Writers: How Not To Suck At Marketing

When I’m not giving marketing advice and using dirty words on my own website IttyBiz, I’m over at First Wives World being an editor and blog manager. I hire writers. A lot of them. While I’m sure many of our applicants are good writers, I’ll never know because I don’t get back to them. Learn from these writers. They screw up so you don’t have to.

1. Treat it like a real business.

I recently received an otherwise wonderful job application from a woman whose email address was prissymissy456[at]aol.com.

I am not joking. The only thing I changed was the number. Would you hire an accountant with an email address like that? A lawyer? Would we elect this woman to Congress?

Get a real email address. Answer your phone with your name. Do not let your kid record your voice mail greeting with “You’ve reached Sherri, Larry, Barry, and Kerry! You know what to do!” Get business cards, the kind you didn’t print off on your own ink jet.

2. Get a real website.

If you have some spare time to kill – and you don’t mind mourning for the rest of your life that you’ll never get it back – go check out some writer’s websites. Seriously. Google it. It’s freaking disgraceful, and it’s not just limited to broke freelancers. Head on over to Nora Roberts’ site and you’ll find a typo on the homepage.

We hang around in forums and comment threads bitching and complaining that people don’t pay us enough money. We say we’re worth $50/hour. Does your website say you’re worth $50/hour?

On the other hand, check out Joel Schettlers’ site. Is your site this good? No? Go back and redo.

3. But act like a real person.

Can we agree on a cease-and-desist for all query letters that start with Dear Sir? Or To Whom It May Concern? I thought these went out with the ark.

You know all those writing books and websites that you read, the ones that tell you to cultivate your voice? That “voice” you’re trying so hard to develop does not start on page one – it starts WAY before that.

As a writer, the only thing you have is your words. Choose them wisely.

4. Spend some money.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about writers that makes them feel they’re exempt from spending money on their business. Is it because they think they’re broke? Not acceptable. Go find an installation artist or a musician – they’ll tell you about broke.

Does it cost money to get a second phone line, a fax machine, a professional website? Yes. Is it your basic human right to be paid for what you love without spending a dime of your own cash? No.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for bootstrapping. You don’t have to take out a second mortgage on your home, people. Barter for services, if you can. Eat ramen for a few months if you have to. You’ll be eating it for a whole lot longer if you don’t spend some money to promote yourself effectively.

5. Figure out what you’re good at, and tell people about it.

Imagine this little scenario. You are at a social gathering of some type (not a LAN party, though – we’re covering marketing for programmers next week) and someone asks you what you do for a living. There are only two acceptable answers. You can say you’re a writer. Or, you can say specifically what kind of writer you are. That’s it.

How the hell do you expect to get any business if you don’t tell people you’re in business? My aunt, God love her, has two masters degrees and wants to work from home as a copywriter. Ask her what she does for a living and she tells you she works at a wine store!

Along the same lines, if you specialize – and if you’ve been freelancing more than six months, you should – make your specialty very, very clear. Do you write white papers? Blog posts? Feature pieces? Open your mouth and tell people about it.

BONUS TIP: For God’s sake, proofread.

I really, really wish I didn’t have to say this, but clearly I do. We got 68 applications for our most recent job posting and 51 had major errors. I’m not talking about someone using a semicolon when I would have preferred an em dash. I’m talking about starting out your email with “hello my lisa.” What does that even say? Oh, and check your attachments while you’re at it. You never know what you’re sending.



Naomi Dunford writes for IttyBiz, a blog for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and other work-from-home types. Come by and check out her free 31 Day Marketing School. No homework required.