Not to knock BAFB’s Pitchfest, but I have to say it: pitching sucks.
It’s so time-consuming! You could spend hours each week pitching and sometimes still not get anywhere.
While I appreciate having an opportunity to hone my craft as a blogger by creating short, to-the-point, attention-grabbing elevator speeches, every time I’ve done a pitch or written up a topic sample to submit for a guest blogging opportunity, a voice in the back of my head whispers, “How much are you getting paid per hour for this?”
As a stay-at-home mom, what little time I have to write between preparing snacks, changing diapers, talking down tantrums, and neglecting housework is valuable to me.
Plus I used to be an actress and pitching reminds me way too much of casting calls where hundreds of talented people line up, hoping to outshine everyone else and get the gig. Like most actors, I spent the majority of my time in auditions, only to be judged and rejected — and not getting paid. It wasn’t a healthy or lucrative way to focus my creative energy and I promised myself I wasn’t going to do it again.
So about 2 months into my freelancing career, I decided to stop spending all my time and energy on pitching, and try a different strategy to get work.
Guess what? Once I started treating writing like a business with its own brand, target audience, and social media strategy, my freelance blogging career took off. Here’s how you can do the same.
1: Attract Twitter followers who are decision makers
Within two weeks of setting up my Twitter account and creating a content plan (more on that below), I had a digital marketer direct message me with an offer to hire me to write 36 blog posts per month!
Let’s break this down into a few steps so you can collect the right followers.
Set up an attention-getting profile with a call-to-action
Your social media profiles are your business calling cards. Don’t mix business and personal: set up a separate Twitter profile for your freelancing business (the same goes for your Facebook profile/page). When you create your profile, use a professional headshot (if you can’t afford a pro photography session, use these tips to get free photos taken or try taking a DIY headshot with an iPhone).
Be sure your profile pic, background colors and profile description are a reflection of the persona you want to put out there to potential clients. My Twitter profile tells potential clients I’m a no-B.S. creative type with an edgy sense of humor and a passion for language and storytelling. If they’re looking for a slick, buzzword-spewing cubicle-drone, they should look elsewhere.
Start following digital marketers
If there’s one thing I learned from my previous career as a sales rep (my “don’t quit your day job” day job), it’s that you need to be in front of the right person to close the deal.
To find blogging decision makers, I did a hashtag search for “#digitalmarketing,” and “#content” to discover tweets by some of the marketing industry’s most influential voices (i.e. @NeilPatel, @SethGodin, @RandFish, @MarshaCollier). Then I took a look at who the majority of their followers were: digital marketing professionals.
When you’re scoping out possible freelance blogging clients, you want to find content managers, SEO consultants, marketing directors, and digital marketing managers. Then, when you see a profile of someone you want to work with, click “follow.” The beauty of Twitter is every time you follow someone, they’re notified and given an opportunity to check out your profile and follow you back.
At the beginning, be sure to thank new followers
People love to see themselves mentioned on Twitter and will sometimes re-tweet your “thanks for following me” tweet, especially if you take a moment to look at their profile and personalize your message to them. I always include a link to my website with a call-to-action (e.g. “Learn more!”).
One caveat: once you start getting multiple followers a day, thanking them each individually becomes too repetitive on your tweet-stream. That’s why I now reserve this kind of tweet for important decision-makers or people who have large followings.
Don’t be afraid to send direct messages to potential clients
You don’t want to be spammy, but if you happen to see an article or a tweet that makes you want to reach out to a person privately, do so. You can keep your conversation private through Twitter’s direct messages (DMs).
Let the potential client know what you thought of their post and invite them to get in touch if they need help with content creation. The worst that can happen is they ignore you, or they never check their Twitter DMs. The best that can happen (and has happened to me on several occasions) is they request a quote.
2: Join the heck out of Google Plus communities
Google Plus is an underrated resource every content publisher and freelance blogger needs to know about.
While the audience isn’t as large as Facebook, Plussers are eager to read interesting links and share what they like with their circles. I actually see more traffic to my website from links I post to Google Plus than Facebook and Twitter combined.
Plus (see what I did there?), there’s a community for every interest you can think of and you can cross-post links to articles to several communities at once. Just make sure you write some kind of introduction as to why your link is relevant to the community, otherwise you’ll look too spammy.
