Why your query letter should be ‘pitch-er’ perfect

Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing and from Business of Freelance Writing: How to Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines

If you ran a business manufacturing widgets and wanted Sears to buy your widgets, you would pitch the benefits of your product to an appropriate product buyer at Sears. If you baked pies and wanted to sell them to consumers, you would open a storefront and promote your pie business. The query letter pitch and the follow-up are your sales and marketing tools. Without using them, you will be hard-pressed to become a freelance writer.

Overall, I favour the e-mail (or mail) query for three reasons:

  1. It is what most editors expect from freelance writers.
  2. Many editors will not look at unsolicited manuscripts—a query is shorter, easier to read, and demonstrates the writer’s knowledge of the topic and their ability to write.
  3. It takes work to write a query letter but it takes more work to write an article; I want to know that I will be paid to write an article before I do the work.

New writers are often concerned that editors may not buy their ideas because they have limited or no writing experience. By submitting the full article, the writer hopes the editor will like and buy it. More often than not, however, the article is too long, too short, not focused enough, or not focused on what the editor would have wanted. Or simply does not get read.

Why would you research and write an article, and then submit it not knowing if the editor wants it? The query letter, on the other hand, is your calling card. It is proof you have done some thinking and research and can write. It gives you the chance to sell your idea and yourself. It is where the business of freelance writing starts.

Query: Pitch-er perfect

Your query letter must be focused on the idea and flawless—no spelling or grammatical errors—in execution, reflecting the detailed care you will give your article. For newspaper or magazine articles, a query letter addressed to the editor will outline the following:

  • Your article idea—the focus of the article or what the article is all about.
  • The sources, or potential sources, of information.
  • Why readers (of the target publication) would want to read the article (demonstrating your knowledge of the magazine’s readership).
  • Why the article should be written now.
  • Why you should be the one to write the article, i.e., a paragraph about you (which your ME cluster should help you write).

Your writing must be impressive—tight and creative, but not far-out and wacky (unless you are writing for a far-out and wacky publication). Even then, you want to be professional. You want to intrigue the editor and tickle his or her curiosity.

Also, your central idea must seem like something the publication’s readers would be interested in or benefit from, and it must be credible. If you propose to profile or interview the president or prime minister, for example, and you have no political experience or no obvious access to that person, the idea will not appear to be credible. It will appear to be beyond your reach, unless you explain exactly how you will accomplish what you propose to do.

Query opening example

Allow me to show you an example of a query subject line and lead (opening) I consider about as close to perfect as you can get.

Subject: Article Query: Show your true love

Dear <Editor’s Name>:

The same bunch of roses that says “I love you” to a mother or “I’m sorry” to a lover could mean long-term illness in communities where they were grown. Doctors studying the issue in Ecuador have revealed the thorny side of the cut-rose industry as they work toward a fairer flower.

The predominantly young workers who toil in the cut-flower industry do not always notice they have medical problems, which tend to manifest later in life. Others, like one young mother I met while attending a community clinic held by the Centre for Studies and Consultation in Health (CSCH), cannot hold a pen straight and exhibits other disorders. But she continues working with cut flowers to make ends meet.

Dr. Jaime Breilh of the CSCH says they first thought poisoning through acute pesticide exposure was making cut-flower workers ill. As they studied the issue, however, they learned low-dose chronic exposure to pesticides caused the problems.

Of course the query goes on from there, as you will see from other examples in the book. But what I want you to do here is imagine this query with the above subject line landing in the editor’s in-box before Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. The editor might think it is a query for another typical “love” article but would open it to check it out because, after all, the editor is looking to run love-oriented articles around Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. He just hopes they go beyond the usual clichés and perhaps offer a bit of fresh insight.

Imagine, now, as the editor gets to the end of the first paragraph: suddenly, everything Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day stands for has been stood on its head. The flowers we send to show our love could be making people sick? If this is something the editor did not know, then this information captures the attention of the editor and causes the editor to read on.

