How to Land Your First Client Without Any Writing Samples or Previous Experience

At this year’s Bootcamp I told everyone who would listen: Finding new clients is the easiest part of your writing career. They’re out there looking for you. In fact, the people who hire copywriters are desperate to find you.

How do I know? I’ve been a full-time copywriter for almost six years. And during that time part of my job has been looking for and training new writers.

I know from experience. The search for good copywriters is difficult and never ending. The people that do the hiring are always on the lookout for the next capable writer.

But here’s the strange part: Whenever new writers give me samples of their work they almost never bother to follow up. Even if their work has potential, many of them fall off the radar and I never hear from them again.

Don’t fall into the same trap.

Getting a copywriting assignment is not like applying for a job.

You don’t just send off a resume and wait to hear a yes or a no. As desperate as these people are for good writers, a prospective client doesn’t have the time to chase after you.

If you take a different approach, you can build a relationship with a prospective client and get not just one assignment, but an endless stream of new work.

Here’s how.

Apply the Principles of Good Writing and New Clients Will Beat a Path to Your Door

Back in 2004, I went to my first AWAI Bootcamp.

Inside of the main ballroom, the annual Job Fair was in full swing. At one point, Denise Ford made an announcement: Dr. Al Sears was looking for a full-time writer.

Great opportunity. Writing for the health market was my passion and my primary goal. But when I finally found Dr. Sears, he was surrounded by a throng of eager writers, all hanging on his every word.

I didn’t even bother to find out more. I figured with all those people Dr. Sears would find his new writer before I had a chance to be heard. I went home the next day with an armload of spec assignments and forgot all about it.

About two months later, during the week of Christmas, I thought about Dr. Sears again. Did he ever find a writer for the job?

Instead of finding out about his spec assignment or worrying about coming up with a sample of my work to show him, I simply sat down and wrote him a letter.

In two-and-a-half pages, I told Dr. Sears what made his approach to medicine unique, and more importantly, I told him what I would do for him as his in-house writer.

I laid out in clear terms how I would make him more productive and more profitable.

After the New Year holiday, Dr. Sears called me and asked me to come in for an interview. Two weeks later, I was living in Palm Beach County working full time as his new in-house writer.

The approach was simple. Taking a page from the AWAI playbook, I made a bold promise and showed Dr. Sears how I would deliver on that promise.

And that’s one of the core principles of good copy:

Find out what the reader wants and show him how to get it.

You can do the same.

Getting New Clients is About Making Relationships

Ditch the “job interview” mentality and communicate with a prospective client as a real person. Talk to them in the same friend-to-friend way you do when you’re writing a sales letter.

Even if they’re not offering an in-house position, you can take this same approach to build a relationship that will turn into repeat business.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any writing samples or previous experience. By creating a relationship, following up, and showing your willingness to improve, you can land any client you want.

Here are a few simple steps you can put into action right away:

  • Write a letter or make a phone call: Do what I did and make that first contact. It can be in the form of a letter or a phone call. And don’t act like you’re a job hunter. Talk to them. Share with them who you are, what you’re doing and what your goals are. And above all, show them how you can give them what they want.

  • If you don’t have experience, be willing to work on spec: A prospective client will always be willing to evaluate your writing, regardless of how little experience you have.

    They do this because they’re all looking for the next capable writer. And notice I said, “capable,” and not “superstar.” You don’t have to be star to make great money. But if you’re just starting out, don’t expect a big paycheck on your first assignment.

    Learning from the pros is your fastest way to living the writer’s life. So if you have to do a couple of pieces without getting paid, don’t consider it a failure. In reality, it’s the best opportunity you’ll ever get.

    Here’s why.

  • If your first piece doesn’t cut it, ask why: This is critical. If you do something on spec and the client is not enthusiastic, ask for feedback. Get as much input from them as possible. Ask for details. And then ask them if they’d be willing to have a second look if you make some edits. Your chance of getting turned down is almost zero.

Remember: Your prospective clients are ALWAYS looking for new competent writers. And they seldom find great writers right out of the box. Many times they’ll find a diamond in the rough and nurture them until they start producing winners.

That’s why creating a relationship is your key to riches.

If you stick with it, ask for feedback and are willing to polish your skills, chances are you’ll get that paid gig after a few drafts that didn’t work out.

And believe me, if you start writing copy that works, your phone will never stop ringing.

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Published: January 3, 2011

3 Responses to “How to Land Your First Client Without Any Writing Samples or Previous Experience”

  1. Great reminder, Jeff, that it's not as complicated as we sometimes make it. Thanks.

    Steve Roller

  2. Great article! I've writing to so many clients none have accepted my work. I asked "WHY".But with this i think i can summon courage and believe someday i'll win assignments.

    Guest (Leslie Gyerns)

  3. Thank you for this article. I think so many people are afraid of rejection, they don't pursue the client after the initial contact.

    As my mom used to say, there is something to learn in every situation--even the bad ones. If anything, you learn you don't want to do that again.


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