Transform Your Freelance Marketing: 5 Things You’re Probably Getting Wrong

Transform your Freelance MarketingEvery week, I meet writers who are taking their first plunge into freelance marketing. Maybe they’ve grown tired of applying for UpWork gigs they don’t get, scanning Craigslist ads for hours, or of getting $10 a post from a content mill.

To me, this is an exciting moment, when writers realize they’re in business — and running a business means you do proactive marketing. Passively trolling online ads that are each going to get 1,000 responses isn’t your ticket to high earnings.

This is all good, but often, when you first start active marketing, it can be discouraging. Early results may not be stellar. There’s a decent bit to know to win at pitching your writing services.

While some writers make phone calls or do in-person networking, the majority send marketing or pitch emails. For publications, we send queries.

And most of these pitches don’t get results. Why? Here are my top five probable reasons freelance marketing is ineffective, based on my experience reviewing hundreds of pitch letters over the years:

1. You’ve never gotten feedback

Every once in a while, I get a comment from a writer that truly makes me sad. Here is one of them, from a writer who sent 300 letters out, reporting his results:

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 2.36.53 PM

When you send out that much marketing and don’t hear a peep, you’re doing something wrong. You need feedback to improve, stat.

The forum where we review queries and letters of introduction is one of the busiest — and I’d say most valuable — member perks we offer in Freelance Writers Den. And we rarely see a pitch where your first draft is ready to be sent out.

What’s going wrong? Common problems include:

  • It’s not concise — and businesses can write rambling, flabby prose without you.
  • The writing isn’t compelling — remember, your pitch letter is a writing audition.
  • No solution — it doesn’t propose exactly what you could do to help.
  • Lacks a story idea, for pitches to publications.

Try to imagine how busy the editor is that you’re reaching out to, and how many queries they get. Or that exhausted marketing manager.

Your pitch needs to sparkle, stand out from the 100 or so others they’re getting this week, and show clearly that you are the solution to their problem. Most pitches I see, the writer needs to put in a bit more elbow grease to make it effective.

2. You send few pitches

Maybe you have the opposite problem as our writer in point #1. Maybe your pitches are just fine, but you only send a few of them out. I see a lot of comments like this:

“I sent out 10 emails to prospects last month, and only got one response! I’m feeling very discouraged.”

The reality is, 100 pitches in a month is a much better goal. It’s a numbers game here, and you really need to send out a lot of marketing to jumpstart your business.

When you’ve sent 10 pitches, you don’t really have enough data to figure out whether you’re on the right track or not. Put a lot more lines in the water, and up your odds of catching fish!

3. You target the wrong prospects

If you’ve been banging your head against the marketing wall, it may be because you’re not picking good targets.

Instead, you’re pitching mom-and-pop business, orΒ  companies in industries that don’t do a lot of marketing.

For instance, I knew a writer with agriculture experience who’d spent years pitching blogging and copywriting services to nurseries and growers. Guess what? She got zero results, because they don’t do that kind of marketing. They do print ads, and the rest is word of mouth.

Take a look at what the companies you’re pitching are doing for marketing now. If they’re not creating a lot of written materials, they’re probably not a good prospect.

In general, most new copywriters pitch businesses that are too small. Freelance writing is a career where truly, bigger is better when it comes to prospects. If you’re shooting blanks on pitches, it’s time to learn how to qualify prospects.

4. It’s dull as dishwater

As someone who’s reviewed hundreds of pitch letters at this point, I can tell you most of them are a snore. They’re dry and boring.

The writing has no snap. In other words, we don’t get a good sense of your personality.

One of the things prospects want to know is who you are and what your writing style is like. Is it the flavor they’re looking for? If you write everything like a dry business letter from the ’80s, your prospects will never find out.

5. You don’t know copywriting

Let’s face it — all pitch letters are basically copywriting. Most of the time, these days, they’re email copywriting.

If you can learn how to write a compelling short email, you can not only promote your writing services more effectively and get more gigs — you can get well-paid to write marketing emails for clients, too.

Studying copywriting is one of the single, best things you can do to become a better freelance marketer, get better clients, and grow your writing income. I don’t know about you, but every marketing email I get from a company, I’m studying it, to see what they do. Every blog newsletter I subscribe to is a chance to study subject lines and see what works.

You’ve taken the plunge into freelance marketing — now, take the time to do marketing right. If you’re not getting results, make the tweaks you need, and get some good gigs. You can learn more about how to send pitches, and write your way to better clients.

