Are you waiting for your freelance career to take off?
You’ve tried everything, but paid writing projects are still few and far between.
It makes you question whether you’ve got the chops to be a writer, doesn’t it?
The good news is that it may not be your writing. In fact, you may even be a spectacular writer.
But being a successful freelance writer takes more than good writing. Sure, you can be a good writer slaving away in your closet and no one beyond your mother and your cat will ever read your words.
Being a successful writer takes something else.
Successful writers know the value of relationships
Successful writers need to be good at developing relationships.
You need to build the right relationships with key individuals who can help you achieve your writing career goals.
In today’s freelancing landscape, writers need to be entrepreneurs. You need to think creatively and strategically about your network, and actively cultivate relationships with editors, publishers, bloggers, agents, and potential clients.
Here’s the good news: this is not that hard. You don’t need to be an extrovert. You don’t need to be more charming than George Clooney.
You just need to have some discipline, and to focus your energies in the right direction.
How cultivating relationships can support your freelance writing career
There are many ways in which cultivating and maintaining key relationships can help your freelance writing career. For example:
- People like to send business to people they already know, like, and trust.
- By keeping in touch with editors, publishers and clients, you’ll be top of the mind when new gigs come up.
- You may find out about writing gigs and projects that are not advertised.
6 Steps to establish and nurture relationships
Here are six steps you can take immediately to build relationships that will help your writing career.
1. Develop a plan for who you want to get to know
Most aspiring freelance writers let their relationships evolve naturally and organically. That works well for friendships, but it’s a poor strategy for business.
A much better strategy is to write down a list of at least 50 people with whom you want to develop a deeper relationship over the next 12 months.
I call this a “Conversations List” because you are identifying the people with whom you want to have an ongoing conversation over time. Who should be on your Conversations List? You might include people already in your network whom you want to get to know better, people you met at a conference, or even famous writers, prominent editors, agents, or publishers.
Ideally, these are people who you would want in your circle of peers, colleagues, and allies.
2. Identify how you can help them
Next, it’s time to start providing value to the people on your list.
Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of Business Network International, says you need to make deposits into the “relationship bank” before you can make withdrawals. Too often, people try to make withdrawals before they’ve made any deposits. That’s a recipe for failure.
What you “give” doesn’t need to be big – even if you’re providing value to a world-famous individual – but it should be relevant. For example, let’s say you included Stephen King on your list, and you know he’s a huge fan of French food. You happen to know of a new French restaurant opening soon in Sarasota, Florida, near his home.
Telling the King of Horror about this new restaurant would be a great way to provide relevant value to him. Even though Stephen King is a world-famous novelist, he would likely appreciate the value you gave him with that recommendation.
3. Choose your relationship-building tools
Once you’ve identified who you want to get to know, you need to decide how you’d like to do so. You can choose from the following.
- Lunches and coffee meetings. A simple tool for getting to know people is to meet for a casual lunch or coffee.
- Interviews. Interviews are a great starting point for new relationships. Try to use the freelance articles you write as an excuse to interview someone on your Conversations List.
- Podcasts. I’ve had over 50 guests on my podcast, and it’s been an excellent tool for expanding my network. Podcast interviews are far more effective than informational interviews, or asking someone to meet you for coffee so you can “pick their brain.”
- Use names in your articles. In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath share how small-town newspapers have long understood the value of including names of people in the local community within their pages. Do the same thing with your blog and any article you write, wherever possible. People love to see their name mentioned. (See how I did it here with Chip and Dan Heath?)
Whatever tools you choose, make sure they play to your strength. If you are nervous on camera, don’t start a video podcast. If you prefer one-on-one to group settings, focus on individual sit-down coffee meetings or lunches.
4. Clearly communicate your interest in working together
Once you’ve begun connecting with people, you need to clearly express your interest in working with them.
Find a way to communicate in a low-pressure way that you “would love to work together” when the opportunity arises. This doesn’t mean you should directly ask for work – especially early in a relationship. That’s a sure-fire way to lose a friend.
One way to communicate your interest in working together is to demonstrate your competence by sharing valuable ideas. For example, if you are connecting with an editor of a publication, you could suggest an article that provides a fresh take on an issue of interest to their readers. If they like the idea, you might be the ideal person to write it.
5. Create an easy follow-up system
If you want your connections to think of you first when a writing opportunity comes up, you need to always be “top of mind” with that connection. For this, you need to have a good system for following up.
What does this entail? A follow-up system is simply a dedicated way of checking in with people in your network. You can do this manually or put reminders on your calendar, but neither works that well.
I suggest using a simple customer relationship management software such as Insightly or SugarCRM. I use a system I love, called Contactually.
No matter which system you use, you should be able to identify which relationships are in danger of becoming stale, set reminders to follow up, and track your contacts with people.
6. Revisit and revise your Conversations List annually.
Around once a year, revisit your Conversations List and determine the people you should cut out and those you should add.
You will meet new people over time. You may decide that certain people on your list are not a good fit for you. You may even decide to take your writing career in a different direction.
Revising your list ensures that you nurture the relationships that are right for you.
Now go out there and start
It’s time to put these ideas to work.
Create your Conversations List of the 50 people you are going to develop relationships with, and find ways to help them, in whatever way you can.
Developing relationships with people of your own choosing gives you far greater control over the direction or your career and the quality of your freelance writing projects. You’ll find yourself working on better projects with people you like because you chose them, rather than leaving your career up to chance.
It’s a relatively small investment of your time now, but will make a massive difference to your career in the long run.
How do you develop and nurture relationships to support your writing career? Share your tips in the comments!