients, including editors, will be happy to do this.

Action Item #5: Create a Testimonials Page

While I always found it awkward to ask for testimonials from my editors (I’m getting there, I promise), I found that I got a lot of reader feedback and I once had a reader testimonials page on my website that editors often said was very impressive. It included letters to editors of magazines and newspapers about my work, as well as direct e-mail that I had received as a result of it. (Quick tip: Unless the letter to an editor is published, ask for permission from the reader to use it.)

Action Item #6:  Update Your LinkedIn Profile

Another really quick tip that will take you no more than ten or fifteen minutes. Update your LinkedIn profile with a professional headshot, a current bio, and a few specialties that make you searchable. Like on Google, editors and clients are sometimes looking for reliable freelancers on LinkedIn and if you’re nowhere to be found in the search results, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Action Item #7: Join a Group on LinkedIn

This is actually one of the best tips I can give you because I’ve seen a direct result of having joined and participated in relevant groups. In less than a month of getting serious about LinkedIn, I’ve picked up one client (just finished an assignment) and four potential clients that are eager to assign. That’s a pretty good return on investment!

Action Item #8: Pay it Forward

I’m a big believer in the “pay it forward” method of having good things come to you. I try to donate money even when I’m broke and I try to be nice to people even when they’ve done nothing but piss me off. And I’m sure that I attract money and kindness to myself as a result.

The same principle holds true for your career. Give freely to people, whether it’s contacts or information or ideas and you’ll find that it all comes boomeranging right back. I helped a writer break into TIME magazine once several years ago when she was new and still starting out. I didn’t expect anything from her, of course, but she was so grateful, she continues to send me leads and information. She’s now an established writer with several $1-a-word clients. I do the same for her and we both profit from the relationship.

Action Item #9: Cold Call

Most of us, me included, hate cold calling and won’t do it unless we’re absolutely desperate and in dire straights. But cold calling, if you can learn the art of doing it well, really works.

I keep hearing from US writers that editors hate being called in the middle of their work day by pesky freelancers pitching ideas (understandably), my friends in the UK and around Asia and Europe tell me they’ll often call editors to pitch stories without a second thought.

So if you’re down on your luck and can’t seem to get a response to your queries for love nor money, call an editor and pitch an idea on the phone. Who knows? You might be one of those few people who have a knack for it.

Action Item #10: Tell Your Friends

Do your friends know what you do? Mine don’t. As in, they know I write something or the other, but not all will be able to tell you where my work is published or that I even have a website, let alone a blog. (I try and love them anyway.)

But here’s the thing: If your friends don’t know what you do, they can’t recommend you. The next time their boss tells them to find someone who can write a brochure, they won’t think about you. When they read and love their hotel’s in-house magazine, they don’t think to bring it back for you.

You don’t have to be aggressive or pitchy when you tell your friends or acquaintances about your work. Sometimes, I’ll just post a link to something I’ve written on my personal FB profile. That almost always starts a conversation or gives people a better idea of what I write about.

Action Item #11: Be a Guest

I was invited to be a guest on a podcast recently and got a ton of new subscribers as a result. A variation of this is to guest post on highly read or influential blogs like Forbes.com or Entrepreneur or Huffington Post. I know several people who get contacted by clients simply because they’re visible in these places. Think about what your target clients read and where they hang out and make an effort to become visible in those places.

Action Item #12: Introduce Yourself

I keep hearing from other freelancers that Letters of Introduction simply don’t work anymore and while I agree that it’s much better to send concrete ideas than letters of introduction, I think a well-written LOI can go a very long way in building relationships with people and introducing them to you. I sent out a dozen LOIs last week and heard back from about eight editors who’re keeping my information on file. An additional two have already offered me assignments after they said they liked my work and could I send them ideas (I did immediately). I haven’t heard back from the remaining two, but that’s a pretty good average, I’d say.

Action Item #13: Ask For a Referral

This works really well if you’re visiting a new city. Ask a friend, colleague or acquaintance, let’s call them X, in that city who’s familiar with your work if they know someone who might be a good fit for you. Let’s say X tells you about Y, who is the marketing head of a big international corporation and a mate. Now when you get to this new city, call Y and say X recommended you get together for lunch/coffee/a meeting. Most of the time, Y will say yes. And if not, you’ve still generated a potential lead you can follow up with over e-mail or phone.