Does your freelance marketing need help? Leave a comment and tell us what you’ve tried, and how it’s panning out.LEARN MORE about the Freelance Writers Den

 

 

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31 comments on “Transform Your Freelance Marketing: 5 Things You’re Probably Getting Wrong
  1. Jeffrey Hill says:

    All good points. I particularly think #5 sums it all up, though. It really is a form of copy writing.

    100 pitches a month! I like that. On the surface it seems like a lofty goal, but at the end of the day it’s only 3-4 per day. Quite a reasonable goal, really. Motivates me to ramp up the pace a bit.

  2. Joshua says:

    Another problem is a pitch with a theoretical how-to. I learnt that people hate to learn new things and so they want something that is already proven to work.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, if it’s theoretical, it’s not really a how-to. And yes, people want you to bring your PROOF, not just throw out ideas.

      • Joshua says:

        I agree with you Carol.

      • It’s more of a problem to editors in the DIY and crafts niche–but there ARE writers who try to get away with copying the basics of a step-by-step process from another post, or rely entirely on their own rationale of what SHOULD work, and never bother to personally test the procedure before writing it up.

        Myself, I prefer working on posts of the “10 Ways to” or “7 Ideas for” style.

  3. David says:

    Hi,

    A month or so ago I paid to join to a freelance writing organization that promised a lot, and as far as I can tell, only delivered advertisements for more expensive items. I’ve been researching this site and it appears to be genuinely helpful.

    Like pretty much everybody else here, I would like to do some freelance writing. My “professional” writing experience is limited to a few company newsletters. You have quite a few ebooks online. Is there one that you could recommend for just getting started?

    Thanks.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Actually yes, David — the Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success. You might also check out Start Here.

      I think I know just the organization you mean, David — that’s why there is almost no upsell in my Freelance Writers Den community. I used to get their emails, and got sick of daily requests to pay $10,000 for something. Sheesh!

  4. Very timely post!

    Im starting to get back into pitching and this article was a big help. One thing I noticed is that some niches just dont have enough cash to afford writing serviced. I pitched a bunch of websites in a specific niche only to receive a few responses, all mentioning they cant afford my rates (and I only asked for $50 for 1000 words).

    So I decided that niche is just not worth the trouble. There are companies out there that would be more than happy to pay premium rates for content. Im polishing my Linked profile now and trying to find clients on there. Thanks for the awesome post.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve been getting $300-$500 for blog posts…so I totally agree. You’ve got to get out of the world where they’re just trying to stuff SEO keywords and don’t care about content quality, and find companies that sell something expensive and sophisticated.

      • Firth McQuilliam says:

        Hello again, Ms. Carol Tice. I’m that guy who made you cry some weeks back with his remarks about making a hunnert izzy dollahs or sometink from a single large piece for an ArticleBunny client. ^_^

        Since then, my experience with ArticleBunny has been deeply mixed and severely limited. I think this particular content broker doesn’t attract many projects with which to begin, and the majority of the clients seem very demanding. Frankly, writing for clients at ArticleBunny has proven if anything to be more troublesome than writing for clients at Textbroker. Two ArticleBunny clients outright rejected my work in the space of a single week even after heroic attempts to please them with repeated rewrites. ArticleBunny still paid for the work, but it’s not a good feeling to suspect that I might have failed to write well. I want all of my clients to be happy with their results. -_-

        Oddly enough, that’s exactly the number of clients who have outright rejected my work at Textbroker over four years and hundreds of completed pieces. Both of those clients were clearly black-hatters who were trying to rip me off, and in both cases, Textbroker overruled the client rejections. My official rejection record at Textbroker remains at zero. Furthermore, more than a few clients at Textbroker and at least two clients at ArticleBunny seem to *really* like my style of writing. When I find myself harboring dark thoughts about being a poseur who couldn’t write his way out of a wet paper bag, I remember those clients.

        This brings up a point toward which I’ve been wandering. How can I know if my admittedly quirky writing style will work for the “big-league” markets? Maybe it’s somehow too weird. I don’t want to embarrass myself. Does your Freelance Writers Den address this potential problem? Is it possible to get intelligent feedback on articles?

        I’m at something of a crossroads here. After having finally embarked on a long-planned campaign to produce dozens or hundreds of articles for Constant Content, one of which has sold already, it’s probably high time to sit back and think long and hard on the wisdom of continuing with content brokers. I’ve always been a perfectionist, and focusing that useful characteristic on much better-paying markets would appear to be a no-brainer. Yet there’s this perhaps justified fear that my meager talents still fall short of fitness for Reader’s Digest and other major markets.

