Podcast Episode 9: The Sad Smell of Desperation

In Lorrie’s first solo episode, she talks about how freelancers can market themselves in difficult times without coming across as desperate and needy. Nobody wants to hire somebody who is pleading for work, so here is some great advice about… How to get writing commissions without embarrassing yourself!

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Transcript

Episode 6: – Welcome to the A Little Bird Told Me Podcast, in which two freelance writers chart the highs, lows and no-nos of successful self-employment. You can subscribe at alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com, and you can find all of our contact details, websites, twitter and facebook accounts below the media player there.

Small scream

Small scream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m Lorrie Hartshorn and this episode I’m going to be talking about the sad smell of desperation – aka. how to market yourself without turning your clients off! This is the second of the individual podcasts – so apologies to anyone hoping to tune in and hear Pip! In the good news, Pip and I will still be recording on a weekly-ish basis, and these individual podcasts will be shorter than the joint ones and they’re just going to allow us to cover a few more topics without having to both be available at the same time.

So, as I say, this episode, I’m going to be talking about how to promote yourself, particularly across social media channels, without sending a massive whiff of desperation in your target audience’s direction – that’s never good.

It’s something we all go through, particularly when we start out and/or we find ourselves going through a bit of a dry spell. The temptation to throw yourselves on anyone who has even slightest hint of a relevant lead, and that can be overwhelming, which is why it’s important to get to know your social media – and the associated trends and patterns – and to set guidelines for yourself, which is what I hope this podcast will help you to do.

Now, I do say ‘guidelines’ rather than rules because, as a freelancer, you need to be responsive and judge each situation on its own merits. So, no, there aren’t any hard and fast rules that can be applied across the board, but there are some common-sense tricks and tips that you can use to develop a good sense and how to promote yourself successfully.

The first tip I’ll give you straight away is that no situation is made worse by you maintaining your composure – it’s one of the top things to do. It gives your customers confidence in you. It makes them believe that you will always be in control, even in the toughest situation, you’re not going to get flustered or buckle under pressure, they can give you a tough project and be demanding in what they want from you. If you maintain your composure, that’s great – it’s a great way to promote yourself. No matter what anyone says to you or sends you, be professional and composed; you don’t sound desperate if you sound in control.

And as we’ve mentioned previously, your clients don’t want to think of you as a person – they want to think of you as a service provider. And they don’t want your service to be interrupted by someone having a bit of a panic. So, when you are in control, you can perform to the best of your ability, and this will give your clients real faith in you.

The best way to develop a sense of what works for your business and the social media that you’ve chosen to market yourself across is to engage in really consistent marketing. This is – to me – one of the biggest areas that sole traders fall down in – they tend to engage in one-off marketing campaigns, trying one thing and then letting it drop, and so when they don’t get the results they hope for, they don’t see the link and they don’t realise they’ve just not been consistent enough, and that’s when people start to get desperate. That’s when they start to engage in one-step marketing – and there’s not much that carries a stronger smell of desperation, or a lack of planning than that.

You might be thinking, “Well, I’m not sure what a one-step marketing strategy really is…” so I’ll explain it a little bit. A one step marketing strategy on, say, Twitter or Facebook would be something like this:

“Freelance copy-writer looking for work – please RT!” or “Excellent self-employed editor, please get in touch if you want to hire me!”

Now, if it’s not already obviously, this kind of marketing is just not going to work. There are three reasons off the top of my head: firstly, your clients don’t know who you are. All they know is that you say you’re really, really good, which is exactly what every single sole trader says, no matter how crap they are at their job.

Secondly, you’re offering your audience nothing of value – one of the most common things that freelancers often forget is that their interactions have to be of value. Now, I’m not saying that every single tweet you send out has to be a gold-mine of copy-writing savvy, or editing marvellousness – in fact, it’s better to intersperse your informative posts with updates that gives over a bit of personality – when I managed a social media feed for a company I worked for, the feedback we got was that clients and potential clients enjoyed the banter. We kept it clean and we kept it nice, but it helped to build up relationships. Social media is social – it does what it says on the tin.

