Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #2: The Easiest Promotional Tactic

Carol Tice

Marketing for freelance writers: Get referrals for easy prospecting. Makealivingwriting.comLast week, I kicked off a Marketing 101 training course for freelance writers. If you missed our discussion of the critical first step, you might want to go back and read that one first. It’s important.

Because before you start marketing, you’ve got to have your self-confidence together.

Next, you need to realize that if you want to have a freelance writing business — as opposed to a writing hobby — marketing needs to be a regular part of your routine.

Breathe, and accept this. In, out. OK, got it!

Now, we’re ready to start.

Marketing the easy way

There are only two types of people in the world.

  • People you know
  • People you don’t know (yet).

The easiest marketing you will ever do always involves that first group — people you already know.

These people already know you! I’m betting they like you, too.

Begin your marketing by contacting everyone you know and making them aware that you are looking for new clients.

Yes, this includes friends and family (unless they’re the sort that keep telling you you’re crazy to be a freelancer and ought to look for a job).

Don’t assume because they don’t have a business to market or aren’t an editor that they can’t help you. Who knows who will hear a business owner griping that their website sucks? Or who will get a new job at a company that needs marketing help?

Beyond current clients, friends, family, and co-workers at a current or recently concluded full- or part-time job — there is one particular group of people you already know who should be your prime target.

Are you in touch with all your former editors?

I’m always surprised at how often the answer is “no.”

Unless you hated each other and it ended in screaming or flaming emails, you should stay connected to each and every one of these people.

Why? Former editors are a great source of referrals.

And referrals just rock.

They’re the marketing that does itself.

Once you let people know you need referrals, they might just send you business.

Beats having to actively market your business, hmm?

You want to get your network working for you, as it’s a real marketing time-saver.

What’s the best way to get started?

My experience is: LinkedIn.

There’s something about this particular social-media platform — it’s the perfect place to get back in touch with former professional colleagues. There’s something casual and friendly, yet businesslike, about the climate on LI.

And sending a message through LinkedIn is a lot less intimidating than trying to call a former editor on the phone. Also more likely you’ll get through to them and get a response.

How to reconnect

A lot of writers have told me they feel uncomfortable reaching out to former editors.

But I’ve done it a lot, and my experience is — it’s fun! Sort of like a high-school reunion, only professionally. And virtually.

Your goal should be to simply check in, catch up and find out what they’re up to now. Then, you’ll drop in your news that you’re looking for clients.

Step one: Send InMail messages to your former editors.

Write something along the lines of:

(SUBJECT LINE): (Long time no talk!)(Hi from one of your writers)(Congrats on your new job)(Just found you — would love to catch up)

Hi (editor name)!

I just noticed you are on LinkedIn — I’d like to stay connected with you on here.

I see you’re (still at X magazine/company)(now over at X magazine/company)

I’d love to catch up sometime and hear about what you’re doing now.

Me? (I’ve been working as a freelance writer for X years now)(I just quit my job/was laid off and have started working as a freelance writer)(Basic facts of your freelance situation here — no sob story, please.)

I specialize in (your specialized industries and/or types of writing here). Recently, I’ve really enjoyed (describe favorite recent client or assignment). If you’d like to see, let me know a good email for you and I’ll send you a couple links. Or you can take a look at my writer site — it’s linked from my LI profile.

(OPTIONAL PITCH LINE:) If you hear of anyone looking for a writer along those lines, I’d appreciate your referral.

Let me know if you have time for a quick phone chat!

Sometimes I prefer to wait until I speak to them live or get an email response to make the referral request. With others, I go ahead and put it right in the connection email. Sort of depends on the relationship you had, and how likely it is that you can line up a phone call or will chat further beyond making that LI connection.

That’s all there is to it. Pretty simple, hmm?

Tip 1: Be sure to remove all the stock language LinkedIn provides. Many busy networkers on LI automatically delete any messages that aren’t customized (including me).

Tip 2: Do NOT put any links in your InMail message. These will cause LinkedIn to reject your message.

