Here’s exactly what to do to get companies to take you seriously as a freelance writer
Quick note: I’ve started getting questions from some readers (THANK YOU!) about how to figure out what to charge, if it’s ethical to work for two competing companies, if grilled cheese is really so much better with or without tomatoes … and I want to talk about all of this. However, I think for now it’s best to keep plugging away in bite-size, digestible chunks so I can provide you with actionable, concrete steps to win clients and make a regular monthly income as a freelance writer. If I don’t answer your questions along the way, we’ll troubleshoot like crazy at the end of the series. (I’m so excited that you’re all anxious and raring to go!)
Having said that, this week we’re going to discuss how to approach clients. Let’s dig in!
Anyone who has attempted to survive as a freelance writer knows that getting work is a serious pain in the ass. In fact, it can be a job in itself. Obviously, it’s a much better use of your time to write and get yourself paid than it is to have to continually knock on doors trying to get people to buy your Girl Scout cookies.
That’s why blogging is the way to go. Blogging requires a steady, consistent stream of content. Most companies just aren’t set up to keep shoveling coal into the content creation engine. If you can make that problem go away for them, you can get yourself a handful of recurring monthly clients so you can cover your monthly nut without having to constantly hunt down new work.
Picking the right targets
Now if you did your homework from last week, you should have a pretty solid idea of how to match up your talents with businesses that may be interested in paying you to blog for them.
Hopefully you’ve done some research and zeroed in on a few companies that you’d like to target. As a reminder, these companies should meet the following criteria:
1. They already have a blog. That way you can have some assurance that they understand the value of blogging (or content marketing, which you probably know is the big catchphrase of the moment) and you won’t have to waste your time selling them on why blogging is a smart business move.
2. Their blog could be a whole lot better (i.e., more interesting, more reader-focused, updated more often). If their blog is sorta crappy, you know that one of their pain points is probably executing consistent, worthwhile content. They may be primed to outsource.
3. You have some expertise or experience in the industry you’re targeting, because you’ve worked in it, you patronize it, you’ve done volunteer work in it, or you’re very familiar with it for another reason. This is important because it will give companies a reason to hire YOU specifically as opposed to any old schmo (or any old content factory) that can fling some words together. If you can demonstrate some understanding of your prospects’ worlds, you will immediately be seen as having more value.
Ideally, you probably want to start out with small- or mid-sized businesses. There are a few reasons for that. As I mentioned last week, large businesses probably already have writers on staff so they’re unlikely to outsource.
Plus, you generally want to talk to the business owner or someone who has that person’s ear, so you can get a decision faster. Getting stuck in an endless decisionmaking zone when you’re a freelance writer is much like getting stuck in the friend zone when you’re dating. You know how it is: You *think* something *might* happen so you close yourself off to other options while you wait it out.
But playing the waiting game is not going to get you laid and it’s certainly not going to get you paid. You want to deal with companies that are going to shit or get off the pot with some expedience.
What your email should look like
Here’s what your pitch email should look like:
- Greeting to business owner
- Who you are and why you’re contacting them (i.e., an experienced writer who wants to be their personal blogging ninja)
- Why YOU are the ideal person to write for them (because you totally get their business in a way that few other writers could)
- A concrete example of how you could re-purpose an existing blog post to make it more enticing to readers (more on this in a minute)
- An invitation to talk further
Here’s a letter that I have used:
Hello [business owner’s name],
I’m a former editor-in-chief of a newsletter on employment law. I was just checking out your blog and I wondered if you’d like to meet to talk about how to get better traction from it.
I have more than a decade of experience tracking and reporting on employment law trends. I’m highly skilled at taking “legalese” and translating into audience-focused terms. I’ve also recently done some ghostwriting for [known law firm], which resulted in placements in [known legal publications].
As for your blog, this piece [link to post] could be refocused to appeal to your prospective clients and to show up higher in search engines. Here are a few potential headlines:
[INSERT THREE TOTALLY KICKASS READER-FOCUSED HEADLINES HERE]
Please let me know if you’d to chat about opportunities for us to work together. I look forward to hearing from you.
[my cell #]
[my LinkedIn profile]
If you’re going to put time in anywhere, do it here
Now I can’t prove this for sure, but I suspect that the headline examples are one of the most critical components to this pitch. Why do I say that? Because the one time I neglected to write headlines was also the one time that I didn’t hear back from anyone. Could be a coincidence, but I doubt it.
The fact is, people may have a hard time visualizing what you can do for them unless you give them some examples to sink their teeth into. Writing headlines allows you to whet their appetite without having to rewrite an entire blog post.
Put some time into crafting great headlines. Remember that businesses want to blog so they can build trust with customers. Try to put yourself in the customers’ shoes and think about what would make them click on a link — and what would make them feel warm, squishy feelings about the company. (And for the love of Gawd, please check out Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks for what I consider to be the ultimate guide to headline writing. It’s free, it’s amazing, and it will make you a better writer.)
Your homework for this week: Write some pitch emails but DO NOT SEND THEM. Why? Because you need to read next week’s post first so you can learn what to next — which is make an offer for the exact package of services you’d like to provide.
And hey … have you taken the PAYlance Pledge yet? If not, better do it before next week because that’s when we’re going to start talking about money. That’s right … it’s time for the much-anticipated and much-feared talk about how to set your rates. Oh yes, we’re going there.