I made it one of my 2018 resolutions to seek out other local writers and meet them for coffee to talk shop. I’ve been working solely by myself for a few years now, so lately I’ve been feeling the need for some in-person chats with people who already understand what I do for a living. It turns out, I’m not the only writer who’s thinking about creating connections, whether we’re talking business relationships or friendships.
Vanessa is here to share the five most important business relationships that she’s nurturing as a freelance writer.
As a freelance writer, it can sometimes feel like you’re on a deserted island.
You may work from home and be isolated from In Real Life (IRL) human contact. It doesn’t have to be that way, and if you want to build your business, I recommend developing intentional relationships with the people you interact with online.
The most important relationships – the ones that make up the foundation of my freelance writing business – are the editors, other writers, public relations (PR) companies, interviewees and readers I come in contact with almost every day.
I didn’t start my business with the realization that I needed to spend time building relationships with these folks; it happened by chance.
Now, it’s part of my business model.
Here’s what it looks like for me:
1. Developing Relationships with Editors
Stay in touch and be on time.
An editor’s first introduction to me is typically through a pitch that I email. If I get a yes to my pitch, I consider it an opportunity to nurture that relationship. Once I accept a job, I ask questions in the beginning for clarification and I try to do it all at once, rather than send multiple emails. My job is to make it easy for the editor.
I also send a quick email about the story a week or so before the deadline – perhaps a question or interesting fact I found in my research. This gives the editor a heads-up that I’m working on the project. I’ve also sent my first paragraphs to an editor to see if I’m on the right track, and it gives the editor a chance to give me feedback. On my first project with an editor, I almost always file before the deadline.
I recently met with an editor, and he explained how the publication fired a freelance writer because she could not meet the deadlines. He also shared how some writers take too long to respond to edits. These issues wreak havoc on an editor’s schedule.
Go to meet-ups.
Once I’ve worked with an editor in my city several times, I do ask if we can meet for coffee. I visited one editor at their office, and she said she almost never meets her freelance writers. I’ve been working with this particular editor for six years now, and I feel at ease sending pitches and asking questions. One or two personal IRL meetings can make a difference in the way the editor views you.
In 2016, I sent 20 holiday cards to the editors I worked with throughout the year, thanking them for their support. Of course, I always include a business card.
I commissioned these note cards through UMAR, an organization supporting artists with intellectual disabilities. The cards are a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork and have a simple sticker on each one telling about UMAR.
My son has intellectual disabilities, so this is a way for me to support something I believe in, possibly break down some stereotypes and spread the word about the work of a worthy organization. This idea is in line with my brand and what types of things I promote in social media.
In 2017, I commissioned 50 cards and sent them to editors, writers and public relations professionals. For 2018, I plan to give each editor a gift for the holidays – a “To Do” pad, pen and chocolate bar.
2. Connecting with Other Writers
Depend on other writers.
Two years ago, an editor for a Charlotte website hosted a writers’ meetup at a local brewery. I met one writer there who told me about Fully Booked VA’s 30 Days or Less to Freelancing Success. Another writer with ten years’ experience is my mentor.
This year, I made it a goal to have coffee with other local writers on a regular basis. It expands my network, lets me share what I know, helps me learn about another person, and sometimes I gain a new friend. These contacts will provide me with insider knowledge to the editors in my city and beyond. We compare notes and have collaborated on projects.
Support other writers.
In February, I gathered five writers for a Charlotte meetup.
It was an enormous success – we all agreed to follow one another on social media, start a Facebook page and meet monthly. The first meeting was spent getting to know one another and talk about what types of work we typically do. I’m not sure what direction this group will go, but just having that direct support in my hometown is helpful.
We all agreed we want a supportive and non-competitive foundation for the group.
Seek out writers.
I’ve been on a few media trips in the past year and the most rewarding parts of those adventures have been the writers I meet. There’s something about spending three days in an unknown place that bonds writers together.
3. Saying Yes to Public Relations Companies
Be open to PR.
Over the past year, I’ve had more interactions with people who work for a public relations company. I’ve been approached for media or familiarity tours and special events in our city. I’ve been sent press releases for restaurant openings and other business-related activities they are promoting.
PR folks have been helpful to me in so many ways – sending me story ideas, connecting me to people for interviews and sharing their experiences with editors.
Many public relations people were freelancers or staff writers at one time or another.
Don’t forget your manners.
Media trips are planned by PR firms, and it’s a way for them to showcase their client, typically a city, town or county. I make sure to be on time for activities, be respectful and send handwritten thank you notes to the public relations firm, tourism board and anyone else involved with the trip.
Once a story publishes, I always send an email with the link to the post.
Do your research.
Recently, I made the mistake of contacting too many public relations firms for one visit to a popular beach resort – the state and local tourism boards and each of their PR firms got involved. Luckily it turned out fine, and I learned to check who handles media for specific locations.
4. Working with Interviewees
Set the interviewee at ease.
When setting up an appointment for an interview, always be clear about what you need. Confirm the appointment time and location the day before the interview.
Make it clear if it is a phone or in-person interview and how much time will be required of them.
Most people I interview are excited to be featured in a publication. Sometimes, they think I’m selling them something, and I have to explain that I am a writer. I’ve learned not to assume people want to discuss their work, business or private life. Tread lightly and always ask permission. Sometimes you may get a no.
If you choose to record the interview, know your state’s laws and let the interviewee know you intend to record the conversation and for what purposes. For me, I want to get accurate quotes, which most interviewees really appreciate.
Make a connection.
Most times, I walk away from an interview with another story idea. They may connect me with someone else or promise to let me cover a future story. Building a network of people who trust you and your work will help you build your freelance business.
Send an email to let the interviewee know the story posted or is in print. I use Google canned responses for an easy “Story Posted” note that also asks them to share the story on social media, “like” my Facebook page and follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
I also ask the interviewee to send me future story ideas. It encourages them to stay in contact. I recently got the lead on a story about a film about the beer economy in North Carolina because a brewery owner contacted me.
5. Engaging with Readers
Audience versus reader.
I think writers may sometimes forget about their readers. We talk about our audience when we write the piece – are we writing for a specific audience? Will the audience engage with this story? How do we get the audience to read past the first paragraph?
The audience is this large body of unknown people, but the word “reader” is more personal.
Engage with readers.
A reader is more likely to contact you through social media. They may try to engage with you in a positive comment, a like or the ultimate show of support – the share. If you can find ways to engage readers with a simple thank you, like or comment on their page, it can help them connect with you.
When appropriate, answer questions about a story. There are trolls out there, and I leave those alone. I respond to the true questions.
If you’ve committed to a social media platform, keep it updated. Share your stories, update links and post relevant photos. Be authentic. If you can’t manage the social media yourself, consider hiring a virtual assistant (VA) to help you out.
I am always learning new ways to engage with these five groups of people. What’s worked for you? Are there other groups to consider?