Tip 3: Set your message so that the recipient is allowed to see your email address. That will allow you to quickly take the conversation off LI and onto your email, where you can send clip links.

Step two: follow up

Once you’ve connected, try to stay in touch every few months — maybe send them a link to an article of mutual interest.

You might also see what LI Groups the editor belongs to and join, so that you could run across each other in group conversations, too.

Step three: Be patient.

The request for referrals does not necessarily pay off immediately. But it can bring you some great new clients.

Why? Good editors tend to travel in herds — they know each other. So if you liked the work you did for one editor, their referrals will probably be good, too.

Referral work can really add up, and cut back on how much active marketing you need to do. I just did a tally and my editor referrals brought me over $6,000 of income in the past year — from clients I didn’t have to spend marketing time to find. Other writers I know have ended up with tens of thousands of dollars of work from former-editor referrals.

Trust me, this is the most efficient marketing you will do.

Are you in touch with your former editors? Leave a comment and let us know how you stay in contact with past clients.

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

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  1. Josh Sarz

    This is really helpful advice , Carol. I have an account at LinkedIn but I’m not using it as much. I should probably get back to it.

    • Carol Tice

      All I know is I’ve gotten two Fortune 500 clients that reached out to me through my LI profile. It’s REALLY worth the time investment! Big companies use LI like the phone book now.

  2. Jeanna D. Rutledge

    Thank you Carol for this post! Reconnecting with past contacts can be awkward, but this example you provided shows that it’s not so bad and can be easy to do.

    • Carol Tice

      Having done it quite a bit, I can honestly say it really didn’t feel awkward. It was fun to get back in touch and see where people had moved to…really. Promoting aside.

      You need to track old editors because you never know when they’ll get a great new job at a market you’re dying to write for, and then you’re set with a great “in.”

  3. Walker Thornton

    What a great post, full of specific, concrete ideas. Thanks. I think for many with less experience in writing for leads, the letter is a useful tool.

    I’ll do a search through LinkedIn this weekend and see if there are some obvious connections for me to make!

    • Carol Tice

      Can’t wait to hear what you find! Personally, I thought it was a lot of fun to catch up with former editors I had fallen out of touch with. Like I say, this really is the easiest marketing ever.

  4. Terri Huggins

    I have to agree with you here. I recently got over the fear of reaching out to past editors and it truly paid off. In fact, after reaching out to one editor I got another assignment from her.

    However, I am facing a little dilemma in which I found out that my former editor’s wife passed away this summer and he’s having a really hard time with it. HIs wife was also an editor at the same publication. Of course, I expressed my condolences and forwarded a sympathy card. The problem is that now it seems just wrong to ask for referrals and let him know about my freelancing while he’s going through a tough time. I suppose I will just have to wait till next year to fill him on all that and get referrals.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Terri —

      Tricky situation. If you already expressed sympathy and it’s been a month or two, I think you can assume they are back at work and struggling to find some sense of normalcy. Which to me, a referral pitch fits into.

      You might begin a conversation by asking about THEIR needs. Do they need ideas? More freelancers? Are they back working full time? Sometimes after a loss, people’s priorities change. Maybe they’ve offloaded half their work to another editor you need to get to know.

      I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable then letting them know I’m looking for a few good new clients, maybe in a subsequent conversation, or maybe in that one, depending on what you learn — if they hear of anything, I’d appreciate a referral.

      I think as the months wind on after a death, people tire of being treated like a freak or with kid gloves. Writers ask their editors for referrals. I say reach out cautiously, but if it seems like you still have the rapport, I’d go for it and ask.

    • Terri Huggins

      Thanks for the advice. I know they have gotten back to work considering the wife/editor passed away in August or September. However, I noticed that to this day she is still listed on the masthead found on the website. My guess is they are still grieving a lot so I just might hold of on asking for referrals till January. However, I will take your advice and ask if they need anything.

      Hopefully it goes well!

    • Carol Tice

      I think staying in touch and asking what they need is a great way to go…that may lead somewhere on its own.


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