Issue #98—April 3, 2020
Ah, clients. Can't live with 'em. Can't live without 'em. What's a copywriter to do? Especially if he or she has yet to secure their first one? We're going to talk about that hot topic in today's issue...the 98th one I've written since January 2018. (Just two more till I hit 100!) When I did my last survey in February--back when we weren't wearing scarves or masks to cover our faces and disposable gloves and wiping off our groceries with Lysol wipes and practicing "social distancing"--one of the #1 challenges mentioned was client acquisition. And just in the past few days, I've received a few email inquiries like this one from your fellow Copy Insiders: "I have about 7 of my friends also on your list...We truly love you for all you do, Kim...passing the baton to younger copy Cubs like us. 'What's in Kim Mailbox' has been eye-opening. But there's a problem. I have yet to get my first client despite my outreach. It's a little disturbing...perhaps I am doing something wrong. But I won't give up. Nothing good ever comes easy..."And like this one... "Kim, I'm facing a problem, hope you don't mind... I'm just starting practicing copywriting for about 7 months now and I really want to get some gigs, like free work or something similar...how can I know if I can write actual copy for people?... P.S. I also get all your free stuff already, and I've tried to memorize them all..."
Now, the best way to start attracting clients like hot, sweaty kids to an ice cream truck is to get really good at writing copy. And a big part of that is PRACTICE. Of course, most of us gotta get paid in the meantime as well.
So finding clients, even if they're not that "dream client", who is willing to pay you something to put your copy skills to work is job #2 (with job #1 being learning all you can about writing copy.) I'll never forget joking with my friend and colleague A-list copywriter Carline Anglade-Cole when we were both starting out as freelancers a few decades ago about how thanks to our initial clients we were getting "paid to learn".
So how we'd get those initial clients? Referrals.
I got my first client as a referral from a work colleague at Phillips Publishing. It led to a 6-month retainer arrangement that would only take half my time and guarantee me 90% of my 6-figure salary...allowing me to take the leap to freelancing.
Then that client promptly referred me to my second client. Meanwhile, other current and former colleagues continued to send a steady stream of clients my way. I also found some on my own. But the best ones were referrals.
They were (a) already actively looking for a copywriter, and (b) pre-sold on hiring me since someone they trusted had recommended me.
Whenever I did try "cold calling", it never worked. In fact, that reminds me of a recent email exchange I had this past week with yet another Copy Insider. He wanted my opinion on putting together a mailing to send to a "dream client". He thought the client could use help with his emails since, as he put it, they were "terrible".
Here's my response, and why I thought it wasn't the best approach to take... My limited experience (and granted, it was a few decades ago) with cold calling on prospects was that it brought zero success.It makes you look like you’re hard up for work…and makes the prospect think maybe you’re not that good as a result. Now, I have heard of people having success with this tactic when the following criteria are met:
You know for a fact that this client is desperate for copywriters and can’t hire enough of them fast enough
Actually, that’s the only criteria I can think of. And you don’t even know if this dream client hires outside copywriters to do his email marketing (or do you?) Chances are he’s doing it himself. So if you infer that he’s doing a crappy job of it, you’re going to insult him.
Your best shot is to figure out if you know anyone who could introduce you to this potential client and recommend you. That’s the one thing that changes everything in terms of whether a project can move forward. It also gives you much better negotiating power. But I would first find out if in fact he does hire freelance copywriters or is looking to do so…or else you may be wasting time.
That in a nutshell is why my top recommendation for getting that first client--as well as subsequent clients--is to MILK your connections to the max.
Reach out to any and all of your current/previous job connections, both inside and outside the company. Reach out to friends and family. Ask for referrals...and let them know "I'm a copywriter now" (and explain it doesn't mean you get "copyrights" for people lol).
The power of a referral is 10X or 100X any kind of cold-calling, in my book. There are a few other suggestions I have for you as far as client acquisition I'll get into next week. So stay tuned...
(Normally I'd say my next top tactic is to get out to events...but that's not likely happening anytime soon. No worries...these recommended client-getting tactics I'll be sharing can all be done virtually!)
I'll also have a new "What's in Kim's Mailbox" for you next week. We may be doing something different. REALLY different.
In the meantime, stay healthy and enjoy your weekend!
Yours for smarter marketing, Kim