How to build your writerly network
Rise up together
By Gili Malinsky, freelance journalist & writer
So you want to be a writer. Actually, you probably already are. If you’re making that statement, you’ve dabbled enough to know writing is for you, as an art form and as a vocation. But you’ll also need a writerly network—a rolling Rolodex of clients new and old sending along regular work. But how do you build such a network?
If you’re starting from scratch (or even from the middle), here are a few tips on building and growing your list of paying clients.
1. Collect those first clients
Freelance writing can mean a million things, from advertising to website copy to journalism. Regardless of your intended direction, the easiest place to start creating your network is the people directly around you. Close friends, extended family, old work colleagues, your barista, Uncle Herman…you’re likely on a regular basis contact with 100 people—a conservative number by recent accounts.
If each of these people is in contact with another 100, that’s already 10,000 second-degree connections. Send emails, write texts, and make phone calls saying you’ve embarked on a career as a freelance writer and you wonder if, by chance, they have contacts in your industry. And would they be comfortable making an intro?
Look on job board websites like Indeed.com, Mediabistro.com, Craigslist, and even Facebook freelancer groups, where employers are constantly posting work they need to have done. Do a search for these kinds of meeting grounds and start responding to asks.
There’s also cold calling or cold emailing. This may seem scary and potentially futile, but some of your best, recurring clients can come from here. Do some research and really get to know the potential customers in your field. Make a list of 25 (or more!) companies and the relevant editors or content leads in each, from small local outfits to big international behemoths.
In journalism, for instance, this could be any organization from local blogs to The New York Times. Look up company websites, or find organizations on Twitter or LinkedIn to see if they’ve publicized contact info. If contacts are hard to find, reach out to a general company email or fill out a contact form saying you’d love to speak to Mr. Gingers about contributing and could you have his contact info, please?
What you might also find in canvassing LinkedIn or Facebook for names is that your friends and family are already somehow connected. If that’s the case, reach out to that person in your network and ask if they could make an intro.
2. Build relationships
So you’ve spotted some relevant job posts and have started responding. Fantastic, that part is easy. But what about cold calls and potential direct network contacts? What’s the best way to reach out and connect with them?
The trick is to be respectful and appreciative from the very start, letting them know you’re grateful for their time and you want to learn how to contribute. If you’re just starting out and don’t quite have a portfolio or samples per se, instead of asking for work, simply ask for informational interviews. See if you can schedule some time to hop on the phone or grab a quick coffee, and start asking questions about what that person does and what advice they have for breaking into writing in their industry. At the very least, you’ll have made a contact that might be open to keeping in touch, giving advice later on or even referring you to new clients once you’ve started building up samples. Best-case scenario, they’ll have work for you.
3. Keep it organized
As you build your network of clients, make sure to keep it neat and organized. Create an Excel or Google spreadsheet of everyone you’ve worked with, what projects you’ve done and your rate, their contact info, and maybe some correspondences. Then watch that baby grow.
4. Maintain that network
Now that you’ve got a growing base of employers, maintain it! Say you’ve just finished a project with one client. Send them a polite email thanking them for the opportunity and ask if they have any more projects coming in, as you’d love to continue contributing.
Even if you haven’t worked with someone for a while, or someone replied but said they didn’t have any projects at the moment, shoot them an email a few months later to catch up and say you’d still love to be considered if any work should pop up. You should be in continual contact with potential or current employers. Don’t nag or send daily emails, but once in a while, check in.
And, as you respectfully keep in touch with people who’ve started filling your timesheet, continue to repeat steps one through four again. Create business cards and go to industry-specific events, ask for informational coffees, join more Facebook groups … your network can always be bigger, and the next perfect client is just one correspondence away.
5. Give back
As you keep the process going, it’s important to remember a couple of things. First, a network is made up not just of employers but of colleagues and mentors as well. These are people whose advice you can turn to, who can help you and who, in turn, you can help. Having a support system is just as important as having actual work. It ensures you’re never alone and that everyone around you can rise up together.
Next, don’t let rejection hold you back. You’ll encounter a lot of No’s on your path to Yes. That’s part of the process and it’s where persistence comes in.
Finally and most importantly, building and maintaining your network is really about hard work and professionalism.
“As a writer who's never met some of my editors, and as an editor who's never met some writers,” said Dan Reilly, journalist and writer for Rolling Stone, Vulture, and Billboard, “I'd say the best things to do are to be reliable and relatable, then build from there.”
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