Anyone Can Compete On Price

I get twitchy whenever I hear someone suggest that they should drop their prices to land more clients. Part of that is due to the reality that make creative professionals have a hard time remembering the value of their own work. If you don’t put a value on how you spend your time, how are you ever going to convince someone else to give you money in return for those hours?

But there’s an underlying issue that may be a little harder to resolve: competing on price is bad for business.

There are a few industries in which there is no alternative to competing on price. But the truth is that anyone can compete on price. New entrants to the market can find just as many ways to cut costs as people who have been in business for years — and may have the added advantage of not knowing about certain expenses when setting their prices. Someone who can afford to take a loss, at least in the short term, always has the advantage over those competitors who can’t afford to do so.

That’s dangerous: cutting what you offer to the bone just to get your prices down can put you in a dangerous place, particularly if you’re selling your own creativity in one way or another. There are alternatives, however, to competing on cost: adding value, branding your work, and other strategies can keep you competitive without forcing you to constantly be selling just to keep your head above water.

Working Without a Marketing Budget Isn’t the Same as Working Without a Net

“I can’t start a business without money! I may be able to bootstrap the company, but I still have to pay for advertising.”

I have heard variations on this theme for years. I even heard a version from a family member attempting to convince another family member to invest in her business when I was about ten. Maybe it was true fifteen years ago, although I don’t remember enough about the pre-web world to say.

But a marketing budget isn’t all that necessary these days. It’s rare that paying for marketing is the only way to get a product or service in front of the right customer. Odds are good that a single honest review on the right website will get you a lot more business these days.

A Short Case Study: reddit*

I had the pleasure of hearing Alexis Ohanian speak about entrepreneurship last month. Ohanian, who co-founded reddit, noted that the company’s entire marketing budget when starting up was $500. That was spent exclusively on stickers. He notes,

After we were acquired, Condé Nast funded an openbar meetup tour (Drankkit) for redditors and also prize money for a build-a-subreddit contest I ran early on to encourage folks to create & grow subreddits.

That’s been the extent of any marketing dollars we spent on growing reddit and they all came post-acquisition.

To give you an idea of the enormity of that statement, here are some figures.

  • In February 2011, the site received one billion page views.
  • I found conflicting reports of the number of active reddit users at this point (ranging from 8 million to 20 million), but that same announcement in February showed over 13.7 million unique visitors.
  • Condé Nast, the company that bought reddit in 2006, is also the publisher of The New Yorker, Vogue, Wired Magazine and a bunch of other big name publications. (For the record, earlier this year, reddit was split off from Condé Nast and now operates as a subsidiary of Condé Nast’s parent company, Advance Publications).

But What About Viral Videos and All the Rest?

There’s a certain sense that we’re living in an age of amazing marketing: Old Spice can create a series of amazing videos that become a part of our culture overnight. Social media, content marketing and all the rest make it possible for marketing materials to rival the winners of Pulitzers, Emmys and other creative awards.

I’m a fan.

But this age of amazing marketing also has opened up opportunities for new businesses to get by without spending any money. It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but hear me out. Marketing is no longer wholesale. If you can slide an absolutely fabulous product in front of one right person, you’ll get the right coverage on social media, through word of mouth or wherever else you need it. You just need to think retail — making that one perfect sale or, rather, connection.

The Old Spice videos were fairly retail, when you get down to it. Here, watch one:

I promise: this post did not start out as an excuse for me to go watch Isaiah Mustafa. But the fact that I enjoy watching these videos over and over again is interesting. I’m right in the group that Old Spice was reaching out to with these videos. I’m nerdy enough that I can navigate my way through a throng of response videos on YouTube. My sense of humor is just a tad quirky. I’m firmly in favor of Isaiah Mustafa walking around without his shirt on. I’m not an Old Spice user, but I encouraged my husband to try out Old Spice after seeing this series of ads.

I’m certainly not the only person who meets that criteria, or the video above wouldn’t have reached 37 million odd views on YouTube. But it’s still not everyone. My dad doesn’t fall into that description, despite being a potential Old Spice customer. My granddad certainly doesn’t, either. Old Spice went retail, in targeting younger consumers who meet a certain set of qualifications. They have other promotions to get their products in front of other demographics.

