Browsing articles in "Finding Work"
Nov 4, 2011
James Patterson

The One Question Freelance Writers Should Ask When Cold Calling

You pick up the phone and you’re nervous. You sit in front of your computer and don’t know what to say. In a world where you’re paid by the word, you’re all of a sudden out of them.

Don’t worry, it’s common. Freelance writers often have problems getting out and marketing themselves. We’re born writers, not born salespeople. Sure, it would be great for clients to just fall into your lap out of the sky, but until you’re a little more established, those occasions will be few and far-between.

For now, you have to rely on several different methods, like cold calling to try and score a gig.

But are you asking the key question that can help you reel in that faceless person on the other end of the line like a tractor beam?

In the hundreds and hundreds of cold calls I’ve made, there is one question I’ve found that has been the most effective in helping my potential client hone in on how I can help them out. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It works.

It is:

Have you ever considered using a freelancer to help out with your writing projects?

Why does this line work so well? Sales people will tell you never to ask your prospect a yes or no question. Why? Because you never want to get a no. “Want to buy my product?” No. “Can I send you some more information?” No. “Can I interest you in a warranty?” No.

But that’s the genius of this question. Either answer is a win for you.

“So, John, have you ever considered using a freelancer to help out with your writing projects?”

Answer #1: No, I’ve never considered it.

Benefit: You have a captive listener all ready for you to tell them how a freelancer is going to help them get more things on their to-do list accomplished. You get to open their eyes up to the magic of freelance writing.

“Great, let me tell you about some of the benefits my clients enjoy because I write for them: lower overhead costs compared to hiring someone full-time, no heavy markup as with marketing firms, a fresh set of eyes on that project you’re working on, the ability to farm out less pressing projects so you can get back to doing what needs done now, etc. etc.”

Selling yourself is all about educating. What’s the benefit you bring? Asking the question opens the door up for you to educate the listener.

Answer #2: Yes, I have used freelancers before: “Well, great, then you know about all the benefits you can get by working with a freelancer. That’s what you’re going to get with me. Let me tell you about what some of my clients have said about my work.”

Benefit: The first answer is good and opens up some avenues for you to sell yourself. But this answer, in my opinion, is even better. Why? Because you’ve just discovered someone who “gets” working with freelancers. Someone you don’t have to convince that it’s a smart idea. Someone who already sees the need for someone like you.

“So you’ve worked with freelancers. Great! Then you know how much of a benefit someone like me can be to your business. Let me tell you about the work I do that might be of help to you.”

I ask this question to everyone I cold call. Almost without fail, I leave the conversation at the very least with them agreeing to allow me to pass along my information via email. I get a foot in the door. And when you get your foot in the door, anything can happen. The more doors you get in, the better your chances are of landing a paying gig.

Try it out the next time you pick up the phone to make some cold calls. And leave a comment below telling me how it went.

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Photo courtesy Flickr user TJ Scenes

Oct 26, 2011
James Patterson

5 Freelance Tips for Better Email Prospecting

Inspiration strikes at funny times. Often, it strikes me late at night, when I’m in bed almost ready to fall asleep. This often leads to late nights on the computer crafting email pitches. But when inspiration strikes, you must listen.

For part-time freelance writers, email prospecting can be one of the most useful tools for landing new clients. Many of you hold down full-time jobs during the day, making cold call pitching or in-person prospecting difficult to do during business hours. But email prospecting is also a fickle beast. Emails are so easy to ignore (I should know, I delete dozens of PR pitches every week from my inbox), but if done right, they can get a prospective client’s attention in a hurry and help you make a solid impression.

Here are six tips I’ve learned over my freelance career that have led to better response rates:

1. Give in to Inspiration When it Strikes

I don’t know why my brain works the way it does, but three times in the last two weeks, I’ve been laying in bed trying to get to sleep, and a prospective client has popped into my head, along with a cute/clever one-liner, subject line or “call to action” I can use to get their attention. I used to shrug off these ideas and tell myself I’d do it tomorrow, but often the idea would later escape me. Not anymore. When I get an idea, I act on it.

Your inspiration may strike you at different times. While you’re getting dressed for work. At the gym on the treadmill. In line grabbing some lunch. Wherever or whenever it strikes, listen to it and at least write it down so you can act on it later. Carry a small notebook with you to jot down ideas you get throughout the day.

2. Do Your Research

The Art of War teaches you, “Know Thine Enemy.” Along that same vein, it’s imperative to “Know Thy Potential Client.” Dig into the company’s background. Find information about campaigns they’ve done, articles they’ve written or newsletters they’ve put out. The more you know, the more ammunition you’ll have when you go to write your pitch email.

3. Personalize the Message

Successful email prospecting is all about grabbing someone’s attention. There’s no better way to do that then personalizing your message. Writing up a form email and sending that out to everyone you prospect is an easy way to get your messages sent straight to the trash. Form emails are very easy to spot. But a personalized message that speaks directly to the potential client will have more impact and have a way better chance of not only getting opened, but getting read all the way through.

