The Year of Living Dangerously

What’s on the iPod: Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love by Carlos Santana w/Los Lonely Boys

book-eyes-1251357-1279x818I’m about to admit something to you that I’ve hidden for close to a year —

I haven’t marketed at all this year. 

Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. Yes, definitely an overstatement. Let me rephrase:

I haven’t had to market all year.

There. That’s accurate.

It’s true: nearly all of my work (I’m excluding the magazine queries I sent — both of them) has come from repeat business or word of mouth.

I realized this was happening sometime around May, when I sent my last few LOIs. So I did something crazy:

I sat back and waited to see what would happen.

Nuts, isn’t it? I had work, but here I am, one of the biggest bitchers proponents of marketing every day and I wasn’t marketing. Not one letter went out since May, and not one time did I reach out to an existing or former client in order to generate work. (Again, those two magazine queries are the exception.)

For those of you who may have noticed, it’s also when I stopped posting my monthly assessments. I just couldn’t lie to you, even if I was doing so for the integrity of my experiment.

So what’s happening? Where am I getting all this work without any legwork? How the hell did I do it?

Like this:

Legwork. Come on, you don’t think you can just get a website and be inundated with work do you? Of course not. This year of not needing to market came as a result of, well, marketing. Tons of it. Those clients found me because I put the time into it on the front end of my business.

Name recognition. This too goes right back to my time invested. When I went full-time freelance back in 2003, I had a few contacts who knew me and hired me. Some even gave me referrals. The rest was on me. I’ve spent the last 13 years making sure people in my specialty area know my name and my results. And as much as I’ve managed to get that name recognition, I never consider that job ever done. There are always new companies, new CEOs, new marketing directors who don’t know me. The work will continue as long as I’m working.

Reliability. If I’m not reliable, no one is passing my name on. In fact, they’ll be passing it up. So another key part of getting through this year has been to deliver. I did that by starting with one basic skill — listening. If you listen to the client (record the conversations if you must), repeat back, and ask smart follow-up questions, you’ll be able to deliver what they want in most cases. Not all — you can’t please everyone. But doing that while making every deadline will ensure that they remember you as someone to depend on.

Being present. Everything from being seen on social media to being seen at industry events or even in their email has helped. They see I’m not going anywhere. I’m committed to the industry and to my business. I post things of interest, I send along emails that say “Did you guys see this?”, and I attend the conference and all its hospitality parties. I’m there. They see me. They remember.

Confidence in my skills. You may think this one is weird to add to this particular list, but it’s not. I’m confident I can do the job for these people. That translates into how I approach conversations, negotiations, online chats, and face-to-face meetings. I know this industry and I deliver what they want (not what I think they want). People can sense that even if it’s unspoken.

Taking nothing for granted. It would have been so easy to rely solely on my confidence and forget the work involved. But I didn’t. I mucked it out and did the work. Sometimes I had to work harder than usual — gender barriers do exist, and I’ve come up against that in more than a few cases. But I held firm on my price, refused to engage those who led with the sexist bullshit, and proved I was the person for the job. That’s made me tougher, and it translates into how I approach every project and client.

Staying in touch. Maybe that guy I talked with four years ago about his projects will hire me. Maybe not. But I’m not forgetting to say hello or visit his booth space or send him a card at holiday time. Maybe the guy I wasn’t particularly close with will move into a new job and hey, he needs a writer and he’s connected to me on LinkedIn. Maybe all of that happened this year. Yes, it did.

That said, yes, I’ll be marketing again. The annual conference I attend is six months away, and I’ll be starting up the LOIs once more.

And you know me — I think marketing is a must-do activity (the only must I actually push) for all freelance writers. Like I said, I didn’t do any marketing since May, but there were years of marketing that led to my current successes.

How about you? Have you managed to increase your repeat or new business while cutting back on marketing?

Where do you see the most success in generating repeat work?

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  • Sharon Hurley Hall September 14, 2016 at 7:35 am

    That’s great, Lori. I’ve had the same experience. I always think of it as my previous work marketing me; put in the time and you have a bank of previous clients and work doing the heavy lifting of promoting your writing services.

    • lwidmer September 14, 2016 at 9:25 am

      Exactly that, Sharon. The current/former clients are a big help in that respect.

  • Cathy Miller September 14, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Not to call you a liar, Lori, but in my mind networking (staying in touch, promoting others) IS marketing. 😉 It’s just that you have been so adept at it that it doesn’t feel like marketing. I imagine it’s the same with Sharon.

    • lwidmer September 14, 2016 at 9:24 am

      Cathy, thank you for being my truth meter. 🙂 You’re right, of course. Once you get your marketing to this point, it’s automatic, isn’t it?

      And that’s the larger point here — marketing and networking becomes second nature if you practice it often. It gets to a point where you don’t even realize you’re doing it. 🙂

  • Paula Hendrickson September 14, 2016 at 10:35 am

    I was wondering where those monthly accountability posts had gone! I thought you forgot due to work or travel, but I wasn’t about to remind you (I had a brief dry spell this summer).

    The thing is you’ve set things up so well, Lori, that you’re always marketing – just without the added effort. Not only through your website and blog posts, but by participating on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social platforms. It’s kind of like how investment brokers like to say “make your money work for you.”

    • lwidmer September 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm

      I knew you’d noticed, Paula! That’s why I mentioned it here. And you were very kind not to bring it up.

      You’re right about always marketing — I’m on Twitter a LOT more nowadays thanks to Tweetdeck being URL-based (never thought that would make any difference, but it does), and thanks to a new phone app that gives me pop-up notices when you tell me about your Wordbrain progress. 🙂

      It’s about sharing, and I think a lot of freelance writers forget that part. They’re so busy banging their own drums that they miss creating a strong network from simply retweeting something interesting or talking with someone who engages with them.

      It’s making my money work for me, yes. I like that. 🙂

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