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If you’re a freelancer who needs clients right now, content marketing is not the answer

Let me start with an admission: I’m a huge believer in content marketing for myself and for my clients’ businesses. But content marketing takes a long time to deliver results and help your business go from a drought to a flood of clients.

How do you make ends meet in the meantime? How do you keep body and soul together, and the electricity on, too?

In the short term, nothing beats old-fashioned outreach coupled with a follow-up schedule.

We’ve all heard it before. In business development, it takes a sustained campaign of multiple interactions for a potential client to go from not knowing you exist to thinking of engaging you. This is especially true in a crowded field like freelance writing.

Yet most of us give up after one or two attempts because we don’t want to be pests.

Why do we feel like pests? Because reaching out creates an asymmetrical situation.

You are the center of your universe (and quite rightly so), but the people you’re trying to connect with are the centers of their universes.

When you’re reaching out to someone, you spend deliberate effort on planning and executing. You think about what you’re going to do and say, you engage in the physical activities of writing or telephoning or going to an event, then you do at least some postmortem analysis. Even if you’re good at this stuff, it’s a lot of energy.

But look at your outreach attempts from your potential clients’ point of view.

They may read your email or they may scroll right through it and miss it in their inboxes. They may ignore their voicemails right now, because they’re overwhelmed with other stuff, or they may listen while surfing the web and eating takeout sushi at their desks, with yet another portion of their brains occupied by their to-do lists.

How much energy are they spending on your outreach efforts, and just how major a pest can you be if your outreach isn’t even registering?

If you’re trying to achieve something that requires connecting with other people, the ball is always in your court.

The ball is especially in your court if someone says, “I’ll call you next week for a new project,” but then doesn’t.

Then it’s your affirmative duty to follow up. Sometimes, people get too busy to delegate non-urgent projects. Paradoxically, they don’t have the brain space to think about lightening their load because they’re slammed, dealing with the emergencies of the moment. And if you think about it, reaching out to them is your way to help them avoid a future emergency from happening.

How much of a pest are you if you’re helping your clients avoid a future emergency?

Here’s a recent sequence of emails with a client to illustrate the point:

Me: “Hi Fiona [fictional name], I’m reaching out to ask about the project you mentioned last week. Is it still a go, and if so, can we schedule a time to discuss it?”

Fiona: “OMG, Maria, I’m swamped. I’m drowning. I’m a mermaid. I still need to get the go-ahead from the partner on that writeup, but thanks for reminding me. I’ll get back to you by the end of the week.”

Me: “Sorry to hear about the deluge! If I don’t hear from you by Friday, may I ping you on Monday?”

Fiona: “Absolutely! Please do. I need to get this thing off my desk.”

This is not an isolated exchange. Once I’ve gotten over the fear of being a bother, I’ve had similar exchanges over and over again.

Even when there isn’t a specific project to discuss, but a potential client has expressed an interest in what I do, I reach out periodically (once every 4–8 weeks, depending on the situation) with a short, simple message relating to their needs (with a hook based on the season, a particular event, a news mention, and so on).

Note that I’m not being cute. I’m not sending them a newsletter with some random content they don’t want to read just so I stay “top of mind.”

We’re all drowning in content, email, and random stuff.

You have to state the obvious. Do you have availability over the next few weeks to take on a new project? If yes, then say so. Clients don’t want to try to read between the lines.

It’s a courtesy that’s respectful of my correspondents’ time to be direct and to the point.

So now you have a choice to make. Are you going to dust off the list of your potential clients and reach out to them again, or are you going to sit on it?

If you decide to become a reaching-out and following-up ninja, here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Create templates. It cuts down on the amount of time and the angst you invest every time you have to send a message, or leave a voicemail.
  2. Figure out a system to keep track of your efforts. It can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, or as complex as a full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) app. In the CRM space, many swear by Less Annoying CRM.
  3. Remember that this is a pure numbers game, and that a “no” is not a reflection on you. At any given time, only a small number of potential clients are ready to invest in the problem that your product or service solves. Unless you get a definitive “get off my lawn,” “don’t ever email me again,” or some-such, keep reaching out.

Stay tuned next week for another post on marketing and a simple copywriting trick that can help all of your marketing be more effective.

If you’re doing great in the direct outreach department, but then get cold feet when it comes to negotiating with potential client, I got you — this article is about what you can do to have better initial client calls.


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