How I Found 16 Great Writing Client Leads on My Lunch Break

Carol Tice

Freelance writer's working lunchby James Hart

Working an 8-to-6 day job along with a weekend gig to cover my student loans means I don’t have a lot of spare time to launch my freelance career. I’ve had to find creative but effective ways to promote my work, send out pitches and research prospective clients in a very tight schedule.

That’s why it thrilled me to find 16 good client leads while on my lunch break, just by standing in line at my local food market.

What I did was fast, easy to do, and I guarantee that it can work for you, too. It’ll just cost you half an hour and a couple extra dollars at the checkout line. Let me walk you through it.

1. Pick Up A Regional Magazine

You know, the ones featuring dining, real estate and boutique retail stores and cost about five dollars. There’s a handful in my area, and although they each have a slightly different focusโ€”landscaping, interior design, events, etc. โ€”they’re a treasure trove for prospective clients.

My advice would be to pick one you might think of reading anyway; you’ll find it easier and more comfortable to pitch to companies selling services you’re already interested in.

2. Read The Ads, Not The Articles

Got your lunch and your magazine? Great! Now sit down and read through each section.

But don’t read the articles; instead, look at the ads. Make a list of all the big, full- or half-page write-ups that look well-designed; local companies willing to pay for quality marketing are what you’re looking for.

Which industries? It shouldn’t matter too much; if the business is local, you probably know enough about their potential clients and what their needs are to feel comfortable pitching to them.

3. Check Them Out on Manta, the Web

Now that you have a list of companies, check them out online. Are there any deficiencies you see on their website? Is their blog working for them? Is their social media up to scratch?

Spend some time getting acquainted with their business, and see if their web presence is really working for them. No matter what kind of professional writing you’re into, it shouldn’t be hard to find out how you could improve their material.

For example, the magazine I picked up off the shelf was 375 pages. From that, I listed 80 companies I might want to pitch to. After looking at each company website and checking out their Manta profile, I found 16 businesses that were well-established, had a decent revenue stream and took their marketing seriously…but had a blog that needed serious work.

But mind you, that was nearly every company that had a blog. Only three out of 80 had a blog that was working for them.

Pretty encouraging, right? And by checking out such a diverse range of businesses, I also developed some ideas about how to break into more markets.

In just a half-hour, I was ready to send out letters of introduction or call my prospects and make my pitch to help their blog get their business more traffic and leads.

All it cost me was five dollars and a working lunch break. I strongly encourage you to try this for yourself and see what you find!

How do you find prospective clients? Tell us your approach in the comments.

James Hart is a professional writer who specializes in environmental advocacy and adventure sports.ย 

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  1. Anneke Steenkamp

    Great post, James. Short and sweet and to the point. I love reading such bursts of information and expertise.

    If you don’t mind sharing; what do you include in the mails you send them? Do you propose to manage their blogs or write content or do you merely introduce yourself?

    Thanx again for a useful post! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • James Hart

      Hi Anneke,

      Glad you found it helpful! I’m a fan of hybrid LOIs myself; they allow you to offer businesses some concrete benefits from working with you, rather than vague services they may or may not have a use for.

      In the letter, I introduce myself, mention that their ad enticed me to look them up, and then noticed some things on their blog/website/whatever the case may be that could use some help. Then I offer a few specific suggestions so they can see how they could benefit from my services. (In the case of blog posts, for example, I’ll give them three pitch ideas.)

      Linda Formichelli has some great advice about this kind of query here:

      Hope that helps!

  2. Daryl

    Great advice indeed!

    I think the most important point was to pick a magazine in an area that you’re already interested/experienced in – it will make writing a pitch so much easier!

    I’d also love to know who packs your lunch kits ๐Ÿ˜›

  3. Amel

    Nice strategy! Hope you’ll do a Part 2 on whether any of the leads you found turned into clients.

  4. Jessica Cue

    Great post, James! Gonna have to try it out. I actually do a similar thing using Groupon. Most business advertising on there have terrible websites so there’s a lot of opportunity. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, that’s fascinating — love the Groupon angle, Jessica!

      • Jessica

        It’s still in the testing phase, but I’m already negotiating with one client off it. I can let you know how it goes if you’d like, Carol. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Carol Tice

          Please do!

  5. Elizabeth Whalen

    Yes, this is excellent advice. Far too many writers overlook the value of the ads in magazines. Ads provide extremely useful information for both business writers looking for potential clients and freelance journalists looking for publications to pitch. Want to know who reads a magazine? Want to know whether an idea you have is a good fit for a magazine? Look at the ads.

  6. Tiffany

    What a great tip! I will be trying it. Thanks James!

  7. Kevin Carlton

    If they’re advertising then clearly they’re prepared to spend money on marketing. So these kinds of businesses are generally going to be more receptive to your pitches.

    Love the idea James โ€“ thanks.

  8. Meghan

    Love this! Sometimes I’m afraid that if a company already seems pretty successful, they won’t be open to suggestions. I’m going to give this idea a shot!

    • James Hart

      I’m often guilty of thinking the same, Meghan, but the truism “you never know until you try” still applies! Just yesterday I pitched a couple article ideas to a company not seeking to expand, with a single location and a dedicated web writer. But I figured what the heck, the ideas are good and it’d be interesting to their customers. I received a reply today asking about my rates. You just never know!

  9. Shauna L Bowling

    James, this is excellent information. I suck at marketing myself but no business can do without it. When I say I suck, I mean I hate doing it for myself. This is a great way to get leads and develop a mailing campaign to gain freelance business. Thanx for the tip!

  10. Lindsay Wilson

    Thanks, James! This is great advice. Ironically, I just had a random idea to do that very thing with some community magazines I saw up for grabs on a stand when I was ordering some takeout a few weeks ago.

  11. Holly Bowne

    Oh. My. Gosh! What a GREAT idea! Thanks so much for sharing it, and the tips on what to do once you’ve identified potential targets. Terrific post, James!!

  12. Jovell

    Your ideas are great, thank you James! On a similar note, when I want to find clients from a specific location, I Google for business directories or association websites and take it from there. Finding their email addresses, the most current one is the step where I need to dig in a little and use some search key terms and characters. One client got interested in my pitch simply because she was amazed at how I found her email address. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Terri

    This is great. I actually do the same thing business advertising on Groupon and Living Social. I’ve been doing it for about a year now and have gotten a few good leads from it.

    The only bad thing about it is that most of the companies that use Groupon in my area don’t have a big budget as yet.

  14. Jessica Wood

    Great piece of advice, will definitely be trying this on my next lunch break. Sounds like an ideal way to target relevant clients in your field.

  15. Penelope Silvers

    Great workable tips to implement in such a short time period. Love love these quickie ideas! Thanks, James. Don’t forget to enjoy your lunch, too! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. Linton Midgley

    Now who says there’s no chance you’ll get paid sooner by spending some money for a lunch? I’m totally looking forward on this one, James. Thanks for sharing. And btw, aside from Manta, there are also other business listing sites that you can check out for your prospect clients. Google+, Yahoo Local and Yelp seem to be the most popular business listing sites and there’s a greater chance that they already put out their businesses in these sites already.

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