4. Use Your Personality

Clients aren’t hiring email messages. They are hiring people. Real, flesh-and-blood people. So let your personality come out a little bit in your message. Riff a little bit in your first draft. Say what you’re thinking. Exactly what you’re thinking. Then go back and clean it up.

I scored a meeting with a potential client a few weeks back who told me she gets 10 to 15 emails just like mine every week pitching her for work. The only reason she responded to mine, she said, was because I made her laugh in my email. Be different.

5. Offer Value

The worst thing you can do in your email pitch is sound desperate. Yes, you need to work. Yes, you want to land a client. But don’t let your desperation come out in your pitch. Instead, spend your words convincing your target how you can make THEIR life better. What can you offer them? A chance to get some of the extra work off their desk so they can focus on more important tasks? Identify some value you can offer, then bold and underline it to get their attention.

Make your emails more focused, more effective and less boring and you’ll start getting more bites in your inbox. Reel them in, and you’ll start landing more clients.

Have questions about email prospecting? Ask them in the comment section below!


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Oct 24, 2011
James Patterson

Freelance Writer’s Guide to Spotting Online Job Scams

Do you hate wasting time? Hate feeling like you’re being taken advantage of?

So do I. That’s why online writing scams bug the ever-loving somethingorother out of me. Since the advent of Craigslist, lowlifes have been trying to take advantage of people using all sorts of methods. Nigerian check scams, phony escrow services and phishing schemes can put an unhealthy dent in your bank account and leave a black mark on your credit score.

And now the trend of trying to take advantage of people has filtered into the world of freelance writing.

But what can you do about it? Craigslist seems to be the most common place for people looking to score a freelance writing gig, probably because it has the most continuous listing of ads. Because of its ubiquity, Craigslist also serves as the top destination for people who want to take advantage of fledgeling freelancers hoping to land a new client.

There’s something to be said for going out and working in the trenches of cold calling, email prospecting and networking to find new clients. In my experience, that’s where the highest paying freelance jobs are. But for newer freelance writers and those who have a limited amount of time on their hands such as part-timers, Craigslist seems to be the lowest-hanging fruit.

So how can you avoid getting caught in the web of a Craigslist freelance writing scammer?

First and foremost, let’s define exactly what a scam is. My definition is any job posting that tries to take advantage of you. This could include:

  • Scam artists just looking to steal your identity
  • Multi-level marketing people fishing for new meat
  • Someone out to steal your work through the “writing sample” method, or even…
  • A legitimate business needing writing but wanting to pay minimum wage rates

That’s right, I said it. Companies who are legit companies but pay rates that force freelancers to effectively work for minimum wage are scams. Those places are easy to avoid when you see them advertise their rates. Just don’t respond. Think about it. If no one responded to those kinds of ads, these businesses would either stop paying such atrocious rates. Don’t feed the beast. By doing so, you bring down rates across the board for all the rest of us trying to feed our families. Just say no.

How about those job ads out there offering you a chance to “build your portfolio” and “gain valuable experience writing”? These kinds of phrases are red flags for “we don’t pay very well” or even, “we don’t pay at all.” Any publication worth putting in your portfolio will be a paying gig, not one that’s looking to fill space on the cheap.

Another way to fish out a scam is by looking for the words “writing experience preferred, but not necessary.” Your first instinct is probably to jump for joy because, hey, your extensive experience is going to float you to the top of the list, right? Wrong. Worst case scenario, someone is out trolling for your information. Best case scenario, you’re looking at another “client” who wants to pay $10 for a 1,000-word article.

Yet another common freelance writing scam is the “send us a customized writing sample” routine. Everyone looking to hire a freelancer wants a writing sample. And it’s not unreasonable for a potential client to ask for a writing sample that fits into the specific job they’re looking for. “Send us a recent blog on personal investing” or “Submit a 400-word health/fitness writing sample.”

But when a Craigslist ad already feels a bit shady, then asks you to submit, say, a 350-word article on the benefits of herbal remedies for lower back pain, your whiskers should start itching a bit. This is what I call “word phishing.” Companies scamming you into writing an article for them, only to have them turn around and use the supposed “samples” as their actual content. Most of these places are SEO chop shops looking to fill space on the computer screen.

That’s not to say that every ad that asks for a customized writing sample isn’t to be trusted. But more often than not, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment by chasing those kinds of leads.

For the best results, follow the age-old mantra of “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Have you run into any freelance writing scams? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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Welcome to my blog

This little corner of the Internet is for anyone who's looking to start a freelance business while holding down a real job, wondering how to jump from part-time freelancing to full-time or looking for freelance writing information in general.

My name is James Patterson. You can learn more about me here.