Ever Landed Copywriting Gigs in Unusual Ways (Like These Folks Have)?

In the November E-PUB (here and adapted below), I wrote a piece about finding commercial writing jobs in unlikely places. Thought I’d make it blog post, in order to collect your stories about landing copywriting work in cool and unplanned ways.

I love it when work comes from unexpected directions. In The Well-Fed Writer, I talk about picking up a big marketing brochure after chatting up a guy over chips and dip at a party.

And a few years back, I landed a year’s worth of commercial freelancing work from a big charity (probably $10K, all told), after a serendipitous chat I had with a friend in another social setting. We knew each other, but not professionally, and once she discovered what I did, it was a few short steps (and yes, beating out the competition) to a pile of work.

Back in the June E-PUB, I ran a fun piece about a commercial writer making contact with a prospect while playing online Scrabble!

I recalled all this when I got a note from another freelance copywriter, who wrote:

On and off, I erroneously get phone calls meant for another local business. Today the sales/marketing person called me to see what could be done to resolve this. As we were talking, I asked him what their business does. They do tech stuff: web design, databases, maintenance, support, etc. I have a lot of tech writing experience, so I told him a bit about my freelance commercial writing business. He said they’re always looking for good writers, so I’ll be staying in touch.

You just never know when you might run across a potential lead, even in an unconventional way! It’s good to think outside the box and always be open to opportunities that might randomly come along. I was reminded today that potential business really is everywhere around us, and that when we just put the word out about what we do, the work somewhat easily comes our way (assuming we have good writing skills, of course…).

And while it hasn’t turned into work for her yet, to find, through a wrong number, a prospect who regularly uses copywriters? That’s not only a real long shot, but a golden lead as well, and one well worth following up on.

And she’s right. We often get so focused on prospecting only in the “right” places, that we overlook opportunities right under our noses. Doesn’t mean we should turn into obnoxious self-promoters, aggressively hitting up our friends at every turn. But keeping our radar up for opportunities in non-business settings, is never a bad idea.

Have you picked up work in unconventional ways? If so, can you share some stories?

Do you keep your radar up when you’re in non-prospecting settings?

Have you landed work from someone you’ve known a long time, but never in a professional capacity? (friend, relative, someone at the gym, a club you belong to, etc.)?

Any strategies you’ve used to keep you alert to hidden opportunities?

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11 replies
  1. Cathy Miller
    Cathy Miller says:

    My story is similar to the one you shared about the wrong number, except mine was through a search engine.

    I have a client with a very similar name to the one this newsletter editor has for her business. While checking out rankings and such she came across a match in my portfolio for the similarly-named client. And to make the connection even more Twilight Zone-like, her specialty is the dental industry. She saw in my Bio that I was a dental hygienist in a former life. A match made in heaven. 🙂

    And another fun twist to the story – I was visiting that similarly-named client while down in San Diego. While talking about some of the work I have done, their eyebrows got higher and higher. Apparently, they hadn’t even thought of me doing some of the work that I do. It resulted in a TON of new projects for 2012.

    Moral of the story? Never assume your existing clients understand all that you are capable of. 🙂

  2. Steve
    Steve says:


    I had a friend from high school whose family owned a restaurant. After owning it for 5 years, they sold to a gentleman who was a regular customer.

    One night, when our family was eating dinner, the family introduced us to the new owner and, as we were leaving, I wished him well and he said, “Lots to do, including getting our website rewritten, and redoing our entire menus, including the dessert menus.”

    BINGO — Guess who wrote everything?


  3. Melzetta "Mele" Williams
    Melzetta "Mele" Williams says:

    Once a year, my husband acts in videos produced for a kids television program on a Christian network. I accompanied him the first year and watched the producers direct a program WITHOUT a script. I didn’t judge–the shows were based on bible stories, and I’m guessing they felt they didn’t need one.

