Here’s a mystery: People who’ve known me for years still harbor this notion that I have an outgoing personality. What they don’t realize is that I actively have to work to be this extroverted. Back in my fundraising days, when I’d attend numerous events both as co-host and planner, I’d have to psyche myself up for each event, imagining myself as someone else, someone whose commanding presence I admired and whom I could channel in my interactions with people. (I’d usually think of Condi Rice, Hillary Clinton, and even Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) The events almost always involved total strangers, and really wealthy, influential people at that, so I really had to turn on the Other Personality to get through the evening. By the end of the night, I’d be so exhausted that I’d spend the rest of the weekend just holed up in my house, recovering from the whole tiresome affair. It would take me at least two days to gain back the energy.
Writing would seem to be the perfect career for me, then, as it allows me to interact with one thing and one thing only: my laptop. And I do love it, tapping away in the comfort of my own little corner of my home office, chatting with anonymous strangers through Plurk or Twitter or my blogs at my leisure. I’m a much more outgoing person via text than I ever was verbally, so this profession suits me.
Still, freelance writing is a different animal. I know that the great Jenna Glatzer began her successful career as a freelance writer and author because she suffered from severe agoraphobia and couldn’t bear the leave the house. So yeah, it can be done exclusively from the home. But the vast majority of us who toil away at four- or low-five-figure incomes and who want to increase those numbers must occasionally make the effort to market ourselves, especially if we want to exploit the higher fees that business and commercial copywriters can command.
Local small businesses are great prospects for copywriting services. They typically don’t have the resources to support dedicated in-house marketing people, but the really savvy ones know that they can’t survive without some kind of regular public relations campaign to raise awareness about their presence in the community and to attract customers.
How do you start that conversation with them, though? There are lots of things that successful freelancers have done to drum up businesses, gain clients and nab both short-term and long-term assignments:
- I’ve heard of several freelancers who’ve taken the initiative of opening the Yellow Pages and just cold-calling local businesses, offering their services and asking for appointments. Many have found great success this way. I haven’t tried it myself and probably never will, but if you’re the gregarious type and don’t mind spending an hour or so a day going through the listings, this could be a good option for you. Make sure that you follow up immediately after each successful call. Send a thank-you note as well as your business card and a brochure of your services. If someone is interested, don’t hang up without setting a definite appointment to meet them at their offices.
- Attend local business conferences and networking events. I’ve made it a point to go to at least two meetings a month, both of them involving local businesswomen and entrepreneurs. Some freelancers schedule them one or more times a week. Do what feels comfortable to you and your budget (as many of these meetings, which typically are held during a mealtime, charge a fee to cover the cost of the location and the food). Bring lots of business cards and aim to distribute a minimum of them each time. Don’t leave without making at least one friend at the meeting, and follow up again with a note or email letting them know how much you enjoyed getting to know them.
- Volunteer. You don’t have to volunteer your writing services, and in some cases it might be better that you don’t as you may end up doing more work than you had originally anticipated. Grantwriting, for example, involves more than just whipping out a one-page letter asking for money. (See my article in Writers’ Weekly on how to become a grant writer.) You could volunteer to serve on a committee planning an event, answering phone calls or doing light administrative work a couple of hours a week at the office. It’s a win-win: you contribute to a great cause that you believe in, get to know the staff of the nonprofit and learn how charities work, and can meet like-minded individuals (volunteer and staff) who might think of you the next time they need to hire a freelancer. (I once was offered a job as a full-time grant writer for a major local nonprofit in Dallas after volunteering with them. I turned it down for unrelated reasons, but it does illustrate how powerful networking can be.)
None of these things need take up too much of your precious writing time, and you get the added benefit of having the chance to occasionally get out of the house and beat cabin fever! Even if you’re not entirely comfortable walking into a room full of strangers (as is often the case when I attend a local professional event for the first time), chances are there will be at least one other person there who shares your trepidation and is new to the event as well. Seek them out and chat up with them. It’s much easier than approaching a group of people already chatting with each other. And chances are, you won’t regret the experience. Not only will it become easier to get to know other people as you expand your comfort zone and meet other people, you have more opportunities to make genuine friends.