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!


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.

10 replies
  1. Cathy Miller
    Cathy Miller says:

    Great tips, Brett. I guess because I had 30-plus years in the corporate world it makes me a big fan of face-to-face meetings. Not only is it a good way to network so people know who you are, but I also found it kept me in tune. I think when you’re stuck in an office or behind a computer, you can lose touch with what your customers are thinking or the challenges they’re facing.

    I attend an annual symposium that takes place in my specialty. It’s always a feel-good symposium so it is a perfect environment for exploring possibilities. I learn so much at the event about my industry and my targeted market. I also schedule face-to-face meetings when I travel to San Diego every year.

    Here’s a simple tip that works for me. Put your photo on your business card. I also put on the back of the card – Met at the XYZ Symposium in San Diego. It helps make that connection. 😉

  2. Jacqui Pulford
    Jacqui Pulford says:

    An excellent post with plenty of good advice. I also liked Cathy’s advice. The pic on the business card is very useful – especially as a memory jogger for those who can’t remember names.

  3. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Yes, great post! I, too, am a big fan of face-to-face prospecting. Especially if you know you’re good with people, make a solid first impression, and think well on your feet, try to get in front of prospects (and clients, for that matter).

    People like to do business with people they know, and meeting someone personally now puts you in that category, in a way that phone or email just can’t. So, it just ups your chances of being hired when the person’s actually met you.

    Don’t hear that as you’re doomed if you don’t. I actually have had plenty of clients over the years who hired me again and again, despite never having met them. But, it can speed up the sales cycle.

    And frankly, even though many folks in our field complain about meetings as being time-wasters (and heaven knows, they can be), and as such, they avoid them at all costs, I actually like getting out from behind the “box” for a while. It’s good for people like us, who DO spend so much time alone, to make time to interact. AND, when it’s part of a project (i.e., you’re being paid for it), then what’s the problem?

    I agree with Cathy – you can lose your edge in front of people if you don’t do it enough. It’s a muscle like any other, and needs to be exercised.

    And yes, great idea about the cards, Cathy – how many times have all of us come from a networking function (or anywhere where we’ve met a possible business contact), and look at a card we’ve gotten, and have NO clue who they are?

    At the very least, when you do get a card (and there is no photo on it), jot a few notes on the back, about who they were and what you talked about, and, most importantly (and as Brett notes in the post), if there was any follow-up you need to do.


  4. Lori
    Lori says:

    AMEN. Like you, Peter, I’m a huge fan of the face-to-face networking. It works, and it works both in the short term and over time.

    Brett, your post goes into every point for a successful networking experience. Spot on!

    I’d had much success with in-person networking. Most of my current work is the result of meeting people at an annual conference. In fact, one contact I’ve been in touch with for six years is finally able to move forward this fall.

    My strategy is very much like what Brett has shared here. The preparation for the conference is where I focus the most work. I polish the brochure, tweak the elevator speech, and refine my list of potential clients. Because I’m attending an annual event, I’ve gotten to know plenty of the attendees/exhibitors, which makes the job that much easier. This year, I had that contact I’ve known for six years call out to me as I was walking by. That feels damn good.

    I start with creating the connection. People do business with people, not companies or ideas. I send out a preliminary email letting them know I’ll be at the show, then ask if they have time to meet. Not everyone has a need, but if I’ve sent them a note, whether they’ve responded or not, I try to stop by their booth and introduce myself. Then instead of going into my spiel, I ask them to show me their product/service. I ask questions like “Who’s your customer?” or “How do you see this product/service evolving?” or “What’s the most exciting thing about this?”

    Only when they ask what I do will I give them my speech. Here’s usually what I say:

    “I’m a contract writer and editor. I’ve written for most of the publications here at the show, and a good number of the companies in this room. I tackle everything from brochures to white papers. So tell me, what are your communication challenges? Anything not working for you?”

    Then I let the conversation evolve. I listen, ask questions, make mental notes, and when I follow up, I try to have some suggestions handy. On the mental notes — since these shows are nuts with things going on, I make a point to sit down somewhere the minute we part ways and jot down the things I want to follow up with (on the back of their business card is usually best for me).

    I give them two weeks after the show at the most, then I follow up. Two weeks because that first week, most people are catching up with the workload they left behind, and I want to be the email they open, not get to later.

    Plus, I hang out at the parties. The parties are where the connections are solidified. People aren’t selling — they’re more open to getting to know you. This year, I swear every time I sat down at a party, someone said “I’ve been looking for a writer!”

    And those connections you make on the exhibit floor go less formal at the parties, so you can ask them about their jobs, their families, etc. It’s a way to really get to know someone as a person, and they get to know you.

  5. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Great stuff, Lori!

    You’re really doing it right. I had to smile as I was reading your comment above, as you went through your whole process, before, during and after. It’s no mystery where the work comes from: It comes from putting yourself in enough situations where you’re in contact with the kinds of people who need the services you offer. Simple.

    Not easy, of course, and it clearly takes a lot of planning, preparation, diplomacy, tact, and follow-up (and I’m sure I missed a few other steps). But I can’t help but contrast that with people who are forever complaining that there’s not enough well-paying work out there, when all they’re willing to do to do is bid on projects from behind their desk.

