You can be the best copywriter in the world and still fail if you’re ineffective at getting clients. Sales is part of running a freelance copywriting business. Here then, are some questions I’ve been asked with regard to how I went about getting clients when I was starting out.
We all have to start somewhere. Look for opportunities to do sample-worthy work. Think of friends, relatives, neighbors or coworkers who may have a business and could use some copywriting work. Go to local businesses where you know or can meet the owners and see if they have an needs. Offer to write a guest post for a blog in a subject area that interests you.
When I was starting out, I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and attended their monthly meetings where I had a chance to network with local business owners who occasionally needed copywriting services.
I also joined a Women in Business networking group where I got to know women in my area who had their own companies and were happy to support other women in business.
They gave me some of my first projects. I volunteered to write the organization’s monthly newsletter. That gave me visibility to the members and also helped me gain published samples of my work.
Join networking groups where you can meet other business owners with potential to become your copywriting clients.
If you’ve chosen a specific niche in which you’re an expert as a specialty, such as artificial intelligence or fashion, find businesses in that space that you can contact with a well-targeted pitch. Emphasize your knowledge in that niche to avoid having your inexperience as a copywriter become a concern for the client. You might even consider starting your own blog on the subject. Then, when you pitch companies in that niche, you can direct them to your blog as examples of your work and your knowledge of the industry.
Join online networks and online forums and become an active participant. Over time, you’ll get to know other members and they’ll get to know you. They can become sources of new business or referrals to others seeking copywriting services.
Public speaking is a good way to gain clients. I had a friend who was a college professor. She asked me to visit her class one day to talk about copywriting and answer questions about my career. My presentation went reasonably well so I offered to speak to another teacher’s class, refining my skills and gaining confidence.
Eventually, I reached out to some small business groups in my community and was able to land some real speaking engagements. Most paid little or nothing, but invariably after the presentation, a few people would approach me about possibly doing some copywriting work for their company. Today, you don’t even have to go out to do presentations. Just do a webinar or be a guest on a podcast.
Look for start-up businesses. Often they need help with their marketing and can’t afford an experienced copywriter. The same goes for charities and nonprofit organizations. Find one that champions a cause you support and volunteer your writing services.
I volunteered with my local YMCA to help the organization attract members. I wrote the copy for their press releases and ads. And for my local United Way organization, I wrote fundraising letters to help them attract donations.
With any of these ideas, you may initially need to provide your services for free or at a discount so you can get some published samples. I know no one likes to work for free but think of it as an investment in your education and a means to begin building your portfolio and your business.
Finally, consider joining an online freelance copywriters group. Check LinkedIn and Facebook. You can ask others in the group how they got their start. You’ll find everyone has a unique history. Learn from their experiences and mistakes. Then start designing your own path.
One of my first gigs was writing a newsletter for my father’s real estate business. He’d been writing the quarterly newsletter himself and didn’t feel it was the best use of his time. So I began writing the first drafts and he would then review them and make any necessary changes based on his knowledge of the industry. I ended up with some published samples and the confidence to contact other realtors to pitch my services.
Here’s another example. One of my neighbors decided to make a little extra money at Christmas by playing Santa. I helped him create flyers (essentially ads) which he posted in local communities, some of which then hired him for their holiday parties.
My hairdresser was moving from one salon to another. I helped her write a letter to send to her customers so they would follow her to her new salon.
A neighbor was starting a landscape business. He needed help writing a simple 4-page website and a sales letter introducing his business.
When my son was in middle school, he came up with the idea of being a dog walker to make some pocket change. We lived in a large subdivision where many people had dogs. I helped him create a flyer that he put into every home’s mailbox. Within days he had several customers and I had another sample for my portfolio, not to mention more first-hand experience and a bit more swagger in my step.
There were some local weekly newspapers that circulated where I lived pre-internet. I would occasionally write feature articles about community events and profiles of local businesses. The newspapers welcomed reader submissions and paid a small amount for those that were published. More importantly, they included your byline, so I was able to add more published samples to my portfolio. Nowadays, I think you could use the same tactic with blogs and ezines, as many welcome guest posts.
Get the idea? Look for any opportunity to practice your writing skills, build a portfolio and gain confidence in your ability.
You can approach this issue in many different ways. You can start by looking locally. What businesses are in your community that might need copywriting services?
You can also pick a specific niche to target. One copywriter I knew decided to target manufacturers. He set up a program to mail postcards about his services to prospects and forced himself to send out 10 per week. Of those 10, he’d usually get 1 or 2 interested prospects who contacted him for pricing and additional information. Because he was diligent and consistent in sending out his weekly postcards, he built a sizable business in under a year.
Start with your existing clients. Can you make some recommendations to them for additional marketing pieces? Maybe you wrote a sales letter for them about their new product. Suggest creating a web page for that product or a blog post. Or maybe you wrote their website and they could use a lead magnet like a free report to offer to prospects.
It’s always easier to get more work from someone who already knows and trusts you than it is to land new prospects. And don’t hesitate to ask those existing clients for referrals. They may know other business owners who have a need for your services.
At the same, you should be doing your usual marketing outreach — networking, participation in groups (online or in person), cold-calling, cold emailing, etc.
My website is my main means of marketing, and I’ve made sure it’s optimized for search engines. That means when someone goes on Google and searches for a professional copywriter or a website copywriter, my site often comes up in search results. That’s probably how you found this page!
Now before you go thinking that all you have to do is create a website and clients will find you, let me tell you that my website has been in existence for about 15 years. It has over 300 pages – I’ve long since lost count – and numerous inbound links from other websites.
Google ranks my site high for hundreds of keywords. If you build a new site with 5-10 pages, there’s no way you’re going to outrank me or my nearest competitors, so you’ll need to come up with a different strategy or recognize that this is a long-term strategy not likely to pay off for a while.