Don’t Worry About the Marketing Budget

If you have a trust fund or other giant pile of money that you’re just itching to spend, I’m all in favor of devoting some of it to marketing. That is, of course, assuming that you have something great to market.

For those of us starting with a little less backing, coming up with a little cash for a marketing budget is not going to offer any sort of safety net. Rather, you need to build something fabulous. Write the best book possible. Design the best web app on the face of the plant. Whatever you want to sell, knock it all the way out of the park. When you know you’ve got a home run on your hands, start thinking in terms of specific connections you can reach out to or build.

For the best children’s books ever, start reaching out to big name mommy bloggers and book reviewers. Send them emails, follow them on Twitter and — preferably without being a suck up or pain in the posterior — build a standing connection with them. When you’re ready to start selling, then it’s just a question of asking to send such folks a review copy. If you’re shooting for a small business web app, a sports shoe, a non-profit fundraiser or anything else, the type of person you’re looking for changes, but the strategy does not. Think of the individuals who are going to be interested in what you’re offering and go from there.

*reddit is uncapitalized. I’ve got some great editors in the audience and I don’t want to give anyone a heart attack when you see how many times I’ve left this business name uncapitalized.

Image by Flickr user Freddie Brown

Ask Me Anything: Errors & Omissions Insurance and Looking for Work

Ashley Festa asks, how to begin looking for work as a freelancer.

Three words: marketing, marketing, marketing. Depending on the types of freelance projects you’re looking for, the shape of your marketing efforts can vary. There are plenty of options — in fact, there are at least 31 days worth of marketing projects you can tackle.

I’m a big believer that you have to have somewhere to send interested clients, like a website. Once that’s in place, the next step is discovering where your preferred types of gigs show up. I like blogging gigs more than anything else, so I take a look at job boards like ProBlogger‘s fairly regularly. I also have gotten to know the types of blogs that I like writing for pretty well, to the point where I’m comfortable sending the writers and editors emails.

No matter what kind of writing you want to do, though, don’t limit yourself to the job boards. The best writing jobs are never anywhere near a job board. It’s your connections who will bring you work, more often than not. Job boards should only be a starting point — a way to land some jobs as you build up the network you’ll need in the long run.

Susan Johnston asks,

I’d be interested in your take on errors & omissions insurance or media liability insurance. Necessary for freelance writers? Or necessary for certain types of writing? This came up with a client recently and I’d imagine this info would be useful to other writers, too. Thanks!

Most of my clients never ask about the insurance I cover. Typically, the ones who do are big companies, used to working with contractors who actually come on site to do work rather than freelance writers — and those clients ask about liability insurance. Freelance writers don’t really need liability insurance. It’s for situations where you or one of your employees injures yourself on a client’s property or otherwise does some damage. If you aren’t on their property, it’s not an issue.

Errors and omissions insurance can be a practical consideration for freelancers, though, even if our clients rarely ask about it. That’s because errors and omissions insurance specifically covers errors that we might make in completing a project for our clients. For example, if a copy writer puts together a tax advice site for a client, but includes material that leads to a reader irritating the IRS, the copy writer could be sued. Errors and omissions insurance takes care of the costs of resolving such a situation, including paying damages to that very displeased client.

If you have assets worth protecting — like a house and a thriving freelance writing business — getting the insurance is a good idea. The problem most writers will face is that it can be expensive to obtain. If you can’t afford it, don’t spend too much time stressing about it. Most freelancers don’t actually carry errors and omissions insurance. It’s more of a ‘nice to have’ sort of situation. If you can afford it, though, go for it.

Got a question about the business side of freelance writing? Send it my way and I’ll answer it here next week!

J.C. Hutchins: Getting A Novel Past Rejection and Into Print

These days, getting a book published isn’t just a matter of getting an editor to take a look at your work. It takes a lot of ingenuity and a willingness to pursue a project on your own. J.C. Hutchins did just that. His book, 7th Son: Descent, was rejected by publishers. J.C. bought a microphone, recorded an audiobook and shared it as a free serialized podcast. His podcast attracted tens of thousands of listeners, which, in turn, attracted the attention of St. Martin’s Press.