As the editor reads on, he sees a well-written, well-structured query letter. He learns that the author, having been to Ecuador, has first-hand knowledge of the situation and has sources she can contact when writing the article, which means this is a credible issue.

In short, the editor is interested and intrigued and experiences an attitude adjustment. Expecting another “show your love” query, the editor discovers a powerful story.

That is what you have to do in your queries: capture the attention of the editor, hold the editor’s interest, and influence attitude. If you can do that, you will dramatically increase your chances of closing the sale. 

Writing services you can offer corporate clients

Writing services you can offer corporate clients

Excerpt from Everything You Wanted To Know About Freelance Writing: How to Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines & How to Find, Price and Manage Corporate Writing Assignments – http://www.paullima.com/books/

I have included a brief description of many writing services to help you determine whether they are services you can, or want to, offer. And I’ve included the department or person (job title) within the corporation who is most likely responsible for assigning the work. The list is comprehensive but not exhaustive…

Media releases: This is one of the most common forms of corporate writing. You can see sample media releases online at http://www.cnw.ca/en. (This is also a good place to find companies that issue media releases and to look for contacts who might hire you to write media releases or other documents.) The person who writes the release does not always issue it, but there are opportunities to add value to your writing services if you want to issue releases as well. To issue releases, you need to build a database of local, regional, national, and possibly international media contacts. (The Web makes this easier than ever to do, but it still takes work to do it.) You keep this database up-to-date and send releases by email, fax, or mail to appropriate contacts.

Articles for employee newsletters, newspapers, magazines, websites or email: Human resources departments have to communicate policies and procedures to all employees. Sales and marketing managers have to motivate their sales forces. Lowly employees have to be kept in the loop to stay motivated. Whenever new technology is introduced, or new business directions are charted, communication is vital. Most of this internal communication is done in employee newsletters, newspapers, magazines, brochures and websites, or by email. The writing is often handled by human resources, the corporate communications department, or the manager of the department concerned with whatever issue is being addressed. The writing is also frequently contracted out. Your job is to find out who is responsible (the point person) for assigning the work, and then make contact with that person. (More on how to do so later.)

Articles/documents for stakeholder newsletters, magazines, websites: Companies communicate with stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, vendors, and investors. The material may go out in a newsletter or magazine, by email, or on a website (often in a password-protected space on the company website where stakeholders can read about the latest developments, new products, special offers, etc.). If you are interested in this type of writing, you need to find the right contact person (often sales or marketing, public relations or the external communications department) and connect with that person.

Articles, case studies, blog posts, and other copy for corporate websites: As with the above, this kind of information is generally intended for stakeholders. However, the public, employees, and media frequently devour it as well. The main contacts can be corporate communications, external communications, or a senior executive managing a major department and working in co-operation with corporate or external communications.

Google ads, banner ads, and landing pages: Coordinated by marketing, companies often contract out the writing of the short ads that appear on Google (and other search engines), banner ads that appear on websites, and the landing pages—the pages that readers are taken to when they click on ads.

Social media (tweets, blog copy, social media profiles): Coordinated by marketing, companies often contract out the writing of blog copy and Twitter tweets, as well as profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and other social networking sites.

Direct mail promotions; print, radio, or TV advertisements; infomercial scripts: Advertising material is usually meant to generate sales or customer traffic. Advertising may be coordinated by marketing. The writing is often contracted out to an advertising agency. Think like an entrepreneur here. Since some ad agencies contract out writing, who might they contract it to? Why not you? If you have the ability to write ad copy or direct mail brochures, this can be a lucrative market.

Product/services promotional brochures, spec sheets, price lists: Supplementary or collateral material to support the advertising effort; again, frequently coordinated by the marketing department.

Proposals: Agencies, organizations, groups, and companies are constantly seeking funding from government departments or agencies, service clubs, corporations, and other organizations. For instance, not-for-profit organizations in Ontario often seek funds from the Trillium Foundation, an agency at arm’s length from the government that administers the disbursement of lottery funds. Film companies often seek funding from Telefilm Canada and other government agencies that fund feature films in Canada. Most social service organizations apply for funding on an annual basis. Many community groups appeal to corporations for funds to support the arts or local projects. Groups seeking funding require writers to generate proposals. This type of writing is often contracted out.