However, if you post an update saying, “please send me work, please give me work, please hire me – I’m great!” it’s not informative, it’s not witty, it’s just awkward for everybody. Which leads us on to the third point, which is really the whole point of this podcast – it comes across as desperate. And if you come across as desperate, your potential clients are going to look at you and the only thing you’re telling them is that you’re finding it hard to win business and are having to beg for work. And why anyone would hire you off the back of that, I really don’t know.

So no we’ve talked about what not to do across social media, let’s talk about a few things you can do. First off, there are a few things you can do to make sure your social media marketing reeks of brilliance rather than awfulness and desperation.

In attention to being composed, be confident. Secondly, be consistent in your marketing, as I say, and this will help to avoid making yourself vulnerable to peaks of desperation! Thirdly, remember to sell yourself – either your skills or your personality – with every update you make. As I say, you don’t always have to be super informative, you don’t always have to be super charming and witty, but try and be one of the two more often than not. Because people will want to follow you – it’s quite simple. You don’t want to follow someone who’s boring and useless, so don’t be boring and useless – that would be my tip!

Another good way is to link to interesting posts by other people – feed back into the network a bit. Write some of your own so people will have to retweet you if they want to share that information with their followers. Share some good news from the projects you’re working on – say you’ve got a really good copywriting project going on: tell Twitter about it, tell Facebook, although do be careful with confidentiality issues here – your clients probably won’t want to be mentioned directly! But you don’t have to be all James Bond, super-secret about it – you can say, “I’m working for a client in the charity sector, really enjoying these good news stories!” or “Just done some work for a client in the technical market, had a great time, ready for some coffee!” Be informative but don’t give anything away, if only because you don’t want people undercutting you and you don’t want your clients being uncomfortable because you’ve just outed them for having a copywriter.

Give your potential new clients something to chew over – so, pop an informative post up, find an infographic on the net, write a bit about it, tell people what your opinion is, stick that on your website, blog about it, post it to your social media – you’re leading potential clients, then, to your headquarters. It’s very much about getting the fly into your parlour!

So, when it comes to sharing achievements and good news about your work and your skills, it’s important to promote without over-doing it. What you don’t want to do is say things like, “I can do whatever you want me to do!” – again, it can make you sound desperate and unrealistic rather than impressive. No one can do anything, so get to know your strengths and play to them. There’s no shame in not being an expert in something you’re not an expert in, unless you’re claiming to be an expert in it. In which case, stop claiming it!

If there’s a service you don’t offer, it might well be worthwhile – as I’ve done – considering partnering up with someone who does offer that service – that way, you can offer a positive response when people get in touch with you without acting like you know it all, you can build up a mutually beneficial working relationship with another freelancer who does offer that service. Promote one another – that could bring in more work for you – and you’re being honest and realistic about your capabilities. People appreciate that, I think – they appreciate you promoting yourself…not in an understated way, as you do need to self-promotional if you’re a freelancer, and you need to generate business, but just in a very down-to-earth way. Don’t pretend to be the superman or superwoman of the freelance world because you’re not. None of us are.

To say to someone, “That’s not an area I specialise in, but I can certainly put you in touch with a reputable freelancer who can help.” not only looks professional and tells people that you won’t just do a hash job for them in a bid to get any and all work in the world ever, but it also opens up opportunities for that other freelancer to promote you. And it shows that it’s not all about you, the world doesn’t revolve around you and that you have a bit of self-awareness, and that’s always nice.

What it’s important to remember, actually, is that as soon as you cease to be the best value for your clients, you’re in trouble. But, it’s worth noting, as I’ve just mentioned, that value doesn’t just come from price – with sites like Elance and Freelancer – and even Fiverr.com – there are always going to be people offering writing at a cheaper rate than you, say, 50 articles at $2. It’s impossible to compete with this people on price and still pay your bills so don’t try to.

Your value can come from professionalism, personality, wit, basic classiness, the way you deal with people and quality of work. You’re not just going to do a hash job, and all of the tips I’ve had a think about and come out with so far will come together to build up a very positive picture of you – if you’re consistent.

There’s one thing I did want to talk about, and that’s the idea of show don’t tell. Now, this is quite handy across social media because there’s a lot of bumf on there, particularly across social media like Twitter, which is very fast moving. It’s just words, and words, and words…so showing not telling is really important. You have one chance to impress people, very often, and if you demonstrate your value rather than just claiming you have a value, you’re more likely to promote yourself successfully and gain a bit of business.

