6 Proven Strategies that Helped Freelancer Brandon May Succeed
When Brandon May started his freelance writing business in 2015, he was like most freelancers and didn’t know much about marketing. “I was vaguely aware of how freelancers received business,” he says. But instead of struggling to make a living and hoping that clients would somehow find him, Brandon found 6 strategies to grow his freelance writing business. And he put time and effort into doing this.
Today, May Medical Communications is thriving. Brandon is doing freelance work he loves, including medical news writing. And he’s expanded into new types of freelance projects like writing continuing medical education materials.
Here are the 6 strategies Brandon used to achieve freelance success.
1. Find the Right Tools
Building a stable, successful freelance business wasn’t as hard as Brandon thought it would be. “Now that I look back, I think I was viewing the marketing game as something more complicated than it really needs to be,” he says.
By searching online, Brandon found two key tools that helped him learn how to grow his freelance writing business:
- Resources from medical writer Emma Nichols
- A book on marketing for freelancers.
Emma Nichols runs Nascent Medical, a medical communications company that also publishes the HittList, a weekly email with medical writing jobs, and resources to help people learn about medical writing. One of those resources is the Medical Writers Speak podcast.
Brandon found my first book, The Mighty Marketer: Your Guide to Making More Money as a Freelance Medical Writer, through the podcast I did with Emma (Lori De Milto, Author of AMWA’s Toolkit for New Medical Writers). After I published 7 Steps to High-Income Freelancing: Get the clients you deserve in 2017, he used that book too.
Along with learning from Emma’s resources, Brandon got an internship-type job with her. He learned that Emma was looking for interns through one of her resources, The HittList, Brandon applied, did “really well” on the writing test, and Emmahired him. “I’m forever grateful to Emma for that opportunity,whichreally helped me get into the fieldof medical writing,” says Brandon.
2. Build a Strong Network
A strong network is one of the best strategies for growing a freelance business. Brandon started building his network, and focusing on developing mutually beneficial relationships with colleagues and prospective clients (prospects), early. In fact, his first client was someone he had worked with at the medical device company he left to start his freelance business.
Give More, Take Less
In building relationships with other medical writers (freelance and employed) and prospects, Brandon focuses on helping other people. For example, he told some medical writers who were looking for a full-time job about the position he was leaving. And he recommends other freelance medical writers in his network to clients who need help with work that he doesn’t do.
“I’m always looking for ways in which I can help or refer others to jobs,” he says.
That’s smart—because helping others without expecting anything in return is one of the best strategies for building strong relationships. And those strong relationships have resulted in referrals to Brandon from colleagues.
Build Relationships In Person and Online
Brandon networks in person and online. He joined the American Medical Writers Association in 2014, and attended his first annual conference in 2017. I met Brandon there, after he emailed me and asked if we could get together. Brandon is also a member of the National Association of Science Writers.
Nothing beats in-person networking for building strong relationships. And networking through professional associations is one of the best strategies for getting high-paying freelance work.
But online networking has benefits too, and we can do a lot more networking online than in person.
On LinkedIn, Brandon started out by using his connection with Emma to meet and connect with people in her network.
Brandon also connects with potential clients and follows up with them regularly in a polite, professional way. “I try to show them that I’m a real person, and provide them with something of value. Usually, that’s an interesting or relevant article or news piece.”
More recently, Brandon started connecting with medical writers on Twitter. “I’ve found Twitter to be a great way to communicate with other writers in a more relaxed, somewhat less-professional manner than LinkedIn, which isn’t a bad thing. Twitter can be a great way to be a bit more human, which helps to build trust,” he says.
On both LinkedIn and Twitter, Brandon shares content that’s relevant to clients, prospects, and colleagues, including the latest medical findings.
3. Attract Clients with Direct Email
Using direct email, Brandon has chosen the clients he wants to work with and then developed marketing to attract them. “I love researching new companies and seeing what’s out there,” he says.
After developing his prospect list, Brandon wrote customized direct emails for each client. By focusing on each client’s needs, he made himself irresistible to clients who were looking for freelancers. “For me, sending out emails and getting responses is a lot of fun!,” he says.
In 2017, Brandon got 7 new clients from direct email.
For every 100 direct emails he sends, Brandon usually gets 1 or 2 new clients. He does even better when he targets companies that he knows work with freelancers. In one case, he got a freelance job the day after he sent the email.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know,” says Brandon. “There’s plenty of work out there that needs to be done, and many people need an outside resource to get it done. You could be their saving grace.”
Direct email is one of the most effective strategies for freelance success.
4. Be Persistent
Up to 90% of the time, clients aren’t ready to hire a freelancer when you first contact them. That’s why Brandon follows up regularly with clients who express interest in his services but haven’t hired him yet.
Doing this works: 2 of Brandon’s new clients in 2017 came from direct emails he sent in 2016.
Professional, relevant follow-up put Brandon at the head of the line for freelance workwhen these clients needed help.
“I’m a very non-confrontational type of person, so I try to make the follow up about offering something of value to the potential client. I rarely follow up by asking if they have work yet,” he says.
Brandon sends interested prospects articles that are relevant to the company and looks for news about the company he can comment on. “I try to show them that I’m not just interested in seeking work, and that I truly care and have put the time into learning about the company,” he says.
5. Have a Positive Attitude
Brandon also has something clients look for but many freelancers lack: a positive attitude.
Clients, and colleagues who can provide referrals, are drawn to freelancers with positive attitudes, because they’re easier to work with.
A positive attitude gives you energy to run your freelance business, and makes it easier for you to bounce back from the inevitable disappointments of freelancing.
But a negative attitude makes everything so much harder—because it zaps your energy. And it always shows.
6. Make Marketing a Priority
Finding time for marketing is the #1 challenge for most freelancers. But waiting until you need work to look for it—like many freelancers do—means you’ll probably end up taking low-paying projects for clients you don’t really want to work with. That’s why finding time for marketing is one of the key strategies for freelancers.
“I make time for marketing because I thoroughly enjoy seeing my business grow. When I sign on a new client, I feel like I’ve accomplished something, which feels really good,” says Brandon.
Continually market your freelance business
Even though Brandon has seen how marketing helps his business grow, it’s still hard for him to make time for it sometimes. “I’ve recently started saying, ‘I’m making this a priority,’ instead of, ‘I’m making timefor this.’ This helps me elevate marketing to a higher status in my daily to-do list.”
Brandon likes to do a little marketing each day. “It’s like the idea of compounding interest: if you can do just a little each day, it will soon add up to big returns,” he says.
You can break marketing into small chunks of time like Brandon does, or spend an entire day on it once a week (more or less often, depending on where you are in your freelance career).
Some things need to be done during regular business hours, like sending direct emails and following up with prospects. But you can do many marketing tasks, like developing your prospect list and drafting direct emails, any day or time that works for you.
How and when you do most of your marketing doesn’t matter—as long as you do it. “If you want to have a steady stream of work every month that keeps you busy and well paid, continuously marketing your business is a must,” says Brandon.