St. Martin’s Press released 7th Son: Descent on October 27th. The novel was recently option by Warner Bros. On its release day, it hit 188 overall at Amazon.com. To put it mildly, it’s a success.

In order to get behind the scenes on how J.C. was able to turn publishers’ rejections into success, he agreed to answer a couple of questions for us.

How did your first attempt to get published go? Did you get any responses? How many queries did you send out?

It was a disaster — and I have only myself to blame. I wanted to tell an epic story about high-tech conspiracies, human cloning and a villain so cruel he’d make Cobra Commander wet the bed . . . and I did just that. I spent three years writing and editing 7th Son, and when I came up for air in 2005, I was the proud papa of a 1,200-page manuscript. Most thrillers never clock past the 400-page mark. I hadn’t written a book. I’d written a phone book.

I’d doomed my story. I pitched around 60 agents, and was universally rejected. During ’05, I was listening to podcasts, and discovered novelists who were releasing their unpublished manuscripts as self-produced, free serialized audiobooks. I smelled an emerging trend, and reckoned that since I couldn’t sell 7th Son, I’d share it.

I rebranded my epic story as a trilogy, and chopped my monstrous manuscript into thirds — act one became 7th Son: Descent, act two became “book two,” etc. I began recording and releasing the first novel in early 2006.

What was the learning curve like as you started offering your book as a podcast? How did you learn how to record your audiobook and promote it online?

I studied the space before I ever recorded a word. I did online research on recommended equipment (microphones and mixers, mostly), listened closely to other podcast novels to spot best practices (and things to avoid), and watched how others promoted their work.

My greatest learning curve came in the recording process. I discovered that I was — and remain — a terrible narrator. My performances are great in the final product, but I constantly flub lines. My audio requires lots of meticulous editing.

I’m not a born promoter; it’s a learned skill. I was timid to promote at first … but once I realized the success of the podcast hinged solely on my personal commitment to evangelize it, I got learning, fast. It’s been a blast, experimenting with promotions over the past four years.

How did you attract listeners? How did your audience lead to a deal with St. Martin’s Press and eventually a movie option?

Back in 2006, I quickly saw the flaws in most podcast promotion of the time (popularity content-style voting on a few websites, shilling for reviews in iTunes, etc.), and realized the fastest way for me as a “new kid” to score credibility was to cross-promote with influential podcasters. I’d invite them on my show for a quick two-minute cameo in which they read a “previously on 7th Son” segment and could promote whatever they wished. These folks then mentioned their 7th Son appearances on their shows, which drove listeners to my site.

My most successful promotional campaigns have been variants on this cross-promotion model. No one spends a dime, and everyone comes away a winner.

Most of the folks who came to the 7th Son podcast enjoyed it, appreciated the entertainment value (and the fact that I was giving it away), and wanted to help spread the word. I created an online street team called “The 7th Son Ministry of Propaganda,” and crafted evangelistic missions for my listeners. I also solicited fan-created artwork, music, poetry — whatever fans wanted to create, they could, and I’d post it on my site (and thank them in my podcasts). I didn’t know it at the time, but I was building a vocal, emotionally-invested audience.

The success of the podcast eventually helped get me a literary agent in 2007 — I pitched more than 200 that time around. It also put me on the radar of St. Martin’s Press. An editor there approached me for a “for hire” supernatural thriller project, a gig I happily accepted. Once my foot was in the door, I pitched them on 7th Son, and they went for it.

With a book contract signed, my film agent then pitched studios. The film rights for the trilogy were optioned to Warner Bros. late last year.

What sort of marketing did you do for the launch of the actual book? How did you sell so many copies in your first week?

I took everything I learned from my four years of promotion, and used the very best ideas. I wanted to dazzle longtime fans and newcomers with killer content, so I wrote and podcasted original fiction — a prequel short story anthology set two weeks before the events seen in 7th Son: Descent. I enlisted the help of a musician friend, who — with my help — created songs “written and performed” by a folk musician in the book. This became a crowd-pleaser. I also recorded a brand-new version of the “print edition” of 7th Son: Descent, featuring the new scenes and plot twists seen in the print novel.