    It might as well be two completely different businesses, given how radically different they are. In fact, they really are two different businesses, given that the only thing they have in common is that the end product is writing.

    But, if the business models are that different, why even talk about them as part of one big whole (i.e., “the freelance writing world”)? When one truly is building a long-term, sustainable and sustaining career, and the other is the equivalent of (let’s face it) day labor. A bit harsh, perhaps, but not inaccurate. And if one’s OK with day labor, fine, but if you truly want more, you have to give more. OK, I’ll get off my soapbox here… 😉

  6. Brett Stone
    Brett Stone says:

    Such wonderful comments and it’s really awesome hearing how all of you are putting face-to-face networking into practice!

    Great idea, Cathy – putting your picture on your business card is a smart thing to do.

    And thanks, Lori, for pointing out the value of taking notes on the back of people’s cards and promotional materials. Listening and being specific with people goes a long way. It’s how to win friends and influence people 101. Many times after an event, I’ve gone and checked out someone’s website, and in my follow up, offered a couple light comments or asked questions about their business. Often this is a great way to get a conversation going.

    One thing to note: I find the best thing about face-to-face networking isn’t just that it gets work. Of course that’s the motivation to do it, but if, like me, you’re a people person, it’s such a wonderful opportunity to go out, be social and talk about business, instead of just working alone behind a computer. Isolation gets trying.

    I really believe, in this day and age, when everyone is so “online focused,” getting out physically in front of people gives you an enormous edge. People are craving real contact. We need more than just newsletters, emails and facebook posts.

    This is actually the great thing about commercial copywriting. It’s interactive. I know a lot of writers dream about producing the next great literary novel, but the reality of sitting in front of the page alone day after day could cause a person to get a bit Howard Hughes-y. No wonder so many of those Hemingway-wannabes became alcoholics. It’s much more satisfying to help someone run their business better and increase their bottom line.

    So, yes, it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know. But who you know is never limited. You can increase your sphere of influence at any time. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it.

  7. William Reynolds
    William Reynolds says:

    One great thing about casual conversations is the fact that they can go anywhere. Since you’re in marketing, the topic will naturally (or unnaturally, if you’re clever) turn to marketing sooner or later. The business owner who intended to talk to you about writing a press release suddenly realizes that he needs a new landing page as well. That one-off blog writing gig morphs into an ongoing weekly arrangement thanks to a few additional ideas you drop in conversation. Et cetera.

  8. Lori
    Lori says:

    Peter, make room for me on that same soapbox. 😉 I’ve been frustrated by that same lack of energy from the very writers who complain the loudest about the lousy market, the lousy economy, the lousy clients, the lousy pay (mistake #1 in assuming clients dictate a writer’s fees, but that’s another story)….

    Day labor is exactly right. That’s a great way to put it. I know a handful of writers who are doing just that, and in every case, one can trace it right back to the amount of effort each one puts into the career and the marketing.

    Agreed 100 percent, Brett! The face-to-face, for me, is about creating a connection and getting to know people. You know you’re doing it right when the contacts hug you upon greeting you. 🙂

  9. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    It’s a good soapbox, isn’t it, Lori? 😉 Seriously, that particular discussion isn’t going away anytime soon. As long as there are enough people like you and me and all those like us, who treat writing as a serious business that can pay serious rewards, but only with serious marketing effort.

    And in all fairness to those who struggle, many of them came out of the magazine world, which, up till about a decade or so ago, was, if you were good, a reliable way to make a good living. Of course, that all changed, and yet, many of the field’s practitioners just weren’t used to having to hustle. After all, if you had several publications that loved you, and fed you regular well-paying assignments, you got out of the marketing habit. And I can absolutely relate to that. Inertia is a powerful thing.

    But many others came of age with the Internet, decided they liked to write, and thanks to low-barrier platforms like Elance, could turn that “like” into cash. Not a lot of cash, but some. And that’s all they know. I mean, they have some vague conception of our writing world (sort of like how a home-bound, non-traveler might envision Timbukthu…), but it seems to have little relevance to their world. And when a few people start complaining about low rates, bad clients, etc., it’s far easier to join the chorus than to question the underlying premises of their world.

    Great points, Brett! In addition to the big plus of getting out from behind your computer, you’re absolutely right about people being hungry for human contact, and so many people (especially the younger crowd) are far more comfortable operating in a virtual world, with minimal actual contact, that it gives those who do embrace it a huge edge.

    And you’re right, William. Nice part of a face-to-face is that you can start it out however you want, just breaking the ice, finding common ground, getting to know each other, etc., And you can choose to deliberately NOT talk about business right away, so you don’t appear so eager.

    That’s always a more effective strategy as it has the other person realize you’re another person just like them, not just someone who views them as a member of a “target market.” And someone who isn’t going for the sales jugular right away, can that very intriguing to a prospect. While I’m a big fan of cold-calling, it’s far harder to just shoot the breeze with someone on the phone, without immediately getting down to business. Nothing wrong with that, and the person you’re calling does expect it, but it still can limit the depth of the connection.

    But William is correct that face-to-face encounters can be much more organic, and fluid, and just go where the two people want it go, and that’s always a better formula for success.

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