Do you want to land high-paying clients but you’re not sure where to find them? If so, you aren’t alone. When I speak with new and established freelance writers, they share the same challenge: finding high-paying clients.
Sure, you hear the stories about earning $100+ an hour as a freelancer, but where do you find the clients? Spoiler alert: it’s rarely on a job board — but I’ll get to that shortly.
Albert Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So, if your current strategy isn’t producing high-paying clients, now is the perfect time to try something new — maybe something even a little scary.
I’ve been a freelance writer for 12 years, and my favorite part of the job is marketing. Because of that, I’m constantly testing new strategies. Here are some of the ones that I’ve found to be the most effective.
Use an old-school strategy to multiply earnings
I was listening to a podcast several years ago, and the topic focused on a copywriter who quickly built his business with direct mail. He picked a niche, created a list, and mailed letters of introduction highlighting his services.
As a result, he built a highly profitable business within a few short months.
Direct mail might seem old school, but since few people use it, opting instead for digital methods such as email or LinkedIn reach-outs, it’s highly effective.
I liked the idea, so I decided to try it.
Every week I mailed 20 letters to targeted companies introducing my services, and I quickly learned a few things about this method.
- When people responded, they were far more serious than those responding to my email pitches.
- Prospects were pre-sold when we talked, they already had a project in mind, and they converted much faster when compared with email prospects.
Within the first 30 days, I landed a great client, one that brought $1,500 to my business every single month. Plus, they paid via electronic funds transfer so the money went directly into my account, which I loved.
How to Do It
- Make a list of potential prospects in your niche. Personally, I keep this to companies that have at least $5 million to $20 million in assets. You can check out where I find companies here.
- Create a marketing letter that you can customize to the prospect.
- Set a goal. I set a goal of contacting 20 prospects a week. If you need clients badly, you can bump this up to 20 a day. Do what’s right for your business.
Feel the fear and do it anyway
Have you read the book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers? If not, put it on your reading list. It’s helped me so much with building the courage required to build a successful freelance business. And you’ll need it for this next strategy because this section is all about cold calling. Peter Bowerman, author of The Well-Fed Writer, is an advocate of this marketing strategy, and I’ve heard countless stories of freelancers building their businesses using this approach.
Here’s what you need to know about cold calling: It’s mostly a numbers game. When I tried this strategy, I made 10 cold calls and then quit. I said that it didn’t work. But I later learned that I did not make enough calls to get the results.
So, how much is enough?
Set a big goal, such as making 500 to 1,000 cold calls. For example, if you make 25 calls per day, five days a week, that quickly adds up to about 500 per month. Do that again for another month, and you’ve easily made 1,000 calls. And if you make 1,000 cold calls and don’t get a single gig, I’d be amazed.
Another key to cold calling is targeting the right prospects. What niche do you serve? Do you serve the health care niche? If so, target midsize companies, big enough to have a marketing department but not so big that they have dedicated writers in-house.
How to Do It
- Set a goal for your first month of cold calling. How many people will you call per day? Set a goal and stick to it.
- Create a cold-call script. This should basically include who you are, what you do, and how you help clients. The ask should be SMALL. I always love a call to action such as “May I send you a few writing samples?”
- Create a plan for following up. Check out inexpensive customer relationship management tools. I personally use Zoho and find their tools easy to use. Using a CRM helps to nurture leads even if they aren’t ready to assign a project right now.
Send cold emails
This is a strategy that I’ve used frequently in the past. You can grab a cheat sheet of my process here. However, the biggest reason that I’ve been so successful with this strategy is that I’m willing to do it consistently, which I think is key to whatever strategy you use. Downloading the cheat sheet will give you the exact formula, but here is a quick summary.
How to Do It
- Create a list of potential targets (check out the Book of Lists from your public library or fast growth lists online — I’ve had good luck with both).
- Create a daily goal. When I was slow and had little work, my goal was 25 contacts a day.
- Measure your results. I came to learn that if I sent out 100 emails, I would get at least one new client, sometimes more. So, if I lost a client, I could ramp up marketing and know how much time it would take to replace an existing client.
Create inbound leads by becoming the expert
This strategy is a long-term strategy. So, if you need clients quickly, use one of the above strategies and save this one for later. I found this strategy on a marketing blog a few years ago, and I think it’s genius and something that content marketing companies do all the time. The strategy is creating your own content marketing plan.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say that your target market is content marketing managers who hire freelancers. Where do they hang out? One great spot is the Content Marketing Institute website, which happens to accept guest posts. If you can get guest posts appearing in a publication that reaches thousands of people in your target market, some interesting things will start to happen. For one, you will instantly be elevated to a subject expert, and people will start to reach out about freelance gigs.
How to Do It
- If you haven’t already, define your target market. For example, your target market might be marketing managers for medium-sized health care organizations.
- Brainstorm the places that they hang out and read content. Not sure? Join a relevant LinkedIn group and ask the question, “What are your favorite blogs to read?”
- Check which of those places accepts guest posts.
- Start pitching topics that the audience will love. Hint: check out the blog’s most popular posts.
A few places to avoid
I’ve highlighted a few strategies for finding new clients, but equally important is not spending time in places where the results are low. I recommend not investing time on the following strategies.
- Bidding sites. When I first started, I spent a lot of time on bidding sides such as Guru.com. Did I get work? Yes. But the problem was that I never connected with a single client that paid professional rates. I’m talking about $30 for a 500-word article. I couldn’t squeak out a living on that.
- Craigslist. I used to follow job boards that would post links to various freelance writing job sites, and I learned a couple of important things. First of all, there are WAY too many writers applying. Getting these gigs is tough. Plus, in my experience, the pay was always terrible.
- Talent agencies. I personally avoid talent agencies. The upside of these companies is that they have clients with ongoing work — such as 25-to-30-hour-per-week gigs. But I’ve found they do not pay very well — in my experience, around $25 to $30 an hour. As a freelancer paying your own taxes, insurance, etc., you should earn MUCH more.
- Startups. Some freelancers may totally disagree with me on this one, but I’ll share my experience and you make the call. I’ve had problems with every startup that I’ve worked with, such as changing the project scope, not paying on time, or even worse — not paying at all. If you work with a startup, get at least 50 percent upfront, or ideally 100 percent.
- One-off projects. This isn’t so much a place but a project type. The key to creating a sustainable business is avoiding one-off projects. When first speaking with a prospect, figure out quickly if there is potential for ongoing monthly work. This is the key to your success.
Go Forth … and Get Fully Booked!
I’ve just highlighted my favorite marketing strategies to start earning more and get fully booked, but reading about strategies is the easy part. Now it’s time to take action. Do something right now, pick a strategy that appeals to you, set a goal, and write it down! Then make a commitment to work that plan for at least a month, ideally longer, and measure the results. If you’re working a day job, set a goal that is doable and use a strategy that you can commit to. The key is taking consistent action so you start to build the momentum required to get fully booked. When you’re feeling discouraged, read this quote to remind yourself that those daily steps add up fast:
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
— Lao Tzu
What is your favorite marketing strategy or biggest marketing challenge? I’d love to hear your thoughts!