Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Building a Better Writing Business

By Lori Widmer

I have been freelancing full time for eight years now. I earn more at my freelance job than I ever did at my 9-to-5 job. It may surprise you to learn that I find none of my work on job boards. Zero. Neither should you.

I know what you’re thinking. “Then where do I find work?”

I’ll get to that. But let me explain why job boards are not your friend. First, job boards are full of lousy offers. Open any link on Craig’s List – go on, I’ll wait. More than likely, the “job” offered pays abysmally low rates, if it pays at all.

Second, the search does something to you emotionally. As you’re weeding through the ads, you come to believe that $5 an article really is all there is out there. Why? Because it’s all you see. You buy into a false reality. And that’s damn depressing.

Third, using job boards as your primary source of client generation puts you in a passive career mode. You are taking what comes, and worse, you’re allowing strangers to dictate your rates to you. Change that right now. Remember: you set your rates. If the potential clients in front of you can’t or won’t pay it, they aren’t your clients. You have to take control of your own earnings potential.

So, to that question you asked. Let’s just rephrase it, for you’re asking the wrong one based on that third point of mine. Here’s the question you should be asking: “How can I generate work and increase my client base?”

Here are some ways to do that:

The magazine article. Despite rumors to the contrary, print magazines still need content. In fact, many of them are now online, which means they still need content and maybe even more of it. Write your query and convince that editor that you’re the one to write the story.

The latest survey. Go to your search engine right now. Type in “latest survey.” Read through the list until you find one that grabs your attention. Wow, neat stuff, huh? Now write your query based on this question: “What does this mean to people in this industry/the general public/this specific segment of the population?” There’s your angle.

The letter of introduction. Introduce yourself to that company down the street, in the next town, or the one in the business you’re interested in writing about. Tell them who you are in a brief paragraph, show them you know their business by pointing out some aspect of it where you’d be of some value, then ask them to consider you for the job. (More on this at my blog.)

The ancillary writing. By no means does this mean head over to a content farm and get underpaid for keyword stuffing. To the contrary, seek out those companies that can give you legitimate ongoing work that is writing-related – resume companies, large companies employing a number of freelancers for blog work, search engine sites that pay respectable fees for copy, overflow work from marketing firms or other freelancers, etc.

The associations. Joining an association can be expensive. However, it costs you nothing to contact them in the same way you’d contact any potential client and ask for work. Associations often are run by the members, and plenty of times they’re not marketing or writing experts. You don’t need to be, either. You just have to be able to write better and convey their messages accurately.

The conferences and trade shows. If you can swing a press pass, you can work a trade show to your advantage. Not only can you get the latest trend and buzz in the industry, but you can meet your potential clients on the exhibition floor. A recent conference I attended netted me a potential eleven new clients in two days, plus introduced me to 39 more possible clients who now know my name and what I can do for them.

The forums. I don’t mean writing forums. I mean forums for various industries, business topics, and services. Because my specialty is insurance and risk management, I frequent a number of forums that talk about these things as well as issues involving the lowering of risks for companies. I’m part of the community, and I participate as a member, not as someone begging for work.

Twitter and LinkedIn. If you had told me two years ago that I would get work via either of these places, I’d have called you crazy. However, having a presence in both places, and interacting with potential clients in a more personal arena has huge benefits. I’ve gotten work by A) asking for it, and by B) tweeting about what I’m working on.

It takes time to build a strong business, but if you invest time into doing it the right way, you’ll increase your professionalism in both your client’s eyes and your own. Remember – a passive career approach puts control of your business and your earnings in someone else’s hands. Take back your career. It’s time.

Lori Widmer is a veteran writer and editor who has built value and purpose into her business by expecting no less than what she’s worth. She blogs regularly at Words on the Page.

Special offer to StoryPot readers:

My e-book, The Worthy Writer’s Guide to Building a Better Business is now available in a special offer just for StoryPot readers! With over 90 pages of advice and tips, the e-book helps writers at all career levels create a more profitable business. For your special offer, valid through June 10th, please click on the PayPal link below.


Ecoecho said...

Excellent article and advice Lori. Thank you. I so agree regarding the job boards. One does end up feeling 'is that all?' Elance is just as bad.

Pamela Moeng said...

This is fabulously useful advice, Lori, and I plan to work on incorporating some of your points into the plan for my own writing career. Thank you so much for being a guest on Storypot and thanks to D for inviting you!

Tamara said...

Great article, Lori. I've never bothered with job boards. I find that word of mouth and asking for referrals is my best means of self-marketing.

Lori said...

Thanks Ecoecho! I've never worked with eLance, but I've heard stories about it. Any place that requires you to bid openly is just a bad idea.

Thank you, Pamela! It was my pleasure. :)

Tamara, I spent much of last year working thanks to referrals. You're so right about word-of-mouth marketing - it's so much more lucrative, too.

Damaria, thank you for hosting me! I appreciate it. :)

Devon Ellington said...

I'm a big believer in researching companies I like and respect, and then creating a position/pitch and convincing them they can't live without me.

I haven't looked at a job board in months -- what I want won't be on there, so why not use the time more wisely?

Lori said...

That's how I feel too, Devon. Job boards offer me nothing but instant depression and a feeling of worthlessness. Why would anyone want that?

Like you, I do my homework. If they're good people, they're people I want to work with.

Rebecca E. said...

Lori-- you are so right-- you need to be proactive. I mean i do blog and things, but I understand that my writing on my blog makes me money indirectly-- whereas all teh places you suggest makes you money directly, which is the point of writing.

Well done for sugesting these places.

I also agree that you shouldn't loo too hard into the "job boards" a place to go sure, but certainly more work than pay in my mind.

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