How I Found 488 Red-Hot Freelance Writing Prospects

Leads to big business clientsBy Ayelet Weisz

What is the most urgent need for every new freelance writer? Clients.

And finding them isn’t always easy.

They may not have the desire or budget to hire you right at the time you pitch. It ends up being a numbers game — the more potential clients you pitch, the more likely you are to find the right one at the right time.

Recently, I did a lot of research to find good businesses to pitch. I ended up with nearly 500 leads! Here’s how I did it:

  1. Let prospect news come to you: Set up Google Alerts, and industry news — funding, acquisitions, expansions and other changes — will wait for you when you log in to your inbox.
  2. Stay curious and keep looking: Check out Google News and search for “Top 10” lists, like the “10 fastest growing pet product companies in 2012.”
  3. News sites and business magazines: They often feature business news in a variety of industries. Sites of local papers where your niche is most dominant might even have a designated tab just for news about this industry.
  4. Niche news sites: Working like trade publications, these sites allow you to cut through the distractions more general sites offer. I found one site for my chosen niche that’s more effective than Google Alerts and newspapers combined.
  5. Low-ranking companies: If they’re on the 20th page of a Google search for their industry, they need your help. That’s how I found my first business client. Plenty of companies are inundated with to-do lists and will gladly pay you to help them up their marketing efforts.
  6. Watch Google ads: These ads represent companies that are actively looking to grow their client base. Click through and brainstorm ways to help them create a more long-term marketing strategy, like blogging.
  7. Conferences and contests: They list speakers or judges and participants — plenty of potential clients. To discover even more prospects, find a Twitter hashtag and follow the buzz on social media, or search for forum talks about these events.
  8. Tap into your network: You never know who the people in your network know, so make sure to share your journey with them. I found that great niche news site because I talked to a friend who shared our conversation with her husband.
  9. Think beyond your geographical area: Being local might give you an advantage with some prospects, yet there’s no need to limit yourself to one city, state or even one country. Companies everywhere need English copywriting to attract a global audience. I’ve personally written for websites from four continents.
  10. Look beyond your niche: Look for peripheral industries and organizations. If you initially looked for startups, you also have venture capital firms, computer science schools, branding agencies, business coaches, organizations that promote women and minorities’ participation in the tech industry — and the list goes on.
  11. Pay attention to your surroundings: From sponsored ads on your Facebook feed to friends who casually mention a business to consumer magazines that profile or mention companies…. opportunities are everywhere.

How I organize my leads

I like using Excel to easily sift through prospects. Unlike Word, Excel will alert you when you’ve already included a prospect in your list. I write down prospects’ names and websites, then divide them into categories (such as niches, industries or locations, depending on my needs).

I also write down where I found them, which is usually somewhere online that contains information I can use to warm up my pitch. Additionally, I leave space for random comments and for tracking responses.

How I pre-qualify leads before I pitch

To save yourself mistake time, pre-qualify prospects. Carol recommended to me only approaching prospects that earn at least $1 million a year, as they’re big enough to have a marketing budget yet small enough that they don’t have a marketing team. When it comes to startups, you can approach companies that raised venture capital funds of $1 million or more.

Check out Manta.com, business sections of newspapers and niche sites to find this information, or simply run a quick search on Google. You can also check companies’ blogs, news or press sections on their sites, as well as their social media accounts.

If you can’t find financial information, see if the company advertises the pricing of its products or services and “guesstimate” whether those prices indicate the possibility of a marketing budget.

Still coming up empty? If you think the prospect and you can be a great match — pitch anyway. Sometimes interest comes from the most unlikely prospects.

How have you found your best clients? Tell us in the comments below.

When she’s not writing about travel, business, technology or gender issues, Ayelet Weisz relishes re-discovering her home country of Israel.

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
48 comments on “How I Found 488 Red-Hot Freelance Writing Prospects
  1. Thanks for some great information, Ayelet! I particularly like the Excel spreadsheet tip. The problem I am finding is not having any real direction. There are so many potential places to look for work, but I struggle with coming up with a targeted approach. I’ve found the most luck with word of mouth, as you are right – it can bring up unexpected opportunities! I’ve had two great projects come my way in the last six months, both from close family. I’ve started with social media recently. It will be interesting to see if that can bring anything up. I do think I need a marketing plan to target it better though. Congrats on your successful prospecting. I hope it wins you some long-term client relationships! 🙂

    • Ayelet says:

      Thanks, Lindsay, and congratulations on getting great projects from family members – that’s a great way to get started! Ask them to keep you in mind if they hear about opportunities outside the family as well, and don’t forget to ask for testimonials once the projects are complete. Perhaps you can prioritize possible directions. Say, start with what looks like it would be the best way or the easiest way or the most fun way, and then take it from there. You can always re-decide or experiment in another direction later 🙂

  2. Fantastic post. Great ideas that are very easy to use. Honestly, I have found my best clients through leads from other writers. I will often share leads with writing friends and have found that I often get leads in return. Additionally, one of my best clients is one of my son’s parents who own a PR firm. If I hadn’t mentioned what I did, he never would have known. I have also gotten a fair number of content marketing clients through my LinkedIn profile and my website, as well as content companies that I work for.
    Jennifer Gregory recently posted…3 Ways to Use LinkedIn to Increase Your Content Marketing Writing IncomeMy Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      Thanks for sharing how networking can be used in different ways. How great that you were also able to turn your website and LinkedIn profile to inbound marketing sources.

  3. Kristen says:

    I have a similar spreadsheet of potential clients to target. I also assign each of relevancy rating based on my expertise. I figure if I target those first in an industry I have demonstrated experience in, my chances of a positive response go up.

    So far, I have many more potential prospects than I’ve had the time to start pitching. It’s not such a bad problem to have.
    Kristen recently posted…10 Lessons that Struggling to Communicate Abroad Taught Me About Business CommunicationMy Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      Thanks for the relevancy rating tip, and it’s always a good “problem” to have a list ready for when you need to prospect again later!

  4. Erica says:

    Thank you for such helpful information. We often know we need to find clients (duh!) and are willing to do the work, but sometimes we just need a point in the right direction. Again, much appreciated.
    Erica recently posted…Taking a stand against Self DoubtMy Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      My pleasure, Erica – glad this helps! You can start with one or a few of these directions and then keep on exploring 🙂

  5. Carol Luther says:

    This is an outstanding resource. I also like the recommendation of using Excel. Far too many people use the wrong software, which then leads to productivity problems. Kudos and thanks.

    • Ayelet says:

      Thanks, Carol, glad to help! I think the program you use depends on what you’re comfortable using and what your goals are for using it. I definitely agree that finding what works best for me has made my life easier productivity-wise.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I have to admit I’m pretty disorganized in keeping track of leads. Usually just thrown in a Word doc! I loved how serious Ayelet got about compiling and tracking all these leads.

  6. ckwrites2 says:

    Props – very smart! Hope you left a few for the rest of us =)

  7. Ayelet says:

    Thanks! And hurry up – I’m already planning on my next 500 😉 But seriously, you’d be surprised how many companies are out there. I know I was 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      Huge point, Ayelet — if you haven’t been covering business like me for a decade-plus, you just do not realize how big and diverse the business world is. In your town. In your state. In your country, and beyond. Whatever level you’re at as a writer, there are businesses that would love to have you.

      • Ayelet says:

        It’s mind blowing. One of the biggest turning points for me was finding 40 companies in a niche that’s focused around a small geographic area. I was sure I would only find 1 or 2. Even though not all niches have 500 prospects, many niches probably have more than many of us expect to find.

  8. Wow tip #2 is such a clever idea! I never would have thought of that. Growing companies is such a great market to tap into. Thanks for sharing.
    Alexandra Sheehan recently posted…Rekindling a Romance with GoogleMy Profile

  9. Love the list Ayelet! Watching Google Ads is something I’ve never done before–thanks for the idea! 🙂

    I’ve found some of my best clients by asking for referrals and by reaching out to companies on sites like AngelList

    I also discovered that trolling PR newswires like PRWeb is another great way to find clients. I would scan the articles, click on the ones that needed improvement, and email my suggestions to the company, together with a CTA saying, “If you need assistance in writing your press releases, I’d be more than happy to take the task off your hands.”

    I figured that this is also a good way to qualify clients. Publishing press releases isn’t cheap, so companies that do it regularly have the budget and they see the value in it

    Anyway, this strategy helped me land a client that sends out press releases several times a month, so I get to write for them on a regular basis. 🙂

    • Ayelet says:

      Thanks for your tips, Francesca, and for sharing how you find clients on PRWeb! Seeing who sends out many poorly written press releases is a great idea. Also, I just checked the AngelList site – and there are more than 70,000 companies listed there! That’s a LOT of companies! Definitely going to spend some time there 🙂

  10. Suchi says:

    Ayelet, this is incredible advice and inspiration! I tend to focus on magazines and newspapers as markets for my article ideas, but I realized after getting my first blogging gig for a company in my niche that THIS is where the money is! 🙂 So thanks for the many many ideas of where to seek them out. Very clever and creative!
    Suchi recently posted…Low Cost Love Affairs and ASA (Airfare Search Addiction)My Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      Congratulations on your first blogging gig, Suchi! So glad these tips can help other writers – and check out the rest of the comments here for additional great tips.

