Everyone’s crooning about finding clients with bigger budgets and dropping the low-paying, “I’m not sure what I want, maybe you should work on it hourly until I figure it out” kind of clients on newbie writers.
But how do you actually find these mythical check-writing unicorns?
Based on my experience working for myself since 2013, I want to help shed some light on where these people with big budgets hang out and how to find them. This post is 50 percent “How to brainstorm real people who pay for writing,” and 50 percent “How to identify if a project is worth a high rate.”
Spoiler alert: Stop scrambling for money and start looking for real people with real problems.
Step One: Scrap Inbound for Outbound
When inbound marketing became a hot pepper a few years ago, everyone and their mother started a blog and began pushing content.
For tons of businesses, this is a fantastic idea. Their customers are using search to find their products, and excellent content is an important way to meet those needs and start a relationship. Or they need to establish themselves as a thought leader and their content does that one step at a time (possibly even laying the foundation for a book deal). Or they need to sell their clients on what it is that they do and why it’s valuable (such as the case of a content strategist or marketer).
But for 100% writers? Not at all a good idea!
(Don’t throw rocks at me, please, I’m sure there are exceptions to this statement… but I want to rescue the hours you’re spending writing content for your blog instead of writing content for high-paying clients!).
In our minds, it goes something like this:
[Lucrative client reads your (free) thought leadership post about how great freelance writers are], and says, “Wow, I wonder if this smart writer will write this for me?”
In reality, it goes something like this:
[Lucrative client reads headline only], and says, “This is a great topic — I need to get my writer to write about it…” or doesn’t read your blog at all.
When I closely evaluate where my most profitable clients and most enjoyable relationships came from, the trail goes straight to two specific marketing strategies:
- I reached out to brands and companies I loved or respected
- Clients I helped referred me to their business connections
The common thread here is not blog posts or web hits or resumes. It’s people. It’s relationships. So the best thing you can do to connect with good clients is to stop putting time and energy into writing blog posts and start investing it into emails that build real relationships with real people.
Stop putting time and energy into writing blog posts and start investing it into emails that build real relationships with real people.
High-paying clients have powerful networks and they use them. They pass recommendations and referrals back and forth day in and day out. They are paying back favors, asking favors, and meeting with people who are also successful. They want to be valuable to their network by having a good recommendation (possibly: you!) and they want to work with writers that other people have successfully worked with (again, possibly: you!).
Step Two: Reach Real People With Real Values (That You Agree With)
The post that tipped me off to writing this manifesto is Jake Jorgovan’s “How I Won Fortune 500 Clients Through Simple Outbound Marketing.” In this post, Jorgovan sings the praises of outbound marketing, where you straight up chase after the work you want like a talented yet rabid poodle as opposed to today’s very popular inbound marketing. He points writers toward pursuing trade associations, trade publications, industry awards, and conferences and conventions.
I want to second that and add another layer: pursue trade associations, trade publications, industry awards, conferences, conferences… and brands, companies, and products you love.
When I’m feeling the burn on my empty calendar, I’ll start prospecting with companies I looooooove.
I’ve emailed Alter Eco because I love their chocolate and Coconut Bay because their coconut water tastes like vanilla cake to me. I’ve emailed Liz Ryan’s Human Workplace because their posts are amazing, and Buffer and MailChimp because I use their products.
I start with a genuine connection and a compliment because I know that my love for their product makes me an excellent resource to shine a light on what makes me love them in the copy I write. Then I ask if they need help keeping up with today’s demand for high-quality content.
The brands I’ve listed here didn’t take me up on this offer — but they did appreciate the compliment. Writing those emails also made me feel good about the work I do and the products I like. So even though I didn’t land the business, it was a win-win for my time spent. And, of course, some of the other emails I wrote worked out!
(To get started here, check out Ed Gandia’s insights on Warm Email Prospecting!)
When you connect with people based on these interests, you meet out-of-the-way, hard-to-find people who powerful enough that they have good jobs (Chief Marketing Officer, Demand Director, etc) but not famous enough that a genuine, complimentary email will bore them. And that’s where the magic happens.
Step Three: Look For Painful & Costly Problems That You Can Solve
Jonathan Stark has an excellent, free resource called Expensive Problem that walks you through this concept better than I ever could (if you sign up for his newsletter, you’ll also get a fantastic proposal template). For writers, though, there’s a tl;dr version: how expensive is the problem you’re going to solve for your client?
If you’re writing for someone who runs a hobby food blog, you’ll never make more than $10 a post because the blog owner isn’t making money on it either (and, after all, “they could just do it themselves”). Oprah herself could write the post and it will simply never be worth more than $10.
But what if the person you are writing for sells three $750 products for every new blog post that goes live? Suddenly that post is worth $2250, and they’ll gladly pay a fraction of that cost (say, $200) to get it off their to-do list and have it be done by a professional.
This is the relationship you’re looking for: a project where you add value and make people money. If you don’t do that, you may land the job or the client, but it won’t be for long because the money will run out.
There are approximately three people in the world who will to spend more money on a writer just for the luxurious experience of spending more money on a writer.
There are approximately three people in the world who will to spend more money on a writer just for the luxurious experience of spending more money on a writer. The rest of the world expects to get more when they pay more. And if it isn’t obvious that they’re getting more, they simply won’t pay for it.
Step Four: Accept Responsibility for Getting Paid More
Look, accountability sucks sometimes. But the reality is that if your clients aren’t paying high prices…. it’s because you let them.
If your clients aren’t paying high prices…. it’s because you let them.
Pricing is all about positioning and boundaries. Position yourself for higher rates (Leah Kalamakis wrote an article that will help you see this process in action), then say “No!” when people want you to work for less (Ross Simmonds helps you see why that’s valuable).
Build up a huge savings so that you don’t blink when you have to say “No!” and you have the time wealth to pursue better opportunities. Replace low-paying clients with clients you have a passion for and clients who have expensive problems. Anything in between is what’s known as a rut and you’re choosing to stay in it.
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Hopefully this gave you some creative ideas for connecting with people who value what you do more than your current clients. If this sets you off on a new path of high paying clients… let me know in the comments where you went & what you did to make it happen!