RFQs, tenders, bids, sales proposals: Companies often contract out the writing of requests for quotes or proposals (RFQs or RFPs), replies to RFQs and RFPs, and the writing of tenders, bids, and sales proposals. The purchasing or accounting department is a good place to start, although individual departments may be responsible for generating their own material, particularly the sales and marketing department.

Recruitment advertisements, job descriptions: Companies have to hire. To do so, they produce job descriptions and recruitment ads. Some freelancers write nothing but recruitment ads and job descriptions. It helps if you know a bit about HR and labour laws to write such material, but that is not always required.

Recruitment letters, email, brochures, websites: Before the dot-com and technology meltdown, high-tech companies were spending tens of thousands of dollars producing recruitment information. Pick a sector that is hot and hiring and you will find companies spending money to recruit new graduates and to cherry-pick employees from other companies.

Training manuals, videos, multimedia programs: Once a company hires new employees, it has to orient and train them. The production of training and recruitment material is primarily a human resources function. It may be coordinated by human resources for consistency, but left up to individual departments within some organizations to create. The writing of scripts may be contracted out to freelancers.

Corporate histories, company profiles, and executive bio/profiles: Written for websites, brochures, annual reports, shareholder, or investor videos, these are generally handled by corporate communications and are often contracted out.

Annual and quarterly reports: Writing annual and quarterly reports involves gathering information from a variety of sources for inclusion in the reports. While annual reports include a great deal of dry financial information, they also contain corporate histories, company and department profiles, executive profiles, forward-looking or visionary statements, product information, etc. The writing is often coordinated by corporate communications.

Ghost writing (speeches): This may be handled by corporate communications or the assistant of the executive giving the speech. Speeches may be given at share-holder meetings, sales and marketing events, conferences and trade shows, employee functions, customer appreciation events, convoca-tions, political forums, and a full range of other occasions. The speeches have to be written. Why not by you?

Ghost writing (articles under byline of executives): Written for trade publications or newspapers, these articles can be handled by external communications, public relations, or marketing—depending on the nature of the publication and the topic. Think like an entrepreneur. Look at trade publications for articles written by company executives, including guest columns or regular columns. These are most likely ghost written. Find out who placed the article and offer your services.

White papers: Industry-specific papers that address trends, systems, methodologies, and technologies. Tend to be long, research-intensive documents. May be initiated by marketing or senior executives.

Editing: All this writing needs to be edited. Often the writer is expected to do it; in some companies, writing is done in-house but is farmed out to an editor for final review.

Other services you can offer: Communications consulting, strategic planning, business and report writing seminars, and media interview preparation workshops… It all depends on your background, knowledge, and expertise. For instance, to earn passive income, I write books on business writing and freelance writing (www.paullima.com/books).

Excerpt from Everything You Wanted To Know About Freelance Writing: How to Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines & How to Find, Price and Manage Corporate Writing Assignments – http://www.paullima.com/books/

How to write a query letter to pitch article ideas to editors

I have created a short (12 minute) YouTube video on how to write a query letter. You can find it here: http://youtu.be/uCt1I20Bdyc

This is not a slick video of me speaking to the camera. It’s more like a PowerPoint with voice over so, other than the commercial announcement at the end, I’ve tried to make it as similar to a seminar as possible — complete with two example query letters. Do take a look, if interested. Hope you find it useful.

If you have any comments, you can leave them here or contact me through my website, http://www.paullima.com.