        What to do? That’s the question. I shall think on it. In the meantime, I’m reading your free e-book, “Escape the Content Mills: 6 Writers’ True Stories of Breaking Out & Earning More.” It’s interesting stuff so far! ^_^

        • Carol Tice says:

          Firth, we DO have an article-feedback forum where you can get input from the community in the Den.

          The main thing I’d say is that the type of writing you do for content mills generally bears no resemblance to what you would do for a major magazine or a bigger corporation. My sense is acceptance and rejection on these platforms seems to be highly random, so I don’t think you can conclude much from your experience there.

          This is why I created the Escape the Content Mills course that you’re reading the case studies from — it’s designed to help you make this transition.

          And you didn’t make me cry. Maybe WANT to cry, when I hear how little writers make…but I save my tears for my personal life. πŸ˜‰

  5. Rob says:

    People often ask me what I did to get higher paying assignments. I’m usually stuck for an answer because they came to me. I started out on bidding sites but weaned myself off them after I got my first well-paying client. A friend got his first assignments on Craigslist and also stumbled across his first well-paying assignments while he was in LA. Before I started freelancing for a living, I had good luck pitching ideas to magazines, but never got enough assignments to make writing a full time job. Sometimes I think perseverance is the key. Those poorly paying assignments are a good apprenticeship and you can use your best articles in your pitches to prospective clients.

    • Katie Lewis says:

      Rob, I couldn’t agree more. I found it best to apprentice at lower-visibility (and lower-paying) gigs to cut my teeth. Then, once my skill and confidence developed, I could land the higher-paying work. But oh, how you need to be excited to persevere!

  6. Korina says:

    Hello,
    Thanks for the great advice!
    I would be more than happy to send 100 pitches but how you can find so many contacts each month?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Korina, there are MILLIONS of businesses in the US alone.

      If you don’t know how to locate lists of them and find their revenue to see if they’re big enough to be worth pitching, you might want to check out my How to Get Great Freelance Clients ebook — see the ‘ebooks’ tab on this blog.

      • I’m sure someone read “100 pitches a month” and thought “I don’t have time for 5 pitches a day, it takes me an hour to finish a good pitch/LOI/query.” I’ve personally tried–and succeeded with–the whole gamut from submitting the already-finished piece to dashing off 50 “what are your needs” notes in an hour; but how long, Carol, did it typically take you to cover 100 pitches at your busiest periods for that?

        • Carol Tice says:

          I never really had to do that many, Katherine — my forte is turning one ‘yes’ into a $2000-a-month client. πŸ˜‰

          Also…it doesn’t really matter how long it takes someone else to do it. I don’t think comparisons like that are productive.

  7. Talk about short and compelling, I have gotten some good responses from Tweet-length pitches. One rule I follow is to lead with a sentence like “How often do you find yourself short on copywriters?”–not “About Me,” not a yes-or-no question, just emphasis on my interest in learning about THEIR concerns.

    • Carol Tice says:

      OMG, if I see one more pitch that starts, “I am X and I would love to write for you” I will croak!

      Writers need to realize that companies do NOT care what YOU would love to do. Solve their problems, and they will hire you.

      For a tweet, I like, ‘Are you the editor to pitch for X topic?’ Starts a conversation and usually can get a quick yes or ‘No, it’s X Name.’ And then you hit that contact with ‘X colleague of yours told me you’re the person to pitch for X.’ πŸ˜‰

      • Firth McQuilliam says:

        “Hi! I’m Frankly Wannabee, and I would totally adore writing for your blog or whatever you have going! It would make my kitty and my goldfish sooo happy, too! I bet your company makes cool stuff or something, and if you let me work for you, I promise to Google your company to learn all about it! Honest for true and hope to die!”

        LMAO, Ms. Carol Tice — I just had to dash off that parody of a clueless writer who is too consumed by his own bubbly enthusiasm to bother with basic research before mashing his grinning ignorance into the faces of potential contacts. ^_^

        • Carol Tice says:

          I swear, I get emails that say, “I write about finance and home goods, can I post for your blog?” every day.

          Writers can’t imagine how much you can stand out if you’ve actually read the blog and are somewhere in the ballpark of what they need.

  8. Cherese Cobb says:

    As always, another great post! Personally, I have a high email response rate, 95% for April 2016. (It’s usually around 85% or higher.) And I regularly land more than one assignment with just one email, but you’ve reminded me that I need to be “fishing”–sending more query letters–out each month.

