Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #20: Are You Missing This Key Ingredient?

Carol Tice

Is your freelance writing marketing missing this key ingredient? Makealivingwriting.comIf you’ve been following along in this marketing series, you know that we have covered a lot of ground.

We talked networking, cold calling, and warm emailing.

We went over query letters, partnering, referrals, social media marketing…you name it.

Maybe you’ve tried some of those things now, and it’s just not working.

No customers want to hire you.

What’s wrong?

There could be something missing.

I’ve looked at hundreds of writer websites, and reviewed scores of query letters and letters of introduction in Freelance Writers Den. Many of these marketing pitches have the same problem — they have a missing element.

See if you can spot what it is — take a look at this LOI one writer proposed sending out to a prospect that was advertising a full-time writer job. She wanted to see if they also use freelancers:

Hi there, not looking for full-time, but I have the skills you need. I’m a [city]-based freelance writer.
I could fill in the gap until you find someone. Do you use freelance writers?
So — did you spot the problem?
That’s right.

It’s got no personality

It doesn’t answer one of the most important questions every prospective client wants answered about you:
Who are you?
Clients want to know what it would be like to work with you. Are you fun-loving, a big business dork (like me), do you make jewelry in your free time?
Too many writers create marketing materials that read like a business letter from the 1960s. They’re dull as dishwater.

How to reel in the clients

As my friend Danny Iny wrote in his new manifesto Naked Marketing, marketing today is about authenticity.
It’s about revealing who you are, and what you want.
Not naked like full-frontal nudity — especially if you weigh 300 pounds — but naked as in not phony.

Be yourself

It’s what gets you hired.
Even better, if you’re really honest and genuine in your marketing, you will get exactly the type of clients you want most.
Take a look at your About page of your writer website.
Do you talk in the first person on there, right at the client?
Do you tell them some things about you that help them understand where you’re coming from, and what sort of writing you’d enjoy doing for them?
If you do that, the very people you want most — the ones who’d appreciate your sense of humor, your skills — will call you.
Contrast that letter up top with this one my writer friend James Patterson wrote to a bakery chain near him:

Dear (Cupcake Company Owners),

First of all, it’s late and I wish you guys were still open because I just got a hankerin’ for a grasshopper cupcake like you wouldn’t BELIEVE…but, alas, you closed 14 minutes ago.

Which made me think to look you guys up on Facebook…and there you are.

Let me back up for a minute. I’m a freelance writer and social media consultant. Usually I work with health and wellness companies, but I’ve been wanting to do something a little different lately, and I’ve expanded into working with some locally owned restaurants. Mom and Pop type places, no big chains. I thought about you tonight thanks to my rumbling stomach and thought I’d drop you a line.

Here’s the deal. I’m not contacting any of your competitors in the area with this same pitch. Scout’s Honor. Why? Because I think you guys have the “stuff” when it comes to marketing. I can tell. You’ve got the look, the swagger, the sass. And I only work with people who “get” it. And so I know that you know that Facebook is absolutely where it’s AT when it comes to marketing to your demographic. It’s so dang cheap when compared to everything out there, and it’s so dang effective.

But the key is to not just DO Facebook, but do it effectively. And, I love you guys and I love your cupcakes, but I’m gonna shoot straight with you: you’re not maximizing your potential on Facebook.

Don’t get me wrong, 800 fans is great, but you guys, with your locations and what you have to offer? You should have at LEAST 2,000 fans by now. Seriously.

I use proven Facebook techniques to help organizations build their Facebook followers and then keep them. Right now I’m working with a local hospital in our area. In just two months, they’ve gone from not even having a Facebook page to now being on the cusp of breaking the 600 mark.

I’d love to work with you guys. I think you’d be surprised how affordable it could be.

Give me a call or email me back and let’s talk about how to take your social media presence not just to the next level, but through the roof.

Hit me back.

