5 Quick Ways Busy Freelancers Can Keep Marketing

Carol Tice

Busy freelance writerIt’s always great to be busy as a freelance writer. But one problem that often crops up is that it’s easy to let marketing slide.

Then, next thing you know, those current projects wrap. And you find yourself facing the terror of an empty schedule and the plummeting income that goes along with it.

One writer recently asked me what to do about this problem:

“I have some regular clients, but projects are coming to an end. I find now, in 2014, I’m wondering where and when the next client will appear. I have a good-sized social community via Facebook and Twitter, I have glowing testimonials, but the work is simply not there.

“My question for you is a) where do you find your clients? What has worked/not worked for you? and b) do you or anyone else you know sub-contract?”

Unfortunately, just from the nature of these questions, I could tell this writer was probably headed off the financial cliff when her current projects wrapped up.

3 Things that don’t get clients

Inaction. The big thing is, freelance clients do not usually appear magically, without your doing anything. Not good ones, anyway.

The clients are “not there” for all freelancers, until we go out and proactively market and find them. Take responsibility for your business success and realize it’s up to you to get out there and look for new clients (or new projects from current clients).

Wondering how others do it. I could tell you what worked for me in marketing but ultimately, I think it’s not that helpful. Because — at the risk of stating the obvious — you are not me.

Every writer’s portfolio, goals, ideal client, specialization, and experience are different, as are the ways we feel most comfortable doing marketing.

You need to develop your own marketing plan, instead of wondering if there’s a magic rock other freelancers could tell you about, under which would be a bunch of awesome, great-paying clients.

Really, quizzing other writers on where they find clients is just another form of inaction — rather than figuring out your marketing approach, you’re hoping to find one you can swipe. Where actually doing a lot of marketing is what gives you the only useful data on where you get clients.

Asking writers for gigs. Few freelance writers I know have so much work that they’re subbing it out to other writers. If they do, it will be to writers whose work they know well, not writers who are total strangers you randomly ask for work.

In general, other writers should not be your target client. There isn’t a ton of work in that pool.

Which leaves you to do the marketing to find your clients.

Yes, it’s hard to find time for marketing activities when you’re still busy wrapping up those current client projects. But it’s essential that you do it now, or you’ll find yourself falling off the income cliff in a month or two when those projects end.

5 Quick marketing techniques

The good news is there are quick ways to keep your marketing rolling, even during busy times. Here are five of my favorites:

1. Improve your online tools

If you like clients to simply appear without exerting yourself, invest time in improving your writer website to make it a strong inbound marketing tool for your freelance business.

Don’t have a writer website? It’s time to get one. You really can’t present yourself professionally these days without a site.

Making sure you’ve got good key words for your type of writing and/or geographic location on your writer site, and that you frequently update it to help Google think it’s a busy place, can all help you get found on search by the right type of prospects.

Tweaking your site copy is something you can do 10 minutes a day on, and it’s well worth it to up your odds of drawing prospects to you. Inbound marketing is the ideal, versus having to actively pitch prospects — write copy once, let it go out and sell for you endlessly. So this should always be the first priority.

2. Tap your network

This writer says they have decent numbers of connections on Facebook and Twitter — but is she using them? Do your tweeps know you are looking for new freelance clients? If not, now’s the time to put out the word.

Yes, that’s a little tricky on social media since hard-sell messages are frowned on. But usually people won’t flame you if you just ask for their referrals.

The writer who sent this comment may be missing out if they’re not active on LinkedIn, the one social-media platform where self-promotion is more acceptable. There are great ways to troll for clients on LinkedIn — so get busy on there.

My experience is LinkedIn connections are happy to recommend and refer you, if you’ll only ask. And it takes just a few moments a day to reach out. You can even mass-mail your LinkedIn contacts 50 people at a time, but use this option with caution to avoid coming off spammy.

While you’re doing quick online networking, don’t forget to ask your current clients for referrals, too — they can be a great resource for new work.

3. Meet live humans

One of the best ways to build relationships and get fresh leads on new gigs is to get yourself to some in-person networking events. Often, these take place at night when you might normally not be working on client projects, so they can be easy to slip into your schedule.

