When I joined Location Rebel Academy in January, I had told myself I wouldn’t tell anyone about my business until I succeeded. I would grind away in passionate silence until I landed my first real gig, became published, and could consider myself a ‘writer.’
Part of that plan was motivating— hurry, get a gig, land a job and you’ll be legit, I told myself.
But that goal became increasingly demoralizing because getting a gig wasn’t that easy for a full-time parent, with very little time and no prior experience in professional writing.
I was sending Letters of Introductions into an abyss of (mostly) unrequited emails. I was letting my daughter watch hours of Daniel Tiger while ‘mommy works.’ But what did I have to show for it?
Then in an act of desperation, I started to approach my work from a different angle. I realized that I was the one holding myself back from one of the most important tools I have in building a business— word of mouth.
Word of mouth: more bang for your buck
If you’re building a business for the first time, odds are it’s not the only thing you are doing; maybe you’re raising two kids like me, or working a full-time job. You know as well as I do that when we have the time to take steps towards building our business, we need every minute we invest in our work to have the highest possible return.
Word of mouth is sort of like creating a passive income side business. When you start telling people about your business, the word spreads. You not only have one person on the hunt for work, but you also have several, maybe even dozens.
Suddenly leads and potential gigs will start finding you—without you doing anything.
When I began to have leads find me, I could use the very little time I had to write, research, and do targeted marketing—those other pesky bits it takes to run a business.
Sure it is terrifying at first (yes, introverts I see you cringing). There’s a healthy fear of failure for many of us that comes into play, but I quickly learned the benefits of talking about my work outweigh the potential negatives.
The benefits of word-of-mouth marketing
Leads for work:
When people know about your work, they’ll start sharing their connections or ideas. It’s like having a hive of worker bees out in the world, and the Queen (you) can sit on your throne (computer) and wait (do other important things) for the honey (leads=gigs=money).
Other writers get it. They’ve been where you are and in addition to gigs, they can offer support, and sometimes that’s just as good.
Experienced writers can even become mentors and share years of experience as well as their connections.
You can talk to anyone, anytime. Meeting your friend for coffee, your weekly call with your grandma, or Saturday brunch with the girls (okay, so maybe it’ll cost you a mimosa, but that’s a price worth paying).
It’s an organic process:
I found that talking about my work came up naturally, even when I wasn’t working. I didn’t have to schedule time in my day to do it. Conversation by conversation, I was growing my business and seeing real results.
But if you’re like me, knowing the benefits of word-of-mouth doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
To ease my nerves in making one of the biggest announcements of my life, I took it one step at a time using 3 steps:
- I changed my mindset and got over my fear of telling people
- Made a list of people to reach out to
- Started talking (and got a new deodorant)
I can’t underline enough how manageable and impactful these three steps were to landing my first gig, and my second and third.
Once I started talking about my business, the word spread fast. Work is landing in my lap and now I have more time to send quality LOIs, write pitches for solid leads, and do the work that matters—writing.
1.) Get in the Mindset
Alternatively, close your eyes and jump.
I get it—talking to people is not why I signed up to write unless the voices in my headcount. I talk to two toddlers all day and the last thing I wanted was more chatter.
But when I realized my business wasn’t growing and my anxiety was taking over, my partner suggested I reach out to a local writer—someone who had the job I wanted. “Just pick her brain about being in the industry. What have you got to lose?”
I had nothing to lose.
So I wrote an email, and, quite literally, closed my eyes and hit send. This move ended up being a total game-changer.
Getting over the mental hurdles of owning your own business is hard, but talking about your work is one of the easiest things you can do to grow your business.
2. Make a List
Okay, so you’re ready to take your business to a new level. The next step is listing out people you can talk to. Once I did this, I could see all of the opportunities I was missing before.
My list looked like this:
- LRA & Accountability Group
- Local freelance writers with similar niches
- Friends and family- the nice ones to start
- Former or current coworkers- particularly those in marketing or with large LinkedIn networks
Write down specific names and contacts, if necessary. Talking to friends and family comes naturally but others might take more work.
3. Start Talking
If you don’t have a strong antiperspirant, this might be the time to get one.
I don’t think it was the fear of talking to people that made me so nervous, rather releasing my business into the world. If I failed, how many people would know? Who would I have to face? But I rolled on some sage-scented bravery and started talking with intention.
I took it one conversation at a time, over time.
I worked my way down the list based on where I felt the risk was lowest, i.e. strangers. I cared less about their judgments, so I felt bold. As I gained confidence talking in LRA forums and my accountability group, I moved onto local writers and then friends, family, and coworkers.
