JUST as money doesn’t grow on trees, neither do work opportunities. Unless you’re lucky enough to already have an overflow of clients commissioning you for work, you’re going to have to put in the effort to market yourself. Also, there is no guarantee that your existing clients will be able to afford you indefinitely, which means that it is important to keep your feelers out for potential contacts at all times.
Now, while each individual is unique, writers all have one thing in common: The job itself is quite a solitary one. The fact is, if you’re writing on a full-time basis you probably don’t have much contact with other people. Whether this is a plus for you or not obviously depends on your personality, but it’s important to remember that if you’re seeking work from others, you need to seek ways to stay connected with them.
Your first point of departure? Marketing yourself.
Talk about what you do
When people ask you how you are, what do you say? Do you resort to a bland, generic reply? Starting now, make a conscious effort to stop saying “I’m fine” or “I’m good” (this last one isn’t grammatically correct anyway). Be different, be interesting. Rather tell people that you’re doing great, and in one line tell them what you’re working on and how you’re feeling about it. Be friendly, be confident, be proud of what you do. You’ll get a feel for the people who are interested in what you have to say – just don’t resort to “backyard bragging” and talking too much about yourself.
Take your professional image seriously
The truth is that we live in a society that judges people at face value. You need to decide what impression you want to make on potential clients. It goes without saying that making a good impression begins with dressing the part, but don’t underestimate the finer details.
Here are some guidelines to help you create a positive professional image:
• Make sure your CV is up to date and presentable. This means it needs to be error free! Also, while consistent fonts and formatting may seem trivial, it’s an important detail that plays a big part in the overall impression you make. Have both a concise version of your CV and an extended one at the ready. The more promptly you send it once someone asks for it, the better.
• Compile both a hard copy and an electronic portfolio of your published work. Organise it in order of immediacy, so put your most recent pieces first. Keep copies of your portfolio with you in an actual folder or on a flash drive. Store copies of your work on your email account so that you can access and send it from anywhere.
• Keep your correspondence professional. You’re a writer, so your emails should be flawless. What will a shabbily written email say about your actual work? Be consistent and remember to keep it simple. A piece of text that is easy on the eye is more readable. An email with no paragraphing, big words and long sentences will irritate the reader, possibly without them even knowing it. You want your client to feel comfortable with what they are reading. People are busy and they don’t have time to decode what you have written.
• Create a business card. Sooner or later you’ll randomly find yourself chatting to someone when, all of a sudden, a work opportunity arises. Ideally, this is where you suavely whip out a business card and tell them to call you. But without a hard copy of your contact details, you’re a lot easier to forget.
• Have your own website. If you’re still using the phone directory or yellow pages you may just be the last one on the boat. Using Google to find someone’s contact details takes less time than it would for you to even open the yellow pages. And when it comes to being found, what you want is to be listed at the top of a search engine’s findings when someone googles “freelance writer [insert your area]”. This means being SEO savvy and keeping your website as up to date as possible.
• Customise your email signature. You’ll see with people who belong to companies or organisations, when they sign off at the end of an email it not only includes their name and surname, but their contact details, their position in the company and sometimes even a website address. Your writing is your business and you are the company – so make sure that every one of your emails includes all of the above details as well as a link to your website and/or social media accounts. Another good idea is to include a link to your most recent work (if you’ve been published online). Every email provider should have an option of customising a signature so that it appears automatically with every email you send.
• Be punctual, prepared and organised. When a work opportunity crops up it’s almost never at a calculated moment. Always have your CV, work portfolio and business cards on you. Also, practise being the one to wait for people instead of the other way around. Send a follow-up email within a day of meeting someone new so that they don’t forget you and keep your laptop or a pen and paper with you at all times in case you need to work on the fly. Once you’ve made a good impression, get the job done right and have a good turnaround time. That will ensure that your editor sends a second assignment to you.
Now, being prepared is all good and well, and you can follow each of the above guidelines down to the letter, but it’ll all be in vain if you don’t know anyone to market yourself to. My next blog post will be about networking, which comprises the other half of the battle when it comes to marketing yourself and procuring a consistent flow of work.
About the Author:
Samantha also works as an assistant lecturer for the University of Pretoria’s Department of Journalism.
Photo credit: flickr.com_SocialisBetter