Accurately Pricing Writing Services

[ Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing –  http://www.paullima.com/books/everything.html ]

Note: See companion post: Setting your corporate writing rate – https://sixfigurefreelancer.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/setting-your-corporate-writing-rate/

Before you quote on a project, you need to define the scope of the project. To do this, you have to ask the client a number of questions:
1. When does the project start?
2. When is the project due?
3. What am I expected to produce (the deliverable)?
4. Who will I work with as the primary point person?
5. Will I need to attend meetings to discuss this project? If so, how many, how long, and where will they be held?
6. How many people will I have to interview? By phone or in person?
7. What kind of and volume of background research do you expect me to review? What other research is required?
8. What is the word count?
9. What is the approval process?
10. Who pushes documents through the approval process?
11. How many revisions do you expect?
12. Do you need soft copy (computer files) and/or hard copy (paper)?
13. What file format(s) do you need the files in?
14. Who takes it to the next step (design, printing, distribution, media contact, follow-up, video production…)?
15. Will I be working with that person?

When the client asks you for a quote, take a deep breath and say, “When do you need the quote?” In other words, don’t quote during the conversation. Take an hour; take 24 hours before you issue your quote. …

Get back to the client with the quote, based on the complexity of the job. Generally speaking, look at how many hours you believe you will spend on the job and multiply that by your hourly rate … Don’t quote less than the amount you think a particular job is worth.

There is one other somewhat nebulous factor to consider. An important marketing piece, one that will help your client generate revenue, is more valuable to your client than a price list with short product descriptions. Writing copy for a TV ad that has high production values (costs) is more valuable to your client than short biographies of corporate executives. Writing copy for a reply to a request for a quote is more valuable to your client than an internal document announcing new human resources policies and procedure. With that in mind, before you quote, consider the nature and scope of the job, your hourly rate, and the impact your work may have on the company’s bottom line. Then issue your quote.

If you deliver your quote verbally, follow up with an email message so all the details are in writing. The client may also want to send you a contract or purchase order that outlines the details of the project. Review it and make sure it conforms to what you understand to be the scope of the project.

Conclude any quotes with, “The quote is based on the details we discussed. Any additional writing, meetings, revisions, and interviews beyond what we discussed will be extra. I will advise you if the work has moved beyond the scope of the job as we have defined it.” Use whatever words you are comfortable with, but make sure the client knows you are a professional who expects to be paid for the work you do, and that you will ask to be compensated for work that goes beyond the scope of the original project.

Estimating a writing job

Use the following chart to help you estimate a quote for a writing job. The more quotes you issue, the more you should trust your gut when it comes to coming up with a quote figure. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to be methodical in your approach to quoting. That helps your gut have an accurate instinctive reaction.

In short, be as accurate as you can be when estimating how much time it will take you to complete a writing job, but don’t sweat the minutes. You will become more accurate over time, with practice.

Stages of Work Estimated Hours
1. Initial briefing/meeting
2. Transcribe meeting notes, if required
3. Read background material
4. Interview sources
5. Other research/meetings
6. Organize research material
7. Write document outline
8. Consult with client and amend outline
9. Write first draft
10. Polish first draft
11. Consult with client
12. Revise, revise, revise
13. Work with photographer/designer
14. Write titles and/or picture cut lines
15. Edit/proof
Total:

With all the above in mind, decide on how much should you quote. I know this might all sound a tad vague, but you are doing this work so you can charge your clients a fair rate and so that you will be paid a fair price. Again, the more you do this, the better (and faster) you will become at it. And then, if you land the gig at your quoted rate, you might find yourself thinking, I could have quoted a higher rate! Maybe. Maybe not. The fact is, if you go through the process outlined here, both you and your client should be happy with the rate. And if you are both happy with the rate and you do a great job, then you could find yourself in a long-term relationship with a client. And that is a good place to be.

What if…?

Here are a few other quote-related What ifs? for you to ponder.
– What if you issue a firm quote based on 10 hours of work and it takes 15 (and the scope of the job has not changed)? Live and learn. Next time you will quote more accurately.
– What if it only takes eight hours to complete the job? Treat yourself to lunch. (Do not offer the client a refund!)
– What if you’ve agreed to one revision and the client asks for a second one? If it’s a major revision, especially if the scope of the project has changed, it’s time to speak frankly. If it’s a case of cleaning up a few minor details and you sense the possibility of repeat business, give the client a freebie.

[ Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writinghttp://www.paullima.com/books ]

Setting your corporate writing rate

[Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing –http://www.paullima.com/books]

When it comes to setting rates for the corporate market, you have to know the following:

– How much you want to gross per year
– What your time is worth
– What skills, ability, experience you bring to the table
– At what level you are working

What do I mean by “at what level”? When it comes to corporate communications, there is a rate hierarchy. From top to bottom, it goes something like this: strategic planner, consultant, project manager, writer, researcher, editor, and proofreader. I’m sure editors and proofreaders would disagree. And I know we need them (or that I need them). But that rate hierarchy is there. …

For the most part, writers write. It’s possible that as a writer you will give advice, make suggestions, give the client options, help develop strategies, and move the project forward. However, primarily you write and revise. That’s what you charge for. But if the client asks for more (part of your job when quoting is to define—in consultation with the client—your role), you also ask for more.

How much do you charge?
There is no one right answer. I know many writers. They charge anywhere from $35 to $250 an hour. They charge anywhere from $.50 to $5 per word. You determine what you are worth and/or what a job is worth, and set a rate. Of course, if you want to charge $250 per hour, then you have to find clients willing to pay that rate—which is not an impossible task.

Once you set your rate, you negotiate with prospects based on that rate. When negotiating, you choose whether there will be any give and take. But take before you give.

Still find yourself saying, “Yes, but… How much do I charge?” 

How many billable hours do you think you can work per day? Billable hours do not include functions such as market research, marketing, invoicing, filing, or paying your taxes. That you do on your own nickel. With that in mind, let’s say you work, on average, four  billable hours per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year. Some days you may work more; some days you may work less. But let’s say you average four billable hours per day.

Here is the billable hours formula:

Billable hours per day x 5 = billable hours per week
Billable hours per week x 50 = billable hours per year
Billable hours per year x hourly rate = gross income

Plug in an hourly rate and you know how much you can earn, gross (before expenses and taxes), per year. Let’s say you plug in $50 per hour:

4 hours/day x 5 days/week x 50 weeks/year x $50/hour = $50,000/year.

Plug in $100 per hour, and you will earn $100,000 per year—as long as you work four billable hours per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year. You could charge more and still work four billable hours per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year. You could charge more (or less) and work more (or fewer) hours. That all depends on how well you market yourself and on the nature of the clients you acquire.

If you are just getting started, you might find it difficult to come up with $50 or $100 per hour gigs, especially if you are selling your services to small businesses or under-funded not-for-profit organizations. If you have been doing corporate work for a year or more, $50 per hour should be your absolute rock bottom rate. Take $50 per-hour clients only if you have no other work to do. In fact, you might be better off investing time looking for better-paying clients.

Some writers I know charge $100 or more per hour, but offer small businesses and non-profit organizations a discount, as I have done. However, when I invoice the client, I put my full rate on the invoice and then add the discount. It helps me demonstrate and maintain my value. It also helps me boost my rate after working with the client for a while.

Would it be nice if the corporate world paid one rate for writers so we wouldn’t have to figure out what to charge? If that rate was set at $100 per hour, the writers who earn $250 per hour wouldn’t think it was such a hot idea. So think about you, what you offer, and how much you want or need to earn. Set your hourly rate and look for clients who can pay it.

 

[Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing –http://www.paullima.com/books]

Generate Repeat Writing Business

[Excerpt from Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing —http://www.paullima.com/books]

This blog post applies primarily to freelance writers who want to conquer corporate writing markets. Periodical freelancers, however, should generate repeat business with editors for whom they have worked (nor on that in another blog post).

In this chapter, we look at generating repeat business, testimonials, and referrals. If you are thinking you need to generate business before you can generate repeat business, you are right. However, I want to start here for readers who have, or have had, some corporate clients. In addition, I want those of you who have had no clients to start here too. That way, when you land new clients, you’ll be thinking about how to keep them coming back.

