Welcome back to the Better Biz Academy Podcast!
It’s the end of August so we’re getting ready to head into what I like to call the freelance busy season. Having just reviewed 212 freelance writing applications for a client project that I am managing, it was shocking to see how many freelancers were making the same mistakes in their pitching process that were costing them a new client.
When you put yourself forward for a freelance job opportunity, you could be the only person who’s pitching, or one of hundreds others. Either way, you must stand out from the crowd and avoid these freelance pitching mistakes.
I also have a YouTube video that goes into a shorter version of this, so if you don’t want to listen to the full podcast episode but want to get the gist of it, go ahead and check out that video right here :
Hey everybody! Welcome back to the Better Biz Academy Podcast. If you’re listening to this episode right after it airs, we’re nearing the end of August and it’s pretty close to where I’m recording this episode. So, we’re getting ready to head into what I like to call the freelance busy season.
A lot of people focus on new year’s resolutions and trying to reframe their business and increase their freelance income in January because that’s the new year and that’s when people are thinking about their goals for the year ahead and perhaps thinking about their marketing. But a lot of people are still on that coming down period from the holidays in January and not really in the office as much. They may be playing catch up from Christmas and New Years and so it can be actually quite hard to launch or grow your business during that particular period.
Historically for me, January and August tend to be the slowest months but that’s also right before what I call a boom of business. So, every year that I have been a freelance writer, virtual assistant and project manager, September-November are usually some of my biggest months followed by March-May as the secondary period.
Now that’s not to say you can’t make money in those other months (because you certainly can!) but I find that the back to school rush is huge. Whether it’s people who are looking at money they have left over in their budget or things that they hope to accomplish this year and now they are suddenly just realizing, “Oh my gosh! It’s almost the fourth quarter and we never did that!” or it’s just this renewed sense of kids going back to school and business people being focused again-it’s a great time to begin your freelance business because there’s so much demand.
So, even if in the past, you’ve had trouble breaking into the market, now is an excellent opportunity to break back into the freelance busy season and I’ll be talking about that in the next episode, some things you can do to set yourself up for success to really make the most of especially September and October because you will see things slow down as we get closer to Thanksgiving. Usually that’s the month where I’m wrapping up the projects that I had from mid to late October and then we’re getting ready for kind of a dead zone in December.
Now that’s not always a hard and fast rule. In fact, January and June of 2017 were huge months for my business. Now typically, the summer is a dead time and typically January, I might just take the whole month off, but things have shifted quite a bit because of a new approach I’ve taken to my business and that has largely been thanks to a number of mentors that I’ve had in the freelance world. And I will share more information about who I’m referencing and how you can learn more about these people if you’re interested in growing your freelance business.
If you’re on my email newsletter, you’ve probably noticed that over the summer things have dropped off quite a bit and that’s largely because I am extremely busy. I have essentially doubled my freelance writing workload and in conjunction with moving and planning a wedding and all that crazy stuff, something just had to fall by the wayside. So, we kept the podcast going because I knew ahead of time that the summer was going to be crazy and prerecorded everything, but my newsletter has really dropped off just because I could not keep up with it and my focus really needed to elsewhere because I’d had such a tremendous and really exciting increase in my freelance writing and project management business.
But I want to talk to you about one of the projects that kept me so busy this summer and that was working as a project manager/content manager for a client of mine who essentially only had one writer on staff and really needed closer to ten to be able to handle their workload. And it’s been a really interesting experience because I stepped into this project in May and I kind of warned the client that I’m moving and it’s going to be a little hectic, it’s going to take a couple of weeks to ramp this up; but I’m excited to say that I put out a call for writers, and then we trained a lot of writers.
We were so successful with that project that the client is ahead of schedule and we had to slow down production in the last couple of weeks. But I reviewed 212 applications in total for that client and that’s why this episode is called “You’re Doing It Wrong: Freelance Writing Pitching” because it was shocking for me to see how many people were doing things in the pitching process that were costing them the opportunity to work with the client.
Your freelance pitch is an opportunity to stand out
When you are pitching a new client, you may be the only person who’s sending them an email, if it’s a cold email pitch or something like that. But when you’re applying to a very particular project, you need to be mindful of the fact that so are dozens or hundreds of other people. So, you’re not going to stand out from the crowd if you’re making some of these really common mistakes. And that’s what I want to talk about today. I also have a YouTube video that goes into a little bit shorter version of this, so if you don’t want to listen to the full podcast episode but want to get the gist of it, go ahead and check out that video. We’ll put that in the show notes.
