One of the things I underestimated when I started freelancing full-time fourteen years ago was the amount of time I’d spend marketing. I’d thought most of my day would be devoted to writing, but quickly discovered that I needed to actually sell myself in order to get work.
If you start freelancing like I did—with no contacts or connections—editors and other clients aren’t going to come knocking. You have to go after them. In my case, that meant writing query letters, contacting potential business clients, sending letters of introduction to custom publishers, and responding to online posts seeking freelancers. At the beginning of your career, expect to spend 90 to 100 percent of your time marketing your business. As you start getting assignments, that percentage will drop but you could still plan to spend about 20 percent of your time marketing yourself.
Marketing starts with sending queries and letters of introduction, and making cold calls. But it doesn’t stop there. People in sales talk about the importance of “closing” business, and freelancers must understand that as well. You need to be able to close the sale and compel the editor or client to hire you.
That’s why sending a query isn’t enough. Queries get lost, misplaced, and wind up on the wrong editor’s desk. Too many writers give up if they don’t hear back. Take a proactive stance instead. If you haven’t heard from an editor within a reasonable amount of time, send a follow-up letter or email.
I like to use language like “I’m writing to follow up on a query about the health benefits of fiber I sent you several weeks ago; for your convenience, a copy is enclosed. Would you let me know if you’re interested in the idea? If I don’t hear from you within two weeks, I’ll assume you’re not interested in it at this time and may market it elsewhere.” This kind of follow-up usually prompts a response, and if I don’t get one, I resubmit the query to the next market on my list.
I also follow up by phone when I contact a potential business client or reprint market. That gives me a chance to touch base, ostensibly to see if the person has any questions about my background. Sometimes I still hear “no thanks,” but following up often closes the deal.
What if an editor likes an idea, but says she needs more time to decide whether to assign it? I give her a deadline and then email or call her if I haven’t heard from her. Of course I want her to buy the idea, but if not, I don’t want to her to sit on the query for months only to decide it’s not timely enough—which alas, does happen.
The same is true with a potential ghostwriting client. A client who’s thinking about hiring me isn’t an actual client, after all. I can’t waste my time with people who may or may not hire me. I will push a potential client to sign a contract, and if he won’t do it, I’ll “cut bait” and move on.
The bottom line is that marketing starts with contacting potential clients, but you most close business for it to be pay off. If you’re not doing that now, start—it will net you more work, and ultimately more money, in the long run.