A few years ago, the owner of a marketing agency saw one of my articles and reached out to see if I’d write for her blog. We batted some numbers back and forth, and though the rate wasn’t exactly what I wanted, I had a feeling the relationship would pay dividends later. I was right.
When the agency eventually landed a big corporate client, guess who they turned to for help with blogging and case studies? The accompanying retainer more than made up for the lower rate on the initial assignment. The project ran more than a year, and during that time, I never worried about paying the bills. I even took a couple vacations.
I’ve never been a big fan of pitching. I know, I know—who is? It’s a creatively exhausting process. Landing that contract reinforced the value of building relationships with clients. More importantly, it showed how I could use those relationships to bring in work without the grind of pitching.
Make sure you can be found
When I began my freelance career, networking was all about attending press lunches and making contacts that could lead to good stories. Today, that all happens online, and I buy my own lunch. So I have to get eyes on my work.
I start by adding new work to my Missinglettr account. This allows me to drip-share it with appropriate hashtags on both LinkedIn and Twitter over the course of a year. The proof that it works is the number of people who get in touch when they’ve seen one of the bylined articles I’ve shared. For example, in a single year writing for web traffic platform Crazy Egg, I received at least two dozen emails from potential clients who’d seen the articles I shared. That site alone was responsible for 10 percent of referral traffic to my site. As I wrote for several sites, and shared dozens of articles, it all added up to a constant stream of enquiries about my writing services.
I also add my work to a number of online portfolios. There’s my Contently portfolio, of course, but I’ve also showcased my more journalistic work on Muck Rack and placed a range of articles on JournoPortfolio, ClearVoice, and others. Clients may think they’ve stumbled across my work by chance, but in reality, I’ve strategically placed it where I know they look.
Provide value right away
When you’re a freelancer, networking can be as simple as linking to someone in an article. This has worked out for me more than once. The marketing agency referenced in the intro found me because I mentioned one of their resources in my work. Once the company got in touch, we maintained the relationship over email and online chat.
As a former editor, I know how easy it is to be overrun with pitches and approaches, so I do my best to keep outreach short, sweet, and always valuable for the editor or client. For example, after a conversation with one site owner about his trouble finding images for his content, I reached out over email. I reminded him we’d talked in person (one sentence), shared an image resource and explained how I thought it might help him (two sentences), and invited him to get in touch if I could help with anything else. That short exchange turned into a referral for another client.
Don’t ghost after the gig
I’ve also learned how critical it is to keep in touch even after a contract ends. Former clients can easily become current clients again—provided they remember you. I used to check in with my old clients every quarter and see if they needed any writing. And I’d send a holiday or New Year’s greeting to everyone I’d worked with in the past 12 months. Easy reminders like those brought in new jobs on several occasions.
I use social rather than email to stay in touch. I’ve found that creating a private Twitter list with just clients is the most effective way to do this. I can keep up with what they share and use that as a conversation starter when I email them.
Use your peer relationships
Don’t limit your network to potential clients. Include writers and other creatives as well. The more you expose your peers to your work, the better the odds that they’ll refer clients to you when they can’t take them on. One of my favorite places to hang out with writers is Anne Wayman’s Five Buck Forum. Yes, there’s a $5 monthly fee, but the work I’ve secured from one post has paid for that membership many times over. Writer’s groups on Facebook are another great outlet.
One final tip: Don’t be afraid to work with your existing clients to get new ones. When you check after a project, ask if they can pass on your name if they know anyone who needs your services. I’ve received plenty of writing gigs that way because a trusted referral goes a long way.
Sure, putting in the time to attract clients can seem like a heavy lift. But it beats pitching or cold outreach in my book. These days, I rarely send out query letters. Instead, I spend that time earning money, and that’s nothing short of pitch-perfect.