By Nkiru Asika
Halloween may be over, but there is nothing more frightening to a freelance writer than the deathly spectre of no work on the horizon; when your clients literally go ghost.
It’s tempting, when you have client work, to forget all about marketing and simply bury yourself in the writing. But that is a costly mistake that triggers the freelancer’s curse of feast or famine.
Staying consistent with marketing while busy with clients is no easy feat. “Always Be Closing” was advice given to the hard-nosed salesmen in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. But it’s probably not what you envisaged when you set out to live “the writer’s life.”
I spoke with three successful freelancers from different writing backgrounds about their approach to balancing their marketing and writing.
SHARON ASCHAIEK, HIGHER ED COMMUNICATIONS
Looking back on her 14-year freelance business, writer, editor and content consultant Sharon Aschaiek admits, “I worked on my marketing in fits and starts and when client work would pile up it would fall by the wayside.”
This led to periods of her thinking, “am I ever going to work again?”
Today, her approach is both systematic and strategic, especially since rebranding her business and launching a new website in April 2018 to reflect her specialty of higher education.
She follows a 13-point checklist of marketing activities such as sharing an original item on Twitter every day, responding to job ads on LinkedIn once a week to ask if the companies work with contractors, and writing a strategic weekly blog featuring interviews with higher education communications professionals. This helps her build relationships with the people who can hire her for future work and “present and reflect my expertise in the sector,” she says.
Another activity which keeps Aschaiek on the radar is volunteering. She sits on the board of the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and is President of the Professional Independent Communicators (PIC) sub-group.
Her ability to maintain a successful marketing and writing balance comes from being intentional, an “architect of my time management rather than a fire-fighter responding to emergencies.”
She acknowledges that not everybody needs her multi-step checklist but advises, “make a plan about how you are going to use your time rather than being distracted by the next email that comes along; be proactive.”
LUIGI BENETTON, LUIGI BENETTON COMMUNICATIONS
Freelance technical writer, translator and technology copywriter Luigi Benetton has experienced a few “panic-driven stretches” over his 17-year freelance career, but overall, he manages to juggle 4 to 5 clients at a time while maintaining a steady marketing tempo.
Though not a natural marketer, “marketing and I are wary of each other,” he says, Benetton has found success by putting himself out there. This includes volunteering for groups he cares about such as his alma mater University of Toronto, meeting at least one person for lunch or coffee once a week and optimizing his LinkedIn profile, using the right keywords to attract prospects in a low-pressure way.
He also creates consistent content on his website, curates and shares interesting content online and has attracted traffic to his website by building backlinks with authority sites.
When it comes to keeping a handle on his work, not surprisingly, Benetton favours tech tools such as Mac-based project management and CRM tool Daylite which helps him track activities and automate repeat tasks, Pocket which he uses to save interesting content for later reading, Mindnode which he uses to get ideas flowing and Hootsuite which allows him to schedule and distribute content on different social media channels at once.
But beyond the apps, Benetton says it’s important to have the right mindset (he is a fan of David Allen’s system Getting Things Done) and to think long-term.
“I want to plant trees so that I solidify my marketing for the future; I don’t have to panic as much, because I have made the market more aware of what I do.”
SANDRA JEAN-LOUIS, BOOKGHOSTWRITER.CA
Certified ghostwriter and former copywriter Sandra Jean-Louis is all about avoiding distractions, keeping it simple and putting out great content so that clients now come to her.
She has put time and effort into building a client-focused website – bookghostwriter.ca – with an active blog that educates visitors about the book writing process, issues that authors face and the workings of the publishing industry. She also uses video app Animoto to create short animated videos, shared on You Tube and Twitter, that address questions and pain points of wannabe authors.
Jean-Louis finds social media “a big time-suck” but when working as a copywriter, she used “warm emailing” to reach out to prospects, a technique learned from freelance coach Ed Gandia. Warm email prospecting involves sending short, highly personalized and relevant messages that include your value statement and a soft offer to connect.
When it comes to scheduling, “I try not to overcomplicate things,” she says, but keeping it simple doesn’t mean winging it. “If I don’t have a written plan, with monthly or quarterly goals, that is when things go awry. I focus on putting out one piece of content in each medium (blog, video, newsletter) every month.”
When writing, she keeps distractions to a minimum by tuning into classical music on You Tube to help her concentrate and using her NEO Alphasmart – a small word processing machine that allows her stay focused because she can type without being distracted by the internet or her computer.
Jean-Louis also flows with her natural rhythm. “Typically, my mornings are spent doing some sort of marketing function, and the afternoon is spent writing because I am more creative then.”
These three freelancers have different approaches to keeping pace with client work and marketing, but their success comes from finding what works for them and sticking to it.
Final words come from Sandra Jean-Louis: “If you are not working on client jobs then your time should be spent on marketing; any moment you find yourself with downtime, just go back to your marketing plan, see what needs to be done and get it done.”