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Want More Work? Get Out And Ask For It (Guest Post)

Cool guest post from Brett Stone, who sent me this last fall, when she was still a commercial freelancer (and commercial real-estate investor). She’s since moved into some new and exciting directions, leveraging her past experience and teaching women how to raise their wealth consciousness and create more of what they want in their lives. Find out more about it here.

Regardless, this is a great primer on getting out from behind our “boxes,” and drumming up business through face-to-face contact. I’ve always been a fan of more direct, personal approaches to building one’s business—especially as the world gets more and more impersonal and virtual. I subscribe to the belief—as echoed here by Brett—that business-building is about relationship-building. Enjoy!

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When it comes to digging up clients, most commercial writers would prefer to stay behind the computer and let words do the selling of their services. Yet one of the fastest and most satisfying ways I know to build up a client base comes from taking a deep breath, grabbing a handful of business cards, and getting out and networking face to face.

Truth is, with the glut of information out there today, most people would still rather hire someone they already know and like, than spend time sorting through a miasma of avatars on elance, or blindly respond to an unsolicited email.

It’s always interesting to discover just how many people, upon learning I’m a writer, will suddenly launch into telling me about a book they’ve written that needs editing, a direct mail campaign they’ve been considering doing, or that they need help getting some good quality content on their website. Often these people have had a desire for help for a long time, but they just really had no idea where to turn.

The best news about face-to-face networking, though, is that 99% of the time, you’ll be the only copywriter in the room. Yes, you’ll encounter bloggers and people who’ve published an ebook, but rarely is this their main source of income. Just by getting your services in front of someone who needs them and is dreading having to look for it, you’ve already helped them by saving them a big chunk of time. They’ll be so grateful to already know you that, chances are excellent, they’ll hire you.

So though it can be absolutely terror-inducing to stand up in front of a group of 60+ people and plug your business, I’d like to offer a few strategies that can turn face-to-face networking into something that’s not only a successful work-generating activity, but an awful lot of fun.

Finding Opportunities
The first thing you’ll need to do is identify where your clients are hanging out.
Unless you’re just looking for supportive friends to go and have coffee with, don’t go to events for writers. Instead, look for events that target the people who hire you. If you write for ecommerce, then go to events for ecommerce owners; if you write for the natural health industry, go to events for practitioners, etc. You get the idea.

I also attend small B2B events. Even though the attendees there aren’t prospects for my commercial freelancing business, often they serve people who are (such as marketing professionals) and recommend my services to a client they’re already working with.

The Chamber of Commerce is good place to check out, but don’t stop there. If you live in a good-sized metropolis, Meetups.com is a fabulous resource. They have groups focused on all different sorts of interests and businesses. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, you can also start your own.

Many cities also have private companies that sponsor networking events you can attend for a small fee. If you have a little more money to invest, you might also consider attending conferences.

When talking with people, ask what other events they go to, and consider attending yourself. Also, keep your ears open for introductions to mastermind groups. These are little more difficult to sniff out, but a good mastermind group can get you in with highly successful entrepreneurs. These are people that pay good money to farm out writing tasks so they can keep their valuable time focused on growing their business.

Go In With A Plan
At the majority of events, you’ll be asked to stand up in front of the group and introduce yourself and your business. Yes, this is the scary part—public speaking is a greater fear than death for most people—but there are things you can do to allay any anxiety.

The first “must-do” is to prepare. Sit down and write out a script (you’re a writer, right?). In most cases, all you need are three to four lines you can deliver in a clear, friendly way.

Instead of talking about yourself, state your job and then briefly tell people, not what you do, but what you can do for them. I focus my pitch on how my copywriting can help people make more money. Don’t try to be funny unless you’re really skilled at it, and don’t try to engage with the audience unless you’re a seasoned public speaker.

Once you’ve created your lines, memorize them. Stand in the middle of your living room and rehearse, delivering them as if you were addressing a room full of people. As you speak, work towards sounding spontaneous, as if talking right off the top of your head. Be sure to practice standing and gesturing in a way that’s relaxed and natural.

