“You can’t earn a living as a writer.”
Don’t listen to the critics who say you cannot be well-compensated as a web writer. Chances are, they’re ignoring one of the most basic, yet most important, aspects of a successful web writing business. That is: relationship marketing.
What is “relationship marketing”? It’s a term coined in the direct-marketing business to describe an emphasis on nurturing customer retention and satisfaction. This way, you sell you and your business to the same customers again and again rather than spinning your wheels in constant pursuit of new prospects.
Although you should never stop marketing in pursuit of new clients, you must expend the same amount of effort to retain your existing clients — especially if they are top-rate.
What makes a “top-rate” client? One that respects your skill and specialized knowledge. One that pays you what you ask for, and, pays promptly. These clients refer you to others and treat you as a professional.
Surprisingly, few web writers place an emphasis on client satisfaction outside the confines of the assignment. That’s a mistake that can keep your writing at the dreaded “content mill” level — the place that pays for your talent and expertise on par with an illegal, albeit digital, sweatshop.
Clearly, you don’t want that. So, what can you do? Here are some specific relationship marketing tips that I use online for two different, but related, purposes.
The first purpose is to retain my top clients and attract more of the same using a relationship marketing approach. The second is to create a trusted network of professionals online. Both of these goals require nurturing online contacts and truly focusing on service.
A Winning Combination
I recommend putting a laser-like focus on two areas: demonstrating courtesy and being generous.
You may have rolled your eyes at the idea of “manners” when you were a child, but common courtesy is in very short supply. In fact, in some instances, it is in such short supply that by being courteous and polite, you’ll unleash a potent “secret weapon.”
How to demonstrate courtesy with clients:
- Always deliver early or on time. It bears repeating because this is how you build a trusted bond. This is especially important if your clients are primarily online rather than those you work with in person.
- Be respectful of their time. Yes, this demonstrates common courtesy because we all have limited time and we’re all busy. Keep communication brief and to the point.
- Do what you promised. If you say you’ll send a proposal on Wednesday, do it. You’ll cement your reputation as dependable. You’ll also make your client’s planning (and life) easier. They’ll pay more for a service provider like you.
How to demonstrate courtesy with peers:
- Don’t force friendship. You’re building a network of professional peers online. Don’t send funny email forwards or game invitations on Facebook. You may view this as “getting to know you,” but most recipients will view this as clutter and distraction. Worse, you’ll look unprofessional.
- Follow up when they send a lead. If they’ve made an introduction via email, ‘CC’ them on the response. This tells them you’ve followed up and is a show of respect.
- Cheerfully acknowledge efforts on your behalf. You want more, don’t you?
You never want to be seen as the person who is always asking for something. Instead, you should work to be seen as the person who is generous. You can demonstrate generosity in several ways.
How to be generous with clients:
- Be attentive outside the realm of your project. If they ask a question, answer it. (Tip: Use the question as fodder for your next newsletter.)
- Look for opportunities to include them. For example, if you’re writing on a topic for one client and you’ve written a related piece for another, link to the first client’s article.
- Share news items of interest. The easiest way to do this is to set up a Google Alert in their industry. Check it once a week and see what comes up. (See “Give Three” below).
How to be generous with peers:
- Be generous with introductions — especially online. You can’t control how two people will hit it off, but you can be of service to both by making an introduction. Mindy Tyson-McHorse understands this — she made an introduction on my behalf. Thanks, Mindy!
- Share jobs you pass up. You may need to decline work because of a scheduling conflict or the work requires expertise you don’t have. Share opportunities, events, and articles you think will be valuable with a trusted peer. Work to become a “trusted peer” to others.
- Give without expectation of return. Don’t “keep score.”
“But, it takes so much time!”
Actually, it doesn’t. What it takes is focused, concentrated effort. Just as it pays to buckle down without distraction to write, it also pays to dedicate a portion of your work-week to relationship marketing. Here’s what I do and recommend:
- Give Three. Set aside a portion of your work-week with one goal: give three actions. Briefly connect with three clients and three peers. For example, send the same article of interest (separately) to three clients with a note. Send something similarly helpful to three peers. That’s a total of six relationship marketing touch-points a week!
Relationship Marketing Results
You see, relationship marketing is a two-way street. You should be actively building your reputation as a dependable and trustworthy writer. Yet, you can’t do this alone. Your market value as a web writer will ultimately be determined by others. So, spend the time to nurture peers and clients because they are as important as the quality content you create.
Katie McCaskey is a commercial writer who specializes in developing content marketing strategies for sustainability-focused corporate clients. She is based outside Washington, D.C. in Staunton, VA. Connect with her at www.katiemccaskey.com or @KatieMcCaskey.