How To Get New Clients In Tough Times

    September 26, 2003

You’ve heard it before: “Times are tough. No one’s hiring copywriters (or teachers, or plumbers, or builders)”.

You may even be tempted to believe it. Don’t. It’s not true. Every copywriter who’s been in business for more than a year is busier than ever right now. (I’m writing this in April 2003.) And they’ll continue to be in business as long as anyone’s doing business. As long as business people need to communicate, business people need copywriters.

In tough times, you need to take a tough attitude to your copywriting business. You need both will and determination — exactly the same qualities you need in the good times. So if you’ve been listening to the doomsayers, cheer up. The following strategies will get new business for you — not only in tough times, but anytime.

Focus on companies rather than agencies

In tougher times, change your marketing focus from agencies to businesses.

One of the benefits of getting sub-contract work from agencies (advertising, editorial, multimedia) is that it’s faster than working with businesses which may never have hired a copywriter before. One of the drawbacks is that you’ll get paid less, because the agency wants to enhance its profits.

However, when companies are trimming back their budgets, the agency may be the first ballast that’s thrown overboard. Don’t get tossed away with the agency, contact those companies you did sub-contract work for directly. (The agency won’t object. Unless you have a non-compete agreement with an agency, this is none of the agency’s business.) Many companies will be delighted to work with you directly. They’ve still got work that someone has to do, and they’re saving agency fees.

Note: you may get a shock when you talk to some of the companies you’ve worked for through an agency at how much the agency was charging for your services. It will give your self-esteem a boost.

When you focus on companies, focus on those which are out of your comfort zone. I write copy for several manufacturing companies, and for a heavy construction equipment company. You could fit what I know about their businesses on the head of a pin, but I don’t have any problems writing copy for them. I ask questions, read, and research until I (sort of) know what I’m talking about. You don’t have to be an expert in any area you’re writing copy for, people will be only too pleased to help you — it’s your WRITING ability they’re paying for.

If you’re an agency sub-contractor, go through your archives for the past couple of years. All those companies you wrote for under the agency’s auspices are now fair game. Call them. You’ve got the perfect in. You’ve written for them before.

Use postal mail for direct mail letters, rather than email

Unfortunately the UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email) creeps are ruining business email.

Use direct postal mail to introduce yourself and your services to companies. Call the Sales or Marketing Manager first, before you send a letter. You can find out what the companies’ needs are, and address those needs when you write.

Be sure to follow up on every letter you send out.

Explain what you do

If you haven’t done it already, write yourself an elevator speech. This is a 50-word summation of what you do. Memorize this. Most of the population have no idea what a “copywriter” or “business writer” does.

In an ideal elevator speech, you not only say what you do, but you also cover the benefits that you provide.

Give client references

Not testimonials. References, where you give the name and contact details of someone you’ve worked for in the past. As in: “I’ve written several proposals for Graham Cabot, the Sales Manager over at Hightower Industries. You can call Graham at ________”

Lately I’ve had a couple of people mention to me that they’re shying away from testimonials, because references carry more weight.

As far as I can tell, both work; so using both couldn’t hurt.

Use the business directories and the Yellow Pages

Hike over to the library and go through a couple of business directories and manufacturers’ guides. You’ll have more potential clients than you could contact in a dozen lifetimes.

The manufacturers are a goldmine. They do all their own writing, and most have never been contacted by a copywriter. Send them a SHORT one page letter, introducing yourself and giving a couple of references.

(Remember to follow up by calling them a week later.)

Use the phone

Call all your clients, both current and past. If you’re just starting out, then call everyone you know (including your chiropractor and your dentist) and tell them that you’re a copywriter. Ask for the names of three of their contacts who might need a copywriter. Call those names. Ask them for three names… and so on.

Let your fingers do the walking. Write a script first, and stick with the script. Make one call, and go on immediately to the next. This is where the will and determination we mentioned come in.

Set yourself targets for numbers of businesses contacted

Aim for ten a day. At least. If you haven’t got any work lined up, you’re going to have to do more than this. Aim for 50 a day.

Be stolid about this. Whatever your target is for daily contacts, contact those businesses. Punch the numbers into your phone until you develop calluses on your fingertips. You’ve been told this before, but it’s true: it’s a numbers game, the more businesses you contact, the more work you will get.

So there you have it — seven clear and easy strategies for getting work in tough times. Tough times are the BEST times for copywriters, because every business needs clear and effective communication. Get busy, and get working.

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