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How One Freelance Writer Went From Hungry to Overbooked in 18 Months

Carol Tice

How One Freelance Writer Went From Hungry to Overbooked in 18 Months. Makealivingwriting.comI’ve written a lot on this blog about how I market my writing business.

But I’ll let you in on something: Since last summer, I haven’t had to actively market my freelance writing business.

Today, most of my new clients come to me through referrals, Google searches for a freelance writer, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

I’m usually fully booked several weeks ahead, and able to pick and choose the gigs that pay the best and that I like most. My family would tell you I’m overbooked, and I should drop a few clients!

But it wasn’t always that way.

Here’s the story of how I got new clients:

Flashback to early 2009. I had just lost a large Web copywriting client, the economy was in the tank, and all of a sudden I need to find a lot of work.

The short version of how I fixed this problem:

I marketed my ass off.

I kept marketing like mad, until I was fully booked.

Then, I kept marketing to find better clients. I started dropping lower-paying clients and substituting higher paying ones. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Result: Instead of seeing my earnings drop after I lost that big client, I kept earning more money each year, straight through the downturn. Last year was my biggest earning year as a freelancer, and this year I am on track to beat it.

How exactly did I do that?

OK, here’s the full story.

It took about 18 months to rebuild my business to where I wanted it, where all my gigs paid great rates and I had all the work I wanted. I created a multi-pronged, aggressive marketing plan and kept at it relentlessly. I probably spent at least 8 hours of each week marketing.

Here is how I spent my marketing time:

  • Scanned online job ads. I didn’t send dozens of resumes daily to any and all ads. Instead, I tried to find at least two to four real tasty-looking leads to respond to each week. I developed a system for doing this rapidly and zeroing in on the ads that were really worth my time. From that time on, I got a response to nearly every resume I sent. Over time, I learned to look at better job boards — the paid ads on LinkedIn, and niche job boards for copywriters and business reporters, since that’s my specialty. I also figured out a few creative ways to approach the ads, such as responding to full-time ads and asking if they needed a freelancer. I got two good gigs that way.
  • In-person networking. I tried quite a few groups — went to a BNI meeting, BizBuilders, my local Chamber events, Seattle’s MediaBistro and Linked:Seattle, too. For me, MediaBistro rocked — I got a couple of great clients there that provided ongoing work.
  • Improved my website SEO. Besides adding “Seattle freelance writer” to the header of my writer site, I made a commitment to update my site each week, usually by adding a new published article link. In short order, I ranked at the top of my local market’s search for a freelance writer. If you’re wondering if this can really make a difference, it can: Two Fortune 500 companies hired me off Google searches in the past year.
  • Sent query letters. I targeted both existing publications I wanted more assignments from, and new publications I wanted to add to my credits. I sent queries on a regular basis. Many assignments at $400-$800 an article and up followed.
  • Stuffed my LinkedIn profile with search terms. I think it used to say whatever the most recent gig was as my bio! But now it says “freelance writer, copywriter, ghostwriting, blogger…” It’s a laundry list of every possible search term people might use to look for a writer. It helped: One of the publications that found me searching LinkedIn for a writer was Alaska Airlines Magazine.
  • Used “who’s viewed my profile?” on LinkedIn. If you haven’t used this tool, you can get some information from it on who has been on your profile. When any of those visitors smelled like a prospect, I’d send them a message through LinkedIn — “Hi, were you looking for a freelance writer? Let me know if I can help!” Almost every one of these notes got a response, as people are fascinated that you can tell they were looking at your profile.
  • Reached out to editors on Twitter. This turns out to be a great, casual way to approach editors. Some responded, some didn’t. One gives me $2,000 article assignments now.

What a long list of stuff, huh? The more ways you market, the more lines you have in the water, and the more fish you’re likely to catch. Pretty simple.

You may use a different array of marketing strategies. Everybody has their own marketing groove. I know one writer who gets all his assignments pitching editors on the phone. That’s cool.

But don’t buy into the attitude of hopelessness you hear on many writer chat boards. All gigs don’t pay $5 or $20. Just not true. Good pay is out there, if you commit to getting out and finding it.

What have you done to get out of the hopelessness and negativity and book great clients? Tell us in the comments below.