You can be lazy, but….
You can pray for manna to fall from heaven. Or you can learn how to bake bread…. As a lazy person, I love it when the phone rings and someone wants to hire me, or when email lands in my in-box with a request for a quote. I’ve been a full-time freelance writer since 1993, and I worked part-time as a freelancer for a few years before that. On occasion, old contacts call me or pass on my name to some of their colleagues.  … But I would starve if I only waited for the phone to ring. Instead, I actively market myself. And one of the best ways of engaging in active marketing is to generate repeat business, referrals, and testimonials.

Retail concept: Repeat business
… As any retailer will tell you, it costs six to eight times more to sell to a new customer than it does to resell a previous customer. Therefore, it’s easier, and more profitable, to sell to previous customers than it is to chase new ones. Although I suggest you do both, many freelancers do not have a plan in place to generate repeat business.

Putting such a plan in place does not mean you sell only to previous customers. It means you sell to them while working to find new ones. As you find new ones, and complete jobs for them, they become previous customers. You then apply the principles of generating repeat business and resell your services to them.

Previous clients hear from me at least three times a year. I touch base to see whether a previous client requires my writing services (generating repeat business). Sometimes, I contact selected clients to ask for referrals. Or, if I am updating my website or putting together a direct mail brochure, I ask selected clients for testimonials.

When I am looking to generate repeat business, I call or email previous clients and remind them that I am out here, still available to work for them. Often, they thank me for contacting them, and then… Nothing. If there is no work, there is no work. But sometimes they thank me, and give me a new assignment. Or sometimes they remember someone else in their company or at another company who was looking for a writer. All of a sudden, I have a referral.

Why didn’t they call me if they needed my writing services or knew someone who needed a writer? There are as many reasons as there are clients. They were too busy putting out fires and left a writing project on the back burner. They forgot my name, sad as it might seem, or lost my contact information. Another freelancer called them just as they were developing a new project, and they went with that person. And so it goes.

Are there clients you have worked for over the last year or so that you have not heard from? Call or email them. If they don’t need your services, they don’t need your services. No big deal. But if they need a writer and have been too busy to call anyone, then you are doing them a favour by putting yourself top-of-mind.

How do you generate repeat business?
Some writers say they feel funny asking for work. I do too. After all, I am a writer, not a sales and marketing expert. I am an English major from York University; I am not a businessperson. However, I also have a family, a home, a car, a big dog, and other expenses. I have made a conscious decision to earn my living as a freelance writer. I have had to get over a number of “funny” feelings to become good at what I do. I hope you can get over such feelings too.

So, how do you generate repeat business? There is no magic to generating repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. But it helps if you break the process down into steps and schedule the steps in a planned and systematic manner. Here are the steps:

1. Identify clients and/or editors for whom you have worked. Go back as far as you can; several years is not too far.
2. Develop your sales pitch (what you are going to write or say).
3. Schedule your calls or email messages.
4. Call or email contacts; ask if they require your services (or any new services you now offer, according to your business plan).
5. If you call, have a 30-second sales pitch ready. If your contact answers, deliver it and go silent; let the client reply. If you get voice mail, leave your sales pitch as a message.
6. If you send an email, follow up by phone in a week or so.
7. Perform each of these steps several times a year.

As you land new clients, complete the work, and get paid for it, you add them to step one. If an old client has moved to a new company, find a new contact at the old company and add that person to your “repeat business” list. Then, track down your old client and contact him at the new company to see if you can generate new business with the company (but repeat business with the contact).

Your job here, simply put, is to let previous clients know that you are still out there, available for work. You are contacting people you have had a positive business experience with, people you would like to work with again. You are doing what almost any business does: marketing to your previous customers. You are doing this because your next customer is most likely to be a previous customer. You are doing this because you cannot count on clients to contact you, even if they need a writer for a new project. Sad but true. The onus is on you to keep in touch with your clients, not the other way around.

