I started freelance writing in May of 2008 with no professional portfolio or credentials to speak of. All I had in my freelancer’s toolkit were decent writing skills, a love of the written word, and a burning passion to make it as a self-employed professional.
Yet within four months, I had built up a strong enough client base to quit my full-time job and embrace my fantasy lifestyle: working when I wanted, working where I wanted, and throwing the word “commute” out of my vocabulary. It wasn’t long after that I started to earn as much freelancing as I did as a full-timer. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had my share of lean seasons, but they have trended as the exception, not the rule.
Initially, I chalked the success up to a healthy dose of luck. What else could explain a novice freelancer actually getting good paying (and steady!) gigs?
But the more I connected with the true earning superstars of the freelance writing community, the more I realized that my success came from consistently utilizing two universal business-winning strategies when pursuing clients.
These two business-winning strategies have served me very well in both my freelance writing work and my entrepreneurial endeavors. Interestingly enough, I’ve been able to identify them as key success indicators (and failure indicators when not implemented) in friends who’ve gone down both tracks. I encourage you to examine how you utilize each of these strategies in your own niche or version of entrepreneurship, whether you’re a blogger, a product designer, or an information marketer like E-J’s own Dr. Mani.
Early in my freelancing career, I had the opportunity to pick the brain of a successful and established writer and blogger. I’ll never forget their biggest piece of advice: “Treat your service like a business, not a hobby. Too many new writers don’t take their work seriously and they never get anywhere.”
This writer meant what they said, and I could tell from the tone of their voice that they took their work very seriously. In fact, a little too seriously. When they spoke about writing, there was no passion or love of the work in their voice. It was all just business.
A few months later, when we spoke again, they confided that their clientele had begun to slip and they were struggling to win new gigs. From where I sat, it was no surprise why – with a job market flooded by eager scribes, clients were opting for individuals who communicated enthusiasm for potential opportunities, not a matter-of-fact coldness.
It is easy to confuse being businesslike with being flat, monotone, and almost somber. But handling your service or product in a businesslike manner doesn’t mean putting a lid on your passion and enthusiasm for what you do. In fact, communicating a love for what you do is an essential business-winning strategy. When a potential client sees you’re fully engaged in your business and enthusiastic about it – whether you freelance write or sell eco-friendly toilets – it sends a message to them that you value quality, high standards, and successful engagements.
Now, passion and enthusiasm doesn’t mean going bonkers with overly gregarious speech or wild body language (think Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch). But it does mean letting the client know, often in subtle way, that you believe in your product or service and find personal satisfaction in at least some element of it.
Think about your current sales pitch, long copy, or gig-responses letter…does your language communicate to the potential client your passion for your work?
One of the biggest mistakes I used to make when writing cover letters for writing opportunities was to spend four paragraphs talking about me. I’d mention various awards or accolades I’d earned, exclusive academic societies I was a member of, areas I specialized in…on and on and on, anything I thought would make me stand out from the 800 other responses the client was getting. It wouldn’t be until the final few lines that I would mention anything about the client’s project.
I didn’t win many gigs this way. Why? Because the only thing a client cares more about than your credentials is what you can do for them. Markets for an entrepreneur’s product feel the same way… “yeah, yeah, enough about you already…but what can you and your product do for me?”
I became aware of this problem when I asked a friend to review what I thought was a particularly impressive gig pitch. “Um, Nacie…” she started slowly, “This is nice…but, who are you writing this for – your ego, or the potential client?”
My blunder is one that is often repeated by other newbies in a variety of entrepreneurship situations – when you are feeling insecure about your platform, portfolio, or experience, the immediate response is to overcompensate. OK, and there are a few established pros that just want to brag about how wonderful they are. But mostly, I’ve noticed this to be a rookie mistake: maybe they won’t notice I have very few writing clients if I talk a lot about other achievements? Maybe my potential sales demographic will think I’m qualified to sell this product if I spend 1,000 words talking about my story…
Savvy freelance writers (and entrepreneurs) know that one of the best ways to win business is to share just one or two words about yourself – your ultimate highlight reel – before turning the focus on the client’s needs and how you can meet and exceed them: Yes, I did have two stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul…but what I’d really like to discuss today is this fantastic opportunity. My vision was…
Think (again) about your current sales pitch, long copy, or gig-responses letter…How much time are you spending talking about yourself versus the potential client and their needs?
When I first started my freelancing career years ago, I never imagined it would lead me to where I am today: blogger, soon-to-be-published author, and entrepreneur. Freelance writing gently taught me the basics of business, including what it takes to win business and keep business. These two major strategies, simple as they may appear, have served me very well in a variety of business situations, from getting writing gigs to selling my book proposal to a major international publisher.
So as you think about building or continuing to build your own empire, consider this: passion, enthusiasm, and a genuine interest in providing a service will get you farther than you think, even when you’ve got a blank resume.
Here’s to your Entrepreneur’s Journey!