I recently was involved in a discussion on LinkedIn about cold calls and how they help your business. I had given an example of the wide variety of businesses that I had written for thanks to cold calls, one of those being a group of daycare centers. Someone asked the question "What kind of writing could a daycare center possibly need?" and my answer to that question was as follows (I actually cut and pasted my response so as not to misquote myself!)

"One of the main services I provide for the daycare sites is a blog. Parents love the blog. They can request issues they'd like to see written about and I post relevant data on child development issues and provide links to online resources that can help parents. It's another advertisement the daycare center can provide to their potential clients and they're more than happy to pay for that. There are always services you can provide by looking at what is NOT currently being offered and then offering to fill that void for a business.

I want to reiterate that thought: there are always services you can provide by looking at what is NOT currently being offered and then offering to fill that void for a business. That is the key to niche marketing. Here is a good assignment to get you started. Go to the website of a local business that you frequent and ask yourself these questions as you peruse:

1. What aspect of the content applies to me, the customer? If the website is full of content but none of it applies to you, the customer, then it isn't relevant content. As a customer, you want a website to answer certain questions for you; if the site isn't providing that service, there is a niche that can be filled. And who better to fill it than you, the customer who also is a writer?

2. Is there something important missing? If you think a blog would benefit the site, explain why. If the site would gain impact by having a calendar of events, let them know.

3. Is the content on point, yet poorly written and grammatically incorrect? This one is a bit of a sticky wicket. You want to point this out to a business owner, knowing full well that he or she may well be the author of the content; therefore, you don't want to insult their intelligence. A good way to begin your conversation would be to find out who writes their web content and then take it from there. If they say they write it themselves, you can always approach it with something like this: "As a small business owner your time is better spent on running your business; I can provide you with high quality, customer-centric web content that will free up your time" etc. The poorly written content need never be mentioned.

Finding the missing link is an imperative part of marketing yourself to a new business customer. Being able to prove you have something of merit to offer is the best way to sell your services to a new client. Give it a try; research a few local businesses, identify their content issues and then make the call. You may be making your first call to a new client!
There seems to be a few schools of thoughts on the merits of maintaining a blog on your business site. Some writers maintain that if you aren't getting paid to blog then why bother? Others believe that keeping a blog on your business site is unnecessary and a waste of time that could be spent pursuing paying projects. Still others think it is a great idea but they just haven't found the time to get started.

Well, to those writers I say "Hogwash!" Okay, I was going to be a little more extreme in my language usage but I'm trying to maintain a professional tone in this post, so hogwash will have to suffice. Writers who believe it's a waste of time because they aren't being paid are being incredibly short-sighted. Keeping a blog on your business site does a wealth of things for your career.

Blogging on your business site draws visitors

Yes, it is true. I analyze the stats of this website on a weekly basis and one thing has proven true every week: on days I post a blog entry there is a spike in visits to my site. When I create a new post I share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and my LinkedIn profile. Many times other writers then share my link on their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds and when that happens, my site traffic is increased dramatically. And let's face it, anything that drives visitors to your business site can only be good for business. Which leads me to point number two:

You will likely get business based on your blog posts

I think there is a twofold reason for this phenomena. I believe that of course, the increased traffic to your site is bound to contain some people in the PR or marketing world who are looking to hire fresh talent. Secondly, your blog posts are a great advertisement for the nuances of your writing on a regular basis. Your posts showcase your current ability much better than old clips do, or at least I've found this to be true. I have gotten some business clients as a result of my blog posts, and their reasons for hiring me have been because they got a great current example of my writing style.

You have a great opportunity to help other writers with your blog posts

I'm all about paying it forward in the writing world. I had some great mentors who really helped me out when I first started, and one of the greatest resources I found online were some of the wonderful blogs that other writers maintain, giving advice to their fellow writers. Two that I especially love, mainly because the women that write the posts are two of my freelance heroines, are www.dollarsanddeadlines.blogspot.com, the great blog and website of author and freelance writer Kelly James-Enger. (If you haven't read her incredible book Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success you are truly missing out on some incredibly valuable information!) The second is www.therenegadewriter.com, author and freelance guru Linda Formichelli's amazing site. There is a wealth of information on her site, and she posts guest blogs by other writers as well. You certainly have to check these two sites out to see what a mentor blog should look like.

So as you can probably see, I am pretty heavily pro-blog on business sites. I really want to stress the fact that anything that brings visitors to your site and keeps them coming back can only be beneficial to your bottom line. Write posts that you feel good about, that are full of the type of advice you would have loved to have gotten when you were just starting out. Make sure the writing is high-quality and watch for spelling and grammatical errors. Keep the content interesting and watch your site visits increase.
Working as a freelance writer can be a lonely job.  You spend hours of the day alone, just you and your keyboard.  Sometimes it seems as though you are the only person on the face of the earth.  I've been known to head to the mall and walk around just to be with other living, breathing human beings - and I HATE the mall!