Effective “Mingling”
While people are introducing themselves to the group, take note of those who are in positions to hire you or could possibly refer you to people who would. When the evening turns social, make a point of approaching each of these people and making a connection.
This is actually a very easy thing to do.

Simply go up, introduce yourself, hand them a business card, and then ask them to tell you about their business and their goals for it. Don’t talk about yourself unless they ask, and then only in a context that relates to ways you might help them. Don’t sell. Share a little and then show more interest in what they do. Often people will continue to pursue you to write for them without you having to promote yourself at all.

If the people you want to approach are already in conversation in a group, it’s perfectly acceptable to go up to them and join in. Just like you, people are there to make connections and they welcome the burden being off of them to initiate it.

Don’t Forget The Follow-up
The very next day (or later that same day), take ten minutes and send an email to every person you met who you think might become a client or a valuable relationship. In the letter you can comment about the event, tell them it was a pleasure to meet them, ask if they have any ideas how you might help them and refer them to your website.

I usually write one short, friendly letter that I personalize by changing the name and then send out as separate emails.

Often, that follow-up is just the little comfortable opening someone needs to take the next step towards hiring you. Several times I’ve had people write me back and tell me how they’ve been to many events, and I’m the first person who ever bothered to make contact with them afterwards.

The truth is, when it comes right down to it, whether you’re a commercial copywriter or a dog-food vendor, success grows out of forming relationships you nurture by putting yourself out there, and genuinely asking “How may I serve?”


Have you had any success with face to face networking?

What are your strategies for creating profitable relationships?

Do you have any events you regularly attend?

What sort of statements do you use to describe your business?

BrettStonepicBrett Renee Stone is a copywriter and investor who specializes in the areas of real estate and ecommerce. Over the years she’s helped her clients raise or generate millions of dollars. Currently, she’s shifting gears, teaching women the process of wealth creation to get more of what they want in their lives. Find out more here.

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

There IS No “Copywriting Industry”…

Relax. No, our field hasn’t suddenly shut its proverbial doors. No, all companies haven’t suddenly stopped hiring folks like us. Nothing that earth-shattering (or ridiculous).

Rather, the above semi-apocalyptic-sounding title springs from, shall we say, a semantic epiphany I recently had. Hang with me here. I think you’ll like this (or perhaps, indulgently, you’ll just chalk it up to, “PB headed off on one of his mental-gymnastic routines…”).

To really understand the potential in our business, I say we need to think of it less as “The Copywriting Industry,” and more about servicing an eternal need that exists, by definition, in a business world that needs to communicate.

This hit me after I’d recently been asked, for the umpteenth time, “Is commercial freelancing still a good opportunity?” When you’re an insider, the question might appear silly, but to those on the outside looking in, it’s a perfectly logical inquiry.

After all, it seems like there’s this field called “freelance commercial writing,” so if there’s a “field,” then it can ebb and flow, right? Well, not really. The idea of a “copywriting industry” somehow implies that a bunch of people got together at one point and decided to create this industry writing copy for businesses. Wrong.

After all, if you go down that mental path, then, you open yourself up to having the rules (about “the copywriting industry”), expectations (of “the copywriting industry”), pay scale (in “the copywriting industry”), and any other component, change on you—without notice. And that doesn’t leave you with much control.

It’s far more valuable to view the existence of this field as nothing more than a response to an ongoing, never-ending, systemic need for writing in the business world. And as practitioners, we’re simply molding our writing skills to the needs of the marketplace.

It all starts with understanding how a typical medium-to-large-sized business works. Any such business that wants to stay in business needs to generate a constant stream of written materials in the course of their ongoing and everyday communication with prospects, customers, and employees.

When you get this, you start to realize there will never be a time when they don’t need to do this. They’ll need writing always and forever, and that need is completely independent of any of us out here. The only question becomes how they’ll get it done – in-house or outsourced.

And because it’s a response to an external, already-in-place need (versus some proactive initiative on the part of a bunch of writers to foist unsolicited services on business people), it’s a writing direction with serious staying power. We couldn’t stop it if we wanted to.

