We’ve all been there. The beginning of that freelance writing career. And no matter how far along we’ve come, not one of us forgets those first days. Like a newborn calf on shaky legs, we got our feet under us and started down this road.
Except for a lucky few who left jobs with clients waiting, most of us started with no clients. We struggled to figure out not only who we were and what we were doing, but also where the hell the money was coming from.
But we made it. We found our way to attracting clients actively, not just applying to one job listing after another.
That sprang to mind last month when I was checking out some Twitter links. One led me to a blog post about this very thing — locating clients. It started out with the usual promise: How I Made XXX in My First Month of Freelancing. Wow. Who wouldn’t want to know how to do that?
Those of us who have been down that road. That’s who.
In the name of research, I clicked. I’m pretty open-minded, even when my skepticism is on high alert. Let’s see what’s going on.
Oh my. Not that.
The post started out okay — the writer had been dropped on her ass by her employer (been there). So she sent out cold emails. Sounds great so far.
Then it came.
The sideways pitch for what I can only assume is an affiliate link. A lead provider that gave you a handful of leads per month for what I thought was a tad pricey — for freelancers, that is. And for an unproven entity. Sure, this company would provide leads, but how relevant? How fresh? How many other people were seeing the same leads?
And of course, the post ended with a link to the writer’s free report. So basically, this person was willing to share all the secrets with you in exchange for your email. Next comes the upsell, I’m sure.
Okay, so that wasn’t a helpful post. Besides, you can certainly do much better than three figures per month (yes, the boast was about an amount under $1K).
But you still need clients. So let’s find them.
Here are just a few ways to find clients to whom you will be pitching (yep, today’s the day you leave behind job listings and content mills):
Social Media. Come on, this is ready-made marketing right here. Search for exactly what you want, and you’ll find quite a number of possibilities. Let’s use Twitter for this example. You want to write about sports medicine (and no, you don’t have to make this your specialty: we’re just exploring for the first few years). In Twitter, you type #SportsMedicine. Wow. Look how many tweets are just about that! Then you go through them, looking for companies first, then consultants, marketing firms, and associations that focus on sports medicine. Put potential contacts on a list (I use Excel). Now you have names to research (and research is going to their website, finding the marketing contact or owner contact info, and learning about what they do). Instant client prospect list.
The Free Report. Yes, our writer mentioned above used this method to gather contact info. It’s a good method, though I question why any writer would want a report that sets the bar so low (and that’s not my business, so do what you want there). But if you put together a report that speaks to your target audience — again, let’s use sports medicine — you can gather contact info that your prospects willingly give you. Just make sure that free report gives them something actionable: 4 ways to improve your sports medicine marketing message comes to mind.
Associations. Here’s where some of the best leads exist. You can choose to purchase their attendee lists (for thousands of dollars), or you can opt to look at their forums, exhibitor lists, and social media followers to locate good prospects. Also, find those associations with publications. Pitch stories to them. Get your name in front of your intended audience as often as you can.
The Twitter Chat. Or the webinar or start that conversation on a LinkedIn group. Be seen talking about the issues and topics your prospects are interested in. Start a conversation by asking a question. Business people in particular love to talk shop. Harness that.
Networking Events. In my area, these things abound. I’m invited to at least one a month, and that’s of the few I’ve shown an interest in. Look on places like Meetup.com to locate a networking event near you. If there isn’t one, start one. If that’s not an option, consider becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce or other business organization.
SEO. People look for things using the same or similar keywords. Find out what your prospects use and work them into your website and blog. Find out the impact of your SEO words through tools like Moz, Google AdWords and Quick Sprout, which analyzes your website for SEO impact.
Website. Yes, get a website. They’re cheap, easy to put together, and they’re the best passive advertisement you can have for your business. You may not see clients come to you right away through it, but you will have clients you’ve targeted come to you after visiting your site.
Blog or Guest Blog. Hey, if the thought of maintaining a regular blog presence (and it must be regular) is daunting, don’t. Better to have no blog than an inactive one (who doesn’t hate the “Sorry I’ve been absent” post?). But that doesn’t mean you can’t guest blog. Those sports medicine blogs could probably use a post on how to write better client emails or a 4 Mistakes You’re Making in Your Advertising post.
What about you? How did you find your first clients?
Where would you suggest new writers go to locate quality clients?