Learning to market your business doesn’t have to be hard, but it does take time to figure out what works for you. I’ve come to realize that marketing and promoting my writing business started long before I had a firm grasp on what marketing was. And it’s all thanks to my appetite for knowledge.
Although I started writing in my teens and got my first paid writing job in my early 20s, the time when marketing really mattered was when I went freelance in 2005. As always, I did a lot of reading and soon realized that anyone who had a business needed to have a website. Without the budget to pay a web designer, I set it up myself. I’ll spare you the painful details of how I taught myself HTML, found some WYSIWYG editors and took my first steps in coding.
First Steps in Marketing My Writing
Suffice it to say that I was soon able to put together what at the time seemed very credible website that I could show to clients when they asked what I had done. It was skeletal (home, about, services, work samples and testimonials) and very Web 1.0 but it did the trick. Many of my small business clients also start with small sites, though arguably they are far better designed than my early one.
After five years in teaching, I didn’t have a lot of recent work to showcase, but I knew that had to be the next step. For me, this wasn’t about marketing, but about having an online way to show what I had done lately to replace the portfolio of newspaper and magazine cuttings I used to show to editors. Going back to my source material, I was directed to article marketing services. At the time, they were a great way to show what you could do and publish for free. So I wrote. I wrote articles to promote my husband’s legal services business. I wrote book reviews. I wrote about moving house (by then I’d moved more than 20 times). While my portfolio wasn’t coherent, it proved I could write.
Researching My Way Into Better Marketing
At the time, I spent a lot of time talking to other writers to learn more about the online writing world. Though I didn’t know it, that was marketing too. One of my fellow writers put me in touch with the copywriting agency that became my bread-and-butter for the next 18 months. The pay was not great but it gave me a chance to learn about search engine optimization and to write about an even wider range of topics that matched my expertise. By the end of that period my already well developed journalism and research skills were backed by solid SEO and web writing skills.
And I kept going. Every time I learned something new, it invariably led to other opportunities:
- Entering a blogging contest led to me getting my first paid blogging gig.
- Writing book reviews for an article marketing site led to a paid gig writing web app reviews.
- Talking to people led to new gigs.
That last point was important. Many of my most successful marketing opportunities came about when I made genuine connections with other people. None of us were trying to market, but we helped each other be more successful. I’m still in touch with some of those people today.
What I’ve Learned About Business Marketing
These days, I’ve realized that marketing is mostly about telling my story – and I’ve learned lots of new ways of doing that thanks to friends who can tell me which parts of marketing are worth spending money on, what marketing is good for and what a unique value proposition is worth.
Best of all, there’s no single right way to do it. The more real you keep it, the more people connect with you. That’s why when I write content for my clients’ web pages, I spend time getting to know them so I can capture the essence of what they are all about and help them to market themselves authentically.
How has your marketing evolved since you have been in business?
28 thoughts on “Marketing My Business – An Evolution”
Yay! You stumbled on the true meaning and purpose of marketing: relationships and real connections. And it shows. Thank you for sharing your start-up story and how you got here. Our world needs more of these true tales.
Thanks, Tea. Coming from someone who knows as much about marketing as you do, that means a lot!
Sharon, what I love about this story is that there is not one word about all the new-fangled (and old) marketing gimmicks. I realize the theme is marketing without marketing but, the funny thing is how hard social media tries to wear those shoes.
I’m also aware that you have personally tried dozens of methods, including the gimmicks. You have taught us a lot about what works, what doesn’t and what’s only a passing fad (Plurk much?) LOL
Hi Mitch, so happy to see you here (especially since you are one of the people that has shared the journey with me – and tried a few fads of your own). 🙂
I love trying new things and dissecting them to see how they work, but all the apps and tools pale in comparison to the ability to have a chat (virtual or otherwise) with someone and discuss what matters to you.
Well, I’ll be darned! We have a little something in common, Sharon …
“Entering a blogging contest led to me getting my first paid blogging gig” Although I didn’t land a paid gig, I won $350 in a blogging contest and the invitation to become a member of the writing team. I always encourage bloggers to join a challenge. You never know the exciting things that can happen! 🙂
You know what I really admire about you? (Beside your wonderful interpersonal and writing skills) Your fearlessness! You’re not afraid to jump in with both feet and try something new, dissect a marketing, writing, or website tool, or explore alternative ways to land new clients. And I also admire your transparency when something doesn’t work. You’re not afraid to say so.
I loved reading about your early days as a freelance writer. Thanks for a great story and for the mention in your post. Much appreciated! xoxo
Good for you, Melanie, and thanks for the kind words. It’s amazing how motivational that first check can be. 🙂
You can say THAT again, Sharon! I don’t think I’ll cash my first check … I think I’ll frame it. LOL!
Funny, but I’ve been thinking about how my approach to marketing has changed over the years. I’ve tried all kinds of things too, and finally realized that the word “genuine” best describes what works for me. Cookie cutter LOIs, calling hundreds of agencies from a list, and cold calling small businesses have all be failures for me.