The only question—and challenge—is how to get a piece of the action for ourselves. I say that’s a more useful inquiry than asking—one more time, just to make sure, in case Something Happened overnight— “Is there still a market for copywriting services?”

Is this a useful distinction?

Does it give you a better sense of the work we do, and the opportunity it offers?

Does it help you feel a bit more in control of your career?

Any other thoughts? (besides that I might need a shrink…)

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

“Hire Other Writers! Make $25-50+ an Hour for Doing Almost Nothing!” (if you’re really lucky…)

A month doesn’t go by that I don’t get an email or two from a (clearly marketing-averse) commercial writer proposing, in various and sundry versions, the following:

“Since I’m sure you get plenty of overflow commercial freelancing work (not really, actually…), I’m wondering if you’ve ever thought about farming it out to others for a lower rate than you charge, and keeping the difference. If you do anything like that, I’d love to be considered…”, etc., etc., etc.

Ah yes, subcontracting. I’ve never gone down this road, but when I focus on the best possible outcome (i.e., solid, reliable subs, steady work, and $25-50 an hour for every hour they bill, with minimal work on my part ), it can sound awfully tempting.

Though, it’s when I think of the worst-case scenario that I come crashing down to earth: Flaky, unreliable subs whose work you have to redo, and for that same $25-50 an hour. AND, in most cases, you’re handling all payments—from clients and to contractors—and all that entails). Makes me tired thinking about it. Pass.

I know it can work out well. The key, of course, is to find those totally “count-on-able” resources happy to work for less (and often far less) than the going rate in return for steady work they don’t have to chase.

In TWFW (p. 230), I share a cool story of a freelance commercial writer out in Montana who did subcontracting right, waking up one day and realizing she’d just made $4K off her subs in the prior month. Sweet.

Recently, got this email from a reader:

Thank you again for your book and the regular encouragement you send out. My writing career has really taken off, and I’m faced with a (good) dilemma.

I’ve found my commercial writing niche. I have regular clients I ghostwrite for each week, and they’d all like more of my time. I only work part time, as I have school-age kids. But, I hate to keep turning down steady gigs!

What are your thoughts about subcontracting out ghostwriting gigs (i.e., ghostwriting for a ghostwriter). Given that I’ve signed NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) with most of my clients, I can’t see how this would work. Just wondering if you’ve have any creative solutions or ideas.

I wrote back:

I don’t have a lot of experience with subcontracting, so I can’t give you first-hand advice here. That said, your situation may not be as hopeless as you think.

If you were upfront with the client about how you were thinking of taking on a few writers to help you, ones you’d be personally overseeing every step of the way—they may not have a problem with it. Course, if they’re very attached to YOU and your skills and expertise in particular, it could make it trickier.

But again, make it clear you’ll be keeping very tight control over the creation of the content, and it can go a long way to easing their concerns. Also, if you couch it with the verbiage like, “I’m toying with the idea of…”, it gives you room to back-pedal, if indeed they express serious concerns about it.

And I really don’t think the NDA’s would be that big a problem. You could simply have your contractor sign them as well while explaining to the client that you will make it very clear to them how important non-disclosure is in our industry.

Subcontracting can be a tricky proposition, no question. It can also work out really well, if you find really good talented and reliable people to work with. If you don’t, obviously you can end up spending more time doing the same work than if you’d done it yourself.

Have you ever subcontracted out work—on a small or large scale?

If so, was it a good or bad experience?

What lessons have you learned from doing it?

Any other thoughts?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

How Long Did It Take You to Become a Profitable Commercial Writer?

So, I recently got the following email – similar to many I’ve gotten over the years from what I affectionately refer to as “shortcut-hunters.” Can’t blame them – we all want the path of least resistance as we build our commercial writing practices. He wrote:

I have been working as a freelancer now for a couple of years, and during that time I have pretty lucky in being offered work with little or no marketing effort.

The work has been relatively low-paid, but enough to keep me afloat. I’ve been planning to follow your guidance now for some time, but I have always felt too busy with work and family to extend my reach.