James Patterson

Do you feel like James just pulled up a chair and had a chat with you? Did you get that he’d like to do Facebook marketing? Can you feel his naked lust for cupcakes here?
This pitch probably took a few minutes longer to write than that first one. But it slayed. Because it’s honest and real — and fun. We could all use a little bit more of that, too.
And yeah, it got him a gig.
What’s your personality, and what do you like to write? Sum it up for us below using only a couple of sentences. I dare you.

Need more marketing help? Here’s a place where you can get a bunch…

Join my freelance writer community




  1. Melissa M. Bart

    Very smart post as well as informative.

  2. Holly

    Great post! However, I think there’s a flip side: It’s easy to get too carried away and chummy with cover letters that showcase your personality.

    I recently started freelancing for a major retailer — one that’s known for writing in a quirky, humorous style. After I landed the gig, the person who hired me was lamenting about how many crazy cover letters he received. He said someone actually sent in a letter that started with, “What up, gangstas?” Because the company is known for its fun personality, people felt the permission to be a little too fun in their introductions.

    Mine (and not to toot my own horn), balanced the line between casual and professional, which I strive for in most cover letters. The key, I think, is to get across your pertinent information and “selling points” while sounding friendly. I think James nailed it in the above example.

    Just a word of caution to folks… too much chum might make ’em run.

    • Carol Tice

      Great point, Holly — you can definitely take it over the top. You have to study their style carefully and emulate it.

    • Elana

      Completely agree, Holly.

    • Kimberly Rotter

      Agreed. I think the point is a great one – put some personality into your pitches. But I don’t believe this pitch would be well received by all readers. “Gonna” and “hit me back” and some of the fragmented sentences in this query do not give me a ton of faith in this person’s ability to handle writing tasks on a professional level.

      That said, different strokes for different folks. If he got a positive response, more power to him.

      • Carol Tice

        I think you’re missing the point, Kim — this is the tone this company talks in. They’re a cupcake shop! They have a casual corporate style, and he’s feeding it back to them.

        This is something many writers get wrong, they compose stiff, formal-sounding queries when the company doesn’t talk that way. For this customer, “gonna” showed he WAS exactly the professional they should hire.

        In fact, few companies use formal tones anymore, many more are loosening up and trying to be more conversational with their clients. I’m working with a ton of writers in the Den on this very issue, getting them to stop sounding like a business letter. I don’t know anyone who’s getting clients with that approach.

        And copywriting uses a ton of sentence fragments. All. The. Time.

  3. Dianna O'Brien

    Great post, especially since I just got to responses to my LOIs asking for clips. I’ll send the clips I liked writing the best and which highlight my talents the most, not the ones I think they’d like. You challenged us to tell you what we like writing: I love finding out odd facts in a story and bringing them to life, such as the time I wrote about tattoo companies and learned that Democrats are more likely to have tattoos than Republicans. While I could not find a way to weave that into the story, it was a blast learning about how tattooing is an old ritual, in use long before we all got butterflies on our shoulders. That last historic bit I did weave into the story. So I like finding unusual facts, numbers, statistics and revealing them whether it’s about hair salon business models or tattoo firms.

    • Carol Tice

      Funny — and there’s GOT to be a market that wants that story as we get closer to election time!

  4. Carol Tice

    Ha! Cruising around on Twitter this morning, I found Jessica Kupferman’s bio: “I use my punk-rock personality to create super-fun tools that help entrepreneurs assault and trample their technical fears.”

    That’s what I’M talking about! You can see that she’s not going to attract any Midwest, 100-year-old company button-down shirt types. She’s going to attract the type of clients she wants with that.

    What’s yours? C’mon people and take a stab at this! It’s a really useful exercise.

  5. Elana

    I take your [company/lemonade stand/boutique/small biz] facts and details and craft them into bursting with life poetry that nabs more clients every time.

  6. Julie

    I’m the sidekick to my clients, who are the heroes of their own stories. I like bringing out the little-known-stories of my clients, which shows their personalities, so their customers can relate to them.

  7. Christopher

    I spin tales of discovery. I guide my readers to the frontiers of our knowledge by transforming indecipherable technical and scientific jargon into evocative descriptions of the natural world.