But what I want you to consider is that even if you’re the only person who’s applied for this job, you are still in competition, right? Because you still need to stand out, you still need to have great samples of your work, you still need to be a professional.
Freelancer mistake #1: Being unprofessional in your interactions
So, one of the things that really stood out to me were the number of people who were unprofessional. It was almost shocking because if you’ve been in this business for a while, you will not land clients if you’re unprofessional. You just won’t. People have a choice about who they choose to work with. If you have a track record of being difficult, people will not choose to work with you.
So, one person in particular, who applied for this writing project – the instructions said, “due to the volume of submissions, we cannot get back to everyone” – and I couldn’t. I mean, reviewing 212 applications and staying within the client’s budget for my time was a priority for me but I could not respond to every single person who wasn’t a fit. And furthermore, I was like, “I should tell this person they have mistakes in their writing samples” or that they wrote “Dear Sir” and we would never consider someone who said “Dear Sir” when the writing application clearly said it was going to somebody named Laura, right? So, I didn’t have time for that. So, it had to fall by the wayside. That’s why it was in the instructions that I wouldn’t be able to reply.
So, some people wrote great follow up responses. They would follow up to make sure I had received the materials, to ask if they could provide anything else and if they were the right fit-I got back to them. But I could not answer everyone. So, one person in particular, literally replied a week after they submitted a writing sample that was completely irrelevant. The project required business related articles and the writing sample provided was a very personal article. Way off base and I couldn’t even tell if their writing style would be sufficient for my client who was looking for very SEO business appropriate article. So, this applicant replied and wrote, “Hello (with a whole bunch of o’s at the end of it and like five question marks). I guess you hated my work because you’ve never gotten back to me.” It was so unprofessional. Maybe they thought they were being funny, but then, this person followed up after I wrote back and said, “Your application is being reviewed. I will get back to you if it’s a fit.” I had already said that on the application page. That first of all, you send an unprofessional email, then you don’t really follow the instructions. You can do a follow up email but don’t send that.
So, then from there, this person looked up my Google Voice phone number and called and left me a nasty voice mail about a week later saying, “I don’t need you anymore, I’ve gotten another job.” And I was like, great, that’s great but now why are you wasting my time again? Your application was problematic to begin with because you didn’t submit an appropriate writing sample. Then you wrote an unprofessional email, searched for my info online and left me an unprofessional voice mail. I don’t care if your writing is 10/10, you’re not getting hired. People have a choice about who they work with and somebody who is difficult immediately off the bat, you’re gone.
And we had a similar experience with someone who was hired on the project who gave all indications of professionalism when we started and during the editing process, this writer would leave really snarky comments, questioning the editor’s expertise, questioning the client’s comments about the quality of the work – basically trying to defend it. Now if you’re in a particular industry, academia is a great one, sometimes you do need to defend every little word, right? When I did my qualifying exams, they would push back and you would say, no I agree with my sentence because this is supported by the research of x, y and z in 2012. That’s a great example of when you need to push back, when you’ve written something and you firmly believe in it. But when it’s a client who is pointing out your grammar mistakes or really weak generic sentences, being snarky and nasty on a Google doc comment- nobody wants to work with that. And this was a situation I saw but didn’t say anything about right away because I thought I’d give this person the opportunity to fix the article, edit it, turn it in and let’s see if their attitude improves.
And instead, what happened was that the client – so there were multiple people involved on this project and I was project manager – the client got back to me personally and said, “Hey, please don’t make me ever edit an article by this writer ever again. It was so awful responding to her comments and it took me an extra 2 hours.” Then separately, an editor approached me individually and said, “This article had a lot of problems but more than that, it was really difficult to work with the writer.”
So, when three different people are noticing an attitude either as it relates to your pitching and how you follow up, or even when you do the project, that’s a problem. There are many freelance writers out there. Many good freelance writers. And clients have a choice. So please don’t be difficult because people don’t like to work with difficult contractors. Bottom line: I’m not letting them on the team because it’s a hassle for everyone. I have to deal with these problems when the client is upset, feels disrespected and when an editor has to spend an additional two hours. It’s ridiculous. You’re not generating enough value there where we have to spend hours on one 800-word piece. No, that’s ridiculous. So, that’s something to keep in mind when you’re pitching. Never be unprofessional. There were just people who applied where I could not believe how unprofessional they were.
Freelancer mistakes #2: Writing samples that don’t reflect your best work
Another major issue – and this is so frustrating for me because I think sometimes people are good writers but their writing samples are awful. I mean, when I first look at somebody’s email submission, they’ve sent me a cover letter, they’ve sent me at least one writing sample. I spend approximately 45 seconds looking at that. And if there’s an error in your email to me or if I click open the writing sample and I can spot the error within that 45 seconds, no questions asked, I’m not asking you to complete a test article or bringing you on to the project.