    One day, the producers invited me to watch taping from the director’s booth. At one point, they struggled to come up with a word that meant “dumb” (they didn’t want to encourage their young audience to use that word).

    Someone suggested “imbecile” but the producers worried the kids wouldn’t recognize or know the meaning of that word. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Had no one thought of the word, “fool”?

    Finally crawling out of my comfort zone, I said: “How about ‘fool’?” A pause, and then the head producer responded, “yeah, ‘fool’ it is!”

    That exchange gave the me the confidence to hand them a business card for what was at the time, my NEW specialty–script writing (I’d just had the cards printed). Talk about timing!

    I didn’t get any script writing business from them at that time. BUT, now two years later, they want to talk about some upcoming projects. Turns out they want to move from five minute productions to those with a running time of 30 minutes. This means no more seat-of-the-pants production, they MUST have a script.

    I have a phone meeting with one of the producers tomorrow! Wish me luck!

  4. Carolyn Frith
    Carolyn Frith says:

    One afternoon, before I had officially launched my new business, I was riding my horse in the ring at the barn. Another woman was riding next to me. Although I knew her fairly well, I couldn’t remember what she did for a living. It was a weekday and I wondered how she managed to get out to ride. So I asked her. Turns out she runs a PR company out of her home. I told her about my plans to a launch a commercial writing business, that I needed to build my portfolio and asked her if there was anything I could do for her. The response was promising. She was bidding on the publicity for a prestigious horse show, Dressage at Devon. She wanted to show more ‘horse experience’ as part of her company. So she asked for my bio and added my info to her bid.

    She didn’t get the business that year because Dressage at Devon went with a company that specialized in equine marketing. The next year, 2011, however, she won the business. I was on retainer for about 6 months with a dream job–writing about horses! And we’ve already been told we’re going to be their PR company next year too.

    It’s wonderful. I get to discuss business as I pick out my horse’s hooves or sitting on a trunk in the tack room, completely disheveled. She’s definitely one of my best clients–smart, kind and pays on time.

  5. Lori
    Lori says:

    I sent a shout-out to the Twitter community that resulted in two ongoing client relationships. I was frustrated and said “Who needs a phenomenal writer to rock their insurance worlds?” Apparently, they did. 🙂

    Another weird one – an online chum and I were chatting it up via phone one day and before we ended the conversation, she’d changed her business model and invited me to be part of her teaching staff. This right after her telling me I wasn’t very good at marketing. LOL She didn’t even realize I’d marketed her socks off – I’m into stealth marketing. 🙂

    Cathy’s response echoes mine to some extent – I scored work from two different clients who had no idea I did “more” than what they knew me to do. One long-time colleague in the industry had moved to a more “user friendly” company, and when I contacted him with my complete resume, he wrote back instantly. He said he never knew I wrote “corporate” stuff – he just knew me as a journalist. I see that as my fault – if I’m not telling them, how will they know?

    I was at a Christmas party once – my husband’s company – and I was cornered by his coworker’s wife, who talked my ear off. Two months later, she referred a friend to me for a book editing project. Another time, I was working onsite with I man I’ll refer to as a chihuahua on speed. He drove me up all four walls, but didn’t he give me a referral for a client I’m still working with six years later?

    You just never know who’s in a position to send business your way.

  6. Teresa Jarratt
    Teresa Jarratt says:

    So, for the past many years, ever since I read your first book, I have planned to launch my writing career. Having a full-time sales job has always been my obstacle, until one day I opened my mouth and before I realized it, I had my first client. I was meeting with a vendor for my “real” job and he mentioned that they needed to re-do their website. He had gotten a couple of quotes from PR firms and as a small business, did not have the financial means to invest several thousand dollars in the project. When he said that, I blurted out “I can do that for you”. WHAT? Whose voice was that?! So, a couple of months later, I was self-taught in basic web design and had created a logo, new website and all content for him…at a reasonable cost. Within a couple of weeks, one of his customers was calling me to do the same work for his company. Can it really be this easy?

