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Busting the Marketing Myth

freelance marketby Lori Widmer

If I hear one more person say that it takes tons more time to market a higher-priced article than it does to funnel something through a content mill, this last nerve of mine will snap. Three times this week and once last week, people have actually told me that selling an article that pays, say, $1,500 is exponentially harder to market than an article paying, say, $10. To you who insist this is true: Are you serious?

Here’s how I market – I contact a new company, give them my background, give them a proposed article idea and my approach (including ProfNet experts), and ask for the sale.

In total, coming up with the idea, writing the query, and doing a quick ProfNet experts search to show I know whom to interview takes me a whopping 15 minutes. When I secured a lower-paying job (ten cents a word as opposed to $1 a word like I’m used to), I did the same amount of work. Same amount of time in marketing.

It’s a lousy excuse to say that marketing is such an incredible time sink that it’s easier to simply camp out at a content mill site because you don’t have to market. People who make such erroneous statements don’t market. They couldn’t. If they did, they’d realize how ridiculously untrue that is.

Marketing is not hard – sticking with it is. For those of you unsure of what marketing is, it’s contacting new and existing clients, introducing yourself (or saying hello), and asking for the job. It’s not hours of torturous phone work and endless rejection. I contact people via email. One person or company a day. About 15 minutes per day. Sometimes less. Seriously.

If you’re unwilling to put a little time into coming up with your own approach (note I said a little time – we’re not talking about hours upon hours to make a plan), many writers, sales people, marketing people have already done the hard work for you and devised tried-and-true marketing methods. My own marketing plan was never written down. It was something that came to me while I was making dinner and doing laundry. And to be honest, the best marketing plan is ANY plan you practice consistently. If you spend an hour a week at it, like I do, you’ll find out just how easy it is.

You can put more time into it, if you like. There are Google Alerts that can help you connect with a client (complete with an “I saw this and thought of you” note). You can send out postcards or brochures. You can send sales letters. Whatever you like. One method is not better than another, but trying nothing nets you nothing.

And to be honest, your business is only as good as the time and effort you put into it. At first you may put a little more energy into it before you see a payoff. But there’s no way that I’ve ever spent so much time marketing that the higher-priced articles aren’t worth my while. That’s just crazy talk.

So no more excuses. No more sitting back in that comfy, low-paying job because marketing scares you or some fool has convinced you it’s too difficult. If you put a few hours a week into your plan, you’re going to see positive results. If you say you’re too busy writing 5 to 10 articles in those few hours to market, you need it more than you think.

Have you heard this? Do you believe it?

Lori Widmer blogs at Words on the Page. You can learn more about her at her business site, and if you want to follow her on twitter it’s:http://twitter.com/LoriWidmer

Two newsletters:
Abundant Freelance Writing – a resource for freelance writers including 3x a week job postings.
Writing With Vision – for those who want to get a book written.

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{ 30 comments… add one }
  • Now you’re getting the picture, Carmen! Just keep it up, and as my blogger-buddy Nathan Hangen says, don’t give up before it pays off.
    Carol Tice recently posted..Audition for a Guest Post on Make a Living Writing — Live!My Profile

  • Y’all totally rock, you know. I started developing a plan today. It’s a start, but I:

    1. Sent one in-mail…plan is to send up to my limit by the end of the night. Granted…I could only afford 3 but it’s a start!
    2. Came up with several article ideas to query.
    3. Identified some markets I’d like to start querying, and spent time reading them to figure out if they were a good fit or not.
    4. Began giving some serious thought to what kinds of companies I might enjoy writing for in order to get back to targeted marketing–plan is for me to make a list tonight and to start researching contact information so I have a place to start with them.
    5. Started a log to document all of my marketing activity to keep myself accountable.

    Just wanted to let everyone know that nothing fell on deaf ears. 🙂

  • It’s not the time it takes to pitch. It’s the time it takes to find our who to pitch. That can take a while. And you may have to pitch something over and over again, tweaking it for each new prospect.

    I think content mills are banking on the fact that some of us hate to spend our time selling ourselves. And some of us hate the idea of selling ourelves, period.

    • You know, if you don’t sell yourself or rather sell your ability as a writer, who will?

