Success Story:
Mary Guinane Smith Tells Us How She Overcame Her Biggest Challenge – Gaining Enough Confidence to Market Herself

Mary Guinane Smith lives in a small metropolitan area in northwest Iowa. Before deciding to become a copywriter in January 2002, she worked in the nonprofit, social services arena. Mary spent the first few months laying groundwork and getting her feet wet on small projects. Then, in August 2002, she signed up for the AWAI course.

Mary recently learned that the real secret to successfully marketing yourself is to "just start doing it – some way, some how." Below, she tells us about the steps she's been taking to land clients.

TGTE: Mary, what attracted you to copywriting?

MS: Copywriting had the perfect combination of things to snag my interest. In all my previous jobs, I'd been attracted to ANY writing projects. I'd written everything from employee manuals and grants to fundraising letters and even a children's puppet show! To be able to make a living doing my favorite part of all those jobs was a great fit for me.

I also loved the idea of working from home, being my own boss and deciding my own work schedule. Since I tend to be equally as creative at 2 a.m. as I am at 2 p.m., a flexible schedule fits my personal life and my personal work style.

TGTE: What's been your biggest challenge as a new freelance copywriter?

MS: Confidence. I thought of myself as a solid writer and was pretty sure I could handle the projects once I got them, but as a new freelance copywriter, I often found it intimidating to market my services. When you're new, you just don't feel like an "expert' or that you're really "ready" to mass market.

TGTE: Your first mass marketing effort was a postcard mailing. Why did you choose that format?

MS: Even when I finally mustered the courage to get my self-marketing toes wet and go for it, I chickened out on the idea of a full-blown sales package with my local clients. So for me, a postcard mailing seemed more manageable as a first step … and at least it was a start!

TGTE: Who did you mail the postcards to and what kind of information did you include?

MS: I'd been a member of my local Chamber of Commerce and had used the directories for contacts since starting my business. Another benefit of membership was being able to purchase the entire CEO mailing list of about 1,000 names for just $50.

I decided a nice photo on my postcard might keep it from landing in the circular file, so I put a beach photo and the caption "Life's a …" on the front of the card. Though the reader may have been expecting something different, the back continued with "… lot easier when you have the right help." Followed by the question "Need a little time off this summer?," an offer to help clear projects from the recipient's to-do list, and a bulleted list of my services.

I mentioned my FREE consultations and added a special discount with the card. (I was in the process of testing a new hourly rate, so the discount was really a couple of hours at my old rate and the rest at my new one.) A graphic designer I'd worked with on other projects polished it all up at no cost in exchange for referrals from the results of the mailing.

TGTE: We know you received at least one call from the postcards. Tell us more about that.

MS: We had a great meeting and I wrote a bid for four separate projects for him. Unfortunately, this was during his busy season – and when I followed up the first time, he hadn't even had a chance to look over the bid. But as others have said, if you simply start doing marketing … any marketing … things are bound to happen. And it's true! Before my postcards made it to the mailbox, I had a new client booked and two other meetings scheduled.

TGTE: How did you manage to do that?

MS: In the few weeks it took to get the postcards from conception to mailing, there were other networking opportunities that seemed to fall into place quite naturally along the way. I was in contact with a couple of graphic designers, other local printers I'd gotten quotes from, Chamber of Commerce staff, and the mailing company that took care of actually getting the cards sent out.

I also got on a roll of activity while trying to get prepared for inquiries from new clients. I made sure my website was updated, some samples were polished, and even did some call-backs to previous warm leads. I wanted to make sure any old projects were lined up before new ones came in. Even better, I started working on additional marketing in case the postcards didn't work. Instead of one "iron in the fire," I ended up with lots of them!

TGTE: What would you say was the biggest benefit of getting up the nerve to do the postcard mailing?

MS: Confidence! Part of the reason I took the AWAI course was to have that professional training under my belt and boost my confidence level. It's hard to believe that in such a short time, I've gone from being intimidated by pitching my services to small, local clients to working on my own solicitation package for major mailers.

TGTE: What are your future plans, Mary? Will we see you at the bootcamp in September?

MS: I'm very excited to meet everyone at the bootcamp. Getting ready for things to really take off then has also filled my calendar with things to do. My own sales package will have had a few test runs by then and I've been working with my coach, Beth Erickson, to fine-tune my portfolio.

[It sounds like everybody's coming to this year's bootcamp – And why not? It's a chance to network with the Masters and leave with an assignment in your pocket. Where else are you going to find 6 live spec assignments and enough confidence to land your first client the minute you get home. That's what happened to these students when they left last year's event:]

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: July 21, 2003

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