But working solo doesn't have to be a way of life.  There are many ways to network with other writers, and the more connected you are with them the bigger your freelancer support system will be.  I have found that staying connected through social media has been most helpful.

When I joined LinkedIn, I immediately joined a number of freelance writer forums.  There I have connected with some amazing individuals.  We have shared tips, tricks of the trade, celebrated each others' ups and commiserated with the downs.  As the town I live in does not have a large network of freelancers, or any writing groups for that matter, I find these exchanges and the camaraderie I get in these forum discussions to be vital to my well-being as a writer. 

Being a freelancer is a career I have chosen and I've never been sorry.  Learning to network and communicate with other writers has enhanced that career and has introduced me to opportunities that I would never have had otherwise.  Reaching out to other writers was difficult for me initially; what if I was bothering them?  Would they even want to talk to me?  They seemed such a tight-knit group.  But they welcomed me with open arms and now I do the same with new writers in the group.  Do not be afraid to make these connections.  You will be so grateful that you decided to join a very supportive family unit.

I have been writing my entire life.  When I was a kid I wrote poems and short stories; one of my poems even won a local poetry contest.  When I was in my teens and twenties I kept a journal chronicling the ups and downs of my life, problems with my family and friends and all my hopes and dreams.  As a young adult, I continued to journal and sat down on several occasions to try and start a novel, which usually ended up with me writing an outline and first chapter and then getting distracted by life.

But through all that writing it never occurred to me that I could be a writer for a living.  I never envisioned myself making any money for what I considered to be a hobby.  Then one late November day I found myself laid off from a job that I loved, a victim of the downturn in the economy.  As I sat at home in the first few weeks of my unemployment I boned up my resume, sent out hundreds of copies, had one less-than-stellar interview and grew really downhearted about my future prospects.

I was on the computer one day, checking job sites, when I saw an ad for a freelance writer on Craigslist.  I sent in a very poorly constructed letter of interest (or LOI) and waited.  I ended up landing the job after sending a couple of clips that I'd written for a friends' blog and having a great Skype interview with the client.  While I no longer write for that client, that one communication led to a whole new career, one I never could have envisioned from the four walls of my small office in a mom-and-pop business. 

Is my career perfect?  Far from it.  I am still fine-tuning my marketing skills (an entire area that I never considered important when I first started but now appreciate for it's importance) and I am still attempting to grow my client roster, though that is beginning to happen; I've gotten a handful of steady clients amid the one-off jobs.  I continue to network through social media and conferences and I have been sending LOI's to several local businesses.  Writing every day is something that I love doing.  Getting paid to do so is just the icing on the cake.
As a freelancer, it's really important that you stay on top of your marketing plan.  Years ago this meant taking out advertising in print publications, attending conferences and networking with editors, publishers and other freelance writers.  But that's all changed now.  While those methods are still good ways to draw attention to your business and to the services you provide, they have almost completely taken a backseat to having a social media presence.

As WildWordz is fairly new, I've been spending more time than I will a year from now working on my social media platform.  I am on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and I am trying to master Google+ although that is turning out to be a bit more complicated than I originally anticipated.  I am going to keep at it though, because harnessing social media is an undeniable benefit to anyone in business for themselves. 

Edison Research, a business/government/media research firm located in Somerset, NJ,  has done a comprehensive study of social media trends for the last several years.  They have found some surprising statistics: 

  • Twitter has grown by 76% in the last year alone, attracting over 12 million new tweeters, almost all of which post status updates regularly.
  • Facebook is the most popular social media, with most Facebookers checking their pages or feeds an average of five times each day.
  • Users who follow brands or businesses on social media has increased 106% in the last year.
  • The fastest growing segment of new social media followers are professional adults between the ages of 45-54.

It cannot be stressed enough how vital social media is to your bottom line.  But using social media for business purposes means using it responsibly.  One freelancer friend of mine suggested that once a month or so we Google our own name and see if anything "embarrassing" to us pops up.  A friend-of-a-friend was trying to gain employment in a very conservative field and the HR Director who was to interview him Googled his name.  There was a seven-year-old post in a forum about "how to scam chicks at bars".  Sadly, he was declined for the position he so coveted. 

It just makes good business sense to maintain your professional code of conduct when using social media to increase your client roster.  Don't post anything that is controversial, be it political, religious in nature or anything that is considered inappropriate sexual content.  Watch what forums you post to regularly and stay away from any that might cause you humiliation or cost you a client; a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself "Would I be embarrassed if my kids or my parents (or your pastor, for those churchgoers in the crowd) saw what I posted online?"  If the answer is yes, hit that delete key!

Social media is booming right now and it promises to get even bigger.  Just use it responsibly, keep your most controversial thoughts to yourself, and watch your business grow by leaps and bounds.  Your bottom line will thank you!