Reap What You Sow: How to Increase Your Harvest of New Clients
Earlier this year, I heard a confession that shocked me: "I'm really not that great a copywriter," he whispered.
"Then how in the world do you make six figures?" I wondered. "Can you really make good money even if you're not the best copywriter?"
You have to be pretty good. But nowhere near as good as the A-level copywriters who speak at AWAI's FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp every year.
I used to think the only way to make six figures was to be one of the best copywriters. Then I started meeting a lot of people like the guy I quoted above.
The fact is, your career success is due to more than just top copywriting skills. The systems you have in place for marketing yourself and getting clients (including writing proposals and closing project deals) play a huge role in how much money you make.
It's like an experienced farmer. He uses the right planting techniques, knows the soil of his fields, and stays abreast of the latest technology. But if he doesn't have the tools for planting, cultivating, and harvesting, he won't get anywhere.
And just like a farmer, if we want to reap a good harvest (new clients), we need to sow at the proper time and in the right amount (effective marketing and networking).
The best time to market yourself
If you're fairly new in the business and don't have a schedule booked up six months in advance, it's probably best to market your services on an ongoing basis, right?
For some reason, that obvious truth escaped me, and I got in a rut of working month to month.
I had four or five monthly clients who were covering what I needed to earn to make a decent living. And as a beginner who didn't write very fast, that's about all I could handle. I'd wait until I finished those projects each month, then scramble to get a few more. I'd follow up on a referral, call back a prospect, network with past friends and colleagues, or chase a random lead.
But sporadic efforts produce sporadic results. Some months, I'd pick up a few extra projects; others, I wouldn't.
Then a few months ago, I realized I was getting the same writing done in about half the time I used to. As your writing skills improve, you’ll find this happens almost automatically.
I was also getting hungrier to finally get to that six-figure mark that had eluded me in my first two years. Can you relate?
Time to start grooming those fields for a bountiful harvest!
So, as part of my business re-launch later this month, I plan to …
Keep the funnel full
When you keep a steady flow of prospects coming into your pipeline or "funnel," it changes everything. You’ll line up projects months in advance and stop going through “dry” periods.
With a funnel, marketing yourself and getting clients becomes a numbers game stacked in your favor.
No longer are you chasing prospects, hoping they'll have a project for you. No more lowball proposals because you need the work. No more accepting projects that bore you to death just to fill up your schedule.
Instead, you're in control.
You decide whom you're going to work with. You command fairly high rates. You establish yourself as a consultant solving clients' problems (not a service provider looking for work).
Can that really happen just by keeping your funnel full?
Yes, with two caveats: it takes time to kick in (up to three to six months), and you have to consistently market your services. It isn't hard, though, especially if you approach it as one of the key factors in determining your income. I'll give you some easy tips in a minute.
Just realize it's an ongoing process, not something you do once and walk away from.
Cultivate relationships you already have
How do you kick-start this numbers game of having enough prospects in your funnel?
Start with what you know.
In my case, the majority of my business came through referrals from current clients or people I know. Along with that, I leveraged good client testimonials into opportunities I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
The best way to get good testimonials and referrals? Ask for them. And make getting them from your clients a regular part of any project.
I also had some success using social media. I kept in touch with old friends and colleagues in various industries on LinkedIn and Facebook.
I sent a short, casual message along the lines of: "Eric – saw your website – looks great! I have a couple of quick ideas that might help you bring in even more customers. When you have a chance, shoot me a message back. No hurry."
That low-key message got a dialogue going and gave me an opportunity to tell them what I was doing. I picked up a few projects using this method, and two of those turned into long-term, ongoing work.
Whatever your strengths are, or whatever has worked for you before as far as networking and getting referrals, start with that. And be consistent.
I don't cut into my writing time to do this (Facebook especially can be a time killer). Once a week for an hour or so is probably sufficient.
Even if you're a new writer, you can get testimonials and referrals from people who know you and can testify to the work you've done in the past. Past colleagues and employers you've stayed on good terms with are a great place to start.
Working your "warm" market can produce quick results. But if you want to get to the point of a consistently booked schedule, you need to do some hard marketing to "prime the pump" and generate results down the road.