With content covered, I approached several influential websites and asked if they’d be interested in re-distributing this, and other, content. In exchange for access to their audiences, I’d promote their work with in-content advertising. Sites such as BoingBoing.net agreed, putting my work before audiences that had never before heard of 7th Son. This content began rolling out a few weeks before the novel’s bookstore debut.

On the day of publication, 20 websites — including those of BoingBoing, Chris Brogan, Grammar Girl, C.C. Chapman, Tor.com and others — released a 10-chapter PDF excerpt of the book. These sites also received in-PDF adverts for their participation. That PDF has been online for about a month, and has been downloaded more than 30,000 times. Again: no money was spent by anyone, yet everyone benefited from the multi-site distribution and cross-promotion.

Finally, I’m also doing gobs of dirt-under-the-fingernails outreach — pitching blogs, podcasters and mainstream media. In the past month, I’ve done more than 60 online interviews/guest posts … and if I have anything to say about it, this is just the beginning.

Why are you continuing to offer free fiction on your website? What’s your next step?

Free content serves several purposes:

  1. it keeps my current fans fat and happy, which is a priority
  2. the low barrier of entry ensures new fans can experience my work risk-free, see if it’s right for them, and support the work by purchasing a copy of the novel
  3. the fiction can be freely redistributed by fans, which increases the size of my community
  4. it’s fun.

What’s next? More free audio fiction in early 2010. By the summer, I aim to be writing two new novels, and sending some movie treatments to my film agent. I still gotta put food on my table.

What advice can you offer to writers trying to find a home for their manuscripts? Any resources you can point writers to?

While I’ve found success with the Free loss leader model, I always suggest that writers submit their manuscripts to agents the traditional way first. If you snag representation, you’ll save yourself a great amount of energy and effort creating — for instance — a podcast audiobook. (Every 30 minutes of final audio often represents around 6-8 hours of behind-the-scenes effort.) If the gatekeepers turn up their noses, screw ’em. Embrace the DIY route. Create your own success. Don’t let anyone tell you your work doesn’t have value. With the Free model, the market (aka listeners) decide.

The best one-stop resource I’ve found is AgentQuery.com. It has a robust listing of agents representing all genres. It’s also free to use.

What do you see as the future of how books will come to market? Will publishing houses still pick and choose from slush piles? Can we expect more writers to succeed by building online platforms?

I don’t think we’ll see much change in the process during the next five years or so. Major publishers are very slow to change, and — while writers can grouse about it — the current system of finding an agent to pitch your work to publishers works well. It offers some quality control. Despite 7th Son’s podcast success, it took me acquiring an agent to get business done.

I don’t suggest writers submit unagented, unsolicited manuscripts to publishers’ slush piles. Few publishers accept them, and those who do can literally take years reviewing them. While that manuscript is in that single publisher’s hands, it cannot be presented to any other publisher. You essentially forfeit any leverage or influence you have. Get an agent, cut a deal with a small independent publisher, or self-publish.

I absolutely believe we’ll see more online success stories like 7th Son’s in the years ahead. Creators who embrace this DIY approach are in for some seriously hard work, especially if they want to create the best-possible product, and promote it effectively. But those who do can build a thriving fan base, and their works’ successes can build a strong business case for publishers.

You can learn more about J.C. Hutchins at his website, where you can also read his work!

Day 31: Make Marketing A Habit

To be truly effective, marketing can’t be something that you do just once in a while — especially for a freelancer. Instead, marketing must be a habit, something that you make time for every day. It can be tough for freelance writers, because that means extra work beyond the writing that is actually paying the bills and it can be difficult to focus on marketing if you’ve already got a full client list.

Just the same, freelancers must market. The typical explanation is that you never know when one of your clients will cut a project and that you have to keep hustling to line up new work. It goes beyond that, though: even if your plate is always full, you can want more. What about better paying clients? If you’ve been writing for a while, it’s important to keep marketing so that you can land new clients who are willing to pay higher rates — after all, most of your existing clientele is going to expect you to keep working at the same price you’ve always worked at.

