Nov 4, 2011
James Patterson

The One Question Freelance Writers Should Ask When Cold Calling

You pick up the phone and you’re nervous. You sit in front of your computer and don’t know what to say. In a world where you’re paid by the word, you’re all of a sudden out of them.

Don’t worry, it’s common. Freelance writers and artists often have problems getting out and marketing themselves. We’re born writers, not born salespeople. Sure, it would be great for clients to just fall into your lap out of the sky, but until you’re a little more established, those occasions will be few and far-between.

For now, you have to rely on several different methods, like cold calling to try and score a gig.

But are you asking the key question that can help you reel in that faceless person on the other end of the line like a tractor beam?

In the hundreds and hundreds of cold calls I’ve made, there is one question I’ve found that has been the most effective in helping my potential client hone in on how I can help them out. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It works.

It is:

Have you ever considered using a freelancer to help out with your writing projects?

Why does this line work so well? Sales people will tell you never to ask your prospect a yes or no question. Why? Because you never want to get a no. “Want to buy my product?” No. “Can I send you some more information?” No. “Can I interest you in a warranty?” No.

But that’s the genius of this question. Either answer is a win for you.

“So, John, have you ever considered using a freelancer to help out with your writing projects?”

Answer #1: No, I’ve never considered it.

Benefit: You have a captive listener all ready for you to tell them how a freelancer is going to help them get more things on their to-do list accomplished. You get to open their eyes up to the magic of freelance writing.

“Great, let me tell you about some of the benefits my clients enjoy because I write for them: lower overhead costs compared to hiring someone full-time, no heavy markup as with marketing firms, a fresh set of eyes on that project you’re working on, the ability to farm out less pressing projects so you can get back to doing what needs done now, etc. etc.”

Selling yourself is all about educating. What’s the benefit you bring? Asking the question opens the door up for you to educate the listener.

Answer #2: Yes, I have used freelancers before: “Well, great, then you know about all the benefits you can get by working with a freelancer. That’s what you’re going to get with me. Let me tell you about what some of my clients have said about my work.”

Benefit: The first answer is good and opens up some avenues for you to sell yourself. But this answer, in my opinion, is even better. Why? Because you’ve just discovered someone who “gets” working with freelancers. Someone you don’t have to convince that it’s a smart idea. Someone who already sees the need for someone like you.

“So you’ve worked with freelancers. Great! Then you know how much of a benefit someone like me can be to your business. Let me tell you about the work I do that might be of help to you.”

I ask this question to everyone I cold call. Almost without fail, I leave the conversation at the very least with them agreeing to allow me to pass along my information via email. I get a foot in the door. And when you get your foot in the door, anything can happen. The more doors you get in, the better your chances are of landing a paying gig.

Try it out the next time you pick up the phone to make some cold calls. And leave a comment below telling me how it went.

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Photo courtesy Flickr user TJ Scenes

Oct 31, 2011
James Patterson

What I Learned About Caring for Clients from Southwest Airlines

I detest air travel. It’s a rare occasion where I have a “good” experience while flying. Between my knees getting sore from being scrunched into a small seat to feeling like cattle herded into and out of the barn, it’s just not my favorite way to get from point A to point B.

Recently, while on a plane for a family trip so the kids could see the grandparents, I had one such experience.

Flying with two toddlers is hard enough as it is. So when we boarded a 3-hour flight and my wife was seated next to an oversize passenger who wasn’t required to buy an extra seat (the armrest wouldn’t fold down and he required a seat belt extender), my wife found herself sitting with our 2-year old on her lap in the row with me and the kids. Suffice it to say it was a very long three hours.

When we landed, the social media obsessed person that I am, I took my displeasure to Twitter.

What happened next taught me a lot about what it takes to keep our freelance writing clients happy.

Respond Quickly and Without Getting Defensive

I tweeted my displeasure about the flight minutes after getting off the plane. The stewardesses on the flight couldn’t have been less concerned about my wife’s discomfort, and I was pretty upset. Within minutes of my Tweet, a Southwest representative tweeted a reply, apologizing for the incident and asking to contact me directly.

How’s that for customer service? In less time than I would have spent on the phone waiting for some nameless operator to pretend to care about my concerns, I was contacted by a Southwest representative. I felt appreciated, and I felt like I mattered.

Don’t forget that you’re the service and your client is the customer. While there may be certain situations where it’s worth it to stand up against the client, in most situations (especially with your best, highest-paying clients), it’s best to just stand up and say I’m sorry for screwing up.

Go Above and Beyond in Offering a Solution

After listening to my experience and apologizing again, the Southwest rep immediately offered to refund my wife’s ticket. I’ll admit, it’s not what I expected. I thought maybe I’d get a credit for a future flight or something similar.