So, instead of saying, “I do really good work,” prove to people that quality of delivery is central to your business. Explain why you’re great value, why your work is so good. Talk about some tutorials you did, talk about a certification you have or an organisation you belong to. Give people something to mull over.

Don’t say: “You can’t go wrong with me,” or “I’ll do you the best job!” Instead, prove it: get some testimonials up on your website. Retweet people who say you’ve done a good job. Thank people on Facebook when they say they’re happy with the work you’ve done.

There’s another thing I want to warn against as well, and by the very nature, it tends to be something that older freelancers and sole traders tend to do, and that’s trading on the number of years you’ve been in the business. Saying, “I’ve been doing this for 50 years!” (well, I suppose that would make you a bit too old!) so saying, “I’ve been doing this 20-30 years” and then expecting that to be the golden key to some business.

Now, if you have been doing this 20 years, you may well have learnt far, far more than some young whippet like me, who’s been doing it for 10 years, knows. On the other hand, you could be one of these people who’s absolutely stuck in their ways, hasn’t kept up with the marketing or content trends and who really is a bit of a dinosaur – it can go both ways. So, if you say to someone, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” that doesn’t tell them anything. What you need to be able to demonstrate is how you’ve improved your service offerings over that time and how you’ve kept up-to-date with all the industry trends, both writing trends and the trends in your client’s sector, and why you’re still – after 20 or 30 years – the best choice for them. That’s what you need to demonstrate, not simply that you’ve been doing it for X number of years.

Now, we’ve gone through a few don’t-do-this, and don’t-do-that points. I do prefer to be a bit more positive, though, so I’d like to finish off by talking about things you need to do or be to secure your position on social media as someone who’s a really positive person to follow, not desperate and who clients and potential clients are going to believe in.

First off: be brilliant. I know that sounds like a really, really obvious thing to say, but be really good at what you do. If you’re not a good writer, or you’re not a good editor, you’re in the wrong job. This is about being a successful self-employed writer or editor, or whatever your field is. If you’re a graphic designer, be a brilliant graphic designer. If you’re a software developer, be an innovative, brilliant software developer. Don’t try and fob people off.
In addition to that, believe in what you’re offering. Believe that you’re good – you do need to believe in the services you’re offering people to be able to win business. Now, if you don’t believe in your services, you can’t expect anyone else to either. And, more to the point, why don’t you believe in your services? Why don’t you believe in what you’re offering? Is it that you don’t have the basic talent? In that case, you’re up a certain creek without a paddle and you perhaps ought to be having a look at a different career. Or is it that you’ve let things slide a little bit? We can all let things slide sometimes – we get a little bit overwhelmed. Philippa’s just recorded an episode about specialising and generalising; that could be something to have a really good listen to if you feel that you’ve lost your way a bit and that you’re not quite the expert you want to be in the services you offer.

Now, there are plenty of ways of fixing this problem: there are so, so many ways and the internet is a brilliant thing. You can take training, you can take tutorials, you can listen to podcasts – like this one! You can read, you can do practice; I’m a translator and editor, and I practise all the time because there are always things you can be learning. Try and specialise, I would say, in a few areas, I would say. That might be two, five or 10 – whatever works for you. Specialise in a few areas and get really good. Because then, if you find you’ve got more room and more to offer, you can have a look at services and areas that complement those and you can expand your service offerings a bit. You can get better at other things, but get a few things down pat and then you can start looking at other things.

Be credible – this is another really important thing. As I’ve said previously, it’s really important to know your industry, and to know your clients’ industries. But – and this is absolutely crucial, it’s one of those things I’m going to over-enunciate to really drill it home! – don’t pretend to know what you don’t. If you get caught out pretending to be an expert in a something that you’re not, either because you don’t know what you’re talking about or, even worse, because you’ve got a project and won the contract, but you’ve delivered a piece of writing that shows no knowledge of something really important in that sector, you can kiss that client – and a good chunk of your reputation, good-bye.

It’s better by far, as I said before, to be genuinely helpful and pass the work on to someone you trust who can do the work well. I know this is an opinion that Pippa shares 100% – don’t try and fob your clients off. Be credible and promote yourself in a credible way; don’t claim you know everything.