Set Aside Marketing Time

Many part-time freelancers make a point of setting a certain amount of time aside for writing. Whether you’re full-time or part-time, it’s important to do the same for marketing. Even if you can only manage working on your marketing efforts for 15 minutes a day — well, that’s 15 minutes of marketing you weren’t doing before. That sort of time frame may require some very careful choices on just which marketing tactics you’re going to devote yourself to.

As you practice your marketing skills, you’ll be better able to handle the process — you’ll be able to expand your efforts, and build on your existing reputation. Ideally, you may be able to expand the amount of time you spend on marketing, as well. There is no set amount of time you should be spending on marketing your freelance writing, but I don’t think an hour a day is out of line. That sound like a lot of time, but think about what you may be using that time for: writing query letters, blogging, even going to events. Those sorts of activities pay off when you spend some time on them.

The longer you make a point of marketing, the more of a habit it will become. Marketing yourself and your writing is a great habit to have — and it will come in handy no matter what the future of your freelancing career looks like. Whether you want to write articles from here to forever or you want to build up passive income strams, you’ll need to be able to marketi yourself to meet your goals.

Bringing In Outside Help

One of the reasons that freelance writing is such a flexible business option is that we’re each pretty much responsible for every part of operating our businesses. The number of freelance writers who bring in some outside help — whether we’re talking about tasks like marketing or bookkeeping — is pretty low. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an option.

If you’ve got a pretty full plate as far as work goes, it may make sense to hand off at least a little of your work to someone else. I don’t recommend it as an option for a freelancer first starting out: such help is going to cost a little money and it’s harder to make sure your help is handling a project the way you want if you haven’t done such projects yourself. In other situations, however, a virtual assistant or some other help can make sense. Depending on the virtual assistant you talk to you, you can outsource a wide variety of your work. Personally, I prefer to outsource tasks I don’t enjoy (like bookkeeping) so that I have more time for tasks I do enjoy (like marketing). But even within the larger area of marketing, you can get a lot of help. There are virtual assistants who will update your website, hunt down editors’ email addresses or design your business card. It’s just a question of what you need help with.

Revisit Your Marketing Plans

As you continue your freelance writing career, make a point of revisiting your marketing plans regularly. Your focus may shift — you may want to explore a new niche or target new clients. Those shifts can require some corresponding changes in your marketing efforts: you want to make sure that you are where your ideal clients are at all times.

You don’t need to completely change your marketing plan on a weekly or monthly basis, of course, but checking in once a month or so to make sure that you’re still progressing towards your goals can help you to decide that you’re still on track. If you feel that you aren’t meeting your goals, or you’ve slowed in your progress, then it may be time to revise your marketing plans.

How do you schedule your marketing tasks with the rest of your work?

What I Learned From My Two Weeks As A Tomato

During the summer before my senior year in high school, I held what I think may have been the oddest job in existence: I dressed up as a tomato.

I was handing out flyers throughout downtown Colorado Springs, and clad in a large red vinyl ball stuffed with newspapers I wandered through the park, the courthouse and a whole bunch of big businesses. Oh, and my own high school.

I made some money, got unbelievably embarrassed and got dehydrated (I was insulated too well for the average summer day). I also learned some incredibly valuable lessons that I’ve managed to apply as a freelancer.

  1. People are more likely to notice something that stands out. A new angle or sheer enthusiasm can get you places that covering the same story the same way everyone else does will never lead you.
  2. People will remember willingness to go out on a limb. My high school counselor was more than happy to write a few extra recommendations for the girl in the tomato suit (especially because she scored him extra coupons from the restaurant she was advertising).
  3. Other people won’t find your tomato suit — or other gimmicks — nearly as embarrassing as you will. This especially goes for marketing. A lot of writers are worried that they’ll make a fool of themselves by putting themselves forward for any sort of personal marketing. Other people will look kindly on all kinds of attempts to engage their interest, down to a girl walking into their office dressed as a tomato.

Of course that’s just what I’ve learned from my odd job. Want more? Two blogs are talking about lessons learned from odd jobs this week — Middle Zone Musings and Good Word Editing. Check ’em out!

