Strategies for Getting Your First Client

Ever have this feeling?

You’ve got a little training under your belt. The new business cards fit neatly in your wallet. And, your freelance writing website is almost ready to go.

Yeah. Bring it on. I’m a writer!

Then, reality strikes a major blow. You need real clients — you know … the kind who pay you for the work you do.

Thus far in our “hero’s journey,” you’ve departed for new lands and have been initiated as a writer by facing certain daunting challenges. You’ve had to handle your own insecurities and strike a blow to your limiting beliefs.

You’ve faced the same tests any new writer faces, and hopefully, stared down clients who ask for samples of your work or want you to do work for free. These trials are there to help you build your confidence and take on the more challenging tasks ahead.

While you are still in what we call the “Initiation” stage of the “hero’s journey,” you are nearing the end of the most difficult part of your quest: getting some good, solid, real-life client experiences under your belt.

To accomplish this task, the hero must become highly-focused. Picture Luke Skywalker training to become a Jedi and how he planned his attack of Jabba the Hutt. He didn’t just fly in, swinging his lightsaber.

For the writer, this means having a marketing plan for your business. The strategies below are focused on getting your first client. (Read my article How to Keep Your Freelance Writing Funnel Full to see approaches that work for growing your business.)

1. Choose a niche.

Don’t fret over this one. Just pick something in which you already have some contacts and experience. The goal here isn’t to “be happy.” The goal is to get writing assignments from quality clients. Getting clients will make you happy, and it is far, FAR easier to get clients when focused on a narrow and specific niche.

And, if you need help choosing a niche, definitely check out Nick Usborne’s recent article Why You Should Choose a Niche for Your Freelance Business, and How to Do It.

2. Contact people you already know in your niche market.

Contact people you know personally in your niche. First, though, get clear about what you do, for whom you do it, and the specific benefits they’ll receive.

I’ll write to people I know at HP and tell them that “I can take the load off HP’s marketing managers by writing web and other marketing copy that helps to sell HP’s products and services.” I might say a little more to further articulate my specific areas of expertise, such as “IT integration services.”

Details are good because you’re going to ask your contacts to introduce you to the right people. Your contact needs to be armed with specific information that enables him or her to first find the best person, and then write a compelling introduction.

This is critical. Don’t simply ask for a name. Ask your contact to make the introduction. Here’s how the introduction might go:

“John, I want to introduce you to Sally Johnson. Sally is a copywriter who specializes in selling nutritional supplements. Besides being a great help with your current projects, I think she’ll mesh well with your company because of her commitment to natural health and her background as a personal trainer. I’ve CC’d her on this email and I encourage you to get in touch with her.”

When you can get someone to make this kind of introduction, you will be in writer’s heaven. It helps if your contact has a personal connection to the marketing manager, but that’s not essential.

3. Contact people you know in any market.

While not as effective as industry contacts, sometimes people you know might know people in your niche market. It never hurts to ask.

That’s how my friend who has trouble growing weeds became a “go-to” person amongst landscape designers and nursery owners.

The process is the same as above, but it’s less likely that you’ll get a personal introduction. In case all you get is a name and phone number, then a good way to begin the call is something like this:

“John Jones suggested that I give you a call about helping you with XYZ. Can we set up a time that’s convenient for us to talk?”

I got a referral like this, called the person, and the first thing he said was, “John’s a great guy. Sure, let’s talk now. How can I help you?”

How to Prepare for Your First Contact

Now, this part is critical to your success.

Before you make contact, do some background research. Search for both the company and the individual. For the company, you want to get to know their products and services. Understand who the players are and figure out where your contact fits in to the organization.

Read their existing copy. Download any brochures, white papers, or other marketing materials to see where you might be of service. Make notes of what you like and where you think you can make improvements.

Learn about your contact. You’ll often find them on LinkedIn. What’s nice about LinkedIn is that people often include personal hobbies and philosophies. Look for common ground, as well as particular likes and dislikes.

Get to know the company and individual so that by the time you make first contact you already have some clear ideas on how you can help. The person you contact will appreciate your diligence, and even if she doesn’t have work for you at the moment, you’ve made a good impression that will put you at top of mind later.

You’re almost done with the most difficult part of your hero’s journey. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how you can maintain your sanity and composure when you DO get busy (and you will).

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: June 2, 2011

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