11 quick ways to kickstart your slow freelance business

January 25, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Freelancing 

skanky old bathrobeHow long has it been since someone called with a paying project? A week? Two? Welcome to the life of freelance copywriting.

Unpredictable workflow goes with the territory. One week you’re scrambling to write all the sales letters, brochures, and web pages you’ve been hire for, the next you’re knocking around in your skanky old bathrobe waiting for the phone to ring.

Don’t worry about it. Even the very best freelancers go through times when business is slow. Depending on your reasons for freelancing, you might even consider these mini-vacations a perk.

Then again, if you’re like me, those occasional slow periods can also freak you out. Sure, I have plenty of money in the bank to tide me over, but I’m happier when I’m working. And frankly, so is my wife. She is no fan of that skanky old bathrobe.

So what can you do?

Down time gives you the ideal opportunity to do a little marketing. In fact, there are some quick and easy ways to kickstart your slow freelance business and generate paying copywriting projects.

Call past and present clients. Don’t sit around feeling depressed. Pick up the phone and call everyone you’ve worked with. Don’t tell them your business is slow, just say you want to see how they’re doing. Chitchat for a minute, then ask if there’s anything you can help with. No hard sell.

Call leads and prospects. Again, don’t say things are slow. Just say you want to stay in touch. Ask if they need more information or would like to see additional samples. Keep it short and friendly. You can’t force people to work with you. Just remind them you’re available.

Make mini-proposals. This works best for established clients whose business you know well. Write up a short one-page proposal telling your client what you can do, how it should be done, and what it will cost. Look for improvements you can make or ideas they’ve overlooked. Generally, clients appreciate this, as long as you don’t do it too often or too aggressively.

Suggest add-ons for work you’ve finished. If you’ve written a brochure, suggest a letter to accompany it. If you’ve designed an annual report, ask about creating a shorter version that can be used in promotional literature packages. It doesn’t always work, but now and then, clients will bite.

Offer to handle different types of projects. If you normally handle technical documentation for software products, tell your client you can also write ad copy for the packaging. If a client usually calls you to design a newsletter, suggest that you can also handle the photography for less than the cost of buying the photo rights. If you create a website for a client, say you can also provide consultation for online marketing.

Do a quick mailing to prospects. One thing I often do during a slow week is copy an article I’ve just read and send it to clients with a note that reads, “I thought you’d be interested in this.” Of course, you can send a letter, re-mail your brochure, send samples, or anything you like to let them know you’re still available. This works faster with email, though it’s a little less personal. People get zillions of emails, but today actual mail stands out.

Welcome a different type of client. If you normally work with banks, take on a fast food chain. If most of your clients are software companies, solicit work from a publisher. It’s good to specialize, but sometimes you have to branch out to get a project or two. And the variety will do wonders for your mood.

Offer your services in a less expensive form to smaller clients. If you handle an eight-page newsletter for a major client, you might charge a pretty penny for your work. But you may know a small business owner who needs a simple two-pager and who isn’t very picky about it. Offer a generous discount and you can pick up some bread and butter money.

I used to do this with a small client who needed a dozen little radio blurbs with health tips every quarter. I only charged $250 for all twelve, which is far less than I usually charge for just one full radio script. But it was fast and easy. I could knock out all 12 in less than an hour.

Remind people that you want referrals. Referrals are the best way to get business, but you can’t control them. What you can do is tell people you want them. One way to get referrals is to give referrals. A more immediate method is to send a short note to your clients to thank them for their business and remind them that you appreciate referrals. Keep it short and sweet. Mailing a few business cards can’t hurt either.

Write an article for a magazine or blog. This is my little “big” secret for marketing, because a lot of the business I get comes from people seeing my articles and then calling me with a project. An article on a topic relevant to your prospects will position you as an authority and prompt a few people to call. Some will just want information. Others will have a project ready to go.

Offer a special package deal for more work. If there’s a client who has ongoing work, it can help to offer a small discount in return for getting repeat projects. It’s a fair trade, since after the first few times, you’ll be able to do the work faster and more efficiently. And it’s regular income you can count on month after month.

Even if these tips don’t create immediate work, at least they’ll encourage you to pull on a pair of pants in the morning and leave the bathrobe in the closet. Enough said.

Related posts:

  1. The freelancer’s quick job hunting guide – Part 1
  2. The freelancer’s quick job hunting guide – Part 2
  3. 9 business-boosting benefits of a freelance website
  4. 8 website elements that generate freelance business

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Smart Comments

12 Comments on 11 quick ways to kickstart your slow freelance business

  1. BrianJUY on Jan 25th, 2010 11:02 am
  2. Hi Dean,

    As always great advice. One thing a person can do specifically goes right along with “Welcoming a different type of client” and “Offer your services in a less expensive form to smaller clients”…

    If someone is slow and needs work; go to Craigslist and Backpage and look in the Marketing Sections. I know it sounds obvious, but here’s the key.