  7. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks to all for these great stories!

    Cathy and Lori – great lesson, and one we all need to be reminded of regularly. Our clients will generally think of us as an expert in whatever it was they originally hired us to do (assuming we did a good job of it, of course…), and usually little more beyond that. Human nature, I guess. We all need to quantify people and things as “X.”

    NEVER assume a client has visited your web site and seen the range of your skills. In fact, assume they haven’t and won’t. So, it becomes your responsibility to educate them. I was hired some years back by a company to come up with a ton of snappy one-line product descriptions for a supermarket client of their (really fun work, by the way…). After we were done, I made a point of meeting with them to show them my portfolio and discuss my other skills, a dog-‘n-pony show that yielded a lot more (and different) work.

    And Lori’s right – often, you’ll land work through someone who hasn’t hired you but steers you to someone else who does. It’s definitely happened to me over the years. Think about it – how many writers do most people know. It’s not exactly like insurance/real estate agents, hair stylists or plumbers. So, when someone knows you exist, they’re unlikely to know many other writers. So, when someone they know mentions the need to get some writing done, it’s no mystery who they’ll think of first!

    And thanks Steve – good stuff. And those situations can come up more often than you’d imagine if you just stay alert to it. If you stay curious about people, and show genuine interest in what they’re up to, they’ll often talk your ear off, AND give you openings for work.

    And good luck, Mele – hope that works out! Mele’s story just underscores the importance of “showing up.” Just putting yourself into situations where you can meet those with writing needs, and they can meet you allows opportunities to unfold.

    And great story, Carolyn, and one that developed in the best way – naturally, and while relaxed engaged in an activity of mutual interest. We tend to know very few sides of the people we come in contact with. We see the work side, or the hobby side, or the health-club side, and we all have many sides. The more we naturally try to discover those other sides, not only will our lives be richer, but the more the chance of finding those “overlap” areas…

    Wonderful story, Teresa! And hats off to you for speaking up in a setting where it can be dicey to do so (i.e., while on the job in your REAL job…). No, I’m afraid it’s not always that easy, but what your experience underscores, yet again, is that there’s work everywhere. For the simple reason that EVERY business that wants to stay in business, will, by definition, have a ton of writing needs. And those needs can only be handled in one of two ways: in-house or outsourced.

    Any other stories? I know there are more of you out there… 😉

  8. Peter Wise
    Peter Wise says:

    Many many moons ago, when I started out and was looking to get a job in a top ad agency, I used to create spec campaigns. I did a spec poster for a charity called Compassion in World Farming which went down well with various creative directors. So I decided to approach them myself. I met them and they loved the ad but unfortunately didn’t have the money to run it. But I did end up getting an advertising award a few months later in the ‘Best ads which never ran’ category.

    Anyway, I still had this ad, and people still liked it, so I decided to try another tack and approach an organisation which did have some money – PETA. I did…and they ran it !

    Which goes to show that you should never throw away those great ideas…someone some day might want them.

  9. Dawn Mentzer
    Dawn Mentzer says:

    Thanks for sharing this – it’s important for freelancers to be on the look-out for potential opportunities everywhere and in all situations. I’ve landed projects through taking classes at a Martial Arts Studio and via connections made while volunteering at non-profit organizations. Key is to tell everyone what you do for a living…you never know who knows someone who could use your services!

  10. Usha Sliva
    Usha Sliva says:

    I’ve met a lot of wonderful clients in unusual places, but probably airports are the number one place I’ve bumped into fellow travellers who’ve turned into clients….Other places have been at the zoo ;), yoga studio, and my kids’ school.

  11. cameron hansen
    cameron hansen says:

    I was having coffee at the local Java Hut kiosk and the owner happened to hear me talking about a website that I was working on for a local client (I write professionally, design, and I code, too). He stopped me later and handed me his card…turns out he was on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce. Needless to say I got the whole gig refreshing their website…and more!

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