  11. Doreen says:

    These are such great tips, thanks a lot, Ayelet. I’m super bad at keeping track of my leads, that’s a great idea as well.

    (But man, I do hate having to use Excel!)

    • Ayelet says:

      Not everyone keeps track of their leads (see one of Carol’s comments above), and you certainly don’t HAVE to use Excel 🙂 Even if you do use it, you can simply use the spreadsheets without any of the special functions if you don’t like them or care to learn about them. I’ve used about 2 functions and that’s it. What matters is finding what works best for YOU 🙂

  12. Mariana says:

    Great tips! As a new freelance writer I’m trying to ween myself off the job boards early and start seeking out the higher paying clients—not to mention give myself more of a challenge in regards to writing.
    Mariana recently posted…You Are Only As Good As Your WordMy Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      You can do it, Mariana! What about combining the two at first? Perhaps you can set a goal to find an X amount of prospects outside the job boards every week/month, then grow that number gradually.

  13. Krista says:

    WOW! You’ve done so much work, Ayelet! Such good tips and ideas here. No wonder you’re thriving as a writer. 🙂 Great job!!
    Krista recently posted…Spring Sunlight and My Favorite Gluten-Free BreadMy Profile

  14. Holly Bowne says:

    This was SUPER helpful, Ayelet! I took forever to read it because I kept distracting myself by trying each tip right after I read it. Ha, ha! Thanks so much!
    Holly Bowne recently posted…The Sound of SilenceMy Profile

  15. This is a terrific article. I have been prospecting all day and was just talking with my husband about finding a new way to go after some clients. I feel incredibly lucky to have found this article. It gave me so much to think about.

    My main way of getting clients has been through my LinkedIn connections. I tend to concentrate on connections who live in the same state as me. Having already established a connection, it has been easy to throw out an email with a personalized pitch. I have done very well with this method. In this last month, for instance, I have connected with 5 new clients.
    wendy mccance recently posted…Where Did Summer Go?My Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      Congratulations on getting 5 new clients this month, Wendy – that’s fantastic! Thanks for the LinkedIn tip. Glad you found this post when you did and hope it helps you to get even more clients 🙂

  16. Sandra says:

    Hi Ayelet,

    I’ve tried #1 many times but so far haven’t had any luck. Numbers 5 & 6 are simply brilliant!

    Thanks for sharing these, very creative 🙂

  17. Mitch says:

    Ayelet, thanks for the excellent List!

    I like the number 5 point in particular, going after “Low-ranking companies” that needs help with their online marketing sounds pretty genius,
    and since you already have more than 500 leads you must have done this approach about 50 times or so ..
    In your experience what do you think is the best way to approach and make contact with these companies ? do you send a e-mail ? do you call them ? do you go there in person ?
    Just trying to avoid getting stuck in the spam filter, or dismissed on the phone as just another annoying unwanted telephone marketing call.
    Many thanks and Best Wishes!
    Mitch recently posted…Loading, Web Design Lebanon, full-service marketing and advertising companyMy Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      Thanks, Mitch! These things can happen, which is another reason to pitch lots of prospects. I hear cold calls and direct marketing (where you send actual snail-mail letters, sometimes with a small gift inside) work, yet haven’t tried these methods yet.

      I’ve mostly used e-mail so far and I’m considering direct marketing for some leads. If you send an e-mail, brainstorm subject lines that focus on a benefit to your prospect and not about you being a freelance writer. If nothing else, it might get them curious enough to open the e-mail and give your pitch a chance.

      As for succeeding with cold calls, check out this post here on Make a Living Writing: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/2011/09/14/top-5-lessons-making-461-cold-calls/

      If you decide to go to businesses in person, I’d love to hear how that went. Best wishes to you too!

