Growing your network can be a great way to find more and better clients as a freelance writer.
But it’s come to my attention recently that not everybody understands how to do that.
There is some basic etiquette to know when it comes to connecting with brand-new people and getting them interested in helping you.
If you don’t do it right, you’re just annoying people.
For instance, I recently received this email (parens are my explanation):
My name is _____, and I’d like to introduce myself.
I’m currently contributing to ___ and ___ (two mediocre websites), but am trying to branch out in order to meet new people, build relationships. My goal is to build a name for myself as an industry expert while giving back positively to the community with my expertise; I don’t need any payment or anything.
I primarily write about technology – either in education, mobile technology, or in the health community. My professional background is almost exclusively at startups, so my experience lends itself well to those topics.
I really respect your writing, so I thought I would contact you. Would you mind introducing me to whomever might be able to help me get started writing for (big national magazine you write for)?
Here are some samples of my writing:
(clips attached here)
Follow me on Twitter @(her Twitter handle)
Big thing to know about networking. Everybody engrave this on your forehead:
Strangers do not hand you gigs
Anytime your first interaction with a stranger is to ask them to help you get a gig, it is not going to work.
Not on social media. Not in person, at live networking events. Not on email.
Writers do refer gigs to other writers — but usually, to writers whose work and personality they know well.
Most referrals actually happen when a writer is offered a gig they don’t want to do or don’t have time for — then, we think about who we know who might be able to do the job.
They don’t happen because you ask some other writer out of the blue, “Hey, could you line me up some gigs?”
So step one in networking is getting to know other people. Not asking for work.
Where else did this email go wrong? Besides asking me to hand her a plum job on a plate without so much as taking five minutes to get acquainted, let me count the other ways:
- Sloppy writing. When you want a writing gig, it’d be good if sentence two of your pitch wasn’t an ungrammatical run-on sentence.
- B.S.-ing me. If this writer really wanted to branch out and meet new people and build relationships, then this email would be asking for a chance to meet me, maybe on a quick Skype call. But the rest of the email makes clear this writer has no real interest in meeting new people — just in harvesting their contacts so she can get gigs. Talk about a turnoff.
- Ignorance of how it works. When you tell me you don’t want to get paid to write, I wonder why you’re writing to me. If you’re offering free writing, there is no shortage of places willing to hire you! If you want paid work, my introduction will be less important than your ability to come up with fresh story ideas. If you’ve got those, you can read the magazine masthead, find an editor, and send a query — you don’t need an introduction.
- Exaggeration/lying. When you tell me you’re an expert in something, I expect you to tell me what qualifies you as an expert. “I’ve worked at startups” doesn’t really get that done. A little online research indicated this writer is a recent college grad and not an expert in much of anything.
- No research. This writer pitches her expertise as being in technology for education, mobile and healthcare, but none of those are the main topics covered in the business magazine where she’d like an intro. She doesn’t seem to have studied the publication at all. They also aren’t the topics in her clips, so there’s no proof she even knows those topics. She also doesn’t seem to have a story idea in mind for this publication, and seems to think if I introduce her to the right editor, she’ll be all set and assignments will fall out of the sky on her. See above under “ignorance of how it works.”
- Unqualified. Looking at her two clips, I found they were barely above content-mill quality — simple lists of how-to stuff we’ve all seen many places before. No interviews. A few quick research links thrown in. This writer doesn’t seem to have any journalism training, but would like entree into a top national magazine. She possibly seems to be angling for the sort of expert columns business magazines get written by Richard Branson or Guy Kawasaki, without understanding that she’s about a million miles out of their league. When you’re asking other writers to refer you, it should be for assignments you could execute. Otherwise, that referring writer is going to be mighty pissed.
- No pro marketing tools. In following her links to her published articles, I find her tagline has no writer website and not even a LinkedIn profile. It’s just “follow me on Twitter” and her email address. On one of the sites, she hasn’t even bothered to fill out her author profile. That doesn’t communicate this this writer takes her career seriously, and doesn’t make me interested in getting to know her, much less recommend her.
What networking is all about
This email made me feel sad that so many writers have adopted this sort of pushy, ineffective marketing approach. They seem to want to skip over the essential first step in networking — meet and get to know more people.
Why do people want to avoid it?
Connecting with other people is one of the most rewarding activities in human experience. Having business friends to bounce questions and ideas off and to share your freelance journey with is also fun! I hope this writer tries it.
Then she’ll branch out and meet new people, and build real new relationships…and maybe even get some work referrals. For sure, she’d have more friends and a chance to enjoy this freelance journey more.
Seen any bad networking lately? Leave a comment and tell us what marketers are doing that annoys you.