Free Advice Friday: The Real Secret to Getting Freelance Work

What I’m listening to: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen


Yesterday was proof of why I love my job. My kid needed someone to sit at her house and wait for an appliance delivery. My hand went up — hell, I volunteered. So I packed up my Surface and cell phone and moved my work to her house.

Over on Peter Bowerman’s blog, there’s a good discussion on successful follow-up. I shared my own, which included both Twitter and LinkedIn follow-ups that resulted in long-term client relationships. Just a quick hello, a “if you need a writer” reminder, and nothing more is really all it took.

Marketing and networking can be — and is — that easy.

But … Marketing without a target is more like shooting into the sky and hoping to hit a cloud. Click To Tweet

I’ve seen too many people tout the value of bulk querying — sending out so many LOIs that you could easily lose track. There is so much wrong with this method, I can’t begin to list all the reasons. But I’ll give you a few:

You’re creating no value. How can you possibly send a ton of LOIs a week and make them all personal? You can’t. So your letter is a form letter. A one-size-fits-all sales letter, just like the three you deleted a minute ago. That’s a great way to impress potential clients. Not.

You’re drawing in unknown variables. So you send, say, 100 LOIs a week, and you think that’s going to net you more work. Know what? You’ll get a few more clients, sure. But you’re missing the obvious, which is there’s no possible way you’re able to vet those 100 prospects. So you’re basically blanketing the internet and trying to grab anything that comes. And believe me, anything will, and you’re not going to be all that thrilled.

You’re not following up. You can’t be. Who has time to follow up on 400 LOIs a month? And since most work comes from the follow-up conversation, you’re missing out on plenty.

Okay, so we’ve gone over why bulk querying isn’t a great idea. What now?

We target our clients. We:

  • Decide who our ideal client is
  • Find out a little about them
  • Write a LOI that echoes what we’ve found out
  • Follow-up
  • Repeat the last three steps 4 times in one week

But that takes so much time! Except it doesn’t. Here’s the time investment you’ll be making:

Step one takes maybe 30 minutes of brainstorming to find five potential clients.

Step two takes 5 minutes per client. If their website sucks, it could take 10 minutes (and gives you something to propose in your letter).

Step three takes 15 minutes (you can use most of your bio over again).

Step four takes 5 minutes for all 5 weekly contacts.

So for one week of targeted marketing, you’re going to invest around an hour and 15 minutes of your time. For the whole week. Even if you decided to spend an hour one step one, you’re still well ahead of trying to send out slews of mediocre messaging.

Let’s not even mention how easy it is to show up on social media and start a conversation with a potential client. If you’re there anyway, it’s almost going to happen without you realizing it.

Bulk querying is a time-consuming, rote process that sucks the life out of your introductory letter, and frankly sucks the creativity right out of you. Why would any writer want to approach clients that way?

Writers, have you ever sent out bulk queries or LOIs?

Did you track the results? Were you able to follow up with all of them?

What is your current method of sending out queries/LOIs? Is it working for you?

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  • Joy Drohan November 18, 2016 at 8:35 am

    Hi Lori,
    My marketing strategy is exactly what you describe here in the bulleted steps, and yes, it has definitely worked for me. There are few things in my work life more satisfying than signing a contract with a new client whom I’ve never met and probably never will, but who decided to work with me solely on the basis of my cold email, a perusal of my website, and my followup.

    • lwidmer November 18, 2016 at 8:57 am

      Joy, I’m glad you came out of the shadows on this one. You are absolutely the perfect example of how well this method can work!

      Joy and I have been corresponding for about a year and a half now, and she shares her monthly assessment with me. The way her business has grown has been amazing to watch, and Joy is on point with her marketing.

      Could mean I’ll bug her for a guest post…. 😉

  • Carol November 18, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    While I personally prefer the more targeted approach, if people are sending bulk LOIs and getting the results they want, more power to them. There’s no one right way to do anything. Options are great!

    • lwidmer November 22, 2016 at 11:20 am

      Hi Carol,

      Sorry – your comment ended up in the Spam folder. Luckily, I saw it!

      Yes and no to your response. Yes, if they’re getting results, it’s working for them. But no, it may not be working in the best way for them.

      You’re absolutely correct that there’s no one right way to do anything — something I preach here quite a lot. I just think that anyone bulk mailing isn’t really concentrating on the clients they’re wanting to attract, but on the act of getting work. Just that subtle shift is enough to make a huge impact.

    • Joy Drohan November 23, 2016 at 11:08 am

      I’m definitely not sending bulk LOIs. I carefully research & target each one.

      • lwidmer November 28, 2016 at 10:52 am

        That’s why you rock, Joy. Right there. 🙂

  • Paula Hendrickson November 18, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I’ve never bulk mailed LOIs or used a form I can customize for each LOI. But I do know the basic format I want to follow.

    There’s a danger in using the same form, too, if you happen forget to add in each new contact’s name or company name. (And if you don’t add those names, you’re not sending an LOI, you’re sending a form letter.)

    • lwidmer November 18, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      You’re right, Paula — there is a danger in that! I’ve made that mistake. Yes, the wording is similar, but yet personalized. I like to approach each LOI differently, so I mix it up sometimes, trying different formats. But you’re right — if you do ANY copy/paste at all, there’s the chance of forgetting to change that name!