  • I remember the first time a potential client did not even blink at my quote. I was shocked. I had finally arrived where I wouldn’t underprice, but almost fell over when I met no resistance. Of course, my next reaction was, “Dang, should have quoted higher.” 😀
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Why is it So Hard to Keep it SimpleMy Profile

  • @Sarah — I vote: Somewhere. Start somewhere. Do that niche for a while, and see if you can make it pay. If it’s not working, try another one. Lather, rinse, repeat. Without picking a niche, you’ll likely be too scattered to see your efforts pay off the way they should.

    My personal experience is your business writing will likely be the best-paying…seems like everybody wants to do travel these days. People profiles could pay great — depends on the market. Business writing been bery, bery good to me.

    If you can’t envision yourself being paid $1 a word, it won’t happen. Visualize that you’re a strong writer. Maybe $.50 a word right now is a good target for you — plenty of markets pay that. Get a few of those clips, and move right up.

    The first time I got a $1 a word magazine market, I felt a little disbelieving, too. I think the trick there is to make sure you’re pitching something you feel very confident you can deliver a high-quality article about. I didn’t find the work more difficult or complicated than lower-paying feature-article work…it was just for a bigger market that could afford to pay me more.

    I recently got my first $2 a word market and had a similar reaction. How can I possibly live up to that? The answer was with a LOT of reporting and research. The editor loved the piece and it’s set to go. You can afford to spend a bit more time when the pay’s better, and make it better, is really all it is. That, and the belief that you deserve the success. You’ve written your way there.
    Carol Tice recently posted..Writer Survey- Who are You- and What Would You Like to KnowMy Profile

    • lol, the first time I got paid to write I felt like I was cheating! Write, rewrite and market… that’s my way.

  • This is one of the most helpful articles and discussions I’ve read on freelance marketing.

    My biggest challenge seems to be where to start. I have a diverse background, but am not an ‘expert’ in any one area. How do I focus my mind and writing on a particular niche? I have a fair amount of knowledge in business from franchises to real estate. But is business writing the best way to start up in freelancing? I also love travel and people profiles. See? I can’t decide where I need to start 🙂

    The other hang up is how do I know if my writing level is up to a $1 a word? I’m a newbie with a few published credits but lack the confidence that I would qualify to write on that high paying level.

    Thanks, Anne, for providing such great resources and networking of pro writers!

    • You start where you’re comfortable, Sarah. But don’t discount your own value before you begin. I would say with some published credits under your belt, it wouldn’t be aiming too high to go for 75 cents a word.

      Confidence is tough. You have that voice inside you telling you you’re not worthy. But aren’t you? You have a skill set that is marketable and sought after. Don’t undervalue that.

      As for your niche, why not try all of them? There’s no reason to specialize now (or really ever). Do what you love best. The money will follow.
      Lori recently posted..Why Marketing is SimpleMy Profile

  • Carol, I LOVE that you said “Oh. I tried that 30 or 40 times, and one time it worked.” That’s it exactly. You have to be persistent.

  • Wow, great comments everyone!

    Eren, it IS about finding the right clients. That’s another blog post entirely. 🙂 My goal here is to show newbies or writers who are struggling that marketing isn’t such a scary thing.

    Carmen, I’m pitching to both business and consumer pubs. I just finished three articles, all of which did pay $1,500 or more. It’s in the ideas you send and the relevancy of those ideas to the publication. I’ve not pitched to ad agencies, so I can’t say how that would work with them (sounds from your experience that it didn’t work so well).

    Carol, I hear you on folks who don’t want to market. But I don’t think camping out at a content mill is the answer. For one, they’re not looking for writing work if they’re at those places. These are not writing jobs – they’re keyword jobs at best. And they play hell on a resume – not too many clients would look twice at someone whose bulk of experience came from one of these content generators.

    And these are not people who would be interested in my blog post here. The ones I’m targeting are people who, like your friend, take one stab at it and figure because their ideas were rejected, they don’t know what they’re doing, and quit.

    I just want them to understand it’s not brain surgery. It’s connecting their idea with a particular publication’s need. I keep trying. 🙂

  • I feel your pain there, Lori. It is frustrating. I recently sent a single query that got $6,000 in assignments…and I was thinking of all the folks who say marketing is a big waste of time, believe me.

    I think you’re missing one point, though, which is that some people do not want to market their writing. Period. They either hate it, or their current life circumstances simply make it impossible to devote time to marketing. They’ve got a toddler on one hip, and they’re thrilled to be able to find a way to write a quick couple extra hundred a week to help pay their bills without leaving the house. They would have difficulty meeting reported-article deadlines. They have no big aspirations of seeing their byline in major magazines or winning Pulitzers. And for them, mills are a great opportunity to earn a little from writing where they otherwise probably could not.