But there it was, just a few days later. A full refund of my wife’s ticket on our credit card statement.

Exceptional customer service (and again, remember that your clients are your customers) involves going above and beyond. It’s about creating an experience the client is not going to forget. Something they’ll store away in their memory and recall later, thinking “Oh yeah, that’s why I keep using this freelancer.”

When you go above and beyond in making your clients happy, you stand out from the crowd.

Always Have an Ear to the Ground

Southwest knows how to do social media. They have customer service reps constantly monitoring Twitter for keywords that indicate unhappy passengers. That’s how this rep came across my tweet.

Do the same for your clients, but in a different way. Anticipate their needs by being in tune with what they’re looking for. Catch problems before they become a problem. Be hassle-free. Make it easy for them to do business with you.

Will I think about Southwest airlines first before booking my next flight because of this experience? You bet. And your clients will think about you first when you do the same for them.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Plyon757

Oct 26, 2011
James Patterson

5 Freelance Tips for Better Email Prospecting

Inspiration strikes at funny times. Often, it strikes me late at night, when I’m in bed almost ready to fall asleep. This often leads to late nights on the computer crafting email pitches. But when inspiration strikes, you must listen.

For part-time freelance writers, email prospecting can be one of the most useful tools for landing new clients. Many of you hold down full-time jobs during the day, making cold call pitching or in-person prospecting difficult to do during business hours. But email prospecting is also a fickle beast. Emails are so easy to ignore (I should know, I delete dozens of PR pitches every week from my inbox), but if done right, they can get a prospective client’s attention in a hurry and help you make a solid impression.

Here are six tips I’ve learned over my freelance career that have led to better response rates:

1. Give in to Inspiration When it Strikes

I don’t know why my brain works the way it does, but three times in the last two weeks, I’ve been laying in bed trying to get to sleep, and a prospective client has popped into my head, along with a cute/clever one-liner, subject line or “call to action” I can use to get their attention. I used to shrug off these ideas and tell myself I’d do it tomorrow, but often the idea would later escape me. Not anymore. When I get an idea, I act on it.

Your inspiration may strike you at different times. While you’re getting dressed for work. At the gym on the treadmill. In line grabbing some lunch. Wherever or whenever it strikes, listen to it and at least write it down so you can act on it later. Carry a small notebook with you to jot down ideas you get throughout the day.

2. Do Your Research

The Art of War teaches you, “Know Thine Enemy.” Along that same vein, it’s imperative to “Know Thy Potential Client.” Dig into the company’s background. Find information about campaigns they’ve done, articles they’ve written or newsletters they’ve put out. The more you know, the more ammunition you’ll have when you go to write your pitch email.

3. Personalize the Message

Successful email prospecting is all about grabbing someone’s attention. There’s no better way to do that then personalizing your message. Writing up a form email and sending that out to everyone you prospect is an easy way to get your messages sent straight to the trash. Form emails are very easy to spot. But a personalized message that speaks directly to the potential client will have more impact and have a way better chance of not only getting opened, but getting read all the way through.

4. Use Your Personality

Clients aren’t hiring email messages. They are hiring people. Real, flesh-and-blood people. So let your personality come out a little bit in your message. Riff a little bit in your first draft. Say what you’re thinking. Exactly what you’re thinking. Then go back and clean it up.

I scored a meeting with a potential client a few weeks back who told me she gets 10 to 15 emails just like mine every week pitching her for work. The only reason she responded to mine, she said, was because I made her laugh in my email. Be different.

5. Offer Value

The worst thing you can do in your email pitch is sound desperate. Yes, you need to work. Yes, you want to land a client. But don’t let your desperation come out in your pitch. Instead, spend your words convincing your target how you can make THEIR life better. What can you offer them? A chance to get some of the extra work off their desk so they can focus on more important tasks? Identify some value you can offer, then bold and underline it to get their attention.

Make your emails more focused, more effective and less boring and you’ll start getting more bites in your inbox. Reel them in, and you’ll start landing more clients.

Have questions about email prospecting? Ask them in the comment section below!

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Oct 24, 2011
James Patterson

Freelance Writer’s Guide to Spotting Online Job Scams

Do you hate wasting time? Hate feeling like you’re being taken advantage of?

So do I. That’s why online writing scams bug the ever-loving somethingorother out of me. Since the advent of Craigslist, lowlifes have been trying to take advantage of people using all sorts of methods. Nigerian check scams, phony escrow services and phishing schemes can put an unhealthy dent in your bank account and leave a black mark on your credit score.

And now the trend of trying to take advantage of people has filtered into the world of freelance writing.

