You've heard the old marketing slogan, "You've got to spend money to make money." There's even some truth to that. At the bare minimum, you should have a website and a stack of business cards, and yeah, you'll have to pay for those.
When it comes to calling people's attention to your wonderful freelance writing business, however, you don't have to have a marketing budget like a Fortune 500 company. All you need is a little creativity and a lot of nerve.
Here are some ideas that have helped me.
1. Leave Business Cards Everywhere
Since business cards are pretty cheap, I've gotten into the habit of leaving a few wherever I go. I even stick one into the envelope when I pay a bill.
My best business card strategy, however, was diabolically simple. I went to the business section of the library and slipped one of my cards into every book. I especially focused on topics like "how to write a resume" or "how to write a business letter." Believe it or not, I've netted some business this way.
2. Take Advantage of Social Media
No, I'm not your mom. I'm not going to lecture you on why you should cozy up with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. My only two comments are that 1) They're free; and 2) Thousands of people use them. 'Nuff said.
3. Volunteer for a Good Cause
Offer to write publicity materials for your local animal shelter or to manage the blog for one of your favorite non-profit organizations. True, you don't get paid for the work that you do, but you can get some great clips out of it and even some referrals. Oh, and don't forget, it's good karma, too.
4. Do Something Newsworthy
Nobody much cares that you've just opened your freelance writing business or that you've written a new book (yawn), but if you can do something truly newsworthy and tie it back to your business, don't be shy about letting the press know. As long as you have real news to share, press releases are your friend.
5. Speak Out!
I've written in previous posts about the awkward conversations that can ensue once you've "come out" as a writer. I'm willing to put up with those conversations, though, if they might lead to business further down the line.
6. Offer Free Talks or Workshops
Almost everyone dreams of becoming a writer "someday." Offer to give a talk at your local library or to teach a class at your community college to help people learn the ropes of the writing business.
7. Go Where Your Customers Are
Who is your idea customer? Or do you have several of them? Picture each one as closely as you can. Man or woman? Business suit or sweats? Person of business or philanthropist? Cats or dogs? Democrat or Republican? You get the idea. Once you have pictured your ideal client, figure out where that person is most likely to be found and go to his or her natural environment. I love working with beginning novelists, for instance, and a tour of local coffee shops netted me three new clients.
8. Don't Forget about Current and Past Clients
Every couple of months, I go through my client list. If there's someone I haven't heard from in a couple of months, I shoot them an email. Nothing high-pressure. More along the lines of, "Hi, I wondered how things were going with your writing, please keep me in mind if you need an editor again..."
I've also learned how to gather my nerve, take a deep breath, and say to a current client, "I hope you're happy with my work and I hope you'll consider recommending me to any of your friends who need writers."
It's amazing how many people will say, "Well, now that you mention it, I do have..."
9. Offer Yourself as an Expert
If you specialize in one subject, the more obscure the better, offer yourself as an expert and a resource to your local press. When you get quoted, you'll usually get at least a brief tagline ("Bill Blue, who has written extensively about...").
10. Try Cold Calling
It's free, it takes no more than a few minutes of your day, and if you make enough calls, you will pick up clients. Of course, the hardest thing is dealing with all the rejection. If you're thin skinned, cold calling can be about as much fun as being tied to an anthill. To help you reframe the situation, find another writer who is in your shoes and have contests to see how many rejections each of you can collect in a single day. Winner buys the loser dinner.
Marketing can take a big bite out of your wallet, but there's no reason why it has to do so.
What are some of your favorite low-cost marketing techniques?