Something you should know about Google Plus: the people who hire bloggers aren’t hanging out in blogging communities. You need to schmooze with marketing types: content, social media, and digital. One of the posts I shared in the Content Marketing community caught the attention of the editorial manager for a search engine site who interviewed me for an article about writing content. After the article was published, I saw a leap in traffic and leads coming to my writer website.
Here are some Google Plus communities you can join to get the right eyeballs on your work:
- Content Marketing & Social Media
- Social Media Professionals
- Content Marketing
- Content Writing Workshop
3: Share content that fits your personal brand
Instead of sending query letters and pitches out each week, I spend my time creating blog posts centered on the nature of storytelling, business and human connection. My target audience: digital marketers and entrepreneurs who are looking for insights on creating meaningful content.
I see my blog as the hub for my business; it helps potential clients understand my style, philosophy, and approach to writing.
To connect me with my ideal clients, all of my blog posts end with some kind of call-to-action to interact with my brand. With every blog post I publish, I make sure to post links on Twitter, Reddit, Google Plus communities, LinkedIn, and my Facebook page (which I promote to a targeted audience using a small marketing budget — more on that below).
But sharing your blog posts isn’t the only way to market yourself in social media. Directing your audience to relevant articles about their industry can be a great way to bring qualified traffic to your website. There are tons of social media plug-ins and apps to help you with content curation and link branding. Here are the ones I use most often:
Not only will Klout recommend articles to share based on your interests, but it will also let you know the best times of day to schedule and share your blog posts to get the most views. Instead of spending hours writing and re-writing pitches and query emails to editors, I spend about 90 minutes a week scheduling posts through Klout.
I absolutely love this little plug-in. Let’s say you find a juicy industry-related article you’re itching to share: you can click on the Sniply button on your browser toolbar and create a shortened link to post. But here’s the kicker: when people click on the link, they’ll see a little ad directing them to your website. To see what I’m talking about, click this link. I like to copy shortened Sniply links and paste them into Klout when I’m scheduling posts.
4: Publish (or republish) on LinkedIn Pulse
Did you know you can post your own articles to Pulse, LinkedIn’s online publishing platform? Pulse posts not only appear on the LinkedIn website, but all of your connections are notified when you publish an article. Even better: LinkedIn will also feature your article in an email newsletter to all of your LinkedIn connections.
As a freelancer, you need to create a great LinkedIn network so your Pulse posts land in the inboxes of the right people. I’m currently working on making local connections with digital content editors and marketers in my area.
5: Earn a marketing budget (on content mills if you have to)
Content mills are where I cut my teeth and gained confidence as a freelance writer. Yep, the pay is crap. But once I was ready to create my own website and start my own business, I invested every penny I earned from Textbroker and Constant Content into paying for my website, domain name, and pay-per-click advertising.
There’s a bit of poetic justice to taking the scraps that were tossed to me from the content mills and transforming them into a (relative) feast from direct clients. I haven’t taken a content mill assignment since attracting several ongoing (and MUCH better-paying) clients via Google AdWords.
You don’t need a huge chunk of change to support a Google AdWords budget: I only pay $5 a day for my AdWords campaign, and so far it’s more than paid for itself. My average blogging client pays $70 to $100 per post; just one new 1000 word assignment a month pays for my Google ads.
I also spend $5.00 a day for week-long Facebook campaigns each month. While Google has been wonderful for attracting leads at the moment they’re making decisions, Facebook has been great for increasing brand awareness to targeted audiences.
I almost feel like I’m cheating the system by not pitching for work (with the exception of Pitchfest), but hey…whatever I’m doing is working! I’m happy to say I’ve had to turn some clients away because I simply don’t have the time in my limited writing schedule to take them on. I’m only able to devote about 15 hours per week to my business while I’m at home with my kids.
Am I making a full-time income in 15 hours a week? Not yet. Then again, I’ve only been freelancing since April 2015.
Treating my career as a business has shown me once I’m able to be a full-time freelance blogger, I’ll have clients lined up to work with me, instead of the other way around.
It’s a very nice position to be in. Why don’t you give it a try?