Yes, some networking events turn out to be a waste of time, but don’t let that discourage you. Keep circulating around to different groups until you find the one where you get promising leads. Be sure to follow up after you meet, too.

4. Short bursts

If you want to send letters of introduction or query letters and feel like you never have time for a multi-hour writing project, you can get it done by splitting up the task into 10- or 15-minute tasks.

Today, just write the introductory paragraph, or maybe do a quick pre-interview with a source so your query has a quote. Tomorrow, write your bio line that’ll go at the bottom. And so on, until your query is ready to send.

5. Job alerts

Yes, online job ads often lead you to lower-quality clients. But if you target niche job boards or boards where the employers have to pay to post, such as LinkedIn’s Jobs, you can hit some nice pay dirt.

To make this quick and easy, set up alerts or saved searches on your key words and get sites to feed you relevant openings for your types of writing. A quick 5-minute scan a day of that can help you find at least a few leads.

Be sure to template some stock language you can cut and paste together and quickly personalize for the client’s situation so that it’s quick to respond when you spot a job ad that looks right for you. Also save time here by being picky and only responding to listings that sound like a perfect fit and ask for experience you have.


Whatever you do, try to commit at least a few minutes each day for some sort of marketing activity. You’ll be a lot less anxious about how you’ll pay the bills and keep your freelance business thriving when the current rush ends.

How do you fit in a quick hit of marketing when you’re busy? Leave a comment and share your approach.


  1. Katherine James

    I schedule my marketing, I wouldn’t get it done otherwise.

    My tip for a quick hit of marketing – use auto-schedulers where you can. There are online apps that let you send out tweets at set times, or send out emails on a particular schedule.

    This way, you can spend an hour at the start of the week setting up your basic marketing send-outs; and then leave them to auto-post.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on Katherine — I love how you can write something on the weekend and set it to go out during the week at a better time.

  2. Raspal Seni

    Hi Carol,

    Some great tips here, which I just jotted down on my desktop notepad!

    It was only after reading something from you, I started updating my LinkedIn profile and being active there (yep – thank you so much for that!).

    I’m not sure whether in-person networking events happen that much here in India but will lookup and try to attend. I surely love such events and a lot of good relations are built in such events, I agree.

    Should I only try to attend networking events related to my niche and writing, or anything which interests me?

    The job ads I see on LinkedIn, especially from India, all ask about qualifications first. What’s your advice on applying to such company writing jobs?

    • Carol Tice

      My job-ad policy was always to respond only to jobs for which I seemed a perfect fit, Raspal. Skip everything else. So for me, if they mentioned they needed someone with insurance expertise, or maybe real estate, I’d reply, since I’d written for the real estate sections of the L.A. and Seattle Times, and had written extensively on insurance.

      It takes experimentation to find the right in-person groups. For some it’s joining a BNI chapter where they would be the only freelance writer in the group, for others attending Media Bistro events where it’s all writers and editors. I’ve no idea of the Indian networking scene, you’ll have to investigate and see if it’s worth your time.

      • Raspal Seni

        Thanks fore replying, Carol. I’ll find out more about Indian wiritng groups. Seems LinkedIn will help me in this.

  3. Katherine Swarts

    Kudos for including that bit on “wondering how others do it” in the Things That Don’t Work section. I do think that, excepting those who are naturally blessed with a firm individual sense of mission, most of us go through that stage early on. It’s a pity that most educational systems, focused as they are on clear-defined and fairly uniform “assignments,” neglect to provide adequate encouragement for developing one’s personal self-understanding and its relationship to long-term planning; it would considerably cut down on floundering and false starts for those in transition from the educational to the working world.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, there are things for which standardized training works well, like maybe learning a piece of software. But learning to market your freelance business isn’t one of them! It’s very individual, what you feel comfortable doing, and what you’re good at, and what gets results for you. Only way to find out is to do marketing!

  4. Ralph Stice

    Excellent tips.
    I find that I need to maintain two sets of clients: those that pay well and those that don’t pay so well. When the clients who pay well do not need work, I contact clients who do not pay too well, and there is almost always work to be done.
    As a publishing company exec told me a few weeks ago: you have to decide if you are going to work at “retail” or “wholesale” prices. In writing terms, that would be 4 cents/word or 2 cents/word. As he said, “Retail, up and down. Wholesale, always will have work.” I think he’s right.
    While you wait for your marketing efforts to produce fruit, you can always hitch onto a freelancer site and make some income until other regular clients call back.

