Saturday, October 6, 2012

Freelancing & Thinking Outside the Box for New Clients

I've been freelancing since 2001, and I consistently receive the question:

"How do you find your clients?"

Right now I'm shaking up my apple cart and thought this would be a good time to address it.

The first thing, right off the bat, is a no-brainer:

You have to make cold calls. And I'm not talking about a few. The percentage of return is 1. So for every 100 cold calls you make, expect one client. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you want to make it in this business and this economy, this is required. Set aside a few days in ONE week to do NOTHING but COLD CALLS, and you'll find that business starts to pick up.

But let's drill this down a little further: How do I decide WHICH type of magazines to call?

This is where I get creative, because if I don't think outside the box, I will never survive. I do NOT hit the magazines that you'll see in the supermarket stands: the Ladies' Home Journals or the Maxims. Yes, these pay a lot of money, and they'd be a plum in the pudding. But there's too much competition to get into those, and frankly, it's a waste of my time to pitch them when the odds are too high at getting a "yes."

I fly under the radar and hit the magazines that no one considers: the trade publications.

I look at it this way: 1) At this stage in my career, I don't need the ego boost of a byline in a five-star publication. At age 29, I hit my career goal, which was to land a job with The Associated Press. I successfully wrote for the AP until age 33, and after that, I was done with the ego trip. So the only reason I'd pitch the big magazines is for my ego ... and frankly, I have bills to pay, and the ego sits on the shelf. It's a matter of survival. and 2) I don't need to go after magazines that feature celebrities. I have no interest in doing interviews with celebrities. The reason is simple: I really enjoy movies, and that's an area of my life that I consider "play time." I don't want to mix work and play, and if I covered celebrities, the line would be crossed, and "play time" would no longer be fun for me. It's the same reason I'd never try to do a feature story on a Pittsburgh Steeler, either, because I've been a fan since age 10. It's too weird for me to cross those two worlds.

OK. So now we come to the question ... how do I choose my trade magazines?

I look under my nose.

What I mean by that is, think about what is governing your life -- not just your personal interests, but the day-to-day things that affect you.

Let me give you an example from my own life:

I have a child who has Asperger's Syndrome and is on a highly-functional scale of autism. "Aspies," as we call them within our community, usually have strong fixations on one particular subject and exhaust their knowledge on it. In my child's case, he loves Sonic the Hedgehog and has fixated on this gaming character since age 5. As he has matured, this fixation has morphed into a concentration on computers, software programs, gaming, you name it.

Now last night we went to a movie theater and saw a preview for a new film where a bad character in a video game wants to become good. My child has talked non-stop about this ever since then.

That got me thinking.

I went to his book shelf and pulled out a magazine that heretofore I have ignored, "Game Informer."

Would you find "Game Informer" on a supermarket shelf? I haven't seen it. We get it, because we have a GameStop membership. This publication reviews games and cross compares hardware for gaming systems and how different games play on different system apps. My kid loves it, even though it's largely written for the adult audience (another aspect of his Asperger's is that he has the reasoning ability of a 17 1/2 year-old, even though he is 9).

Now truthfully, I don't think I have enough industry knowledge to write for "Game Informer."

But this is what I'm going to do:

I'm going to go to and search trade magazines on video gaming. I'm going to search magazines devoted to autism, Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD, ADD and gifted children. I'm going to search magazines devoted to parenting. AND I'm going to search children's market magazines -- those whose audience is children, not adults.

This is a new genre for me, because my current magazines focus on real estate sales, entrepreneurship, information technology and engineering, diversity in the workplace, the military, job hunting -- and I also write for one university's alumni magazine for graduates of its business school.

You can see that I don't focus on one particular area or issue in my client list. That's because in this economy, to survive, you have to be diversified. When one area falls off (real estate, for example), another area needs me to do more writing (the military, for example).

I write for eight different trade magazines.

Now I'm going to take my little Aspergers/Sonic the Hedgehog/gaming brainstorm and spin that out and see if I can land a client in one of these related fields.

And I can tell you for certain that if I stick with my 1 percent rule, I will find at least one new client.

Will there be 100 publications on these topics? Most likely, NOT. That's why I don't stop there. I keep looking "under my nose" to see what OTHER areas in my life might lead to OTHER magazines. This was just one example of how I do it.

Hope it helps you, and if you have any questions, feel free to post here or ping me on Twitter! I usually stick with my "play time" on Twitter by chatting with people about movies. But I'm happy to answer any questions there, too, at (And if you want to know who "Mr Thornton" is, you'll just have to watch a little-known British film called, "North and South." :-)

And now I'm off to write up four stories due next week ... and then, to find any magazines that deal with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Good luck in your own hunt!

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