By Lisa Baker
I’ve built my entire writing career on networking.
My first professional clips were for a friend who got a job as a website editor. He loved my writing so much that when he became an editor at a magazine, he gave me assignments there.
When he left the magazine to write a book and freelance, he continued to refer me clients when his writing schedule was full.
When I got back into writing after a long break, my first big clip came from a friend in a Facebook group who just happened to be an editor at a national magazine.
I even got a magazine article assignment once after I met an editor at a bridal shower.
The more serious I got about sending queries to magazines, the more I realized how valuable it is to have a connection first. I knew my ideas and writing were good — the Freelance Writer’s Den Mothers kept telling me so — but I wasn’t getting results.
I wasn’t even getting responses.
When I sent an idea to an editor after making a personal connection first, I got the assignment. When I emailed an editor cold, I got no response. It was that simple.
But it never occurred to me that I could make connections through any path other than sheer dumb luck, until Linkedin made that connection for me.
And it only took one small change to my Linkedin profile.
How I fixed my sad, old LinkedIn profile
In many ways, my Linkedin profile was a perfect example of what not to do in social media.
I’ve got a terrible picture, a sparse work history, and only a handful of listed skills.
I kept reading in the Den how valuable Linkedin for networking with editors and clients, so I knew I needed to spruce up my Linkedin presence.
I didn’t change the picture, because I didn’t have a better one. I didn’t add much to the work history, because I was lazy. I really only did one thing: I changed my job title.
My old title said “Writer.” Generic and boring, but accurate, right?
Since I’d decided on a niche and style of writing to pursue, it was easy to create a title that more accurately reflected what I was looking for.
I changed it to “Freelance Parenting Writer.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but by including keywords that editors or clients might search for, I made it a lot more likely that the right people would want to connect with me.
You can do this even if you don’t have a topical niche. Try using your location (“Atlanta Freelance Writer”) or the type of projects you specialize in (“Freelance Resume Writer”).
What would your ideal clients search for? Use that.
Changing my title had a result I didn’t expect: Linkedin connection requests started pouring in.
Okay, not exactly pouring. But I started getting several connection requests a week, which was 100% more than the zero I had been getting. Clearly, something had changed.
Many of the people requesting to connect with me were strangers to me. But since I still didn’t have many connections, I ignored that fact: I always said yes.
I figured it’s like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon game — the more people you know, the more likely you are to find the connection you need.
Searching on LinkedIn
Meanwhile, I kept doing what I’d been doing: searching for the names of editors to query at my favorite magazines.
I quickly discovered that Linkedin was one of the fastest and most accurate ways to find those names.
I’d search for a name from a masthead to make sure the job title was still accurate, or I’d search for job titles like “associate editor + [name of publishing company]”. When you search in Linkedin, it gives priority to people who are in your network, so you can see instantly whether you already have a connection to the person you want to reach.
And one day, I stumbled across the connection I’d been looking for.
I’d been pitching a newsstand magazine for several months with no response, and I was looking for a name to pitch in the custom content division. But when I searched for “custom content editor” + [the publication name], I got a long list of results — all of which, Linkedin told me, were only one degree of connection away from me.
Did I know someone who worked for my dream magazine?
I clicked to see who the connection was. She wasn’t someone I knew, but I recognized her name. I’d seen it in my email a few days before — when she had requested to connect with me.
I clicked on her profile, telling myself she was just probably another freelance writer. But she wasn’t.
She was an associate editor. At the very magazine I was trying to break into.
And she had requested to connect with me! Why? We didn’t have any connections in common.
Then I remembered: my updated job title. She must have searched for “freelance parenting writer.” Which could only mean one thing.
She was looking for writers.
Making the “warm” connection
I knew I had to take advantage of this connection. But how?
After some thought, I decided to send her an InMail message through Linkedin.
She had just connected with me, which meant she was active on Linkedin. Her inmail box probably wasn’t as crowded as her email, so I’d have a better chance of a response.
I thought, what was the worst that could happen? She’d ignore me, just like every other editor who was ignoring me, and I’d be no worse off.
“Thanks for connecting with me here on Linkedin!” I wrote. “Are you looking for more freelance writers? I have several ideas that I think would be a great fit for [name of your magazine]! May I send you some pitches?”
To break this down:
- I kept it professional.
- I reminded her that she had initiated this connection — I wasn’t some random person messaging her out of the blue.
- I avoided open-ended questions or requests that would require work on her part.
- I focused on making a connection and offering her something specific.
- And I made it easy for her: all she needed to do was say yes.
Still, I didn’t really expect a response. After all, I’d been emailing editors constantly for months, and not one of them had responded to me.
But this one did.
She wrote me back the next morning. “I am looking for more writers,” she said. “Please send pitches to my email” — and she gave me her email.
It was that easy.
Fortunately, I had a lot of pitches ready to send (some of which I’d already sent to other editors at her magazine), so I sent them all in one vast multi-pitch email.
For the subject line, I wrote, “Pitches you requested on Linkedin,” to make sure my email didn’t get lost in her overcrowded inbox.
Aain, she wrote back immediately. This time, she thanked me for my ideas and asked if I could pitch three ideas on a specific topic.
In other words, she told me what she’s looking for right now.
Pitch three ideas for a feature in my dream magazine? Of course I could do that (thanks, 4-Week J-School). I sent it a few days later.
At that point, the holidays and the usual glacial response of editors set in, so I’m still waiting to hear whether I’ll get the assignment. But just getting a response was a huge step forward for me.
And it’s not like I’m getting bored while I’m waiting. I’ve got a lot more editors to stalk — uh, I mean connect with — on Linkedin.
Lisa C. Baker is a parenting writer and blogger based in Atlanta, Georgia. Check out her new blog on How to Be Supermom.