Equally, be sincere with your customers. Treat people with respect; you’re a customer often enough and you know how you like to be treated, so treat people the same way. Make your buyer the focal point rather than running after them like a dog after a bone trying to win any contracts they have going.

Be sincere. Be mindful of what you’re saying when you’re chatting to them, or emailing or phoning them, make sure you’re saying things of value, but do remember that your client is a person, not a money pot. If you try and be all lovey-darling with them when, really, all you care about is getting a bit of money of them, that’s going to show and seem fake, and there’s nothing worse than a faker. Alright, there are plenty of things worse than a faker, but being a faker is horrible, so don’t be one!

One point I would make is that some people, particularly across social media, may not be looking to make a purchase from you. They might just be chin-wagging with you, or they might be wasting your time. Now, if you get the sense that this is the case, do help that person to the best of your abilities, but be aware that your time is valuable and don’t waste time on someone who’s just got a vague inclination to get some advice or information for free. Remember that there may be potentially seriously interested customers close by. The time that you’re spending on someone who’s asking for free advice, or who’s just shooting the breeze with you, could be spent on someone who’s actually interested in hiring your services.

Now, Pip and I are going to cover how to be assertive and still professional in one of our future podcasts, so do stay tuned for that one.

Another thing you to promote yourself properly across social media is to be a listener. According to recent statistics on Facebook pages, posts that ask potential clients a question get a 90% higher feedback rate than those that don’t. The message is really clear – customers like to talk about themselves. They like to talk about their needs, their opinions, and they like to feel that you’re interested and that you’re listening. And, in my opinion, they’re perfectly justified in that. One, social media is really social and we all love having a chat and giving our opinions. But secondly, your clients are your work and they have every right to be listened to. Otherwise, you’re not delivering what they want, which is where it all comes undone.

Another point would be to be appropriate. As we’ve said before, in episode one or two, I believe, it’s not appropriate to plug your website and your business at every possible opportunity. It’s not appropriate to go on someone’s blog, make a really lightweight remark and then say, “Oh and by the way, I covered something similar on my blog recently – here’s a link!” It’s really tacky and people will know what you’re doing.

Equally, it’s not appropriate to market your services with the hard sell at every opportunity. If someone comes along on Twitter (and I know I keep mentioning Twitter – that’s because it’s my main social media feed) and says, “Oh hey, howdy neighbour!” and you go, “Oh hi! Did you know I offer X, Y, Z and 1, 2, 3 services, and that there’s a 10% discount on at the moment and I really think you should have a look!” It’s just really awkward. You wouldn’t go to a dinner party and leap on someone as soon as they spoke to you, so don’t do it on social media either – you’ll just put people off.

I was asked whether I’d be interested in joining a networking group recently, but the sell was so hard that I just put the shutters down and was like, “Uh uh, no thanks.” And that was it. I would actually have been really interested in having a look at that opportunity but now I’m looking elsewhere. And people will do the same – they resent the feeling that you’re trying to crowbar their cash out of their wallet, so don’t do it.

Now I’ve said that, I’m going to say “Be proactive”, and you’re thinking, “Well, hang on a minute, you’ve just told me to chill out a little bit.” But by being proactive, what I mean is pay back into your network. So don’t just tap into your network of clients, potential clients and freelance buddies when you need new clients.

If you see someone who’s looking for a great graphic designer, you notice someone’s searching for one on Twitter, pass that on; recommend a friend. Same goes for any other kind of work – if your client’s looking for a software developer, recommend someone.

Equally, take care of the clients that you’ve got. If your customer’s had some good news – they’ve got engaged, they’ve had a baby – drop them an email. Congratulate them. And don’t stick something in there about “Ooooh, 10% discount at the moment!” Just be nice! Make it not all about you getting money and work all the time.

If you spot a useful article on writing, share it. You can’t ask for favours without credit in the bank, as they say, but more importantly, you’re going to be building up relationships with people – it’s the long-term gain. People will get used to seeing you around; they’ll know you’re a nice person who thinks about other things than getting work and getting all the customers in the world, and that’s how you establish yourself as a pleasant, positive, and reputable freelancer. If you’re approachable, and your kind, polite and professional with people, that’s the first hurdle gone. If you’re not, people won’t want to talk to you, no matter how good you are at your job. You just won’t get near anyone.

