Writers Worth: Researching Your Next Client

I hope you’ve found some useful content here this Writers Worth Month. Thanks again to all of the guests who have shared their thoughts and insights with us. They help make this a great annual celebration, and I learn something from each of them. I hope you do, too.

Today, it’s just you and me. Let’s chat.

If you’ve been around here a while, you know I like to hound encourage writers to take a proactive approach to their marketing. By that I mean this: stay the hell off crappy job boards and content mill sites. Yes, you can find some gems among the garbage (Jenn Mattern does the vetting for you), but in general, you’re wasting time and billable hours.

Ah, but you have no idea where to start, do you? See, that’s the problem I had many moons ago when I wanted to stop competing over pennies. And that’s what you’re doing when you respond to a job posting — you’re competing with thousands of writers, and you’re placing control of your business in the hands of the client. You might as well be an employee again, for you’re not much different at that point. But I digress…

So you’re more than ready to get out of the content mill trap or the job board feeding frenzy. You need a starting point. Here it is:

Successful #freelancewriting pros take the time to research their next clients. Click To Tweet

So let’s assume you want to work with Ideal Client. You need to know a few things about them, and we’re going to hit up their website for that info. (Note: If you’re researching magazines, refer to my primer on attracting magazine editors.)

Here’s one way to go about it:

Learn their business. I’m going to use Starbucks, but this will apply to nearly any client. Look at the home page — what does it tell you about what they do? Starbucks doesn’t state implicitly what they do, but you can guess from the images –coffee. Tea. But there are a lot of companies that do that, so what differentiates them?

Look for underlying themes. Most companies will tell you either in their slogan, logo, or use of language what their differentiator is. For Starbucks, it’s on their Company Information page (a great place to really learn about what a company does): “Every day, we go to work hoping to do two things: share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better.” Starbucks is selling coffee, sure. But they’re selling a bigger theme — a more global experience. From their free-trade practices, recycling, and even their music, Starbucks focuses on global citizenship. And they empower their customers to feel good about paying more for that cup of coffee. Who doesn’t want to save the world? Look also at the menu. In the Starbucks example, Social Impact is a main menu item, not one buried somewhere below their mission statement.

Know their customers. That may be apparent on the home page — it should be. (If not, you’ve just found a way to approach them on hiring you to fix that.) Who are they targeting? Their websites may not always say (most don’t). But you can often determine it by paying attention to the themes and word choices. Or you can do an internet search on their customer profile.

Pay attention to the words. The words show you what type of message the company is trying to send. For Starbucks, it’s subtle. In the internet tab, they have this: “Starbucks — The Best Coffee and Espresso Drinks.” Yes, that’s way up there at the top of your browser, almost out of sight. But if you pay attention to the wording, you’ll see them positioning themselves with their subtly stated differentiator. The front page has this: “We’ve crafted a custom blend and roasted the coffee so it’s just right for the cold brew process—a slow, hours-long steeping in cool water.” What does that tell you about the product and the company?

Look for opportunities. What areas of concentration do they have that mesh with your background? Where can you see yourself having an inside track? Look for these things: blogs, case studies, “thought leadership pieces” (a.k.a. articles), anything customer facing (Starbucks has a Community section that’s loaded with information/resources)… this helps when you ask them what other communications messages they’ve sent out beyond these areas. That shows them you’ve done your homework.

Also, when doing your homework, look for what isn’t there — newsletters, blogs, even a coherent web presence. I’ve done work for companies that had awful websites, great websites but no consistent messaging across each page, and blogs that were no more than dead links.

Now you’re ready to write a letter of introduction from a person who understands their business.

Writers, how do you research potential clients?
What methods work best for you?

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  • Paula Hendrickson May 25, 2017 at 11:52 am

    I do much the same as you described, Lori. But I also do an internet search to see what kind of coverage the company has received, what their executives are up to, and see if there are any news hooks to include with my LOI. Did they just open a store in a new-to-them market? Did the CEO receive an industry award? That type of thing.

    • lwidmer May 25, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Wonderful addition, Paula!