Copywriting V: Finding Clients

Few kinds of freelance writing will earn like copywriting. Sales is perhaps the highest-paid profession on earth outside of being the CEO of a major corporation, and sales writing is among the highest-paying writing professions for the same reason. If you can make your client a thousand dollars at the cost of one hundred bucks, they’ll do that all day, every day.

Getting copywriting clients, ironically, often requires copywriting skill. The reason is that you’re selling yourself when you pitch prospective clients. After all, if you can convince them to hire you, you’ll be able to convince people to buy from them.

The same skills you’ll use to sell a client’s products and services are the same skills you’ll use to promote yourself to them. With good copywriting skills, you’ll be able to convince prospects that it’s in their best interests to hire you rather than one of the thousands of others who claim to be copywriters.

Now let’s talk a bit about how to use those skills to get clients. There are a number of strategies you can use, of course, and the more creative you get, the more success you’ll have, but it’s worthwhile to cover the basics. Master the foundation before you build upward.

The following advice is likely to be of more use to those starting out, but might well be useful to established copywriters as well.

Social Media

First thing’s first: stop promoting yourself. No one likes it when half your posts are about the latest sale for discounted services. Social media is a place to be social. Duh.

Now that we have that out of the way… social media is a godsend for businesses of all sorts, including freelance writers, if it’s done right. And I’ll say it again: the right way to use social media is to be social. This means joining groups or circles that share your interests; that contain your target market; or that do your promoting for you.

Shared Interests

What are your hobbies? What are your areas of expertise? If you enjoy role-playing games, join RPG groups. If you enjoy fishing, join fishing groups. Start with the biggest groups around. Those are the ones your clients will monitor as well. Join the regular, old-fashioned conversations. Maybe start with one post per day per group, even if it’s just a 1-line quickie.

  • “If you prefer Mopar parts, have you tried their [fill in the blank] and how did it work out?”
  • “What other role-playing games have a Bennies mechanic besides Savage Worlds?”
  • “I think Lake Stevens in Washington is the best lake for fishing smallmouth, but if you’ve got a better one, let me know.”

The idea is to get people used to seeing your name. You don’t have to be the busiest poster, just enough to be recognized.

Then, bring relevant clients into the mix. If someone asks for a recommendation on a great bass lure for early morning boat fishing, and you wrote for (or about) a bass lure company, you could leave a comment on their post saying (for example), “I had a client with a similar lure, and it was really fantastic. I wrote an email sales letter for him that did quite well, so you’re not alone. A lot of people want this kind of lure.”

Assuming you did have such a client, of course.

The more you post helping people and asking nothing in return, the more people take notice. The best part is, you get to help people and feel good about sharing your knowledge!

Target-Market Groups

Facebook has Groups, but isn’t the only platform that does. Use that for market research. This could be a shared-interest group but doesn’t need to be. For copywriting services, a target group could be a local business group, a product category group (such as turntable aficionados), a book reviews group (if your target market is authors who need email sales funnels written), and so on.

Your goal will be to subtly make it known that you provide a service they’d want. In the book review group, for example, you might comment on a post seeking marketing advice. Provide a solid, researched answer to their question but mention that you are a copywriter who covers that market to establish your authority on the subject. It has the side effect of notifying people that you offer such services.

For example, “I’ve heard that bookmarks are a great promo tool for authors. I’ve written a few for clients, focusing on getting them to visit their sites, and the results have been good.”

People who sell that product often at least monitor such groups, and may well contact you because of your posts (it’s happened to me).

If you are copywriting to promote your own novel, in addition to promoting within the Facebook groups for readers, don’t forget author groups. I’ve seen authors say that it makes no sense to promote to the competition, since they aren’t your audience. This mindset just flabbergasts me. Of course, they are! Authors are usually some of the most voracious readers. Just don’t violate group rules while you do it–no one likes people who overtly spam and self-promote.

