market yourselfYou’ve brushed up on some essential writing skills, set up your freelance business and now you’re ready to start marketing yourself as a freelance writer. Congratulations! Landing that first gig always feels great.

Marketing represents the backbone of your freelance business. In nursing, you know to always protect your back by using good body mechanics. The same is true in freelancing. You must consistently market yourself (use good mechanics), even in the good times. If you don’t, you risk losing valuable contacts (slipping a disk) and scrambling to find work during the slow periods.

Marketing does not work instantaneously. Marketing is not like an infomercial that starts your phone ringing off the hook. Marketing requires consistency and patience. I want you to understand freelance writing is not a get-rich-quick proposition. Oh, you can make great money doing this. And marketing will help you do that. But be patient.

Many people quail at the idea of ‘selling’ themselves. They want work to come to them with little or no effort on their part. They feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘pushing’ their writing skill as a commodity. If you’re going to succeed as a freelance writer, you need to get past those feelings. No one says (well, actually, some people do) you should perform hard-sales activities like cold-calling prospects. Heck, I don’t do that. I perform mainly ‘soft’ marketing, and I still get plenty of gigs.

There are at least a thousand ways to market yourself as a freelance writer. I’m going to share three tried-and-true methods that have delivered results for me. In another post (or in the RN2Writer Newsletter), I’ll delve into even more ways to market yourself.

Your biggest marketing tool: Your freelance writer website

I can’t overemphasize the importance of having a good website. Your website is your billboard on the information superhighway. Better than a billboard, actually, your website serves as a platform where editors and clients can interact with you before they even know you personally. Your website should look professional, show some of your personality and perform flawlessly.

Your website doesn’t have to be fancy. If you look at my clips page, you’ll notice I have no snazzy layout. No thumbnail images of colorful magazine covers. I offer simple text links. It’s not the most gorgeous clips page you’ll ever find, but it works. And offering text links means I can post a ton of work samples. Clients and editors have told me they like that aspect of my clips page. I’ve had more than one editor tell me he or she enjoyed seeing the breadth of what I write. That’s why I leave clips like my story about Amelia Earhart posted even though I now focus on health and wellness content.

If you know nothing about search engine optimization, you should learn the basics. SEO helps you achieve a high rank in Google. Otherwise, how will people find your website? To assist you, Google published a PDF on SEO. You don’t have to become an expert in SEO, but you do need to understand how to perform basic keyword research. If you use WordPress, as I recommend, you can download various plugins (I use Yoast) to make optimizing any page a snap.

At the most basic level, use your website to sell your abilities as a freelance nurse writer and to showcase your clips. That’s a great start.

LinkedIn as a marketing tool

I get a surprising amount of work through LinkedIn. I say “surprising” because many other writers I’ve talked to don’t get any work through the social platform designed for businesses. I think LinkedIn could represent an untapped marketing tool for freelance writers, and that’s why I’m sharing it with you.

I tinker constantly with my LinkedIn profile. But it always includes these basic elements:

  • My license and degree appended to my last name (so, in the ‘last name’ box, it says ‘Hanes RN BSN’)
  • Background summary section in bullet-point format with lots of snappy action verbs
  • Publications, AKA your clips area, chockablock with links
  • Brief job descriptions under the ‘experience’ section because I consider it less important for freelancers than for job-seekers
  • Testimonials (real, written testimonials by clients)

When you write your background summary, use plenty of keywords. This will bring your profile to the top in searches.

I highly recommend you join the LinkedIn for Journalists group when you have some clips under your belt. Why? Because journalists can get a free premium membership by taking an annual training offered through the LI for Journalists group. Why do you want a premium membership? Because then you can enable OpenLink. This feature allows anyone to send you InMail. Without OpenLink, a prospective client must either be connected to you, share a group in common or request an introduction through another member to contact you. Don’t make it difficult for editors and clients to contact you. Get the free upgrade. (Note you must have published some reported stories in order to take the training.)

Besides being a passive marketing method, LinkedIn offers you the opportunity to find and network with editors and prospective clients. You can perform all manner of searches to find the contact information of magazine editors or people at companies you want to write for. Even if you don’t contact them through LinkedIn, you can send a letter of introduction by regular email.

Attend a conference

My favorite off-line marketing method is attending conferences. And that’s saying something, coming from an introvert.

I strongly recommend you join the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) and consider attending their annual conference. It’s incredibly affordable. You get a lot of bang for your buck.

AHCJ offers an associate membership to writers who aren’t staff reporters. An associate membership applies to anyone who produces content for healthcare company websites, publications, blogs and so on. The associate membership confers the same basic benefits as a full membership, but without voting privileges.

Beyond the conference, and AHCJ membership offers a ton of great perks. You can list yourself in their freelancer directory. You can obtain free subscriptions to journals that otherwise would cost you hundreds of dollars. And, trust me, that journal access can be a boon when you’re researching articles or pitches.

But back to the conference.

The AHCJ conference offers you the chance to learn reporting skills in an array of workshops and meet one-on-one with editors from various publications. I landed my ongoing WebMD gig after I met the editors at Health Journalism 2012. In fact, I don’t know any freelancer friends who attended the Health Journalism conference and didn’t come away with some work. It’s a conference that easily can pay for itself.

And remember: all the expenses are tax deductible!

Marketing can be painless

These three marketing strategies truly represent only the tip of the iceberg. I’ll cover more marketing tactics in more depth on this blog in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Tell me your best marketing secret in the comment section. I’m dying to know!

Wishing you well!

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Image via Howard Lake