Marketing My Writing: How I Learned to Love It

When I first got back into freelance writing, I spent little effort marketing. I called my sources at companies I’d covered at my staff-writing job at a local business journal and let them know I was freelancing, and it kind of rolled from there.

I called a couple of local magazines, pitched them, and got assignments. I answered an ad and found myself writing web content for a $1 billion corporation.

Looking back, it was a golden time. My career ran easy, like water flowing downhill. It never occurred to me it wouldn’t always be like this.

Then came early 2009, and the downturn started to really take hold. My editors began getting laid off, publications changed, and companies stopped developing content.

I realized I needed to get out there and market myself more aggressively. I needed to make new connections and find new clients.

At first I thought, “Ugh!” I’d never really sold anything to anyone. But over time, I kind of got hooked on the marketing side of my business. I discovered that in a weird way, it’s fun. No, I’m not kidding.

Now, I enjoy this side of my business, too—maybe not as much as I do writing, but marketing is no longer a dreaded chore for me.

You can learn to love marketing, too. Here are my tips:

  • Keep the online job-ad searching to a minimum. At first I wasted hours a day browsing the online job ads, before developing a system for scanning them fast. Now, if I’m looking over online ads, I only take time to reply to the best prospects. Generally, online job ads are not a source of high-quality leads, so limit your time here, and free up more time for better marketing methods.
  • Learn more about marketing. If you don’t know a lot about marketing, learn. Take a class. Read a book. This is not mystical knowledge. The information you need is out there.
  • Develop a marketing plan. Don’t go in a million directions at once. Take a 3–6 month period, decide what you’re doing, and then consistently do it.
  • Meet live humans. Whether it’s in-person networking, cold calling, or informally schmoozing up shopkeepers in your town, remember that computers won’t give you a writing gig—only people. If networking makes you nervous, relax, you can learn how to do it.
  • Try different methods. I have done in-person networking at a half-dozen organization events, some cold calling, sent queries, answered job ads, used LinkedIn features, promoted my writing on Twitter, built my presence in natural-search results for keywords, and more. See what works for you.
  • Approach it like a scientist. Think of your marketing as an experiment. Track what you do and evaluate the results. This helps you take a little bit more dispassionate attitude toward putting yourself out there.
  • Think of it as a game. Instead of feeling vulnerable and scared, try to detach yourself emotionally from the process. Think of it as a game of Chutes and Ladders. You go here and there, rolling the dice, trying different moves. When you get a win, it’s like Yahtzee.
  • Be impervious to rejection. Learn not to take it personally when you don’t get a gig. Seriously. You want to drop that attitude. It’s just business. Have a businesslike approach to marketing.
  • Persist. This is the most important thing to know. Sending one query letter is not a marketing plan, it’s a waste of time. Know that you will likely have to go hard at it on marketing for at least several months before you start to see the results you want. I had a revealing conversation with one writer online about a strategy I used that won me a great, $1-a-word new client. She said she’d tried that once and it hadn’t worked. I said, “Oh. I tried it 30–40 times, and it worked once.” Moral: The persistent marketer gets the gig. So keep going, if you’re serious about writing for a living.

 

I marketed aggressively—like mad, really—for about 18 months straight, gradually rebuilding my customer base until I became fully booked. Now, I’m able to drop clients and pick and choose the ones I want to work with again. It feels great, and I know marketing got me here.

 

Carol Tice is a freelance writer who focuses on writing and ghostwriting business books and e-books. She’s written for Delta Sky, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Seattle Magazine, Costco, American Express, Shopify, Freshbooks, and many others. Carol founded the award-winning Make a Living Writing blog in 2008, which has been repeatedly named to Writer’s Digest’s Top 101 Blogs for Writers list. It now offers over 1,000 free posts on how to break in and grow your writing income. Her Freelance Writers Den learning and support community was founded in 2011 and has over 1,000 members. Carol has taught over 20 online courses and self-published 10+ e-book titles for freelance writers. She’s also the author/coauthor of two traditionally published business books for entrepreneurs.

20 Secrets to Blogging Success

Ever wonder how successful bloggers got where they are? If you’d like to start or improve your own blog and turn it into a really useful tool for growing your business, below are 20 tips I’ve distilled from my own experience in growing a blog into a Top 10 Blog for Writers, as well as guest posting on sites including Copyblogger and Write to Done and participating in A-List Blogger Club.

I recently did a free blog-review day and took a look at about 30 different writers’ blogs. This gave me a good sense of some of the common mistakes new bloggers make.

Tips 1–13 will help you use your blog as an audition piece to get freelance blogging gigs. Tips 14–20 concentrate on ways to turn your blog into a money-earning business of its own.