    • Carol Tice

      Hey, our names are only one letter different! Just had to check out your site and see if you were making that up. Looks like not!

      I don’t think of my clients that way — I like them to all pay well. πŸ˜‰

      BUT…it’s great to have one that’s really flexible on deadlines, that you can “throw under the bus” if you get busy with a better hourly rate or sudden project client. I have one of those and it’s been terrific, they don’t care when in the month I do their stuff or even how much of it I do, I could write one piece or five. So when I get busy, it’s one. πŸ˜‰

  5. Elke Feuer

    I’m all about the scheduling my marketing. That way I can focus on building relationships and interacting with future clients.

  6. Candice

    I love the part about wondering how others do it. I love being inspired by other blogs but ultimately I’m doing things my own way and I’ve found it what others are doing but that’s ok. It’s working for me.

  7. Katharine Paljug

    Carol, thanks for putting that bit about “wondering how others do it” in there. It’s so easy to think that everyone else must have tons of clients because they know some secret that you don’t. But in the end, we’re all doing pretty much the same thing – trying to find well-paying assignments from people who aren’t too difficult to work with.

    I definitely agree with the comments about scheduling your marketing – Sunday night is excellent for setting up social media for the week. I also have a few (reliable) job boards that I check whenever I take a break for lunch, and a couple weekly Twitter chats that I participate in. You never know where the next client is going to come from, so it’s good to have a lot of different marketing avenues!

    • Carol Tice

      I love doing a ton of one thing, while I’m in the mindset of it, instead of trying to do little bits of it every day — works out way more efficient for me!

  8. Leslie Colin Tribble

    Inaction. Yes, that would be me. It hit me last week that I wasn’t getting any further with my freelance career because of Inaction. I’ve been learning a lot on several blogs I follow (Make a Living Writing included!), the Freelance Writer’s Den and a few online trainings I’ve signed up for. But I’ve been using that “learning” for an excuse to not take any action. So this week is ACTION week! And I’ve started my own list of marketing techniques that just might work for me. Clients won’t find me until I get out there and start getting some work.

    • Carol Tice

      Right on — go get ’em, Leslie!

  9. Willi Morris

    For some reason, I still hate promoting my work and services. I am drudging through scheduling Tweets right now, but I know just a few minutes of this is really helpful. I usually try to get myself through one week – one self-promo Tweet a day every week day. It’s not much (even though in my mind it seems like a ton).

    Also, I’ve cut down my blogging to twice a month – one for my business blog and one for my personal blog. Giving myself small goals like this is really helpful. So if I do more, I can feel really good about myself.

    • Carol Tice

      Glad you bring that up — too many freelance writers who urgently need clients are busy posting on their personal blogs 3x a week, when twice a month would probably do there.

      • Raspal Seni

        I owe you another thank you, Carol. I also cut down posting on my blog to once a month (I have three blogs and the whole week used to go into posting and tweeting).

        I read your answer in the “How to be a Well-paid Freelance Blogger” about blog posting frequency, which relieved me a TON!

        Thank you, so much. Now, I have time to do other things. I also removed the dates. πŸ™‚

        • Carol Tice

          Awesome, Raspal! I’ve never known anyone who’s successfully grown more than one blog at a time, so you might consider focusing your effort into the one you think has the most promise. Then you could post twice a month and get more traction on building it.

          Glad you’re enjoying How to Be a Well-Paid Freelance Blogger!

  10. Diana

    Great post, Carol, as usual πŸ˜€

    I loved how you said it in simple words to develop your own marketing plan instead of just looking around and taking a thing from here and another thing from there… that rarely (if every!) works.

    I think majority of freelancers (writers or not) fail to understand that if we do marketing ONLY when we need it, it won;t work for us. It is a process, we should continuously put ourselves out there – sometimes to remind about our existence, other times to attract new clients – whatever stage our work is at.

    I noticed couple of comments suggest automating marketing efforts. If those fellow freelancers mean automating tweets and such, then it’s ok.But networking and proactive efforts to attract new clients should never be automated, it’s personal.

