Eight Steps to Finding Your First Clients

What’s the most frequent question AWAI members ask?

It’s … “How do I find clients?”

I know this can seem overwhelming at first. But, I’ve heard from many COS and AWAI members that finding their first client was much easier than they’d feared.

Why? They took a sensible, step-by-step approach with one purpose in mind: Building their portfolios.

If you adopt building your portfolio as your number one priority, you’ll discover that finding your first jobs can be easy … if you know where and how to look.

Here’s the secret: In the beginning, don’t worry about how much you’re paid … if you’re paid at all. Don’t worry about how big the company is. Don’t even worry about how many people will see your copy.

Just do it. And, soon you’ll have a strong portfolio to justify asking for more money.

I referred to this approach generally in my first note to you on January 2nd. Today, I’m going to get into specifics. We’ll look at 8 steps to finding your first clients. You’ll use these first clients to build your portfolio — the portfolio you’ll use to get more, larger clients quickly.

Step 1. Brainstorm Your Passions

You’ve heard it’s best to specialize when writing in direct marketing. However, when starting out, you should pick a few niches to test the waters. Important: Be sure these are areas you really enjoy writing about.

Start by brainstorming your passions. What things do you love doing in your free time? What things would you do if you had time to do them? What sections in bookstores do you gravitate to? What websites do you like to visit?

For example, if you subscribe to Prevention Magazine, talk with friends about your supplementation regimen, and eagerly seek out the health section in newspapers, then the obvious choice for you is alternative health.

Write down 10 of those passions. Put the list aside for a day, then add five more. Don’t censor yourself by saying “there’s no copywriting work in this area.” Just write. You’d be surprised all the areas where copywriters are needed.

Step 2. Talk to Friends

Tell friends what you’re doing. Seek ideas from them. Tell them what you’re interested in. Then, listen. Don’t limit your friends’ suggestions. You’ll probably get some off-the-wall ideas. But, even if some seem wacky, there’ll be nuggets of gold if you simply listen and let their suggestions stimulate more ideas.

For example, one of my first clients was a small company near me that made water purification equipment for large manufacturers. I had no interest in this area or in B2B, but a friend suggested the company based on my interest in alternative health.

Step 3. Turn Your List of Passions into Possibilities

The idea here is to find relatively local, small-to-medium size businesses that reflect your passions.

Do your first search using Google Maps (or a similar search tool). Put the name of the nearest large town or city into the search box and a search term that reflects one of your interests.

For example, let’s say you live near Reno and are interested in alternative health. You’d put “Reno, NV” in the search box along with terms like alternative health, health food markets, chiropractors, spas, massage therapists, and the like. (Use each term for a separate search.)

Harness your imagination here.

Write down good-sounding prospects for your first-time clients. Most will be small organizations. However, if you’re considering fundraising clients, some of the national groups might have local representatives that could still use your help.

You can do a similar search in the Yellow Pages of your local phone book. Also, look at space ads, want ads, and articles in local and regional newspapers and magazines for ideas.

Step 4. Prioritize Your List of Possibilities

Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a number of possibilities. Pick out the ones you think you’ll have the greatest chance of success with. Do your best to get the name of the owner, manager, or director.

Step 5. Arrange a Personal Meeting to Discuss Your Services

Prepare a 5-minute chat about how you can benefit your contact’s business. Get your portfolio in good order. This should include writing samples from AWAI exercises and other things you’ve written. (Check out The Golden Thread, January 2, 2012 for ideas.) Be sure to include a business card.

Call, visit, or email the establishment and ask for a 5-minute appointment with the owner or director. Be prepared to give your spiel right then. Briefly explain your background and AWAI training.

Tell them you’re just starting out and are trying to develop your portfolio. You’d like to offer them your services on spec (they don’t pay if your work doesn’t fit their needs) or for free. These will help build your portfolio fast.

Step 6. Do Your Best Work

Always show your best work. It doesn’t matter how much you’re being paid — even if it’s nothing — for this work. You’re building a portfolio. You’re building your reputation. And, you’re building self-confidence.

And, always be on time.

Step 7. Get Exposure

While you’re contacting potential clients, get yourself exposed to local business people. Contact local service clubs — like Rotary or Kiwanis — and Chambers of Commerce. Offer to do a presentation for one of their meetings.

Your presentation should be something of general business interest and should be between 5 and 15 minutes. It should not be just about your business.

Have something of perceived value to pass out at the end of the meeting like a one-page summary of the advantages of direct mail. Attach your business card.

Step 8. Jump-start Your Search

Shortcut your search for first clients by going to AWAI’s Direct Response Job Board: www.directresponsejobs.com. These will probably not be local jobs. But, they can be a huge step in your career.

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: January 30, 2012

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