But what can you do about it? Craigslist seems to be the most common place for people looking to score a freelance writing gig, probably because it has the most continuous listing of ads. Because of its ubiquity, Craigslist also serves as the top destination for people who want to take advantage of fledgeling freelancers hoping to land a new client.

There’s something to be said for going out and working in the trenches of cold calling, email prospecting and networking to find new clients. In my experience, that’s where the highest paying freelance jobs are. But for newer freelance writers and those who have a limited amount of time on their hands such as part-timers, Craigslist seems to be the lowest-hanging fruit.

So how can you avoid getting caught in the web of a Craigslist freelance writing scammer?

First and foremost, let’s define exactly what a scam is. My definition is any job posting that tries to take advantage of you. This could include:

  • Scam artists just looking to steal your identity
  • Multi-level marketing people fishing for new meat
  • Someone out to steal your work through the “writing sample” method, or even…
  • A legitimate business needing writing but wanting to pay minimum wage rates

That’s right, I said it. Companies who are legit companies but pay rates that force freelancers to effectively work for minimum wage are scams. Those places are easy to avoid when you see them advertise their rates. Just don’t respond. Think about it. If no one responded to those kinds of ads, these businesses would either stop paying such atrocious rates. Don’t feed the beast. By doing so, you bring down rates across the board for all the rest of us trying to feed our families. Just say no.

How about those job ads out there offering you a chance to “build your portfolio” and “gain valuable experience writing”? These kinds of phrases are red flags for “we don’t pay very well” or even, “we don’t pay at all.” Any publication worth putting in your portfolio will be a paying gig, not one that’s looking to fill space on the cheap.

Another way to fish out a scam is by looking for the words “writing experience preferred, but not necessary.” Your first instinct is probably to jump for joy because, hey, your extensive experience is going to float you to the top of the list, right? Wrong. Worst case scenario, someone is out trolling for your information. Best case scenario, you’re looking at another “client” who wants to pay $10 for a 1,000-word article.

Yet another common freelance writing scam is the “send us a customized writing sample” routine. Everyone looking to hire a freelancer wants a writing sample. And it’s not unreasonable for a potential client to ask for a writing sample that fits into the specific job they’re looking for. “Send us a recent blog on personal investing” or “Submit a 400-word health/fitness writing sample.”

But when a Craigslist ad already feels a bit shady, then asks you to submit, say, a 350-word article on the benefits of herbal remedies for lower back pain, your whiskers should start itching a bit. This is what I call “word phishing.” Companies scamming you into writing an article for them, only to have them turn around and use the supposed “samples” as their actual content. Most of these places are SEO chop shops looking to fill space on the computer screen.

That’s not to say that every ad that asks for a customized writing sample isn’t to be trusted. But more often than not, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment by chasing those kinds of leads.

For the best results, follow the age-old mantra of “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Have you run into any freelance writing scams? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

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Oct 21, 2011
James Patterson

How to Turn Your “Junk” Clips into Paying Gigs

If you’re a Demand Studios writer, you’ve no doubt been feeling the pinch over the last few weeks as the site has moved to a new system for doling out assignments. One analyst estimates the new assignment system effectively cuts out up to 75 percent of writers from getting regular assignments.

This, from the company that still touts being able to easily make a full-time income from home. If stock prices are any indication, we may have already seen the heyday of DMS, meaning thousands of writers who had hopes and dreams of making a go of a freelance writing career are sitting high and dry right now.

One of the problems with those who spent an inordinate amount of time and energy devoted to Demand and other content mills is that now that’s all their writing portfolios are stocked with. And, in the world of professional freelance writing, many editors out there value a clip from Demand Studios or other content mills as much as investors are valuing their stock right now. Which is to say, not very high.

So what do you do if you find yourself out of work but with a pile of Livestrong or eHow clips on your lap?

My advice? Use your clips locally. Yes, the Internet is flush with stories critical of DMS, their model, the quality of writing and the such, but there are bound to be people in your community who have never even heard of Demand Studios, let alone the hit their reputation has taken as of late.

I almost universally use my most high-profile clips, such as the federal government work I’ve done, to get clients. But there may be clients in your area for which your Livestrong or eHow clips are more appropriate. Hit the streets and go to locally owned health and fitness businesses in your area. Tell them you’re an experienced freelance writer. Ask them if they’ve ever heard of the LIVESTRONG brand. Yes, they say? Tell them you’ve written articles for Livestrong.com.

The key is to focus on pitching the right audience with the right clips. Trying to land a gig writing articles for Men’s Health or Shape using your DMS clips is an exercise in fruition. But you may end up having success pitching local clients, even those who have never used a freelancer before.

Turning “junk” clips into paying gigs is possible. It just takes quite a bit more effort.