    It’s true what they say – people will work with you if they like you and if they trust you. If we send out automated messages aiming to attract new business, nobody would neither like us, nor trust us.

    It definitely shows if an email is just another message sent out to multiple people; or the sender has taken the time to research and personally contact you for something.

    • Carol Tice

      You know, I do know people who outsource marketing to an agency, and I’ve always been curious about that. I think it could work for something like prepping a direct mail package or possibly for cold calling to narrow down prospects.

      But I’m with you — good marketing is mostly about relationship building, so you need to do it yourself, and not on autopilot!

      • Diana

        Interesting, i have never heard of an individual freelancer (especially a freelance writer) use an agency to market themselves – how does this work? It would be darn expensive, if nothing else…

        If it is to set up a direct mail package, as you suggested – that’s fine. But again, that direct mail would come after a personal connection of some kind has been established. Or at least that’s how a direct mail package would be a successful marketing vehicle for your freelance prospecting. If we just randomly send out direct mail packages to strangers, it would be waste of your money. That’s what i think anyway πŸ˜€

        • Carol Tice

          It’s definitely a cost, but if you’re going after $125 an hour type clients, could be worth it. I know plenty of people who send direct mail without having a personal connection to the prospects, who might mail 100-500 pieces at a time. It’s not random sending, but qualifying a list of appropriate prospects.

  11. Nadia McDonald

    Carol I absolutely love your marketing ideas! Marketing is the engine and life blood of all writers and their writing activity. I don’t have a website, but I am a member of LinkedIn and have my followers and subscribers with both twitter and facebook. While all those connections are pertinent, I agree that it is my responsibility to actively market my niche. There are so many ideas, but I have narrowed the scope.
    I have done a great job marketing my skills as a writer on couple sites, but I need to get more strategic and promotional with my freelance gigs.

    • Carol Tice

      Not having a website really limits your ability to impress quality prospects, Nadia. You just don’t come off as a professional freelancer at this point in time without one. Strongly recommend getting one up! See my “Products I Love” page for a couple suggestions on providers who can help with that.

      LinkedIn connections are great, but remember that you don’t own that network. LI could always change its rules or decide to ban you for random reasons…or be bought, merged, or disappear. You don’t really want anyone else to own the bulk of your network. One good thing about LI is you can export your connections — be sure to do that occasionally so you protect your list. Not so with Twitter and FB.

      • Katherine Swarts

        Speaking of LinkedIn, how about a post on the potential pitfalls of using it (or maybe just about anything) at “hyperspeed”? Opportunities for researching or “inviting” the wrong person abound if you rush to the point of carelessness. I encountered two cases in point since the beginning of this month alone:

        -Seeking out a contact at a local school, armed with her name: found out that she has no LinkedIn account–however, at least six others with the same name do, and no fewer than four of them have some professional-education connection! It’s not a name I would have guessed to be super-common, either.

        -Searching for contact information on a new employee at the local community-management district–“Chances are the next time you call, you’ll be greeted by her”: came up with four people by that name, none of whom provided a photo or could definitely be connected with the actual person sought. What I really found humorous, though, in light of her phone-answering position, was that the last entry matching that name gave the person’s occupation as “phone sex operator!” And I thought that LI was the most dignified of the social networks.

        Even before the days of the Internet, I just read about an incident where a popular British radio talk show sent an invitation to a famous author–or so they thought–and found out only as the broadcast was about to start that the man who had turned up, while having the right name, was a blue-collar worker who had never published so much as a letter to the editor.

        • Carol Tice

          You definitely need to check carefully! I’m always looking for exact name and company desired — otherwise, be skeptical whether you’ve found the right person.

          • Katherine Swarts

            Plus, some people set up their accounts under slightly different names than their acquaintances know them by–the omission or addition of a single middle initial can create confusion.

  12. Patrick Icasas

    Great tips, Carol.Especially the part about meeting people live. I just started volunteering at an organization for tech start-up in my region, and I’ve made so many contacts! I’m easing off on the sales pitches for now. I don’t want to appear too crass– besides I don’t need the work yet. I’m happy to just make friends and get my name out there!

    • Carol Tice

      Sounds awesome Patrick! That groundwork will definitely pay off for you down the road.


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