I’m in no way a freelancing expert, but I’ve found a process that works for me and ensures I have a constant stream of new and interesting work. So here it is:
Decide who you want to target
I’ve noticed a distinct shift in the way agencies (or, certainly, ones in my area) choose to operate.
Since the new pension legislation came in, I’ve found that more agencies are choosing to hire freelancers/contractors, rather than employ people – I guess because it means they receive a simple invoice every month rather than a potential HR headache.
I’ve found that while most agencies have in-house designers, marketers, digital experts…the one thing they lack is copywriters. Which is good news for me – and hopefully for you too.
Also, working with a variety of clients means that there’s a steady stream of new (and hopefully) interesting projects they need help with.
That said, I find that SMEs also lack in-house writing talent. While they may have a dedicated marketing manager, that person often needs to be good at everything. This means they aren’t afforded the opportunity to be a master in just one thing. Which, again, is good news for me – and hopefully for you too.
Find an interesting SME that’s looking to embrace the idea of inbound marketing through quality content generation, and you’ll find a steady stream of articles, blogs and white papers coming your way.
I tend to have a 50:50 mix of agencies and SMEs. But every client I work with has a connection with IT, SaaS or technology (because that’s my specialist subject).
See who you know
When I first started freelancing, I turned to my LinkedIn network. It was only a couple of hundred people, but they were all people I knew personally through connections made throughout my career.
I went through it and picked out the people I thought would be able, and willing to help me. I started with past employers and immediately picked up a couple of projects.
They then gave me some referrals, and I got a few more projects.
Winning business through word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. But… While I’ve acquired some truly amazing clients through recommendations, I’ve also got myself into trouble.
By feeling obligated to always work with people my contacts have recommended, I’ve ended up saying ‘yes’ to projects I would have normally turned down. This isn’t good for me or the client.
So yes, word-of-mouth is good, but treat it as another source of leads – don’t make my mistake and feel pressured into taking on every piece of work.
Find organisations you actually want to work with
Google’s your best friend.
When I’m looking for new clients, I search for something like:
‘marketing agency + Newbury’
‘IT consultancy + Reading’
For me, location is important. I have two small children, so I need to be available to do nursery drop-off and pick-up, which means I can’t travel too far. Plus, I like being able to meet the people I’m working with face-to-face so I can shake their hand and feed them cake.
I’m fortunate that I live on the M4 corridor (which is the UK is equivalent to Silicon Valley) and my background is B2B marketing in the IT and tech sectors. This means I have hundreds of companies to choose from in my search results.
Then the donkey work starts. I literally click on all the interesting results and review their websites:
- Do they have an interesting proposition?
- What’s the messaging like?
- What’s the value proposition?
- What marketing activities are they engaging with?
- Who are their clients?
- What’s missing from their current promotional efforts?
- Where do I think I can add value?
If I genuinely believe I have something to offer, great, they go on the list.
Identify whose radar you need to get on
You also need to make LinkedIn your best friend.
Searching for the companies on the list, you can quickly identify all the employees that work there. And scrolling down the list of names you can find the jobs you’re going for.
Given I want to work with small marketing agencies, or (small) SMEs, I’m typically looking for the managing director or marketing manager.
Create ‘the list’
It’s up to you how many people you put on your list. I tend to stick to about five. This means I can have meaningful conversations with each one, and should they all turn round and say ‘yes’ (because in my world I believe anything is possible) I would be able to take some work on from each of them.
Just for the record – they never all say yes. But you never know!
How to approach your new clients
Time to grow that thick skin and find a big bag of confidence.
This bit is really hard. I’m an introvert. I suffer from crippling anxiety. I’ve never felt good enough. And yet somehow, I have to go out and ‘sell’ myself.
When it comes to the phone, I’m paralysed with fear to the point where I can’t physically dial a number – so cold-calling was always out of the question.
Cold-emails always feel really impersonal, and I hate receiving them.
I hate networking events. Again, paralysed with fear and therefore unable to speak…
So I tried the one thing I strangely felt comfortable doing – turning up unannounced to give my ‘elevator pitch’. And to ensure I didn’t get a door slammed in my face, I baked cupcakes. Because who can say ‘no’ to cake?!
Worked every time!
The first time I did this, I was offered employment on the spot (though I politely refused and stuck to my freelancing guns). And even if people had no work to give me, they’ve called me later on when something has come up, or referred me.
Please don’t read this and think I’m telling you to bake cakes. The idea is to do something to make yourself stand out. The people on your list are special, and they’re getting cold-communications from people every day/week.
If you really want to work with them, get yourself seen and let them know why you’re perfect for them.
Don’t forget the long-game
You might need or have clients now, but you’ll also need new clients tomorrow. So never stop prospecting.
LinkedIn is great for making business connections. I try to connect with everyone I meet and work with just so I stay on their radar.
After I went on maternity leave with my second son, I essentially had to start my freelance business from scratch again.
So I exported a list of my contacts from LinkedIn, sent them an email to say ‘hello’ and let them know I was returning to work. I was up and running with some fabulous projects within the week.
I’m also a member of ProCopywriters. My reasons for joining were strictly personal — to help with my development and to feel like I belonged to something bigger.
But I got the added bonus of its Jobs section. I’ve received a few enquiries through this, but haven’t accepted any of the work yet because I wasn’t convinced I was the right fit.
But, I know many other copywriters that earn good money through this, and other services like it – it’s all about finding what works best for you.
And don’t forget about yourself
It took me four years and a work crisis to figure this out.
Just because you’re a freelancer, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this supported before and it’s all thanks to my clients.
When my son was admitted to hospital, I had a client send me a bouquet of flowers so I knew they were thinking of me.
When someone threatened legal action against me for no good reason, I had a client get me some legal advice. I have clients send me interesting books they think I would like.
And when Christmas rolled around, clients sent me advent calendars and chocolates galore!
And I can’t forget about Twitter. I’ve met some fabulous people through Twitter who are there to take care of you when you’re facing tough times, and celebrate when things are amazing.
They’re there 24/7 when you just want to talk about stupid stuff with someone (because us freelancers don’t work 9-5 anymore).
And the best bit? You get to dedicate time to doing things that you genuinely enjoy. These are some of the things I love to indulge in during ‘Alice time’:
- Learning from my peers at the IDM and CMA
- Listening to podcasts from Being Freelance and Glenn Fisher
- Reading the latest tips and tricks from the ProCopywriters community
- Taking part in #ContentClubUK, every Tuesday at 11am on Twitter
There’s an AMAZING freelance copywriting community out there that’s willing and able to help you succeed. So run to it, embrace it and learn everything you can from it.
I really do wish you the very best of luck as you enter the world of freelance copywriting. It’s been the best career move I’ve ever made. And it can be as rewarding as you want it to be. You just have to put the hard work in to make it work for you.
One last thing
At some point in your freelance career, you’ll encounter ‘imposter syndrome’ — i.e. the feeling that you’re not good enough and shouldn’t be doing this. We all feel it at some point. And this is when you need your clients the most.
They hired you for a reason – because you’re amazing. And they will tell you this over, and over…and over. So keep a little book and write down all their wonderful comments.
Then when imposter syndrome strikes, or work’s getting a bit thin on the ground and you start thinking, ‘maybe I should just get a job’, you can pull your little book out and be reassured, that you’re brilliant.
You’ve got this.