Cash for words. That’s the brutal equation of much professional writing. But if you’re a freelancer or moonlighting (hey, it happens) pro writer, how do you start a relationship with someone new who will pay you?
As an agency, Collective Content relies not just on our in-house team of writers and editors but on experts who work with us on specific client accounts, projects or even just one-off articles. So every week we see a lot of good and bad approaches.
The following is advice for those who are just starting to talk to people like us (‘pitching’ maybe isn’t the best word). But this also applies to writers seeking work from publications and the editors who make those decisions. (We were once those kinds of editors, so know the similarities.)
- Be super responsive – So many conversations just dry up at some point for no obvious reason. Remember the “80 per cent of success is just showing up” line? (Actually, it was originally “80 per cent of life…” – good writers also check their facts ????.) Sure, sometimes this is a busy editor’s fault. Take the initiative if you think the interaction is dying.
- Be authentic – Be yourself. If you’re working through an agency – or even agencies – but meeting clients or on calls with them, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Check with your agency on how you’ll introduce yourself. “I’m your writer on this project. I regularly work with Collective Content.” That’ll work. Remember, it’s easy for anyone to Google you and find out about you. And we’re big believers in being open about everyone involved (what we’ve termed ‘farm-fresh content’).
- Show, don’t tell (mostly) – When you’re trying to persuade an editor that you’re right for an assignment, examples of work are better than qualifications or employment history or nice endorsements on LinkedIn. But there’s a big ‘but’ with that. All good editors know that content is a team sport. A great article in your portfolio might have been down to three, four – even more – people being involved. Share the process, and your role within it. Be generous about others who helped. Show you know that this is How It Works.
- Be available – We work with people across multiple time zones. Be generous about making meeting times with clients. Most, in our experience, will be flexible if at all possible. But the occasional late or early call will earn credibility. Most companies are now also used to working with people all around the world. Compromise on both sides is key.
- Don’t be “free in three months” – We know a few really amazing writers who have done what they do for a quarter of a century. They are ex-media or from the highest rung of an agency’s creative team. They get to take four holidays a year and set their own terms. Most of us aren’t in this group. When we hear someone say, “I’d like to work with you too, but I’m next free in three months”, we hear you passing on the gig. We’re not saying over-commit and end up unable to fulfil. But sometimes fitting in an important job will cement your reputation, much like making that 5:30AM conference call.
- Know and tout your niche – Most agencies and publications have very specific beats or industry sectors that they cover. Know what you do well. Position yourself as an expert. Counterintuitively, the more niche, the better – as long as it’s in an area with demand. Be the go-to contributor for subject X. You will be remembered and called upon more than the generalists.
Perhaps more than anything, relationships are everything. You are your network. And doing this well takes time. Good luck out there.