When a farmer plants a field, pests and bad weather can affect the crop.
If we only have one or two marketing efforts out there – and don’t have a backup ready if one doesn’t pay off – the wrong "climate" can kill our crop, too.
Based on what I've learned from other successful freelancers, I've come up with a self-marketing method to actively seek new clients. And it's flexible to change.
I plan to implement one new marketing method a month over the next year. In October 2012, I'll calculate the return on each one and adjust accordingly.
Here are the 12 ideas (in no particular order) that I'd suggest:
- Write a free report for your website. Something like "7 Ways Travel Marketers can Boost Response with Email Marketing" can be a lead generator and give you credibility. Use principles you've learned from AWAI, tailored to your niche.
- Join some type of business networking group, or start your own.
Give a speech monthly related to your specialty. Civic groups like Rotary or Optimists are always looking for guest speakers for their monthly meetings. Find information for your city online, and email or call the contact person.
"How Small Businesses Can Prosper in a Down Economy with Direct Response" would have appeal to a general audience. Remember, make it about their needs, not promoting yourself.
I got great leads from a talk I gave to a Social Media Breakfast group titled "Social Media and the Art of Copywriting." Not into public speaking? Try Toastmasters International – it's a great place to practice (and I've gotten business there, too!).
Guest blog. I haven't tried this one yet, but if you have a blog of your own (which I do), find other blogs that write about topics directly related to yours. Connect with the blog owner, perhaps share some of their content through social media, then reach out to them with an offer to write a unique piece of content that can be published on their website.
This is a long-term strategy that can build back links to your website, bringing targeted visitors to your site and helping your site come up higher in search engine results.
- Write a book. This one isn't a light undertaking by any means, but if you have an idea, it can seriously boost your credibility in the marketplace and create many leads. One idea – write about how direct response copywriting can help a narrow niche within your niche. An e-book serves the same purpose, with less effort required.
- Send out a very narrowly targeted direct mail piece. Test this on a small scale before rolling out, but you could send a piece to a list of your ideal clients in your niche. Direct mail isn't my forte, so get detailed advice if you go this route.
- Start a monthly e-newsletter. Focus on the needs of businesses in your niche, and show them how various types of direct response marketing can help them. A great way to keep your name in front of your prospects.
- Partner with professionals who have complementary services. I've developed informal networking relationships with a social media expert, graphic designer, and printer. Anyone who may serve your clients in a different capacity is a good prospect for referring business to each other.
- Tie in autoresponders with your free report. A series of five to seven emails is a great way to follow up with prospects. Each email should give them some useful content to help them in their business but also subtly promote your services as well.
- Build a second website focused on your niche. I followed Pam Foster's lead on this one. My main site is WebContentCopywriting.com, which promotes my web copywriting services in general. The second site, which I'm building right now, is going to be focused on copywriting for the travel industry.
- Join a trade association related to your niche. This is a great way to meet people in your niche market, get referrals and client work, and network for future projects.
- Write articles to establish your credibility.
It's all about getting your name in front of the right people enough times.
Start with what you consider the easiest method for you and launch that. The next month, launch the next easiest one. After six months, you'll have six marketing methods going. If you build up to twelve active methods, your client pool should never dry up.
These won't necessarily kick in right away, but in three to six months, it should be …
This is the fun part!
When you have prospects coming to you, your marketing system is working.
You still need to write the proposal and close the deal (a separate topic for another article). And you still have to follow through by writing great copy on the projects.
But you'll be well on your way to a solid career. You'll be in control of your destiny and commanding respect. As demand for your services goes up, you'll be able to raise your rates if you choose. Plus, your income will naturally increase because you'll be writing better copy in less time as you gain experience.
I hope you understand now that you really don't have to be the best copywriter to make good money. But you do need systems in place for marketing yourself (planting), networking (cultivating), and securing projects (harvesting).
Put it to the test and see what happens.
I'd love it if you came up to me at a conference with a six-figure year under your belt (or in process) and whispered, "I'm really not that great a copywriter."
I promise I won't tell anyone.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance
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