When you’re starting out as a freelance writer, the default option of choice to find clients seems to be the job boards. You know, Guru, Elance, Rent-A-Coder, oDesk, etc. These, in theory, seem like logical ways to find the people who need you, but many writers I’ve talked with say otherwise.
I’ve heard comments such as, “the only people that contact me are the ones who won’t pay anything for writing;” “it’s hard to make a living from work on the job boards;” “I listed my business and never got one job;” and, “it’s not worth my time to look, because so many expect me to write for next-to-nothing.” Pretty discouraging. Of course, there are the writers who’ve had great success with job boards. But I rarely meet them.
As you may have guessed, I don’t use job boards, although I have gone to the trouble and expense (time-wise) of creating profiles I never published. I simply never felt comfortable in those forums. I also don’t like wasting time, and after talking with other writers, spending time on boards looking for work that would probably not materialize into something real seemed like a bad idea. But what else is there?
Plenty. Let’s take a look shall we?
Alright, I know this may rub the perpetually shy the wrong way (and aren’t many writers loners?), but getting out of your comfort zone, whether that be your office, favorite coffee shop or bed, is necessary to drum up business. The best way to meet people is to go where they hang out. A quick search on the Internet on “business networking (your city name)” will probably yield some useful information. If you live in a rural area, you might have slim pickings, but for those of us in more urban/suburban areas, business groups can be plentiful. A good place to begin is your local Chamber of Commerce. They’ll be happy to have you, and many host monthly meetings designed to help members find one another. There are also Rotary Clubs, Business Singles groups and associations such as the American Marketing Association (AMA) in many cities. There’s also Business Network International – BNI for short.
Want to be more targeted? Then look for meetings of groups that you’re interested in mingling with. Associations work well here, too. Look for clubs, trade groups and organizations designed to meet the needs of a specific group, for example, Realtors. Want to only work with women business owners? Look no further than eWomenNetwork or NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners).
Other opportunities exist by attending seminars and conferences – local and non-local. Getting a speaking gig at a live event is a premium way to network – and be perceived as the expert that you are.
Is this sparking any ideas yet?
I can hear a collective sigh as I move back into what many consider a safer space. Online networking IS a viable way to seek business, but you must be diligent about participating. Certainly I’m talking about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites. But I’m also talking about BizNik, Referral Key and LoopDesk – sites that offer features that can rival the social media sites, but focus exclusively on business. The downside with online is that it can be a big time sucker. It’s easy to get lost in the pages and pages of information that you have access to, not to mention Mafia Wars on Facebook. So consider managing your online networking as if it was offline. Set a time for it to start and end, just like an in-person event. Get a timer so you can focus on networking and not glancing at the clock. When the time dings, you’re done. Get up from your computer, stretch your legs, get a drink and then go back to work.
Use Your Mailing List
Oh, you don’t have one or it’s woefully out-of-date? Never fear, you can still use this point. If you don’t have a list sign-up form on your website or blog, get one. Aweber, 1shoppingcart and others offer monthly plans that help capture all those site visitors you’re currently missing. And don’t expect them to sign up out of the goodness of their hearts. Offer them something juicy and unique – not a missive recycled from your blog or website. Also give them a reason to want to be part of your community. Newsletters, motivational emails, auto-responder courses and other promises of communication create a level of comfort and trust. Give them information they can use – don’t simply say, “hey, I’m out here, send me projects.” That won’t work.
Cold Calling <shiver>
If the thought of cold calling makes you weak, you’ve got good company. However, if the electric bill is overdue and your dog needs braces, you may consider resorting to cold calling to scare up some clients. Cold calling is difficult for many, but it can have big dividends. Never just pick up the phone and start calling people randomly. Have a plan. Target potential clients with a specific agenda in mind. Write a script so you don’t forget why you’re calling when you have them on the phone (it’s easy to do, trust me). Practice first. When you’re ready to call, stand up. Standing up prevents slouching in your chair and gives your voice a stronger projection. You can also use a mirror to remind yourself to smile, while also working to reduce the look of terror in your eyes. Cold calling might never get easier, but with practice, you will get better at it.
Keep Working On Your Business
Sometimes it’s nice to have a lull in the business cycle. This is usually a good time to clean your desk, do old filing, straighten up your contacts list and manage online files. It’s also a good time to review your website copy, add new items to your portfolio, update case studies or testimonials and make sure everything is in working order. You can also review your own sales materials and update them as necessary. Just be mindful that the lull is just that and not a business drought.
What online sites do you use to network? How do you network offline? What other options can you think of? Please share below in the Comments.