7 Items Your Website Should Include

I know there are plenty of freelance writers out there without websites, but it’s one step that I consistently recommend that writers take if they’re serious about their work. Not only is a website a key marketing tool, but it can also streamline your querying process and help you save time. Even a free blog can help you improve your business.
Deciding the content for a site is often frustrating, so I’ve put together a list of things your website absolutely should include. This list is a starting point: add the information that you feel will help you land clients for your services.

  1. A writer’s resume: Your site should be able to point to individuals and companies that you’ve worked for in the past, although you do not need to display this information in a traditional resume format. Consider listing references or testimonials instead a blow-by-blow of your writing experience.
  2. Clips: I like using links to live articles, personally. To me, it shows that my past work was pleasing enough for my clients that they still have it up. However, it is acceptable to host your clips on your own site. Being able to link to these articles can make your querying process much easier: you don’t have to hunt for old files on your computer or cut and paste them into an email. Clients don’t have to take a chance on opening a file that may or may not be corrupted, either.
  3. Contact information: I’d recommend listing a couple of ways for a potential client to get in touch with you. You may rely on Skype for communication, but others might prefer to email you or use a traditional phone line. If you are concerned about putting too much information online — and plenty of us are — offer to provide it via email if a potential client will contact you in that manner.
  4. Services: While many freelance writers are willing to take on many different types of writing projects, most of us have a few specialties. Make it clear on your website what your preferred niches are. I don’t list prices for my services, however. I often find that a project can be much bigger than a client thinks, and if they already have a set price in mind, it can be harder to negotiate an appropriate fee.
  5. Book or project information: Not all writers have a book on sale or another project bringing in income (think e-books, teaching classes and opportunities along those lines), but if you do, make sure your website includes information about your projects — like links for buying your book.
  6. A short bio: A brief introduction and a photo make you more personable to a potential client. Most of us work primarily online, making it difficult to seal a deal in person. However, presenting ourselves online as a living human being can make our clients more likely to hire us. Keep the photo simple, though. Distracting backgrounds and such can make you seem less professional.
  7. Regular updates: Blogs are a great way to add new content to your website on a regular basis, but there are other options. Don’t let your site stagnate — add new projects, update old information and generally maintain your site. When I visit a site that is copyright 2000 or is otherwise dated, I assume that the owner of the site has essentially abandoned it. I move on, and quickly. Don’t lose clients by refusing to update your site.

Write Your Own Elevator Pitch

Maybe you’re at a conference, or maybe you’re just waiting on a ride, but you strike up a conversation with the person standing next to you. What do you say when he asks what you do?

Trick question. I hope you didn’t answer with “I’m a writer,” because this guy now thinks that you’re working on the Great American Novel in your basement. Instead, you should have an elevator pitch — something that not only gives some specifics about what you do, but shows how you can help the average business.

There’s a formula for good elevator pitches:

  • a 15 to 30 second statement that says
  • what you do, and
  • why you’re worth hiring

In general, you want to stand out. You don’t want to be a writer. Instead, you want to be a copy writer specializing in small business marketing or a freelance writer covering personal finance topics. Even if you do plenty of other things, you want your elevator pitch to be lean and mean, so pare it down to just one small area. Furthermore, you want to demonstrate why your services are a good investment. Maybe your writing has won awards and gotten attention for magazines, or maybe your copy is responsible for a 25% increase in sales. Think specific and concrete!

You may even need more than one elevator pitch in your repertoire. Maybe you have several niches, or a few sidelines. Keep it simple, though — you don’t need to try to remember fifteen different speeches. Furthermore, you need to be able to adapt your pitch on the fly: maybe that business man you were chatting up needs a copy writer able to deal with a large marketing campaign, but you normally work with smaller businesses. If you’re interested, adapt your elevator pitch to make it clear that you are capable of taking on big projects.

My elevator pitch?

I’m a freelance writer covering small business topics — especially the ones that teach small business how to use new media.

I’ve got my job description, and I’ve mentioned a deep specialization that is somewhat rare, showing a value that not all freelance writers have.

Blogging: A Practical Pursuit for Freelancers

A freelance writer can only spend so many hours a day before she has to eat or sleep. Why should you, as a writer, take time away from your freelance writing business to blog? After all, most bloggers make minimal money off of their work — if a blogger relies on Google AdSense, she’s literally only making pennies a day.

