What Freelance Writers Can Learn about Referrals from Real Estate Pros

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I used to work at a real estate association (two, in fact). One thing I learned by working with real estate professionals was their drive to succeed. Their success depended on making clients happy. If their clients were happy, the agents got referrals.

At first glance, it would seem that writers don’t have a lot in common with real estate agents. But the two share more in common than one would think. Both are self-employed as independent contractors. Both take pride in providing timely and efficient service to their clients. Both thrive on referral and repeat business from clients. But while real estate professionals understand the importance of asking for referrals, many freelance writers are not as versed on this practice.

As any sales person can tell you, the simplest, most straight forward strategy for getting referrals — and often the most overlooked – is to ask for them. Many people either forget to ask or are uncomfortable about asking. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to appear desperate, or they’re too shy and overly modest, or they fear they will be rejected.

One real estate professional I once interviewed for a magazine article said he often shied away from asking for referrals, despite being in the business for 15 years. But a follow up phone call to a former client changed that for good. After inviting his former client to attend one of his sponsored events, he asked if she knew anyone who needed a real estate agent. His timing was perfect. She referred him to a friend who listed his home with him, a home that was worth a significant sum of money.

You never know what kind of business you’ll get if you don’t ask.

If you want to build a repeat and referral-based writing business, you need to be proactive. You need to ask for referrals. You’d be surprised at how much business can come your way simply because you had the courage to ask.

Here are a few tips for asking for referrals.

1. Spread the word. Word of mouth communication is still the most reliable and effective way to ask for referrals because you can usually get an immediate response from the client. But timing is important too. Real estate experts suggest asking for referrals at three critical points in your relationship – a model that writers can follow for their own business.

* At the end of the project. The client naturally feels good about the project you’ve just completed for them. An opportune time to ask for a referral is when the client is in a positive frame of mind.

* During a follow-up call. In the real estate business, it is customary for agents to follow up with clients two to four weeks after closing on the home. During the follow up call, they ask how the client’s move went and if there is anything they can do for them. Then they ask for a referral.

Likewise, writers can follow up with clients several weeks after the project ends and ask if there is anything else you can do for them. Most important, ask “If you are pleased with my work, do you know anyone else who needs a freelance writer?” Another good time to ask for a referral is when the article you wrote is finally published.

* After you have received a referral. When you get a referral, thank the person who gave it to you and keep them updated on the progress of the project. “I really appreciate your referring Joe Client to me. I’m just about to finish the project for them. Do you know anyone else who needs a writer?”

2. Ask for referrals via marketing materials. Real estate agents often add a request for referrals on all their marketing materials. Remember to ask for referrals on all your print and web materials, such as business cards, emails and website. For example, at the bottom of all your emails, you might write: “The highest compliment my clients give me is a recommendation to someone else. I appreciate your referrals!”

3. Ask for testimonials. Another way clients can express satisfaction with your service is with testimonials. Some real estate agents invite clients to prepare a testimonial in the form of a written letter, a video, or a comment on their LinkedIn profile page. Testimonials can sometimes be more persuasive than other types of communication because they come from someone who has direct experience of your services.

4. Act like a pro. Real estate pros get rewarded with referrals when they’ve done a good job for a client. Writers can get rewarded the same way. Do good work, write great articles and meet your deadlines, says freelance writer Linda Formichelli in her eBook The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Your Freelance Writing. When you work with integrity, the editor will be impressed. After you know the editor better or you’ve worked with them for some time, ask them to introduce you to other editors they may know.

Building a referral-based business takes time, persistence and self-discipline, and you may not see results right away. The hardest part of the process is simply getting started. Formichelli says it can take up to a year before a referral pays off. That means you need to be consistent and persistent with your communications, without being a pest. Following up with clients every couple of months is okay. Following up with them every day – not so much.

Hopefully implementing these basic strategies can position you for long-term success and help you achieve your freelancing goals.

Freelance Writing as a Side Hustle

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So you want to begin writing more. But you already have a full-time job. A side gig seems like just the ticket to give you the writing experience you seek while earning steady income from your day job.

Side gigs are common these days. People use them to earn extra cash to pay down debt, build a portfolio, begin a career transition or simply do work that they love that they can’t do during their regular job.

It is possible to have the best of both worlds. For example, my former co-worker Debbie worked full-time as an editorial assistant in our organization while pursuing a freelance writing career on the side. (This was several decades ago before social media and cell phones existed.) She used her private email to conduct business, contact editors and set up interviews. Research was done on her personal time on her home computer. Debbie occasionally used the office phone for business, but it was rare and the calls were short and to the point. Debbie worked this way for a couple of years before deciding she had enough clients to go freelance full-time.

Making the transition from full-time employee to full-time freelancer is not easy and does not happen overnight. It helps to have a side hustle as a bridge between the two. Side hustles help you gain valuable experience, increase your contacts, and eventually line up a steady stream of work before jumping into freelancing full time.

Before starting your side gig as a writer, consider these important points.