  1. Your blog has a great name, tagline, and URL. Your URL matches your blog name, and between the name and tagline, it’s easy to understand what your blog is about. 
  1. You write great post headlines with keywords. Work hard on your headlines; they are your hook for luring readers to your site. 
  1. You write strong opening paragraphs. Remember that many search engines will show the first few sentences of your post, so make them catchy and include keywords.
  1. You understand blog style. Blogging truly is its own format. It’s different from a magazine or newspaper article. Blogs need to be scannable, short, informal, and to the point. The posts contain links to other useful, related information, both within your blog site and on other credible sites. Good blog posts use short sentences and paragraphs. Using bulleted or numbered lists is also a great way to get your blog noticed. 
  1. You understand blog mechanics. There are some basics you should learn to make your blog posts appealing and useful to readers, including how to enliven links properly, add photographs, code images, and link to sales carts. 
  1. Your design is uncluttered and inviting. For instance, you don’t have a black background, tiny typefaces, a left-hand sidebar, or multiple right-hand sidebars. 
  1. You have a great About page. Typically, your About page will be the most-visited page on your site. Tell a compelling story there about who you are and why you’re blogging. 
  1. Your posts focus on what your blog’s readers need to know. Many bloggers just post about whatever’s on their minds. Great bloggers are constantly asking their audience what they need to know, through polls or contests, and then delivering exactly that.
  1. You post consistently. Even if you only post once a week, you post on the same day of the week, at the same time of day. That way, readers can come to rely on you.
  1. You stick to a niche. You pick one topic and blog exclusively about it. If you have multiple subject areas of interest, start multiple blogs. With the plethora of blogs out there today, the more focused your niche is, the better you will do.
  1. You have testimonials. Particularly if you’re looking to get hired off your blog, be sure to include raves from customers.
  1. You have a Hire Me page. If you want gigs, don’t be shy; let visitors know you do work for others. Have your clips well-organized on your blog site on a static page, and make sure clips are clickable links to your stories. If they’re not online, get your clips turned into PDFs and load them onto your site.
  1. You engage your audience. Good bloggers aren’t know-it-alls; they ask readers for their point of view. You also ask readers to be guest posters occasionally, to give them the spotlight. Showing good engagement on your blog can help you get gigs moderating others’ blogs for pay.
  1. Your content is easy to share. Your social-media share buttons for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. are easy to find and use. You also use them yourself, promoting your blog posts in social media.
  1. You guest post and leave comments on popular blogs. Circulating on other blogs is a great way to draw new readers to your own blog.
  1. You make it easy for visitors to subscribe. Ideally, your subscription form should be simple and visible “above the fold”—ideally, right at the top of your sidebar. Don’t make readers hunt for it.
  1. You have a funnel of products to sell. Top-earning bloggers have a variety of products at price points from low to high. For instance, a $9 e-book, a $47 e-book, a $97 course, and a $500 boot camp. The lower-priced products act as marketing tools that motivate readers to want to buy your higher-priced products.
  1. You know how to affiliate sell. Once you attract an audience, you can sell products they would find useful. It’s a way to sell with integrity.
  1. You don’t clutter up your home page with too many ads. If your ads aren’t earning much money, take them down. They’re a turnoff for viewers. An alternative is to group them on a separate Products I Love page.
  1. You persist. It takes time to build a following, often a couple of years. Keep at it.

 

Carol Tice is a freelance writer who focuses on writing and ghostwriting business books and e-books. She’s written for Delta Sky, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Seattle Magazine, Costco, American Express, Shopify, Freshbooks, and many others. Carol founded the award-winning Make a Living Writing blog in 2008, which has been repeatedly named to Writer’s Digest’s Top 101 Blogs for Writers list. It now offers over 1,000 free posts on how to break in and grow your writing income. Her Freelance Writers Den learning and support community was founded in 2011 and has over 1,000 members. Carol has taught over 20 online courses and self-published 10+ e-book titles for freelance writers. She’s also the author/coauthor of two traditionally published business books for entrepreneurs.

7 Headline Tweaks That Attract Readers to Your Personal Blog

It’s the dream of many writers—you create a personal blog on a passion topic. Then, you use that blog as a writing sample that helps get you hired for freelance-writing jobs.

Many writers have a blog on their writer website—maybe you’ve got one here on your NAIWE website? The hope is that the blog posts will help you attract clients. Right?

The only problem is, most personal blogs fail to draw the paying clients. And the top reason they fail is the blog-post headlines.

Most post headlines are . . . let’s say . . . not exactly fascinating, which is why most personal blogs have zero comments and zero retweets, too. There are other issues with headlines that keep readers from finding your content, too.

For your personal blog to get you freelance clients, that blog needs to have what marketers call engagement—posts need to get comments and social shares.

If you want blogging clients—or even harbor dreams of monetizing that personal blog—you’ve got to understand how to write amazing headlines that make people simply have to click and read your post.

Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to improve your headlines and turn them into attention-getters that attract clients.

 

  1. Study Three Little Letters

If you haven’t learned about search engine optimization (SEO) and using keywords to get traffic yet, it’s time. Because post headlines that lack a keyword phrase that helps Google identify and send you interested readers are a complete waste of your time.

Seriously. Don’t even bother writing. Nobody clicks, nobody reads.

What do I mean? Headlines like:

  • “Beware the Red Flags”
  • “It’s About Time”
  • “Biodiversity: It Takes All Kinds”

There are no keyword phrases in the above headlines.