    That said…there does seem to be a lot of mythology out there about how terrifically difficult it is to find good-paying clients. You nailed that — it’s just a myth.

    What it does take is persistence.

    I recently had a funny conversation with a writer friend. I wrote about one of my techniques for finding good-paying markets — I reach out to posters of ads on LinkedIn where they’re looking for a staff writer and ask if they also use freelancers. I recently landed a $1 a word print-publication market that way.

    “Oh,” my friend said. “I tried that once, and it didn’t work.”
    I said, “Oh. I tried that 30 or 40 times, and one time it worked.”

    Since I have a stock form I send for those it took maybe five minutes each time, but I had to check those ads and repeat that action quite a few times to get a result. But since I’ve already billed $1,500 from this market and I’m just getting started with this relationship, it seems like time well spent to me.

    I think many people take a quick stab at marketing, don’t find immediate success, and give up, not understanding that it’s a numbers game. It’s an activity you need to do on a constant basis to see results.

    As you point out, it can be done very efficiently. And I’m here to say it can make a HUGE difference in your annual income.
    Carol Tice recently posted..Writer Survey- Who are You- and What Would You Like to KnowMy Profile

    • Yes, it’s the persistence and consistency that makes it all work.

  • What sorts of companies are you contacting to pitch $1500 articles? Months ago I committed to doing more marketing, as per “The Well Fed Writer.” I took the time to find all the names, make all the phone calls, for 100 companies. Out of all of them, I got zero bites. I was pretty discouraged, and basically went back to Elance at that point. I used the exact formula the guy used and all I heard about was “We don’t have the budget.” Maybe I was calling the wrong folks! (Ad agencies).

    • Carmen —

      That was a good old print publication in that particular case above, but I have many corporate clients as well at good rates.
      When a marketing strategy isn’t working…it’s time to try another one in my view, not crawl back to Elance for pennies. BTW you’re not the first person I’ve heard who targeted calling ad agencies and didn’t get anywhere. My personal vibe is that ad agencies are undergoing huge shrink in the new-media age, and they’re not a good target. More companies are crowdsourcing their campaigns and cutting the agency out of the mix. I never pitch them — I contact company marketing managers directly.
      Try another approach to the one you’re doing. Maybe in-person networking, sending InMail…there’s a lot of ways to go, and everybody’s good at different things. For me, I tried breaking into writing business plans for about a year — that went nowhere, so I moved on to other strategies.
      Carol Tice recently posted..Writer Survey- Who are You- and What Would You Like to KnowMy Profile

      • Whoops — guess for me that example is actually below!
        Carol Tice recently posted..Writer Survey- Who are You- and What Would You Like to KnowMy Profile

        • Ah! Thank you! Where did you go to get the right names to address? Did you use LinkedIn or some sort of industry publication? I did find I at least got right through to every creative director after having a chance to gather up their names, so if I could do that I could get right back on track.

          • Carmen, try searching on google for names and contacts.

          • Sorry to hear the process was frustrating for you, Carmen. However, I wouldn’t say 100 calls is that outlandish if you simply caught a bad string, like sitting at a blackjack table when it’s gone south. (I would echo Carol’s point about ad agencies, too.)

            When you’re ready to give it another shot, you might consider investing a few bucks in your metro area’s version of the Biz Journal book of lists. It’s broken down by industries so you can target the ones that make the most sense for your background, and everything’s pre-loaded in a spreadsheet so you’re not doing as much legwork. Best of luck!
            Jake P recently posted..Is your freelance portfolio out of controlMy Profile

    • Carmen, I would say if you’re not getting nibbles from ad agencies, which we know are suffering from the economy, pick another industry or just work the businesses in your area regardless of what they do.

  • Hi Lori,
    I agree that it is possible to market higher paying articles. The whole thing is finding the right client. I have friends that are freelance writers and I know they deserve to earn more because the level of their writing is very high. They stick to a marketing plan and get really high paying clients.
    I think that’s a great strategy.
    All the best,
    Eren Mckay recently posted..Rubber Duck Baby ShowerMy Profile

  • Hey Lori:

    Didn’t know about ProfNet so thanks for that!
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Tying A Noose on Newsletter SubscriptionsMy Profile

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