    (At least, that’s what it looks like in my head. What actually spills out on to the screen is probably pretty far removed from that fantasy…)

    • Carol Tice

      I love all these short personality bios!

  8. Erika

    It’s an interesting discussion. While I do agree most LOIs need more oomph than your first example, I consider my LOIs and website to be extremely straightforward, although I hope they’re not completely devoid of personality.

    To your point, though, I get mostly corporate, no-bs types of queries from serious companies who have money. AND they’re clients I like – I don’t consider them boring (pharma, industrial products, consulting), but some might.

  9. Linda H

    Carol – Great advice and oh so true! I often forget this and can be too business-like in my LOIs and follow-ups. I do tend to be like that in real-life, but when my true personality comes out things meld so much more.

    I recently got a long-term gig because I added “Mama of 4 fur kids” to my signature. This sparked a conversation with the potential employer who asked about my fur kids. My response included much more personality and the real me resulting in a warmer connection with my new contractor.

    Guess I’ll have to let more of the real me into my marketing. If I can connect with people and they know the real me, I’ll likely see a greater response rate and better clients. Thanks for sharing this important reminder. It’s always good to get a great wake-up call in the middle of the day, makes the sun shine brighter.


    • Carol Tice

      I love that you brought this up. In my author profile on Entrepreneur I have a line about how I live with my husband and three kids…who want a dog. Then when we got a dog, I changed it to, “Who have talked her into getting a dog.”

      And you wouldn’t Ba-LIEVE how many people mention it to me when they get in touch!

      I think people are really starved for that sense of the human, when they’re reading something online, and if you give them a tiny crumb of what you’re about, they latch right on…

  10. Tabitha

    Great insight! I have just recently launched my writing business in combination with a business as a beauty consultant so I am fairly new to the freelance writing world. I love your site!
    My target client is a female small business owner, whether a realtor, interior decorator or Pampered Chef consultant, who is busy enough to HAVE something to say but too busy to actually ‘put it out there.’ I especially love working with the ladies who find blogs, web sites and social media intimidating–but they know they need to use it!
    So my motto for the combination of both services is “YOU are the face of your business. Whether the written word or in the flesh, I will help you look your best.”
    I really love to ghost write for these women, so they can just hand me their not-so-great writing pieces and I can “bedazzle” them, making my client look amazing without anyone knowing they used me.
    This is a work in prgress (I love this exercise, by the way!): “Are you a female small business owner who is intimidated by all the new-fangled marketing nonsense out there, like web sites, blogs and social media…but you know you need to jump on the bandwagon to keep up with the competition? Let me be your own personal ghost writer! Give me what you’ve written and I will ‘bedazzle’ and publish it for you without anyone ever knowing I was there. I do the work and you get the glory.”

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Tabitha —

      It’s hard to earn well with a focus on solopreneurs…they never have much marketing budget.What about women CEOs of bigger companies, too?

      Your 2 sentences (Actually 4) are a sales pitch. I’m asking for 2 lines that express your personality and what you do, as in, “I’m a ____ type of writer who uses [personality trait] to help [kind of clients] achieve [describe kind of] results.” Something like that?

      I’d love to see you try another draft!

  11. Pamela R.

    I like that sample you provided about the cupcake store – but do you think that kind of tactic works just as well when you’re querying magazines (vs. businesses that sell a different product / service)? For example, might you want to say similar things in a query about a specific article topic to a food magazine?

    • Carol Tice

      The tactic of delivering your letter of introduction in the same tone as the publication or the company’s marketing materials…it’s all the same. If the publication writes in the kind of tone James used above, then a query in that tone would be perfect.

  12. Anita

    I get your point. I’m a fairly introverted, no-nonsense kind of girl. I don’t know the slang, really, and thus shouldn’t be using it. For your exercise I pulled out a bio I used recently and perked it up a bit:

    A freelance education writer, Anita creates everything from test items to web content. She spends the better part of each day developing early literacy skills in her two preschool boys. She blogs at

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Anita —

      I want you to stop talking about yourself in the third person…very distancing and ineffective approach for Internet copy, or for talking to someone in person, either!