Oct 19, 2011
James Patterson

3 First Steps for Starting Your Freelance Writing Business

You have dreams of being a freelancer, but you’re not sure where to start. Join the club. Often, uncertainty and not knowing where the starting line is are the two main things that keep us from fulfilling our dreams.

For years, I dreamed of starting a part-time freelance writing business while I kept my corporate day job. It just made sense. Make some money on the side while protecting myself against the ever-present possibility of a job loss. When the job loss came, I kicked myself for not laying the groundwork for a freelancing career.

What would I have done differently now that I know what I know about the world of freelance writing?And how can that help you get a jump start on your business?

  1. Start Blogging — There’s no easier or cheaper way to get your writing out to the world than starting a blog. Sure there are millions of them out there, but that matters less than just starting writing. Demonstrating that you have the ability to craft coherent sentences will put you head and shoulders ahead of the pack when it comes to landing gigs and attracting clients. But don’t blog about just anything. Find a subject that lights you up. Fills you with excitement. Otherwise, you’re more likely to burn out sooner and abandon your blogging project.
  2. Start Compiling — You are what you write. You are defined as a freelancer by the collective history of your writing pursuits. That’s why one of your very first steps in setting up your business has to be compiling all of your best clips. Don’t be afraid to reach way back into the time machine and pull out some of the oldies but goodies. Clients care less about when something was written than how well it is written. I’ve gotten gigs before using old college newspaper columns. The point is to have a collection of samples that demonstrates your overall writing prowess. Get it together and get it digitized.
  3. Start Networking — Some of my best (and most lucrative) clients have come not through cold calling or email prospecting, but from working your “warm market,” or the people you already know and have connections with. That’s why there’s no better time to be building up that warm market than now. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, get one. Now. And start building up your connections. Reach out to former colleagues. Attend Chamber of Commerce events in your area and shake more hands than a politician. Building the foundation of your freelance writing business means building the foundation of your network. And that’s something you can start doing right now.

What’s funny about these tips are that they are things every freelancer should be doing on a regular basis. Have you been freelancing for a while but you find that your pipeline has dried up? Go back to the beginning. Start blogging again (or do it for the first time). Refresh your list of clips, just as you should refresh your résumé on a regular basis. Get out and hit the streets to build up your network of contacts.

Have you found success using any of the above methods? Leave a comment below and tell us about it.

Oct 13, 2011
James Patterson

Why a Blog on Part-Time Freelance Writing?

Because life happens.

For years I had dreamed of starting a freelance writing career. The thought of working for myself, calling my own shots and setting my own schedule seemed like a dream come true.

But it wasn’t until I lost my job in February of 2010 that I actually got around to making that dream a reality. My first year of freelancing was hard work. Really hard work. There were sleepless nights, wondering where the next check would come from and worrying that one of my clients would fall through, making it impossible for me to pay my bills the next month.

I even resorted to writing for content mills like Demand Studios to pay the rent. And through that first year, I wondered…how much better off would I have been if I had just started freelancing on the side before I lost my job?

I would have had a head start on marketing myself, getting quality clips, learning how to set up a website, and on and on.

Then, a year into my freelancing journey, I found myself mulling over a job offer from a client. The PR/Marketing director from a local hospital had hired me to write some magazine articles and promotional copy, and he wanted me to come on full time. Was I ready to give up my freedom and the way of life I had come to know over the last year? But a steady salary and benefits (hello, health insurance!) made it impossible to turn down. Besides, I thought, I can always keep freelancing on the side.

And so, in the course of a year, I went from wishing I had freelanced full time before losing my job, to freelancing full time, to going back to full time and freelancing on the side.

There’s got to be some valuable lessons learned in there, I thought the other day. So I started this. The Part-Time Freelancer.

In general, I envision this to be a place where everyone and anyone can get advice from a successful freelancer like me. I’ve nabbed big clients, pulled home hefty paychecks and cold called until I didn’t think I could handle another “no.” But along the way I’ve learned some things about doing this freelance thing from a couple of different angles.

Whether you feel stuck in the corporate world but don’t have a safety net strong enough to support a full-out escape, or whether you enjoy your job and just want to make a little extra money by writing on the side, this is the place for you. If you’re freelancing and an opportunity falls into your lap like mine did, what should you do? Is it worth it to step back in to full-time work? How will you juggle your schedule? Find time to find new clients? Stay sane with everything that’s going on.

I’ll offer all that type of advice and more, so stick around. Because you never know when life will happen.

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Welcome to my blog

This little corner of the Internet is for anyone who's looking to start a freelance business while holding down a real job, wondering how to jump from part-time freelancing to full-time or looking for freelance writing information in general.

My name is James Patterson. You can learn more about me here.

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