    Most companies who advertise on Craigslist and Backpage are small companies and they have no clue about marketing… hence why they hire a Marketing Specialist/ Manager/ Director… etc. If a company is searching for a person to fill a marketing position; that typically means they don’t have someone in place or the person in place is not performing…

    The point being, they will typically be more open to proposals because that’s what they are searching for… Just because a company is seeking someone for a full time marketing position doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be open to fill that position on a freelance basis… Paying a copywriter $75 an hour for freelance work is A LOT cheaper than having a copywriter on payroll.

    Not to mention, if they don’t have someone in place; they will typically have the budget for a good proposal…
    .-= BrianJUY’s last blog … How I Learned About Authority from a Guy at the Bar… =-.

  3. Dean Rieck on Jan 25th, 2010 11:09 am
  4. Brian:
    Then again, I’ve seen online offers for writers offering $5 for a blog post or $50 for a sales letter. And that’s just not the way to go. In fact, I’d like to thump every writer who accepts offers like this because they devalue the work of every other copywriter.

  5. BrianJUY on Jan 25th, 2010 11:52 am
  6. Dean… I’m on the verge of going off on a tangent, but I won’t digress… well, maybe a little.

    There are a couple of freelance websites I’ve signed up with in the past… Not to name names, but one might begin with “E” and end with “lance.”

    Jackholes would bid… Like $50 to write an eBook… Or $30 for 10 pages of website copy… Or $6 an hour to write 500 word articles…

    This devalues copywriters in a couple of different ways…
    1. Companies who don’t know better see those offers and think that’s the “norm.” (Then they try to low-ball us.)
    2. When they award those jobs to those jackholes, the jackholes perform to the quality they were paid. (Copy on the lines of… “Me is a well righter”)
    3. The companies then get a bad taste in their mouth for hiring freelance writers… (Then you hear… “Oh, we’ve done the freelance thing before and it didn’t work out… We’re going to stick to in-house… But thanks anyway.”)

    Dean, I’d be more than happy to choke those jackholes while you’re thumping them on the head.

    My apologies for the digression… ;-)
    .-= BrianJUY’s last blog … How I Learned About Authority from a Guy at the Bar… =-.

  7. Dean Rieck on Jan 25th, 2010 11:59 am
  8. Brian:
    Deal.

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  9. Chris Mower on Mar 27th, 2010 11:29 pm
  10. I realize I’m a couple months behind the times commenting on this blog post. (I found your blog today from an article you shared on Men with Pens.)

    I haven’t started a copywriting business yet, but I’m thinking about it. While reading through your post I thought of another way to snag potential clients.

    Find a client you want, and create a sample work based off their current website or materials. Send them a copy with a short letter praising their company and offering your services. It sounds a little arrogant I suppose, but you never know when they’re looking for a copywriter to help with a new project.

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this, or if you suggest a spin to it.

    By the way, this is an AWESOME blog. Thanks :) .
    .-= Chris Mower’s last blog … Why You Should Care about Who You Recommend =-.

  11. Dean Rieck on Mar 28th, 2010 1:15 pm
  12. Chris,
    Yes, that’s not a bad idea if you’re just starting out. You have the time and there’s no opportunity cost. Later in your career, you likely won’t have time for that. A variation on this would be to simply contact target clients and make simple suggestions for improvements. You run the risk of insult, but there’s a chance it would work.

  13. lawton chiles on Sep 9th, 2010 1:38 pm
  14. I totally agree here-one thing that would keep your thumbs busy is to offer the client one of two things-An add-on, such as an email for a Past Customer Re-Activation campaign, or a discount on your services by 10% if he orders in the next week or so…

    Not sure if the discount is the way to go here but it seems like if yo ucould do an add on like “Get 10 Emails written for your new campaign+15% off my Lead Magnet Series!

    Something where you coupled a few services together like Google Maps setup, or new email series…

  15. Dean Rieck on Sep 9th, 2010 2:07 pm
  16. @Lawton: I don’t recommend discounts to attract business. But you could certainly offer package prices for more work. Or you can make a deal to extend the deadline or pay upfront in exchange for a slightly lower fee. I used this with a client who had a budget below my estimate and got the project.

  17. lawton chiles on Sep 9th, 2010 2:15 pm
  18. Dean, good call on not offering discounts–it’s just not worth the trouble :)

    Just to clarify, you mean a sales letter for 3 easy payments of $997 vs. one flat rate of xyz?

    The flat rate would be slightly lower?

  19. Dean Rieck on Sep 9th, 2010 2:44 pm
  20. @Lawton: No, I never offer “payments.” I just mean that if a client hires you to write one sales latter for $2,000, you could offer to write a press release too. The PR may ordinarily be $500, but you could include it in the project for a total fee of $2,250. Doing work all at once is more efficient than doing separate projects, so there is a rationale for the lower fee. It must never look like you’re providing a “discount.”

    The payment upfront idea is for those moments when a client is hemming and hawing about the fee, but when you’re close to his budget. So if you quote $1,000 and he was expecting $800, you could say, “Okay, tell you want. Just for this first project, I’ll do it for $800 if you can pay upfront.” That removes your risk and lands you a client. It’s a means of dealing with objections.