      I also wouldn’t want to tell prospects you’re mostly focused on teaching your preschoolers — they’ll think you don’t have time for them. What are you mostly focused on as a writer? As in, “I’m a freelance education writer who’s getting some hands-on experience teaching early literacy to my two preschool-age sons.” I love how that sounds — reveals something personal that also reinforces your writing niche.

      • Anita

        Thanks for the feedback, Carol. I did wonder whether it sounded like I don’t have much time for work, but reasoned that this is my current reality. Suppose I don’t need to share all this – especially right off the bat.

        It does get to the heart of my struggle, though. I want to advance my writing career but there isn’t enough time in the day to do it all – and sleep. I frequently wrestle with this and always remind myself that right now my kids are my top priority. They’re only this young once.

        Does that make me a half-hearted freelancer…? I don’t think my current clients would say that. But it does mean I have to be selective about writing jobs. Sometimes I just take what fits with my family’s schedule. Sometimes I have a very lean month.

        • Carol Tice

          You may be a half-hearted freelancer…I think in a way all us moms with kids still home are. The trick is just to not let your clients see that, and to bring your whole focus when you ARE working.

          • Anita

            I just read the post about how you wrote your first book. You are NOT half-hearted, Carol.

  13. Amandah

    I’d like to piggyback on Holly’s comment. I recently sent an LOI to a hiring manager at a communications company. She emailed me back and said, “I’d love to work with freelance writers, but wish they’d understand the basics of punctuation. There are plenty of creative freelance writers, but they depend on someone else (an editor) to ‘clean up’ their writing.” The hiring manager wanted to see ‘untouched’ writing samples.


    I chose a new theme for my website that shows off my personality. It landed me an independent film and a greeting card opportunity. The person who hired me for the film said, “I liked the clean lines and creativeness of your website. I’m looking to work with creative writers and build a team.” My other web designs were too boring and didn’t show off my personality. They weren’t me, and I knew it. I was trying to ‘fit into’ some type of ‘freelance writer mold’ that wasn’t me. Lesson learned.

    • Carol Tice

      I’ve had that experience too, where editors want to see an unedited sample. It’s true that there are writers who really can’t organize their material or punctuate.

      But you’re talking feature article writing. Copywriting doesn’t follow the same grammar rules.

      I love your story about changing your web design to suit your personality better. I floundered along for years with a slapped-together header for this blog that I really didn’t like. I always imagined myself as a cool cartoon — and when I found the perfect illustrator to create that and switched it out, I was AMAZED at how that drew more response. It’s a struggle but we have to keep striving to present our true selves online, so we can connect with the right people — the people who dig us.

  14. Grace

    If you have solid writing skills, part-time work as a freelance writer gives you the opportunity to make extra money from your home office. Some choose to turn their passion for writing into a full-time freelance career. Thanks for sharing..

  15. Amandah

    @ Carol… I think some of us had been fearful of presenting our authentic selves online. But life’s too short not to embrace who you are — quirks and all. 🙂

  16. Terri Huggins

    I do like his ability to show personality and his informal approach. However, I’m curious as to whether or not some companies would even find something as engaging as this too long. When people don’t know you or recognize your address I feel like they spend even less time reading your email.

    Of course, if it’s just as engaged as this one, perhaps length wouldn’t be a problem.

  17. Adeline Yuboco

    Great points to think about, Carol. Yes, it is important to be real when it comes to the clients. I’ve also found that being candid and have a personal touch to potential clients is very helpful. But it should be balanced so that there is still a tinge of professionalism that the clients know that you mean business. This is where learning more about the people behind the company is important. You don’t need to find out the nitty gritty details. Just the basics, like what is their culture when it comes to client-contractor relationships. Clients in some countries welcome the personal approach, but there are some clients in other countries where they might see your personal approach to be “crossing the boundaries,” making all your effort counterintuitive.

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