LRA & Accountability Groups
There is a reason that Sean and Liz strongly suggest you join an accountability or mastermind group of LRA members—it can be one of the most impactful resources you use to grow your business.
I found an accountability group shortly after I joined LRA. We are now a group of 7 writers who video chat once a week and contribute to daily conversations via the app, Discord.
We’re always sending each other links to job posts or leads we come across that may not be right for us, but good for another member. My ‘accountabilibuddies’ have read my work and know my interests because I have invested time in our group—just as I know their interests.
My relationship with them has turned into hours saved from looking for gigs.
If you haven’t done this yet, it’s easy. Just jump on the forums and say “Hey! I’m a (insert niche + business) looking to join an accountability group. Does anyone have space or interested in creating a group?”
In the first few weeks of my writing career, I typed “Freelance writer + health + Indianapolis” into google.
I could have never guessed the impact this simple search would have on my business. It’s no surprise Sean and Liz list it as one of the top 10 strategies for beginners.
I clicked on the first writer that popped up. She seemed experienced and we had similar interests, so I sent her an email.
“Hey my name is Allison and I am a freelance writer in Indianapolis. I see you have a lot of experience writing and we have some similar interests like women’s health and the arts. I read a few of your articles and they are wonderful. If you are interested, I would love to pick your brain about working in the industry. Let me know if there is a time in the future we could chat on the phone. Thanks and I look forward to it!”
To be honest, I did not expect a response. And I didn’t get one for several days. Then, boom, a reply appeared in my inbox. Not only was she willing to talk, but she was also honored that I reached out.
Our first phone call was over two hours long.
We have spoken every couple of weeks since then and she has become a mentor to me. She helped me land my first paid gig with a prominent local publication. She had more work than time and suggested to her editor that I get looped in to help finish the last installment of a four-part series.
Now I have a paid gig, soon-to-be-published work for my portfolio, an editor who is sending me story ideas for the future, and a mentor and friend.
One google search, email, or phone call might be all that’s separating you from your first paid job, like me.
Friends and Family
So this is the part when I closed my eyes and jumped.
Yes, sometimes I looked down or closed my eyes when talking to a friend or relative. I just couldn’t stand to see judgment on their face when I told them about my business. Whatever works, right?
But there was no judgment. There were ideas, suggestions of people to connect with, or comments like “That’s cool. Can you pass the rolls?”
After telling my father-in-law, he shared a contact for the head of marketing at a local medical institution, asked if I would do some copy-writing for his business, and assist with their blog down the road.
Yes, yes, and yes.
This was my first gig and even though I did the work for free, I saw the power in talking about my work and its potential for future income.
This has happened time and again:
- Friends sending posts from their private Facebook groups with call-outs for freelancers. I landed a job interview this way.
- Friends with relatives in my niches. Easy access to experts or businesses to send LOIs/pitches.
- Friends and family sending job boards or posts I hadn’t seen.
Little did I know, I had unintentionally recruited friends to find work for me just by telling them about my business!
No matter how close you are to your friends or family, you can’t know every connection or idea they have. Keeping your business to yourself is also keeping you from potential work.
Former or current coworkers, especially those who are in marketing, are great people to start talking to. I discovered this by texting a former boss asking for a testimonial for my website. I found out he was also building an online business and suggested I help with some content writing.
The stars were aligning, again!
If you’ve worked in an office or business, you probably know a marketing director. Even if they aren’t in your niche, they tend to have a lot of connections. Ask them out for a coffee and let them know what you’re up to.
I wouldn’t suggest asking them right off the bat, “Hey, nice to see you. Do you have any leads for me?”
I like to ask them about their work, what do they have going on? They will likely reciprocate the question and you can talk about your business. They may not have any ideas right then, but be patient. When you least expect it, they might hit you up with a personal connection or job posting.
It’s one of the easiest things you can do to find work.
The best thing about word-of-mouth is that it works when you’re not. So when you have time to sit down and work, you can use it to send targeted LOIs, write quality articles, and do the necessary administrative work.
Now I tell nearly everyone about my work. I don’t have a prolific portfolio yet, but it doesn’t matter. Day-by-day I’m more confident in my writing, my business is growing and people are happy to help—who am I to stop them?
The other day my friend said about my business, “Wow, you’re really doing it. That’s awesome.” You know what? Even with the little time I have, I am doing it. It is awesome.
And you better believe I am no longer keeping it to myself, and neither should you.
Allison Troutner is a freelance content marketing writer in Indianapolis, IN. She writes all things women’s health & technology, the arts, and personal finance. The things that make her tick include her two toddlers, fantasy fiction, and coffee in excess. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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