However, reading a publication that covers a topic I’m interested in and pitching a story that I genuinely believe will work for them has garnered good results, as has networking with other freelancers, and chatting with business owners about their needs *after* we know each other.
Thanks for another excellent post, Sharon. I always learn something reading your blog.
Thanks, Dava. Another bonus is that you do much better writing when you’re genuinely interested in the topic, so everyone wins! 🙂
What a fascinating story, Sharon. It’s interesting to see when all is said and done, good marketing is still about people – connections, as you say. I think because I started freelancing so late in life, I brought a lot of “old school” with me.
Connecting with people with shared interests is what attracted me to LinkedIn in the beginning. It remains one of my primary sources for gigs.
I knew nothing about blogging when I started. That has been a fun way to connect.
I certainly don’t think I am where I should be in marketing. I have such different needs at this stage of my life. I’m still trying to figure it all out. But I do love reading about your journey.
The “old school” stuff really works, Cathy. One of my concerns with LinkedIn is that it seems to be less useful now that it’s emulating other social networks.
And don’t worry – if you’re out there and getting work, then you’re probably doing something right. 😉
I agree with you, Sharon. LinkedIn has lost some of its shine. It’s gotten very difficult to find a well-managed group and the loss of Answers was a tragedy for me.
We’ll have to compare learning to code stories one day, Sharon. A lot of my marketing evolution has been driven by tech… it makes it soooooo much easier to connect with people. Connection seems to be my magic bullet. Or at least that’s what folks tell me. As always I like what you say.
For sure, technology makes it easy to connect, Anne – most of my friends span the globe, which wouldn’t have been easy when I first started writing.
I so love hearing people’s first-days stories. Yours in particular resonates with me. I always say in the beginning we all have more time than money, but we have to spend one or the other to get on the board, so to speak.
True, Annie. And when you don’t have money, then it’s time – there aren’t any shortcuts.
My experience with getting better at marketing, like yours, comes down to two things: throwing things at the wall to see what sticks and being of service to people. Also, it’s interesting to see some parallels in our stories (since we’re both writers) – my portfolio started out pretty haphazard, too 😉 Great post, Sharon!
Thanks, Michelle. I love experimenting (in another universe where I had some aptitude I might have been a scientist. 🙂 )
That axiom of, “You can’t write what you don’t know” is doubly true in today’s online environment.
Being stuck on a particular type of writing style that won’t work for a client is harmful not only to your future prospects but it’s harmful to your clients.
Those first few baby steps into writing whatever you can… that’s what makes the later $5,000 paragraphs feel so good… that and the big cardboard check.
DIY is one of the best way to learn amazing interdisciplinary knowledge that services you throughout your whole career. There’s no better way to pick up something that you’re going to use down the road for another client – I am in constant awe that I almost always have an upsell for an existing client.
Great post, great thoughts!
Yes, that’s great, isn’t it, Nick? Breadth of knowledge means you can talk intelligently to clients about their topic, and that’s a great way to win the business.
What a fascinating glimpse into how you got started, Sharon! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.
I’m of the same mindset: I love to learn new things, and when I don’t have the money to pay someone to do something for me (e.g., build a website or fix my car), I usually try to figure it out on my own. (Sometimes this works out, and sometimes I learn that it would be more worth my time to pay someone, haha.)
For me, learning HTML in the early days consisted of copy-pasting code into my Myspace page. It was very sparkly and animated…I wish I had the cached page, just to show everyone how ridiculous it was.
LOL, Molly, I did the MySpace thing, too (plus a number of other sites that have come and gone). You’re right; it’s important to distinguish which things are valuable learning and which are better outsourced – all part of the learning process. 😉
Great story Sharon!
“The more real you keep it, the more people connect with you”. I agree – keep it real and your relationships are genuine.
Although it’s not required for me to get to know my clients in order to do my job, I like to get to know them on a personal level and keep it real. I think this method has really helped me in retaining my clients.
I’m sure it has, Denisse. 🙂
I thoroughly enjoyed this post Sharon. It was such a great story and it inspired hope for anyone wanted to get it going on and not be frustrated or hopeless. Love it!
Thanks, Michelle. As someone once said (Muhammad Ali, perhaps??), it’s not about falling down; it’s about getting up. In other words, persisting and learning.
This is the standout point to me: “Every time I learned something new, it invariably led to other opportunities.”
I can’t tell you how many times we had to “reinvent” what we were doing. So many things change – people, expectations, budgets, technology… adapt or die, right? We used to develop exclusively in Microsoft technologies and were not interested in dealing with WordPress. Then one day we were like… yup, going to give this thing a shot. And now WordPress accounts for the vast majority of our web business and the extent of our Microsoft technology is using Word to write drafts of our blogs 🙂
It’s so important to be open to change and learning and then doors will open for you!
Absolutely, Carol Lynn. The key thing is to recognize those opportunities so you can adapt. Sounds like you’re pretty good at that! 🙂
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