88 of 212 applications had an error that I spotted in 45 seconds or less. 88! If I’m seeing it, your other potential clients are seeing it. Your writing samples are everything. They are more important than your experience. They’re more important than your degrees. They are more important than who you’ve worked for in the past because at the end of the day, the client cares about you producing quality work. So, if there are mistakes in materials that you were putting forward as the best examples of what you can do with the written word, no! the client is not interested. End of story. It is unacceptable to have mistakes in your writing samples.
When I’ve received so many applications, you’re just making it easier to narrow down the pool and I did not even pass any of those 88 people on to the second stage which was a review by the editing team. So, I would gather up the people that I thought were the best fit for this job, I would pass them onto the editors, the editors would provide feedback and from there we’d make a joint decision about who to hire.
So, especially if you’re a writer – it’s true even if you’re a logo designer, a graphic designer – if you send samples that don’t open, that take forever to load on a website, that appear low quality, people don’t want to work with you. So, when you’re pitching somebody, ask yourself: is this my best work? Have I had another person review it? Pay somebody $20 to edit your one-page blog sample. Please make sure you don’t have mistakes and I’ve done it before. I’ve submitted for jobs and then realized after the fact that there was a mistake in my email or that there was a mistake in the sample I sent. And I kick myself and I go, “Oh I just blew it.” I blew my opportunity, right? Because people are not interested in hiring someone who has mistakes and appears to be sloppy even if you’re not, even if that was just something you missed and it seemed like a casual error. It shows your client that you’re not detail oriented. And the issue that I take with that if so many people say, “I am very detail oriented” in their application and then submit materials that are just so horribly written – some of the quality of the writing samples I was blown away. It was attached as word documents, it had no formatting, in the word document it was one long block of text. I’m not reading that. Break it up, use some titles and sub headers and bullet points.
I also don’t have time to read your 50,000-word fiction book that has nothing to do with this business SEO project. So, if you are going to send information to a client that is your best working samples, please make sure you have somebody edit it. It is well worth the effort. Ask an English teacher friend, pay an editor on Upwork $20, your mom if she’s great with grammar. Please do it. It’s worth it. It’s not saying that you can’t write but we often get tunnel vision as writers and you make mistakes.
So far, we’ve covered these two – what I consider catastrophic mistakes you can’t recover from, in my opinion. When you’re unprofessional off the bat before you’ve even been hired. Nobody wants to work with you. Definitely not going to pay you for the privilege to be disrespected by you. I’m not doing it, neither are my clients. So, that was number one; and then number two is writing samples. And I really feel that it’s – it just blows me away when people don’t have the right samples that they submit to their clients because it’s more important than anything else and yet people tend to be the sloppiest with that. So, when you’re pitching for a freelance writing project and your materials are not good, that’s an issue. So, in addition to hiring an editor you might run it through Grammarly or the Hemmingway app. See if there are little red lines under it in Microsoft Word. Really like print it out, cross things out, edit it again. I went to a literary conference this summer and I had to bring 10 pages of a book to be critiqued by an agent. I edited those 10 pages 17 times. I printed them out, I read them out loud, I crossed things out, I wrote things in the margin to change. It took forever. Yes, it was a huge problem. It was really difficult to do that. I ran it by somebody else. We workshopped it. It was a lot of work for 10 pages. However, it made the process of pitching and showing my work so much easier because I felt confident that it was polished. You should do the same with any materials you’re sharing with a client.
And if you don’t have writing samples because you haven’t had clients yet, make them up. All of the jobs I got as a freelance writer in my first six months were because of three 500-word blog articles that I made up. I said, “Okay my experience is in law and insurance.” So, I wrote an article about universal life insurance and I wrote two blogs about accident attorneys or injury attorneys. I used those three pieces to land all of my business. It doesn’t have to be published. In fact, I care less about whether your work has been published as a potential client than I do about the quality of it. I don’t care if you’ve been published on Huffington Post by being granted a password by the Huff Po team, but your work is filled with grammar errors. Not going to get hired. I’d rather hire the person who sends a Google document but it’s well written and high quality. And as it relates to writing samples, where possible, try to send writing samples that are in line with what the client is looking for. It’s not always possible that if you are pitching a pet care blog, you might not have a blog or pre-written piece on pet care. However, if that’s an industry you’re going to target, you might want to develop one. And you don’t have to have industry specific materials but one common theme I saw in these writing samples were people would send me their personal blog where they were writing about their marriage or their sex life. How can I possibly pass that on to a team of business article editors and seriously say “This is an example of this person’s work?” It’s so unrelated. It’s too personal and not professional enough that I can’t even pass that along. So, spend the time if you’re thinking, “Hey I want to be a white paper writer.” Invest the time to make a sample white paper. Doesn’t have to be published anywhere or made for a client. Show what you can do, especially if you’re a blog writer because there’s no excuse for not having at least 2-3 blogs. They don’t take that long to write and they can really lead to a lot of business. So, if you spend 4 or 5 hours putting together a really amazing long form post or a couple of posts, and then that lands you hundreds or thousands of dollars’ worth of business, wasn’t it worth those free hours you spent and the time you asked somebody else to proof it? It’s often well worth it.