Despite the fact that blogs are not necessarily the best income producers, I do think that they are useful for most freelance writers.

A Change of Pace

Many freelance writers get a little burnt out by working on similar projects day in and day out. Blogging can be an opportunity to just change things up a bit — you can blog about a topic you don’t normally cover, or write in a style that you couldn’t use on a client’s project. Even better, there is absolutely no barrier to entry with blogging. You can write about anything, at any level, without having to worry about getting an editor or client’s okay.

A Place to Experiment

In the same vein, if you need a place to try something new, and get a little feedback, a blog is ideal. Do you want to try out a new style? Or build some samples of writing on something you’ve never even considered trying before? A blog can even be an ideal place to practice a new skill, to perfect it before approaching clients.

A Marketing Tool

A blog is a collection of samples of your work. A potential client can see off the bat that you are a decent writer, and a good blog can lead to new projects. Furthermore, taking your blog seriously can get your name higher in search result for a particular term. Consider this: if you type ‘Laurel’ (the town I live in) and ‘freelance writer’ into Google, my blog is the 8th search result. If someone was trying to find a freelance writer in Laurel, I’d be one of the first people they ran across — and all the other results are about writers named ‘Laurel,’ not Laurel residents.

A Moneymaker

Didn’t I say that blogs don’t produce much income right at the start of this post?

Yeah, but that’s because most bloggers don’t make much money off of their blogs. A lot of bloggers rely on advertising, usually through Google AdSense, to monetize their blogs. To make money that way, you literally need thousands upon thousands of regular visitors, who are willing to click on your ads. It’s extremely hard to pull that off. But there are a couple of other ways to make sure that your blog at least pays for itself.

  • Advertise yourself: Put up ads for books or other products that you’re selling. It only takes a few sales to actually make money, when you’re advertising your own products — and they’ll always be relevant! Your blog can be an easy-to-maintain platform for selling your own products.
  • Affiliates: If you’re going to be writing about a product anyhow, check if any sellers of that product will give you a cut for any sales made from your link. Amazon already such a system set up — you can link to any book (or other item) sold by Amazon and make a cut if someone clicks on your link to buy that book. Amazon’s system is nice and easy, although you’ll make a smaller profit than you can with other affiliates. Consider Amazon a starting point, not the whole of your affiliate plan.
  • Spin off blog entries into an ebook or other product that you can sell.

Write to market; market to write

It’s hard to get work if no one knows you exist. It’s a fact of the freelancer’s life that you are responsible for your own marketing. Now, for those writers focusing on writing articles, or even the great American* novel, your marketing materials could be as simple as perfectly crafted query letters. 

For those of us looking for work in technical writing, copy writing, grant writing, etc., however, a query letter is just not going to cut it. Instead, we’re going to need to create some marketing materials of our own. All of you folks who write this sort of copy for a living should be able to figure the basics out.

And we’re writers, right? We should be able to craft some fine marketing materials without too much stress. Here are a few tips for the specifics of writing your own marketing copy:

  • Write about why you’re such a catch, rather than depending on your personal brand. While a brand is important, your marketing materials should explain why your brand is so strong.
  • Define what you’re able to offer. You don’t need to limit yourself too far, but it should be clear whether you are offering technical writing or grant writing. (And if you offer both, consider separating them in your marketing materials. Set up sub-domains on your website, create individual brochures, etc.)
  • Emphasize differences from your competitors. Think outside the box: awards for customer service can be leveraged just as easily as successful marketing campaigns.

Beyond the writing part of your marketing materials, though, you may need to consider some personal limitations. If you’re not up to designing a brochure beyond pasting text into a Microsoft Word template, it’s okay. It’s just a matter of finding a designer to work with — and there’s just as many graphic designers out there as writers. It’s worth spending a little money on creating excellent marketing materials, but there are options if money is tight. Offer to write copy for both your materials and the designer’s, if he or she will design both sets, or check if there are other barter options.

*You can substitute your own locality if you wish. Personally, I think there’s something to be said for the great Martian novel.

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