Career Advice

How to Market Yourself Without Selling Your Soul

By Aubre Andrus August 29th, 2016

Unfortunately, most high-paying freelance jobs aren’t listed on Craigslist. But you still need to build a pipeline of high-paying work that holds up over time. What’s a freelancer to do?

“You have to embrace the mindset that you are a salesperson,” said Dawn Josephson, owner of and author of 101 Tips for Becoming a $100,000-a-Year Freelance Writer. “Nothing happens until someone hires you to write something.”

If you can understand that your career depends on making a sale, then you’re already a big step ahead of other freelancers. You’re running a business, and businesses need marketing. With the right strategy, you can start a marketing machine that saves you time and brings in more revenue.

Reach out to potential clients and introduce yourself and your services. This can be done with a letter of introduction or an message from a mutual contact. Think of it as a pitch, but instead of pitching an article idea to a publication, you’re pitching your services.

Networks like LinkedIn and Twitter make it easier than ever to get in contact with people. But the best way to meet new clients fast is by attending networking events, local industry meetings, and conventions.

Networking your way to a full client list

Embedding yourself in the industry that you want to serve is one of the savviest ways to build a business—and the only way to find out what your potential clients need. Once you know how you can help, you can spin your skills and make yourself an asset.

“Know your niche, know your community, and get ingrained in that community,” Josephson said. “Become one of them and then when they have a writing need, you’re the person they think of.”

“Know your niche, know your community, and get ingrained in that community. Become one of them and then when they have a writing need, you’re the person they think of.” —Dawn Josephson

Melanie Padgett Powers, owner of Mel Edits, is a “conference junkie” and loves traveling to events for both writers and her industry, from membership association conferences to Content Marketing World. She’s landed multiple assignments from new and old connections after attending industry events. It’s arguably the best way to meet new clients fast, so make sure part of your business budget includes networking events and conference fees.

“When connections saw me at the conference, it triggered something and it reminded them that they needed someone for a project,” she said. “Being there in front of their face reminds them that you’re a writer and you can do something for them.”

Selling yourself—but not too much

Powers tries to show off her knowledge without selling her services directly, a strategy that works. Connections are more willing to hire her once they’ve hit it off at a conference. After speaking with her for a bit, they’ll see her as smart and likable.

“It’s human nature that people want to work with people they like,” she said. “Getting to know someone a little bit at a conference session or lunch really helps.”

When meeting potential clients, it’s important to show off your unique personality—both online and offline. Mike Long, a freelance speechwriter and educator, knows his “hillbilly accent,” his intelligence, and his background as a standup comedian make him especially memorable to potential clients.

“People don’t want serious, they want interesting. Being weird helps me,” he said. New clients hear about Long in “the strangest ways.” Maybe they’ve seen a YouTube video of him teaching a seminar on writing. According to Long, people remember him as more than just a talented writer. “I just cast my name everywhere while being a memorable cat,” he added.

“Networking is usually, ‘What can I get out of this?’ Honestly, my whole goal is connecting with people and the work is secondary; that’s why it’s effective.” —Kelly James-Enger

Kelly James-Enger, ghostwriter and author of Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money, is a master networker and takes a “How can I help?” approach when meeting people at events.

“It’s the opposite of what most people think about networking,” James-Enger said. “Networking is usually, ‘What can I get out of this?’ Honestly, my whole goal is connecting with people and the work is secondary; that’s why it’s effective.”

The power of the follow-up

It’s one thing to attend an event and put your business out there, but it’s another to follow through. Powers follows up with every connection she makes. She jots down notes on each business card so she can remember details about the person and their conversation, then she connects via email after the conference.

But the follow-up doesn’t stop there. Those relationships need to be nurtured. After Josephson makes a connection with a potential client, she may send an interesting article, offer tips, or call up every once in a while. Once she’s hired, she does good work—and asks for a referral.

“I don’t do any advertising anymore. One hundred percent of my business is word of mouth,” she said.

The referral is the advanced version of the follow-up, in which you ask a happy client, “Do you know of anyone else who may need my services?” The client may be able to refer you to a friend or someone internally to a different department within the same company. Every connection you make has a network; ask to be a part of it. It’s free and effective. And if you do great work, you may not even have to ask—they could just send someone your way.

“I’m incredibly nice—nice will get you much further than smart.” —Mike Long

In order to ask clients to confidently refer you, you need to build a strong reputation. That means consistently producing outstanding work. A few years ago, Long landed one pharmaceutical client—and then kept collecting more. It turns out CEOs like to hang out with other CEOs. Word spread about the quality of his work, and Long reaped the rewards. But he believes scoring a referral is about more than just talent.

“I’m incredibly nice—nice will get you much further than smart,” he added. “Businesses like to be with people who are reliable, friendly, and fast.”

This is an excerpt from our free e-book, “The Ultimate Guide to Making $100,000 as a Freelance Writer.” Download it by filling out the form below.

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