Friday, October 12, 2007

Getting More Business Without Picking Up the Phone

One of my freelance writing idols is Peter Bowerman, author of The Well Fed Writer. I never even knew there was such a career as a copywriter until I read his book. I got that book for Christmas a few years after graduating college, and I thought to myself: "this is it. This is exactly what I need to do." Like a lot of writers, I credit him with showing me the way.

But there's one thing he advocates in his book that I just can't seem to do, and that held me back from being a full-time freelancer for a long time: cold-calling.

Peter's sales technique relies on cold-calling. To build a business his way, you have to go through the phonebook (or the online yellow pages, nowadays) and dial hundreds of numbers, give hundreds of sales pitches over the phone, and then send samples to those who ask for them. There's just one problem with this approach: I completely lose it around the phone. I get nervous. I misspeak. I wander off script. I really am The World's Worst Telemarketer.

The thing is, I'm a darn good writer--and I didn't feel that a lack of ability for phone sales should hold me back from doing what I'm actually good at. So after a few months of trying to follow Bowerman's advice and market myself via phone--I think I actually did harm to my career by doing this--I started to look for other alternatives. Here's what I came up with:

Join a bidding site. Everyone has their favorite. Mine is Elance. The problem with bidding sites is that each bid turns into a bit of a price war that drives wages down. But I've gotten some reasonably-priced work from this site. The trick is to post proposals without worrying about others' prices. Sometimes you'll be much higher than anyone else, but sometimes you'll only be a bit higher. Sell yourself as the "high-quality alternative" and you will get work. You definitely won't get every job--and I've gotten my bids rejected plenty of times because they were too high. But for every ten to twenty bids I place, I get one or two jobs.

Post on forums. There are forums for everything nowadays--from SEO to insurance sales. Find a forum that caters to an industry you have experience writing for. Many professional forums have a section that allows you to promote yourself--so put in a post advertising your business. Join in the discussions, and put a link to your website in your signature so it shows up every time. It's a good way to connect with others in the industries you write for. I've gotten work this way in the past.

Send some emails. Do a Google search for businesses in an industry you've written for. Write a generic sales letter that can be tweaked slightly to accommodate individual businesses, and email it over. I've had the best luck doing this when I've done something to make the email seem personally tailored to the site--so be sure to mention something specific about their business you feel you could make a positive difference with. But that's just the intro; the rest of the letter, which details your abilities and experiences, can be boilerplate. Send it along and see what happens. I've picked up several long-term clients this way.

Frequent job boards. There are several blogs and sites that gather and post online job listings for writers. Here are a few I like:

Deborah Ng's Freelance Writing Jobs
The Golden Pencil
Online Writing Jobs
Words on the Page
About Freelance Writing
Media Bistro
Tech Writers
Writers Weekly

There are also other ways to promote yourself online, including writing and commenting on blogs, learning SEO, creating and optimizing a website, article marketing, and so on. But these four tips are quick and easy--you can use them to pay the bills while you refine your online marketing techniques. You don't need in-person sales skills or vast technological knowledge--just an ability to say the right things in print. And you probably have that already, or you wouldn't be in this business.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for such an informative post. I stumbled on your blog from a posting on the About Freelance Writing Forum and have really enjoyed your blog.

I'm JUST getting started on my freelance career and loved all of Well-Fed Writer... but I'm terrified of picking up the phone!

I'll be giving your suggestions a try and leaving cold-calling to a last resort type effort. Good luck and thanks!

Jennifer Williamson said...

Hi, and thanks for stopping by!

I think that cold-calling is something that can be extremely effective for some people. But not everyone. There are definitely other ways to do this--I'm living proof. Best of luck with your career!