Freelancer mistake #3: Failing to go beyond generic statements like “I’m a great writer.”
When you’re pitching a freelance writing client, always try to stand out from the crowd. This is my third tip about people who frequently do it wrong. Do not say things like “I’m a good writer” or “I’ve been doing this for five years” unless that makes you stand out from somebody else. Because I got a lot of application like that and many of those applications had mistakes. So, you saying that you’ve been doing this for five years and you’re sending sloppy work samples only makes me question you more. So, maybe you want to leave that out and just focus on the quality of your work because every other person applying is saying the same thing; “I’m a great writer, I can meet deadlines, I’ve been doing this for X years.” When there’s 200 applications, nobody stands out from that crowd. A few people went above and beyond and did research into the client or referenced that they knew me, they were familiar with me and they liked blah blah blah that I created; and somebody who took 5 minutes to do that is going to at least hold my attention long enough for me to carefully review their submitted application material. So, I’m not saying you need to do that for every single client that you pitch but when you’re submitting to a job that’s going to be getting hundreds of applications, it can be well worth the effort to take some extra time and say, “okay, what can I apply? What is my unique value proposition here?” Because, theoretically, everyone applying is going to say, “I’m a great writer”; “I’ve been a writer for so long.” Those are facts but they don’t convince me as the client why you’re any better than the other 50 people who just sent me an email saying the exact same thing. So, what is it about you? Have you never missed a deadline? Do you do 48-hour turnaround? Do you guarantee that the work is original and do you have a track record with your clients of minimal edits and revisions required? Are you super easy to work with? Whatever it is, that makes you unique, you need to put in the effort to showcase that to the client because it’s much like a hiring manager looking at resumes. I’m opening the email, I’m scanning what you sent, I’m opening your writing sample and I’m looking right away to see if it’s problematic. That’s what I’m looking for. Can I weed this person out if I see errors or other information like that immediately out?
So, I want you to be aware of these things because these three issues popped up so many times that I thought this really needs to be a podcast episode because people are costing themselves the opportunity to work with great clients and they may not even know why. They just know that they’re never getting a response or that they are being told you’re not the right fit. And they could be great writers but they’re not showcasing that in their application. When you are pitching, avoid these three mistakes and think carefully about how you can grab somebody’s attention. Again and again, your ability to produce great writing samples and to flag someone and get them interested right away has the potential to earn you thousands and thousands of dollars as a freelance writer. And I really encourage you to make the effort and view your pitch and your work samples critically. Look at them and say, is this the best I could do? Is that really the best word choice there? Does that comma go there? I should ask somebody to verify whether or not that’s correct. It shows that you care about your work and you care about putting your best foot forward.
I don’t see why so many people are hesitant about creating amazing writing samples and great pitches because they’re spending all this time sending out these pitches and probably getting very little business from it because they’re making these mistakes. So, if you’re going to put the effort in with the potential of it not leading to money, why not put that effort and to make a great pitch and great writing samples. You dramatically increase your conversion rate and get interested clients. You can move them past that phase of an email or a pitch on a job board and bring them to the level of at least scheduling a phone call or doing a test project with you.
I’d love for you to think about this episode and how you can apply it to your current pitching and writing sample process. If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your writing samples, now is the time to go back to the drawing board and rethink your approach. What things are you going to change based on what you heard in the podcast today? Even as a freelance writer with five years of doing this under my belt, I revise my writing samples every six months because I keep improving, and then sometimes when I look at the old writing samples, I think “Oh that was terrible. Why did people hire me for that, it’s awful, it’s not that strong?” Always be improving. When you are committed to your craft and doing the best you can, your clients can see that and it will help you dramatically in the freelance writing process.
Now if you’d like to learn more about how to find a freelance writing niche and how to narrow down and find ideal amazing clients you’ll love working with, check out my free course on how to find your freelance writing niche. Visit www.laurateachesyou.com.
[End of transcript]