How to Keep Your Freelance
Writing Funnel Full

It goes beyond saying that you’ll get more work if you do a great job with the clients you have. That’s never a guarantee of more work, however.

I’ve had my share of raving reviews that felt good, but didn’t do much for the next month’s income.

If you happen to land on the good side of a client who has a never-ending supply of writing assignments, then consider yourself lucky. Keep them happy and enjoy your life.

However, most clients have a few specific projects they need done right away and may not have another assignment for several months. I’ve got a couple of long-term clients, but I’m constantly doing what I can to keep my funnel full with new clients.

I’ve had “long-term” clients suddenly close up shop or hire an in-house marketing manager who feels he doesn’t need outside help. And, because I wasn’t constantly marketing my business, I found myself up the creek without a client. That’s no fun.

That’s why it’s important to keep your funnel full. I split this article about how to do that into two sections because the ongoing marketing of your business requires both pieces.

First, we’ll look at the two key ways you can grow your business through your existing clients. Then, we’ll explore different strategies you can use to attract new clients.

Get More Jobs from Existing Clients

This is my favorite way to keep the funnel full. It’s also the easiest once you get some good clients.

The two approaches are as follows:

1. Get more work with your clients.

I call this “seeing the big picture.” When I talk with my clients, I’m always looking ahead at their future needs. For web copy projects, for example, I’m looking ahead to additional content they’ll need for the Web, including articles, special reports, and even videos.

As I’m writing the web copy, I’ll repeatedly remind my client that the web copy is only 20% of Search Engine Optimization and that the rest requires a full content marketing strategy that we can take one step at a time.

Then, we might talk about special reports or videos for lead generation, landing pages, and opt-in pages. A technical company might have needs for white papers and case studies. The list can be endless.

I make the discussions collaborative in nature, saying things like, “What do WE need to do next to ensure visitors to the website actually engage with you?” This opens the conversation to brainstorming about next steps.

Although you can ask, “What’s next,” I’ve found the brainstorming approach to be much more effective because my clients often don’t know what’s next.

Plus, once they get back to their real job of not paying attention to you, you’ll soon become a distant memory.

Try to think ahead and promote conversations in which the next steps are revealed. Then, you can simply say, “Let me get you a proposal for that.”

2. Get Referrals

Referrals are fabulous. There are two types of referrals:

  • In-house referrals. In larger companies, the marketing manager with whom you work can refer you to other marketing managers in the same company.
  • External referrals. Your client refers you to a colleague, partner, or someone they know who might have use for your services.

One friend of mine hooked up with the president of a landscaper’s association. He did a little work for the guy and, before long, he “owned” the landscaper industry. And this is a guy who can’t get his house plants to live more than a few months.

The best referrals come in the form of personal introductions. Imagine that you’re thinking of remodeling your kitchen. You mention this to a few friends and one friend says:

“You should talk with Peter Johnson. He’s one of the most honest contractors I’ve ever used. He’s not the cheapest, but he’ll get the job done when he tells you it will be done, and he’s a stickler for quality. He’ll even go back and redo a subcontractor’s work if it’s not up to his standards.”

Would you contact that contractor?

ASK your client if he knows anyone else in the industry. For small companies, you might want to talk directly with the president. Otherwise, you’ll want to talk with the marketing director or manager.

Then, ask if your client would send an email introduction and CC you. If the client is open to it, I’ll write the introduction for him, and let him revise it as he wishes.

The introduction should be structured similarly to the contractor example. He makes the suggestion to talk with you, followed by some valid reasons why the person should talk with you. Touch on personal as well as technical reasons to give the person more of a reason to get in touch.