    I mostly write for newspapers, blogs, magazines, and literary journals. But I’d love to write for businesses like Fancy Feast (owned by Nestle) or Temptations (owned by the Mars company). But I’m not sure how to get started. In your book, 100+ Writing Questions Answered, you say to contact the marketing director. Any other advice? πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, first off you have to decide what you’d write for businesses. These days, it’s often easy to transition into business writing via blogging for businesses. But if you’re a Den member, you could access our resources like how to write a sales page, or PR, or how to write marketing emails, to learn to write better-paid writing types for companies.

      Writing a letter of introduction to a business is a bit different from writing a query letter — we have some great Den resources on that, including an LOI basics recording. πŸ˜‰

      You clearly know how to write a pitch if you’re getting those kind of response rates. I don’t know if you need to send more marketing, if you’re fully booked and getting paid what you want…or if it’s just time to target better-paying publications.

  9. Robert says:

    Marketing as a freelancer is quite difficult. You have to find the right mix of marketing and selling. They may sound the same but, they’re not. Freelancers usually think something is going well and then find out the opposite when they look at their bottom line.

  10. subrata says:

    Thank you for the post.Point 2 and point 5 really struck me. Last month I sent around 20 pitches and got one $50/1000 word assignment. I have a day job so I managed with just one assignment. But now I will perhaps make a routine to send 3-4 pitches every day( 90-120 pitches/month) and will see what happen.

    And as far as point 5 is concerned, probably I have to find and join a course.

    Here is something relevant I want to share which I think can benefit those who are just starting out like me. You can just pitch reputed NGOs and offer free 2-3 blog posts and in return ask for testimonial and LinkedIn recommendation. I just tried it and already working on two such posts for one of the most reputed NGOs. I guess such social proof should help me to market myself, but let’s see how things unfolds.

  11. As someone who’s building my freelance writing career on the side, in addition to my full-time work as a court administrator, these tips are welcomed!

    Right now I’m struggling to make connections. My target is writing for businesses and, as tempting as it is to settle, I don’t want to start consumer-based services like resume writing or the like.

    My mouth dropped open at the mention of sending 100 pitches every month. But you have a valid point – it is a numbers game. I appreciate that advice and I am definitely going to focus more on doing just that.

    Plus, working in the legal field has probably made my writing too conservative and I like your advice on adding personality to my pitches.

    Thanks for giving me something to focus on!

    • Carol Tice says:

      My pleasure — 100 is to me a starter number — I have mentees who’re aiming for 300 pitches in a month.

      I used to be a legal secretary, so I hear you on that. Business is increasingly casual and conversational in tone, so study companies’ marketing and see how they sound.

      Resume writing — my sense is everyone does it online with free tools or wants it done for a song, at this point. Everyone I know with this specialty seems to be trying to get out of it.

      You don’t really need ‘connections’ if you know how to write a strong, arresting pitch. That can write you right in the door, cold.

  12. Ronan says:

    Helpful post. Tough to pinpoint where my problems are though. I have never gotten feedback on my pitches from forums such as your freelance writing Den – partly because it’s closed right now, I’m on the waiting list for the re-opening and can’t afford the fee for the E-mail copywriting course.

    I’ve been getting some writing assignments from places like Reddit, and the clients are paying me circa 6c per word for ghostwriting. This is a marked improvement from content mill rates, but the work isn’t consistent enough and I know deep down that I deserve higher rates.

    Kind of reluctant to charge upwards of 10c a word though because $50 at 6c per word is better than a rejected offer of $100 at 10c per word.

    I’m living in Thailand at the moment, and an article of yours from 2012 mentioned leveraging location to get writing gigs. I have great knowledge of Thai food and how to live in Thailand, but I get lost when thinking about what businesses could use this info. Or more accurately, where to find these businesses and who to contact (travel agents, hotels etc).

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re getting writing assignments on Reddit? Interesting!

      But…$.35 a word is about the lowest rate I’ve ever written for…so this doesn’t seem like a great place to find gigs.

      I’d challenge your notion that it’s not better to have your bid for peanuts rejected — when you don’t get those gigs, it may motivate you to learn more about how to qualify better clients and earn more in the long run.

      Hope we see you in the Den soon, so we can help you move up! Another option is to check out Escape the Content Mills, on here: http://usefulwritingcourses.com. A very low-priced course that is designed for people in your exact situation. πŸ˜‰