I know I said I was going to finish with the positives, but I do have another negative and that’s don’t settle: If you’re going through a really dry patch, you might be tempted to get out there and tell people you’ll do anything for any price. Don’t. Just don’t!

Resist this urge with everything you have in you because it’s almost impossible to come back from working for free or for very little, and from being really desperate in public and begging for work, so really, please don’t do it. If you find that your freelance career isn’t paying the bills, take some time out. Consider doing agency work, taking a part-time job, take a full-time job or consider diversifying your service offerings. Sit down, have a good think about your business plan and ask yourself if freelancing really is for you. But whatever you do, do it with dignity and never, never, never share your panic across promotional platforms.

Don’t go on Twitter, as I saw someone do recently, and tweet: “Looking for freelance writing work, prefer creative but not fussy!” It’s just everything it shouldn’t be. Now first of all, it goes against everything I said earlier. It tells people nothing, it’s not informative and it sounds desperate. Secondly, “Prefer creative but not fussy” – no one in the history of the world, as far as I’m aware, has made a living by being a creative writer. There are authors – don’t get me wrong, there are indie authors, and they make a living out of it but they’re not copywriters; they’re authors. Now, I do creative writing – I love it, it’s great but it’s not my day job. If I was an author, as I say, that would be a day job but then I wouldn’t be a writer, so I hope you see the difference there.

This person is saying they’re looking for freelance writing work and that they prefer creative writing work – don’t we all?! – but that they’re not fussy. They’ve given you a preference but they’re not being assertive, which says, “Do you know what? I’ll take anything” and that sounds desperate. It brings us back to the whole point – it sounds really, really desperate.

To sum up: be gracious. Now, it can be really hard, business development. It can be hard on the fingers when you’re typing away, and it can be hard on the soul. But, be gracious. If someone considers hiring you, or a fellow freelancer or a contact offers you a lead, and it doesn’t pan out, make sure you remain gracious and pleasant and professional throughout the whole thing.

For potential clients, they’ll appreciate you acting with a bit of grace rather than making them feel like they’ve screwed you over, which, you know, they might have done (and we’re going to cover being assertive, as I say!) but you aren’t going to gain anything by having a go at someone. You might well be so stung by the disappointment of not getting a project you want, that you lose sight of what’s reasonable and what’s not. So, just play it safe and be gracious, even if you think someone’s being awful with you. Just be professional, keep it pleasant. And who knows, they may come back to you. Maybe they arrangement they’ve decided to go with instead isn’t going to work out. Maybe they’ll come back to you, maybe they’ll recommend someone else to you.

For freelancers, clients and friends who’ve tried to send business your way, let them know that it’s all appreciated, no matter what the outcome is because, five, ten, fifty times out of a hundred, it might work out. There’s no set number. So every opportunity it one to grab.

I really hope this podcast has given you some ideas on how to promote yourself without sounding desperate, especially across social media feeds. Now, self-promotion is a really important part of freelancing and it’s something you have to do, so it’s important to get it right. As I said at the beginning of the podcast, make sure you get to know the social media feeds you choose to market yourself across. Only market yourself across platforms you’re comfortable with. If you hate Facebook, don’t use it. If you loathe tweeting, don’t tweet. If you abhor LinkedIn, don’t go on there. Do what works for you and your potential clients. Bear people in mind and be mindful of what you’re putting out there.

Resist the urge to get desperate, be consistent in your marketing, be professional in your marketing and if you keep things on a steady keel, you’re more likely to win business. I really hope this has proved to be a useful podcast. I’d love to hear whether you have any tips of your own on how to market yourself without coming across as over-eager or desperate. You can find both myself and Pip on Facebook and Twitter, and you can see all the details for our websites and LinkedIn accounts at the bottom of the podomatic page: alittlebirdtoldme.podomatic.com. Pip is, of course, just as well versed on this topic as I am, so if you fancy having a chat with either of us, we’d be more than happy to hear from you. In the meantime, though, thank you so much for listening. I’ve been Lorrie Hartshorn and I’ll catch you next time.

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About Philippa Willitts

British freelance writer and proofreader.

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