Give the referral a day to respond. More than likely, you won’t get an immediate response, so don’t be afraid to send a quick email. Do a bit of research before sending the email so that you can address a specific topic that is relevant to the referral. For example:

“I noticed on your website that you aren’t capturing leads. I’ve found that a simple 3-5 page report can generate more targeted leads every day …”

Point to a specific result you can achieve that’s relevant to your referral.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ve found that the best time to ask for referrals is every time you do work for a client. Some time ago, I did a website for a business broker. Now, he asks me to write a “Deal Book” (marketing piece) when he gets a new client. When I’m done, I’ll ask him to refer me to the new owner when the business is sold.

Get New Clients

Books have been written about lead generation and getting clients. Some people will tell you that cold calling is the most effective way to get new clients. Others say that you’ve got to use LinkedIn as a freelancer if you want clients.

You’ll hear suggestions about “networking,” attending conferences and workshops, and becoming a speaker.

A number of experts suggest that you create a finely-tuned list of prospects, learn all you can about them, and then find ways to either get introduced or make a meaningful personal connection. I call this strategy “warm calling” because you’re still approaching the prospect out of the blue, but your chances of actually talking with them increase because you’re starting with a conversation they’re (hopefully) already having.

Still, there are many who will tell you that you can get all sorts of new clients by spending your time with Twitter or Facebook.

Many more tell you to create a great website, continuously add new content, and get yourself seen by your prospects through the search engines.

Finally, you’ll hear about guest blogging — a nice way to get noticed by people in your industry if you can get a series of articles published in industry blogs.

Which approach works best?

Frankly, I haven’t a clue which might work best for you.

What works exceedingly well for one person may be a complete waste of time for you. When I was a business coach, I got a few clients by speaking at local conferences. I hated every minute of it. I did much better by focusing on referrals.

As a writer, I still rely quite heavily on referrals because it suits my nature, but I also blog, and do “warm calling” to get new leads.

What I suggest is that you examine the list below and decide on one or two (three at the absolute most) approaches that fit your personality and style. That is, pick strategies that you will actually DO instead of strategies you think you’re supposed to do. I hate cold calling. I’ll never do it. And, I hate schmoozing at networking events, so I won’t do that. Maybe these fit who you are, and if so — go for it.

Lead Generation Strategies

  • Public Speaking. If this is within your comfort level, then know that conference organizers are always looking for good speakers and presenters because most people would rather wade through a pile of doggie do than speak publicly. A good talk can generate more leads in an hour than any other approach or strategy.
  • Attend Industry Conferences. Guess who sits in the vendor booths all day at conferences? It’s usually the marketing managers for companies who would love a little help with their copy. Stop by, pick up a few brochures, and then return with some notes on how you can make improvements. Some people also do well by setting a goal of talking to a certain number of attendees, but that only works if the attendees aren’t your peers.
  • Warm Calling. This is a process perfected by Ed Gandia and Steve Slaunwhite. There are several approaches, but essentially it calls for creating a quality list of prospects, learning about those prospects, and approaching them with a more meaningful and personal introduction —an introduction in which they can clearly see that you understand their needs. Steve recommends opening the “conversation” by offering a special report that would be of significant value to your prospect.
  • Social Networking. The primary tool for freelancers is LinkedIn. Effective approaches include: asking intelligent questions (to get noticed and start dialogues); answering questions; joining and getting involved in relevant Groups; and, getting “introduced” to prospects through your own network.
  • Internet Marketing. This approach requires patience and time. Create a blog. Write quality, helpful articles. Optimize your blog for the search engines (in your niche market). Then, create a quality special report that you use to build a mailing list. Nurture the list with more quality articles, and then contact your leads with personal emails and/or calls.
  • Guest Blogging. Instead of simply writing articles for your own blog, you track down blogs that are well-respected and frequented by your target market. Follow their editorial guidelines to submit article ideas, and then write killer articles that get the attention of your prospects. A good idea is to send them to your website where they can download your special report.

Any one of these strategies can help you generate leads. Pick one and stick with it until it works for you.

Then, get some clients from whom you can get MORE jobs and quality referrals. Once you have some clients, keep generating new leads through whatever strategy or strategies you’ve chosen.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: June 1, 2011

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