Promotional Groups

Some groups exist to promote company products and services to a customer base. For authors, it may be a group where they trade review for review, after reading each other’s books. For aftermarket car parts, it could be a group in which people post reviews of the products they’ve used.

For these groups, some are easier than others to find new business. Your copywriting customers aren’t going to be the end-users, but rather the companies that make the products being reviewed.

The primary value of these groups is to find companies with poor copywriting materials. Sales pitches that fall flat. Holiday promotions that have no comments. The author of a book unsuccessfully pitching their novel for review.

Once you’ve identified such a company, it’s simple to contact them directly and offer your services.

Say you noticed someone’s Memorial Day Sale post (that’s copywriting!) in XYZ Group didn’t get any comments. Your experience shows that storewide sales are a fantastic way to get people in the door. As a professional copywriter, you think you might be able to help with that. You noticed their ad focused on the product features, but where copywriters shine is turning those features into benefits for the customer. When you make it about the customer, they respond. You’d love to talk to them more about it, and so you invite them to take a look at your website. They will see you have had several clients in their market, and you’re very familiar with it.

Other Ideas

Content Mills

Most content mills are garbage. The idea is to put clients with an immediate need in touch with the services they need. The website takes a cut from what the writer earns.

I don’t like content mills for several reasons. First and foremost is that cut they take from your earnings. If you’re paying 25% in taxes (often more!) and the content mill takes 15%, you don’t have much left over.

Secondly, they tend to be a race to the bottom. The cheapest guys get the gigs because clients either don’t understand the need for quality writers or, worse, they do understand but don’t care, they just need crappy material (often to sell to other people who don’t care about the quality of content).

On the plus side, they can be an excellent way for a new freelance writer to build up their portfolio and testimonials. Also, they can be useful for picking up small projects to use up unfilled work hours. If you’ve got a couple hours to spare, sometimes making a little bit is better than making nothing with those hours.

Still, I think it’s better to use your time finding real, quality clients than to use content mills. If you insist on working through client mills–and I do it from time to time–there are only two I’ve found that are worth your time. There may be others, but these are the ones I know of that work. Or can work.

  • Upwork.com is the current king. They take 15% of what you earn, plus a small percentage from the client, but if you take the time to build a compelling profile page, look for quality contracts, and learn to avoid scammers, it can be worth it.
  • PeoplePerHour.com is my preferred content mill ever since Upwork raised their fees. PPH only takes 10% of your earnings and doesn’t charge the client. I’ve also had better luck finding quality clients on PPH. I think more clients here are serious about the content and are looking to test out professionals they can work with on an ongoing basis.

Guerrilla Marketing

In addition to the more traditional methods listed above, you can get creative. You may find a goldmine if you experiment a bit. There is no limit to this beyond your own creativity. If you hang out in a good marketing-related Facebook Group, or on G+ and other social media, you’ll hear tons of ideas, some of which might work for you with a little modification. Some common examples include–

  • Leave business cards or bookmarks inside books at the library. People who are checking out books on running a business, for example, are quite likely to need copywriting services. People will find your bookmarks as they read the book. Their mind is already focused on their business needs, making them an effective self-selected target audience.
  • Post your business cards and bookmarks on the bulletin boards at upscale grocery stores, office supply stores, and electronics stores.
  • Leave high-quality fliers on the doors of local businesses
  • Volunteer to write for local non-profits. They need services, and you benefit in several ways. First, though you are working for free, you gain valuable experience, referrals, portfolio clips, and testimonials. Second, the people charities target for donations are very likely to be in your target audience.

Finding copywriting clients is challenging, but if you work to build your portfolio and references, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an established writer. As you continue writing professionally, you’ll find that more and more of your business comes from repeat customers and referrals, but it’s always wise to keep some additional “irons in the fire” for those times when business is light.

With a bit of creativity and a lot of determination, you should have no problem finding new copywriting clients.

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