14 Go-to Sources for Clients

What’s on the iPod: Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright


Well, back to work today. After a nice week off with family and other relatives, I’m playing catch-up this week.

One of the questions I hear a lot from new and struggling writers is “Where can I find clients?”

If you know me, you know I’m not going to send them to job boards or content mills. While savvy writers who have bothered to put a plan in place can use some of these resources to get a leg up, most writers will stay in passive mode, wondering why their careers are sluggish at best.

Instead, I bring you some tried-and-true sources that rarely dry up. If you’re a writer who enjoys waiting for the gig to come to you, you’re not going to like the list. However, if you want a career that’s more than just a waiting game, read on. Some of these ideas may take a little more time before you reap the benefits, but once begun is half done, isn’t it?

1. Trade show lists. Forget asking for a list of attendees — you’ll have to pay big bucks for those highly coveted lists. I once paid $1,400 for a one-time list rental, which got me some interested contacts (the subscription companies won’t share the lists, but will send your marketing pieces for you). Not ideal. Instead, look at the list of sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, etc. Also, use the hash tags that are associated with that particular show and see who’s tweeting about it. Those are all potential clients.

2. Your targeted blog. I’m not talking about a writer-facing blog, but one in the topic area or industry in which you often write. For example, a friend of mine is writing a historical fiction book set in the 1940s. She intends to blog about the period and events her characters will be involved in. So if you want to write about technology, try building your online presence in that area.

3. Marketing contacts. Two reasons why these people are great sources; not only can they direct you to people who may need writers, but they may themselves need outside help. Make friends with these professionals. Plus, don’t forget to follow them when they switch companies and even jobs. These are people who are typically good at networking and gathering sources. That said, not all marketing people are good at what they do — pay attention to who’s sending what. If it’s targeted, you have someone who minds the details.

4. Companies in your area of concentration. This takes some research on your part, but it’s a great way to find the jobs that aren’t advertised. Find the companies by scanning industry publications (or consumer pubs you write for). Look for the ads throughout the magazines or the directories in the back.

5. Internet search. More than just typing in “freelance writer wanted” you should be looking for companies that are in your area of concentration or interest. For example, you might want to write about health-related topics, maybe hearing health. You could search with keywords such as “hearing health”, which brings up a good number of options, including industry magazines and associations. Experiment with keywords to see what gives you the best results.

6. Your hosted Twitter chat. You may not be an expert in your area of interest, but you could easily assemble experts and lead a discussion on the topic. Look for hosts who are heard a lot, but not overly so. Sometimes the experts who are up-and-coming in the industry are the more interesting ones as they have something new to add to the conversation.

7. Your giveaway. Who says freebies don’t attract paying customers? No one who has ever tried it, that’s for sure. Help your clients by sending them a free copy of your e-book that improves their emails, strengthens their marketing message, or helps them improve the content on their websites. It’s a great way to show them your skills and create recognition.

8. Business directories. Whether online or offline, business directories are great places to find potential clients and to be seen by the same. Find one that has a good inventory of businesses of all sizes. Then see how your business would fit in among them. In many cases, the price of an ad is well worth the amount of exposure to new clients.

9. Strategic social media. Having found a number of clients via Twitter and LinkedIn, I’m a fan of connecting to new and potential clients through social media. I don’t follow everyone who follows me, though. I’ll follow those who are in my area of interest, and maybe those who are being followed by people in my network. I send a quick “thank you for following” note (never automated), and I’ll say if they’re ever in the market for a freelancer, I’m happy to have a conversation. Never push. Just offer it and let it go. Also, don’t forget the power of being seen where clients are — LinkedIn forums, Twitter chats, etc. Carve time into your marketing schedule to post and comment.

10. Snail mail. With all the emails circulating, very few writers take the time to send a personal note to a potential client. Try sending (and following up on) actual postal mail. Create a sales letter, brochure, postcard, whatever you like.

11. Networking events. I’ll admit I’ve not attended but a few of these locally (you know how I love a good trade show), but it really pays to be in front of people who might need your services. Chamber of Commerce meetings, Meetup.com events, even business association happy hours could connect you to new people, who in turn may hire you or know someone who would. I’d suggest you branch out beyond writers and look for actual business people.

12. Contributed content. Hear me out. Free work, if it’s work you volunteer to create for reputable sources, can benefit you. Considered, carefully selected guest posts or articles on industry websites or publications could reap huge benefits when people in the position to hire you read it. Once you’re seen as a thought leader in that topic area, your phone could be ringing a lot more often.

13. Printers and marketing firms. Your printer may get asked twice a day if someone he/she knows would be able to edit or write something. Be that someone. Send a note, stop by and visit. The same goes for marketing firms. People go on vacation, big projects come in, or there’s a need for someone to write the less critical stuff like press releases. Or there could be a need for a proofreader (I did this for a few marketing firms).

14. Temporary agencies. Not all temp agencies handle creative outsourcing, but the few that do are rarely without clients needing help. They source the work, you do the work and get a check and a W2. It’s not ideal as they rarely pay what your going rate is (and it should be much higher than what temp agencies will offer), but the work is much better interim work than taking a content mill job. Plus you get to make connections inside companies and learn the industry from those in it.

Writers, what are some of your best sources for finding new clients?
What works for you consistently?

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  • Eileen August 17, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    As you know, Lori, my favorite method has been in developing carefully targeted mailing lists and doing a direct mail campaign. You mentioned exhibitor lists for trade shows, and I agree. They're usually available online without cost. Building a targeted list is time consuming, but worth it. This has been how I've gotten about 90% of my clients since I began specializing in one industry 8 years ago.

    But the other thing that has worked really well for me is my website. My web designer did SEO magic on it 10 years ago and I have been reluctant to change a thing. About once per year, a potential client will find me through that and it is usually worth at least $10,000 of work to me the first year and more in subsequent years. It attracts qualified clients that I don't uncover myself and has led to some good, long-lasting client relationships.

    My biggest lifetime revenue client, however, is serendipity – it was a referral from a graphic designer about 5 years ago, and has been responsible for over $200K of work in that time.

    One thing that can be revealing is to do pie charts of what marketing methods attract your clients, their dollar value in the first year, their lifetime value thus far, etc. Another good number to know is your average invoice amount – you want this to steadily climb over time, and knowing what marketing methods are most profitable for you will enable you to achieve that. When I started over 12 years ago, my average invoice was a whopping $200. Now it's probably at $5,000+ (fewer better clients, bigger projects).

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  • Lori Widmer August 17, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Eileen, this is great advice! I agree — taking the time to locate quality prospects is the best way to increase your earnings.

    Serendipity works, too. 🙂 I've worked with one client who found me through a magazine editor. We've been working together for ten years.

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