Scheduling repeat business steps
Schedule that task (identify previous clients) on a specific day in Outlook Tasks, your scheduling software, day planner, or calendar. Now look ahead four months and schedule the task again. Then look ahead four more months and schedule identify previous clients again.

Also, schedule the day or days on which you will develop your pitch (what you are going to write or say) to each client. Can you do it on the same day that you make your list of previous clients you will contact? You can, or you can pick another day. The key is to schedule the task so you will do it.

Schedule the days you will make your calls or send your email. If you have 20 previous clients, you might want to space out the days you contact clients. If you have a few previous clients, you might want to contact them all on the same day or during the same week. Again, the important thing here is that you schedule the action.

Using the seasons
My client follow-ups are often seasonal messages. I find that mid-spring and early November are good times to contact previous clients.

In mid-spring, I send a vacation alert to clients that I am working for and have worked for. The alert includes the date that I will be on vacation and a message that says I have time (if I do) to take on new projects before I start my holidays.

In early November, I send clients an email letting them know when I will be shutting down for the holidays and I let them know that I have time to take on new projects (if I do) before I start my holidays. I also remind clients that they can contact me early in the New Year if they want to discuss new projects.

Of course, if I am particularly busy and do not have time to take on new work, I would not solicit work this way; however, I still let clients know that I will be on vacation.

Current clients become previous clients
When does a current client become a previous client? Good question and one that I am often asked. As soon as the work is approved and paid for, a current client becomes a previous client. You might not want ask for more work right away, but you can do it subtly when you receive payment for the job.

When I invoice my clients, I thank them for the work and let them know my invoice is attached. When the cheque arrives, I email the client and express thanks for the payment. In addition, I say I am available to help with any other writing projects that might be in the works. I don’t count this as one of my three planned touches. It’s just something that makes sense to do. The cheque arrives and I send the client a simple thank you email message:

Referrals and testimonials
Once you have worked successfully for a client three times, you can solicit referrals and testimonials. Why three times? Truth is, I just made that up. But I want to feel as if I have an established relationship with a client before I ask for favours. However, when you ask for a referral and/or testimonial depends on the rapport you establish with the client. If you develop an excellent rapport on the first project—you did a bang-up job under tight deadline pressure and the client was extremely pleased—ask for a referral and/or testimonial when the cheque arrives or when you are working on your next “develop pitches for previous clients” task.

If a client uses you on a regular basis, you may not need to ask for repeat business. Instead, ask for a referral and/or testimonial. If you’ve worked with a client a couple of times and want to do more work in that sector, ask for referrals. This is your marketing plan. You determine what you want to do and why. However, make sure you schedule it, or there is a good chance—an exceptionally good chance—that you will do nothing at all.

If a client is happy with your service, why wouldn’t that client pass on your name to others who could use your services? Why wouldn’t that client send you a testimonial that you can post on your website or use in a sales letter or brochure?

The answer to “why wouldn’t” is simple. Clients do not think of sending you referrals or testimonials. While the occasional client might refer your name to someone who needs a writer, or offer to write a testimonial, the onus is on you to ask for referrals and testimonials. That’s part of your marketing plan.

You are not bugging clients
What I have done here is spell out a number of ways you can connect with previous clients to generate repeat business, referrals, and testimonials. I am suggesting you do this three times a year. However, ultimately it’s your job to figure out when to do it, and how many times to do it—when to connect with clients, and what to say when you do.

You are not bugging clients when you do this. So ask for testimonials when it makes sense—if you are updating your website or producing a brochure to promote your services. And schedule asking for referrals from previous clients. You can mix the generate referrals or testimonials task in with your generate repeat business task, so you can do one or the other or both—whichever makes sense based on your relationship and contact history with the client.

Decide what you want to ask of each client, schedule the task, and then take action. If you are not doing this, you are not thinking like an entrepreneur. And if you want to earn a professional level income from freelancing, you have to start thinking, and acting, like a professional freelancer.