  18. What a fantastic post. Congrats on 488 leads! Will definitely check out some of these.
    Williesha Morris recently posted…How to Begin Your Freelance Life: My Story – Part 4My Profile

  19. Scott says:

    Nice to see you here, Ayelet 🙂 I’ve been eager to find new paying clients… now I just have to find the time to do the legwork.
    Scott recently posted…7 lessons learned from Yukon First NationsMy Profile

  20. Too often writer-types don’t market, or market on purpose.

    The Excel deal is AWESOME; I’ve done an Excel spreadsheet to track prospects at various stages of the sales funnel in my other businesses but never with writing. DUH. Makes sense.

    Your prompt at the top was to ask how I’ve found my best clients; I usually have found them by way of one or more Influencers. That is, a former client (or someone that is a raving fan) that refers a client.

    Every single client is asked two questions: “How did you find out about me?” and, “Why did you make the decision to work with me as opposed to someone else?”

    These two questions flush out the Influencer behind the scenes. Who knows how many times I neglected to thank the real person behind the scenes that was largely responsible for the connection before I started asking these questions?

    Anyway, finding those people, thanking them, and periodically calling them and asking for more referrals (“hey, thank you for introducing me to Joan. DO you have any other friends as awesome as her?”) is highly effective.

    Hey, loved the Google alert tip. Makes sense.

    Keep Stepping,

    Kurt
    Kurt Frankenberg recently posted…HOW do your Comments Create Value?My Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      My Excel spreadsheet makes life so much easier for me. And referrals from people who love your work is fantastic! Love the questions that you ask new clients and that you go thank the referring person afterwards. I’ll bet these people are glad to get the update that things worked out and will think of you if something similar comes their way again.

  21. These tips are outstanding! I appreciate them immensely. I’m definitely going to use a lot of them, but most especially numbers 1, 4 & 5. And the Excel for keeping track. (This entry is now in my folder of “Particularly Useful” tips.)

    I’m coming late to the writing party in general (I’m 57). In the past few months, I’ve learned it’s okay to narrow my energies into a particular niche. I’m concentrating on non-profit organizations that deal with clean air, clean water, food security and art (rather eclectic mix, I know). These tips will help me sort out those non-profits that don’t serve these criteria.

    Thank you!
    D Kendra Francesco recently posted…In Defense of Google’s New Email SetupMy Profile

    • Ayelet says:

      There are so many benefits to starting at this game when you have life and work experience elsewhere, in my opinion. I’d love to work more with nonprofits too. Your mention of the food security niche got me Googling now and I need to get out the door! Such an important sector. I think the recommendation is to start at several niches and let the market guide you on where to focus more. Be sure to check out CharityNavigator.org so you can find nonprofits with big enough budgets.

      Besides that, what a great idea to keep a folder of particular useful tips. I have a couple of files like that which I could start updating again. Glad to read this post got to enter your folder – hope it helps you help lots of nonprofits make a difference!

      • Thank you for reminding me that my life and work experiences have value to non-profits. Especially to these particular ones. The reasons for choosing them? All have immediate, personal basis, in that I’m asthmatic, and have also been without water and food in my lifetime. The art non-profits is in tribute to all the creatives that won’t get a chance otherwise.

        I’d heard of Charity Navigator in my online roamings before I’d decided on my niches, but forgot its existence. I’ll go check it out again. Thank you.
        D Kendra Francesco recently posted…In Defense of Google’s New Email SetupMy Profile

  22. Shauna says:

    This is great information. I have already put some of your advice into practice. Today I saw an ad for a marketing company who is expanding and creating a new department. I emailed them, introduced myself and asked if they use or have the need for freelance writers.

    I find your website extremely informative and chocked full of useful information for freelancers who are trying to get their careers off the ground – not to mention pay the bills!

    I’m so glad I found your site!

  23. Outstanding tips, Ayelet! To look for Google Ads and low-ranking companies in Google searches were nifty! 🙂

    Prospecting for leads is a numbers game, I concur. I’ve recently tracked down 300+ prospects. People like marketing consultants and event managers, i.e. people who continuously can refer new assignments to freelance designer/writer. But also 150+ freelance copywriters (having Jennifer’s comment in mind regarding sharing leads and getting leads in return from peers.)

    I’ve put the prospects on Twitter lists for all awesome freelancers to use. See link below! : )

    Happy prospecting!
    Tomas Fransson recently posted…Twitter: 17 Pre-Built Prospect Lists for Freelance CreativesMy Profile

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "How I Found 488 Red-Hot Freelance Writing Prospects"
  1. […] #11 – Ayelet Weisz – How I Found 488 Red-Hot Freelance Writing Prospects […]