Recently a long-term client told me he’d hired an in-house copywriter and that he’d be in touch if and when the company needed to outsource. This has left me in a serious bind as that work constituted a large part of my income. Today, I’ve been cold-calling per your instructions in TWFW, and called 23 marketing agencies.

I got the usual gatekeeper responses (even when calling between 4:30 and 5:30), and I have been given a lot of email addresses of those in charge of marketing to send along my resume, etc. I’ve emailed them, and given them my website address and resume in some cases, but it feels mostly like I’m wading through mud.

What you recommend should be the course of action for someone like me who is a decent copywriter, but needs work quickly?

My reply:

I wish I could give you some magic solution, but there really isn’t one. If there truly were a shortcut to landing high-paying commercial copywriting work faster than normal, everyone would have figured it out by now, and, on the heels of that, no one would be making any money anymore…

I’m afraid the commercial writing business doesn’t really lend itself to fast ramp-up times to profitability, unless you already have a pretty sizable pool of existing contacts that you can tap.

What you describe (calling 23 agencies and getting people asking for you to send info, but nothing right now) is VERY typical of how prospecting in our business goes. In most cases, one has to make many hundreds of contacts, and then nurture those contacts over time in order for things to ultimately pan out.

As I note in TWFW, any business that can pay the wages commercial freelancing can, is going to take a healthy amount of ramp-up time. You just can’t expect it to happen fast. The only fast jobs in writing are the ones that offer lousy pay.

AND, the more calls you make, the better your chance of finding that client who does need something NOW, but you can’t count on that.

While I felt for him (sorta), my evil, snarky twin wanted to say, “Where did you get the idea that this was an easy business? And hello? One client who makes up a BIG chunk of your work? That’s a crisis waiting to happen. AND (echoing a line from my note above), if it were really that easy to earn $50, $60, $80, $100 an hour, how long would that window last, before the low-ballers entered the ring, and crappy rates became the norm?”

As I’m fond of reminding people, the commercial freelancing field pays well precisely because it’s not easy. It’s a bona fide opportunity precisely because you’ve got to bust your butt, and often for a long period of time before you make decent money, and that there are precious few shortcuts.

It’s precisely because it can take a long time to get profitable, that when it does, it’s likely to be a more enduring profitability. And chances are excellent that’s the case because you got into the right habits early—habits that ultimately led you to healthy profitability. Amazing how that works.

In 1994, it took me four months to hit financial self-sufficiency as a commercial freelancer, which is fast. Though, in all fairness, I’d scaled down my expenses, and hit it very hard. Count on longer these days. Put another way…

Anyone who promises you fast riches as a writer is jerking your chain. Period.

With any luck, this piece and the soon-to-appear comments below will provide a good reality check to those starting out or early on in the business-building process.

How long did it take you to get to comfortable profitability?

What advantages/disadvantages did you feel you had compared to others starting out?

If you made it happen fast, what do you think the key was?

If it took you longer to become profitable, why do you think that was?

Any advice to give to someone starting out?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.

From What Background Did You Come to Commercial Freelancing?

One of the things I love about this field of ours is that there are few backgrounds one can’t leverage into a freelance commercial writing career. Over the years, I’ve crossed paths with commercial writers who started out as doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, engineers, bankers, software salesman, PR people, undertakers, farmers, accountants, scientists, and many more that elude me right now.

It’s always interesting to me to see what fields someone can parlay into commercial copywriting career, and that they can parlay that field successfully.

Of course, it’s no surprise the commercial writing field is so accommodating to most any background. After all, every business needs a healthy volume of writing, and who better to deliver that writing than someone who hails from that field?

Obviously, as most of you know, I turned a 15-year sales/marketing career into a future as a commercial freelancer, and someone who understands sales and marketing is going to get the attention of many a prospect.

But I’d love to be able to share with readers of this blog who are considering a jump to our field, the various different paths that have led to it, to prove to them that, in fact, virtually any field one comes from can be a good starting point. With that in mind…

What was the background that you brought into commercial writing?

How did you leverage that background when you started out?

And if you did leverage it, what did that background mean to the people who hired you?

If you didn’t leverage it, was it harder to get started?

Any other comments?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.