Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers – Lisa Evans

Prior to becoming a freelance writer, I had a career in marketing. Managing campaign schedules, building brands and doing competitive analyses filled my nine to five workday. When I made the switch to freelance writing, I thought I would ditch marketing vocabulary such as “target audience”, “brand development”, “ROI” and “customer relations” at the door. Instead, I have come to discover that the tools I honed as a marketing professional have enhanced my success as a freelance writer. Here are some ways I have used these marketing terms to build my business.

Know Your Target Audience

The best textbook example I ever read about knowing your target audience referred to the Chevy Nova – a compact car brought to market in the 1960s. A huge success in North America, Chevrolet decided to market Nova in Mexico. Sales of the car tanked and executives were left scratching their heads. If Chevrolet had researched their target market, they would know that “no va” in Spanish means “no go”. Who would ever want to buy a car called “no go”? The example served as a terrific lesson to marketing professionals of what can happen if they fail to get to know their target audience.

In the freelance writing business, it’s common for newbie writers to get so excited about seeing their work in print they pitch it to every magazine on the newsstand, without putting much thought as to how the article will fit into the publication. Take a lesson from Chevrolet and research your target market. Ask, who are the readers of this publication? Does your idea fit within one of their regular sections? Does the style and voice of your article match the publication? Has the magazine covered this topic recently? Lastly, get to know the magazine’s editor. Read their letter at the beginning of the magazine, “like” their Facebook page and read their updates, follow them on twitter to see what topics they’re interested in. This might seem like a lot of work, but if we learned anything from the Chevy Nova example, not knowing your audience is surely to result in a rejection letter.

Business Development

I budget a third of my earnings each year to attend conferences and writing workshops that allow me to meet fellow writers, shake hands with potential editors, introduce myself to new markets and learn about the latest trends in the business – in short, business development. I also update my business plan every six months, setting targets for the number of assignments I want to receive, the number of queries I want to send out, the number of new publications I want to reach out to, and the number of dollars I want to earn. I keep track of it all in a simple, easy to use excel spreadsheet, without which I would be completely lost.

Increase Your ROI

Do you know how much your time is worth? When I was in university, I worked in retail and had an hourly wage of a measly $10. When I had a steady marketing job, I could easily calculate my hourly wage, which fortunately was more than $10 an hour. When I started working as a freelance writer, however, I found myself at a loss when calculating my ROI (return on investment). I was shocked one day when I found I had put in five hours of work including two interviews and a $5 long distance charge on an assignment that was paying me $50. That’s only $10 an hour – equal to my retail rate!

Unlike a caterer who makes a quote for their services based on the cost of the supplies and the hourly wages of their staff, editors typically don’t ask writers to quote for the assignment, but give a rate to the writer which they can either accept, decline or attempt to negotiate. My hourly rate varies depending on the publication I’m writing for, the amount of research the piece requires and its length. Before accepting an assignment, think about whether the proposed rate will be worth your time. If you’re just starting your freelance career, you may think any clip is worth it, even at $10 an hour, but if you’re really trying to make a living out of freelance writing, minimum wage isn’t going to cut it.

Brand Development

You may think branding is something only corporations think about, but as a freelance writer, you represent a very important brand – you. To develop your “brand”, try summarizing your writing experience in one sentence. Are you an expert in a particular field? Is there a niche market for your writing? I write for a variety of magazines from beauty to fitness to parenting and travel, but I will adjust my promo blurb depending on the type of article I’m pitching. For example, if I’m pitching a travel article about Mexico, I will say “I’m a freelance writer who has spent the last two years living in Chiapas, Mexico. My travel writing has recently appeared in x, y and z magazine.” Even though I write much more than travel, I’ve made myself look like a travel expert.

Your brand stretches into the look and feel of your website, business cards and any other promotional material you develop. My business cards use the same color scheme as my website, ensuring consistency of my brand.

Competitor Analysis

What can you provide that someone else can’t? This may seem a hard question for a newbie writer to answer, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re all unique individuals with stories to tell. I once had a creative writing instructor who asked me to make a “Spielberg list” – a list of the top ten moments in my life that would serve as scenes in a movie about my life. They wouldn’t necessarily be the happiest moments, since the best movies are ones that contain drama, conflict and deep emotional trauma. She then asked me to take that list and think about how I could turn each of those moments into pieces of written work.

I am a young divorcee. I divorced my husband at the age of 27 and then moved to Mexico to teach English. That’s a story that not many people will have, which helped when I sold it to a national lifestyle magazine. Similarly, one of the saddest moments of my childhood was the death of my first pet. I turned this story into an article for a parenting magazine.

Establish Good Customer Relations

Good customer relations go beyond just being polite. Think about the best shopping experience you’ve had in the last month. What made it special? I recently spent an hour in my favourite bath and body store buying gifts for family members. The store associate offered me a basket to carry the items I was cradling in my arms, samples of new products and a coupon for a future visit. I walked away feeling I got more than I’d asked for and couldn’t wait to go back. Isn’t that the kind of experience you want an editor to have? Going one step farther than asked can be what separates you from all the other freelance writers on their roster. Providing photos, writing captions, suggesting a hed and dek and delivering before the deadline are ways you can go above and beyond for an editor. They will appreciate it and remember you. If you’re trying to build a relationship with a new editor, send them a note after seeing your article in print thanking them for printing your story and suggesting another idea, never letting your name slip from an editor’s radar.

Lisa Evans is a lifestyle and travel freelance writer from Toronto, Canada who spends the majority of the year in Chiapas, Mexico. Check out her website and her blog where she writes about blending her Mexican and Canadian lives.