1. Be discreet with your communications. With the advances of modern technology, starting a freelance writing business as a side hustle is much easier to achieve than it was a few decades ago when my friend Debbie started her side gig. All the same, be sure to use your own computer equipment and electronic devices to conduct research, set up interviews and make phone calls. And be sure to do all that on your personal time, not company time.

2. Make sure you aren’t violating any company policies. Some companies frown on outside gigs but most seem to accept it as long as the side gig does not compete for the same clients or promote a competing product or service. Still to be on the safe side, speak with your supervisor to make sure you are not violating any policies. Assure them that you are still committed to your job, but that your writing gig is also important to you.

3. Schedule your writing time. With a side gig, your schedule is likely to be stretched to the limit. That means being smart about how you use your time. Review your schedule and see where there are gaps in your schedule that you can use for writing. Then put it in your calendar. If you get an hour for lunch, can you set aside half of that hour for writing? If your company provides 15-minute breaks for its employees, can you use them for setting up interviews or jotting down notes for story ideas? With fifteen minutes or a half hour, you’d be amazed how much writing you can get done in a short amount of time.

4. Remember that the day job comes first. No matter how tempting it is to work on your side hustle,  stay focused on your job responsibilities. Even if you hate your day job, slacking off will not put you in good stead with your employer. When you eventually leave the comforts of your day job to begin freelancing, you want to leave on the best of terms.

5. Be grateful that you have a paid gig. Many people who start freelancing don’t have that luxury. Take advantage of the security it offers you for the time being. It’s a gift. It allows you to work on your passion on the side.

6. Be patient. Creating a freelance business does not happen overnight. There’s a lot of prep work you need to do in advance to build your portfolio and build your confidence.

Writing as a side gig can be fun and exciting. But it’s also hard work, and it’s not for everyone. If you are someone who likes steady work and a steady income or if you’re uncomfortable with uncertainty, freelancing may not be for you. Starting a side gig might be a smart idea so you can decide if this is a route you want to pursue full time. You may decide you don’t want to, and that’s okay. At least you’ve made an informed decision based on actual experience.

To make your writing side hustle work, you need to decide if you’re willing to sacrifice your personal time, family time, socializing and hobbies to work your side gig. Are you willing to make that commitment? For ideas on how to get started, check on the links below and read about other writers who have done it – with success.

What about you? Are you writing as a side gig? Do you hope to transition to full-time freelancing at some point? What has your experience been like as a side hustler?

Related Stories:
7 Secrets for a Successful Side Gig
From Side Hustle to 50K
The Ultimate Side Hustle: 14 Ways to Get Paid to Write

Four Things to Know Before Hiring a Copywriter

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There will come a time in your business when you need to outsource certain professional services, such as bookkeeping or copy writing. I can’t speak about hiring bookkeepers, but as a writer, I do know a thing or two about hiring copywriters because I’ve been hired as one.

Not all writers are alike. Some have different areas of expertise, such as legal writing or advertising. Some have years of experience while others are new to the industry and are looking to gain experience. Finding someone to write your marketing copy is not for the faint of heart. How do you know that the person you hire has the skills and experience to get the job done? More important, how do you know that they are trustworthy?

A discussion among several writers on Facebook revealed their advice to businesses before hiring a professional copywriter. Here are a few of their suggestions.

1. Beware of cheap copy. If you think you can get good writing for a cheap price, guess again. The old adage, “You get what you pay for” is true here. Good copy writing is not cheap. Don’t expect to plunk down $10 for a 500-word blog post and expect a well-researched, well-written piece. Don’t be surprised if what you get is copy with poor grammar, misspelled words and other problems that will need to be fixed. Be prepared to pay a little more for better quality. Check sources like The Balance Small Business or the Editorial Freelancers Association to get an idea about pricing.

2. Ask for samples of the writer’s work. Their samples will demonstrate their ability to do research, their knowledge of the subject and the presentation. If they don’t have samples to show you, give them a writing test. Ask them to write about a topic of your choice covering specific points. Their final product will help you see their process. It will also show you if they are able to follow instructions.

3. Look for someone with whom you can work. What kind of personality do they have, and is that personality compatible with yours? Obviously, similar personalities can lead to a mutually productive and beneficial relationship.

4. Outline your expectations for the project and put it in writing. It will help the hired copywriter to see the details of the project up front. The more detail you can provide and the more clearly you present what you envision for the outcome, the more likely you will receive a fair and accurate quote. It’s important to be clear about what you want the writer to achieve. It can be frustrating to be sought out for a writing job only to learn that the person hiring you is unclear about what they want or they want too many things. Putting your expectations in writing can avoid any potential confusion.

These tips may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many businesses overlook these steps. Instead some business owners may rush into hiring a friend’s college kid out of loyalty.

If you want good, quality copy writing for your business, be willing to do a little leg work up front and pay a little more for their services. Professional writers might cost more, but they will produce better results and they’ll likely do it in less time. And that’s money in the bank.