Action Item #14: Trade Names

I do a version of this frequently, which is to trade the name of your best client in return for the name of another freelancer’s best clients. The thing about “best clients” is that they keep changing. The client who was giving you weekly work three years ago may no longer be in business and you might have someone else you’re getting along with really well at the moment. If you keep sharing your good experiences with other writers (and they with you), you both ensure that you’re getting a whiff of good markets at a time when they’re actually receptive to freelancers and treating them well.

Action Item #15: Use the Power of Search

Rank for keywords. Optimize your website. Show up on Google searches. This is the one tip freelancers ignore because they don’t feel comfortable with SEO and it leads to a loss of thousands of dollars in work.

Can I tell you, I’ve been approached by editors of magazines like Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, as well as New York City agents looking to represent authors, simply because they’ve found my website on Google searches and liked the look of it.

Figure out how to become the person people find when they’re looking for a specific service (if you specialize in India-related topics, for instance, can someone search for “freelance journalist India” and find you?) This is a big item and may take several months, but it changes everything. Because it changes you from someone who’s looking for clients to someone who’s found by clients.

Action Item #16: Go Where They Go

Don’t hate me, but I’m about to talk about in-person networking again. Editors and clients attend conferences, they go to the pub to get a drink, they go to events that have to do with the topic they’re interested in covering.

If you’re interesting in bumping into these editors, you have to go where they go. A lot of being at the right place at the right time is actually about being in the right place a lot of the time. You can’t control the time, but if you’re locked up in your office all day long, you’re missing out on opportunities. Where do your target clients hang out?

Action Item #17: Partner With Someone

As writers, you’ll frequently be required to work with other people. As a reporter, you may be accompanied by a photographer, as a copywriter you may be asked to team up with a designer, usually freelancers too. By building teams, you ensure that you bring work to them and they bring work to you.

For instance, years ago I used to have a designer friend who I always recommended when editors asked for design services. In return, he did the same for me. As a journalist, I’ve had similar relationships with photographers.

Action Item #18: Offer a New Service

I recently told an editor of mine that I was available for rush jobs for the month of November. It gave me an excuse to check in with her, but as it turned out, someone had just flaked out on her and it ended up getting me a new assignment (plus 40% on top because it was a rush job). Not a bad return for a simple e-mail. I like to check in with my editors time to time, usually with ideas, but also to let them know about new things I’m doing. This gives me an excuse to check in with people who weren’t quite on board with what I was doing the last time around but may need my services for something else entirely.

Action Item #19: Look in Your Immediate Vicinity

Businesses are everywhere. Step outside your house, there’s a business right there. What writing service can you provide for them? If nothing, move on to the next one. And the next. And the next. Not every business is going to be right for you and not all businesses have budgets for writing work, but look often and hard enough and you’ll find enough to keep your freelancing career on the go.

Action Item #20: Tell People What You Do

It’s a strange affliction writers suffer from, this reluctance to answer the question “What do you do?” with “I’m a writer.” Wear the badge with pride, people.

As I said above, if you don’t tell people what you do, they can’t help you. So say it with me, “My name is … and I’m a writer.” There, now go say it to five people today, and I’ll let you off the hook for today’s marketing effort.

Action Item #21: Just Do It

Pick one item from this list, any single one, and DO IT. It’s all well and good reading this blog post and thinking, I should do this and I should do that, but that’s not going to get you anywhere. In order to get anywhere in your business, in life, you have to take action. So take one small step today.

Pick out the one tip from this list that speaks to you and apply it to your business today, right now. And post it in the comments, so I can hold you accountable.

The Freelance Writer's Guide to Pitching With ConfidenceLearn how to pitch with confidence to get more assignments and better rates with the most comprehensive guide to successful freelance journalism on the market today.

The Freelance Writer's Guide to Pitching With Confidence delivers simple, easy to follow advice that results in more assignments.

In her simple, no-fuss style Mridu Khullar Relph offers valuable, simple advice on finding editors at high-paying publications.

Then she explains how to bring them the right stories each time, every time.

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