No, but that’s a significant contributor. I have the benefit of having been a freelance copywriter for 25+ years. Over that time, I’ve built up a strong base of clients, some of whom have been with me for many years. Ongoing accounts and repeat customers are a beautiful thing. My longevity in business also means I’ve crossed paths with many people who send me referrals.
Summarizing, my current workload comes from the following 5 main sources:
By combining all of those sources, I keep pretty busy and also pass along a lot of work to other freelance copywriters on my team.
My approach has always been to offer useful information. I have a website/blog with over 200 articles I’ve authored on copywriting and marketing. In initial contacts with prospective clients, I don’t use a pushy approach. I don’t sell; I tell.
When I speak with prospective clients, I give information and guidance. I ask a lot of questions about their business and then provide some direction on how I’d approach their marketing or copywriting project.
It doesn’t take long before clients realize I know what I’m talking about. They recognize the value I bring and ask if I would consider working on their project. While their initial focus may have been on getting a price, now their priority is getting me to agree to take on their work.
I developed that selling process over time, but the seeds for it were planted many years ago when I was a college student on a backpacking trip through Europe one summer. Here’s a quick story from that experience.
How to Sell Anything to Anyone without Being the Least Bit Pushy
I often think back to the first place I learned the subtle selling technique of educating your client. Many years ago I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey. The country is well known for its beautiful woven rugs.
Any tourist in Istanbul visiting the sights is likely to be approached by rug salesmen who try to persuade you to visit their rug shop. And that’s exactly what happened to my traveling partner and me. Even though we had no intention of buying a rug, we allowed ourselves to be led to one of these shops.
What we found there were salesmen who were nothing like the American salesmen we knew. Instead, these Turkish shopkeepers were willing to spend hours getting to know us.
They told us about their business, introduced us to their workers, let us touch the raw materials, explained the history of their craft, showed us the process of creating the rugs, and even treated us to a nice lunch and unlimited rounds of tea.
Not once did they say, “So, would you like to buy a rug?” Not once did they try to close the sale or pressure us to leave. They treated us like friends, sharing their knowledge and hospitality with us.
The whole experience was so pleasant that eventually we began to like and trust these shopkeepers. As we slowly let down our guard, we did exactly what nearly every tourist there ultimately does: we asked if it would be possible for us to each buy a rug.
It was only days later as my traveling partner and I, lugging our heavy backpacks with small rugs tied to them, realized the brilliance of the Turkish rug sales process. And oddly enough, even then, knowing their game, we still liked the shopkeepers and were pleased with our purchases.
The shopkeepers hadn’t fooled us. They’d simply educated us about their products. They gave us an appreciation for their true value, and from that new knowledge grew our desire to buy our own rugs.
My visit to Turkey was more than 25 years ago. The small rug I carted around on top of my backpack for three weeks of travel still has a place in my bedroom, but it’s the lesson I learned the day I purchased it that I value the most – tell, don’t sell.
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Fortunately, because I have several bread-and-butter clients with ongoing needs, I rarely hit dry spells. When I do, they don’t last long (knock wood). I use the time when business is slow to catch up on administrative work. I also write blog posts for my own site and update old posts.
On occasion, I go back to doing grassroots networking and cold calling to get work. I touch base with old and inactive clients. I follow-up on jobs that I quoted but didn’t come through. I email some companies that would be a good fit for me and introduce myself. And I look for opportunities to make myself more visible on social media.
I have had that happen more than once. A client can be an expert in a certain area but that doesn’t mean there’s demand for his service or product. If you can’t get someone to pay you for whatever it is you’re selling, sorry but your business isn’t going to succeed. Several examples come to mind but let me tell you about one situation.
The Medical Travel Agency Going Nowhere
I had someone contact me about writing his website so he could launch his new business. The business was to be a medical transport service, which I’ll call MTS for the purpose of this story.
MTS would make all of the travel arrangements for someone who was too sick or injured to fly commercially but needed to get somewhere for treatment or to be with family. They’d book a specially-equipped medical plane, provide a qualified nurse to fly with the patient, arrange ground transportation to a hospital when they landed, and take care of any other specific medical needs for the safe transport of the patient.
The client explained that 25+ years ago he’d worked for a company, no longer in business, that provided this exact service. He was an expert at coordinating the logistics.
I looked online and saw MTS would have significant competition. Plenty of other companies were offering the same services, and most of those companies were large and well-established. Some even had their own medical planes and affiliations with ambulance companies. They not only had impressive websites but were also running costly online advertising campaigns.
I asked my client how he planned to get customers, especially since it would be hard for him to compete online. He said, “I’m going to follow the example of the medical transport business I worked for years ago. I’ll send out letters to travel agencies describing my services and ask them to refer to me any medical clients. I’m going to include magnets with my company name and phone number.”
That was his entire marketing plan – free magnets!
Can you see the huge flaw in his thinking? When is the last time you worked with a travel agent to book a flight? Do travel agencies even still exist? And if so, would you as a business owner feel comfortable relying on them to refer customers to you?
I told the client that while I was capable of writing his website as requested, I thought he needed a better plan for getting clients. Otherwise, building a website would be a waste, and I didn’t feel comfortable taking his money.
Maybe he went and found another copywriter. Or maybe he opted to put more thought into developing a business plan. All I knew was that I couldn’t in good conscience take on his project.
As nicely as I could, I told him not to quit his day job. And I’d say the same to you if you told me you were starting a freelance copywriting business but had no practical plan for how to attract clients.
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Operating as a freelance copywriter is essentially running a business. And it involves much more than simply writing for your clients. Discover what you need to know in the next blog post in this series, Managing Your Copywriting Business.