Single-word topic keywords like “biodiversity” don’t get the job done because they’re too difficult to rank. “Threats to Biodiversity” gets 8,000 searches a month, my search tool tells me, and competition for that phrase is relatively low. That’s the sort of keyword phrase you’ll want to use in your headlines.

Get a viable keyword phrase into your post headline, and Google could send you a torrent of new readers.

 

  1. Use Mystery Sparingly

As you saw above, many blog-post headlines keep readers completely in the dark about what the post covers. That’s not a good thing. Few people are going to click to investigate what this might be about.

However, a little mystery—where we know most of what’s going on, but there’s one unknown or hidden aspect—can be great. For instance, a popular post on my blog is “How I Became a More Productive Writer by Doing This One, Simple Thing.”

This is a known-unknown structure. There’s a topic the reader can identify as something they know about (writing), followed by a mystery item—one thing we don’t yet know. That formula equals: I gotta click.

 

  1. Promise a Benefit

Most blog post headlines fail because they don’t show what the reader would get out of reading the post. There needs to be some benefit to the reader.

Remember the old WIIFM acronym. Readers are asking, ‘What’s in it for me?” as they scan Google and contemplate reading your post.

Your post headline needs to provide an answer.

A headline like “Threats to Biodiversity” fails this step, because it doesn’t communicate what I might learn that I could use in my life—how I could actually help the situation. I mean, I already know there are threats to biodiversity. Right?

By contrast, a headline like: “3 Threats to Biodiversity You Can Prevent Today.”

Now, that sounds like it has information I could take action on. And I want to read it.

 

  1. Identify with the Reader

If you can include the reader in your post headline, it helps to attract the right readers. For instance, going back to “How I Became a More Productive Writer by Doing This One, Simple Thing,” you can immediately see it is a post for writers.

It’s not for housewives who want to do chores more efficiently or business executives who want to manage workers more productively; it’s for writers. When people see themselves in the blog-post headline, they tend to get interested.

 

  1. Don’t Go All In

Many post headlines don’t get clicks because the reader learns what they need to know in the headline. There’s no need to read further. That’s a big problem.

I call these “all in” headlines because everything I need to know is all in the headline.

You don’t want this: “The Border Wall is Just Wrong.”

The reader goes, “OK, I get it. You don’t think we should build the border wall. Done. I agree (or don’t). Got ya.”

Instead, if your headline is: “7 Little-Known Reasons the Border Wall Is Just Wrong”

Now, I might be curious to read what your reasons are. Feels like I might learn something that might affect how I should vote.

 

  1. Not a Long Story

These days, blog post headlines need to be pretty concise. That’s because you don’t want them to get cut off midway in Google search results. Cutoff headlines tend to get fewer clicks. You want your whole headline to show up.

And yes, you should use a tool to check whether your headline (a/k/a ‘title tag’) is too long, if your blog software doesn’t show you character counts. I like the tool from Moz.

In other words, “5 Flight-Crew Tips to Avoid Provoking Flight Attendants,” which as you can see in the checker tool, displays in full on Google.

Not this: “Flight Etiquette: Five Flight-Crew Tips on How to Fly Without Provoking Your Flight Attendant.” As you can see below, that gets truncated in a Google search result:

The drift is lost without the end of the headline, likely resulting in far fewer clicks.

Of course, I checked to make sure the headline of this blog post wasn’t too long, as well:

Creating more concise blog-post headlines is a great habit to get into, even if it doesn’t matter for search because blog posts should be narrowly focused. If you can’t write a concise headline about the topic, you probably don’t have your thoughts organized well enough yet to write the piece.

 

  1. Make Blog Posts Easy to Write

Do you struggle with writing your posts? If so, here’s a tip: Write the headline first.

Too many bloggers write rambling screeds, planning to figure out the headline at the end. That means they’re free to wander off-topic.

Save yourself a lot of rewriting, and work on your headline first. Remember that your first headline idea is probably not your best one—and keep improving until you love the result.

 

Use Your Personal Blog to Get Clients

By writing stronger headlines, you’ll attract more new readers. Those focused headlines with keyword phrases in them will draw people interested in your topic—and hopefully, some will comment and share your post on social media.

Next thing you know, prospective clients may be checking out your blog and seeing it’s a busy place. Then, they’ll want to hire you to make that happen on their business blog.

 

Carol Tice is a freelance writer who focuses on writing and ghostwriting business books and e-books. She’s written for Delta Sky, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Seattle Magazine, Costco, American Express, Shopify, Freshbooks, and many others. Carol founded the award-winning Make a Living Writing blog in 2008, which has been repeatedly named to Writer’s Digest’s Top 101 Blogs for Writers list. It now offers over 1,000 free posts on how to break in and grow your writing income. Her Freelance Writers Den learning and support community was founded in 2011 and has over 1,000 members. Carol has taught over 20 online courses and self-published 10+ e-book titles for freelance writers. She’s also the author/coauthor of two traditionally published business books for entrepreneurs.