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If You Don’t Market Yourself, How Will Anyone Know You?


gmGeneral Motors will spend more than $3 billion advertising its cars around the world this year. Wendy’s will drop $200 million advertising its burgers.

While your spending isn’t in those companies’ league, it’s just as important that you be conscious of what you’re doing each time you market yourself. Marketing is making yourself known, getting the word out about who you are and what you do. It’s networking with potential clients or editors, staying in touch with existing ones. When was the last time you called an editor or publisher just to shoot the breeze, or sent a holiday or birthday card? Do you ever send business cards or clips to new prospects, or even to existing client editors? Have you put your best clips online? That’s marketing. The process doesn’t have to be as formal and daunting as an advertisement in a journal. It just has to work.

You’ll need a marketing plan, or strategy, for conquering new business, according to Jeff Reilly of Bossa Conference. In it, you will identify: who you are or what your product, service or specialty writing niche is; who your target audience is, from publications, publishers or markets; how you’re going to reach that audience (the tools you’ll use to reach them); and how much you’re going to spend to do so. This is a critical step in your checklist for starting a successful business.

Sometimes marketing is just a matter of breaking out the mental thesaurus and thinking of yourself in new terms. Put a different spin on what it is you do, how you do it or how you do it better than others around you. For example, if you specialize in corporate executive biographies, features, nature travel or ghost writing, put that into your “one-sheet” or resume and on your business card. This will distinguish you beyond being a “writer.”

Start by changing the way you view your tools. What follows is a list of everyday props writers can tap to market themselves and grow their client list.

The Rolodex, or contact management software. As you grow your business, nurturing old, faithful contacts is as important as cultivating new ones. Never let more than a month lapse between correspondence with editors or clients. Pitch ideas, call to say hello, send a greeting card.

Cheap call. Find out which telephone company offers the least expensive long-distance rates or a “Free Friday” promotion, and abuse it. Fridays are great days to cultivate new business. Many people are in a looser frame of mind, and more likely to entertain cold calls or business pitches.

Stationery, including a memorable business card or even a Rolodex card. Use an attractive, readable font and lightly colored stock to make it lively and bright. Extend this to your invoice or fax cover sheet–both of which can be designed on your word processor with funky fonts or simple graphical elements like borders or shading. You might create a clip presentation folder so your best work, a cover letter and business card can be mailed together in one attractive package. Create a simple graphic or logo from clip art (available as software or online). You can take a single copy to a copy center and put it on colored or high-grade paper. Or print it on a sticker sheet and slap it on the front of the folder or even your mailing envelopes.

Got clips? You’ll need nice copies of your latest work– journalism or corporate communications. Have a variety on hand so you can target the appropriate editor with the right clip (whether it’s business, nature writing, fiction, etc.), or quickly reply when a prospective client calls you.

Got clips, part II. Put your clips online. Sure, this requires you have a Web site, which costs about $70 for the first two years to register, plus monthly hosting fees. This will enable you to have your own domain (www.johnsmith.com). Alternatively, many Internet service providers host small Web sites gratis with monthly service. In this case, your site will become a part of the host’s site (www.webhost.com/johnsmith). To post your content, either learn Web programming, or find someone to set up a simple site. Next, scan your best work and put the printed page online. Just make sure you own the rights or have permission in writing to use the content.

Memorable holiday marketing. Stage a playful or artistic picture, get a photographer friend to drop by or place your own camera on the tripod, and shoot a roll. Then make copies of the best image, mount them to a special holiday greeting card (generic, so as not to offend any ethnic or religious beliefs). Finally, write a funky or playful holiday greeting, and mail them out. Make it humorous, while highlighting some facet of your experience. Your clients and editors will come to expect the card each year.

Serialize for success. If you’ve written a book, serialize it into short installments which you can sell or give away to local, regional or national publications.

Serialize for success, part II. Place your content into an electronic magazine or “e-zine,” then e-mail that out to friends, editors, your agent, publishers or the like. You’re essentially typing what you know about your specialty into an e-mail message, along with some subscription information and information about yourself and your services, and then e-mailing it to all your acquaintances. The more you tell the world about it, the more your subscriber list will grow. Once it gets into the hundreds, you might want to transfer it to a host, which will automatically add and remove subscribers as they come and go (the fee is about $20 a month). Visit samples at John Labovitz’s “E-Zine-List” (www.meer.net/[tilde]johnl/ e-zine-list) or E-zines Database (www.infojump.com).

Speak regularly. This is important for authors and communications professionals. From the Rotary Club to local bookstores to networking meetings, organizers are always looking for speakers. Remember to bring give-aways, such as copies of your writing or your “one-sheet.” Most will be unpaid gigs, but speaking builds awareness and ultimately brands the speaker as an authority.

Sig files on e-mail. A “sig” or signature file is a footer that goes on each e-mail you send out. Some e-mail programs or services don’t do this automatically, but you can create a “sig” in MS Word and drag it into your e-mail. It should include your name, branding statement (what you specialize in), telephone and fax numbers, Web site (if applicable) and maybe a thought for the day. The end of this article includes the writer’s sig I send Out in every e-mail.

Voice mail messages. Voice mail is an unheralded marketing tool, but it can be very powerful. Changing your message each Monday to reflect the upcoming week’s schedule helps your enterprise maintain a professional and friendly appearance to those outside. And by leaving an upbeat message on others’ answering machines, you leave them with a smile.

Stop by to say hello. Phone calls and e-mails are no replacement for visiting a client or editor. This is especially true if you’re visiting New York, for example, and take the time to pay a visit. A handshake can do wonders for a business relationship.

As an entrepreneur, you must be agile and adept at inventing yourself, your businesses and your self-image. Positioning is a constant process and requires that you adapt. Anticipate your client’s — or industry’s–changing needs, and change to meet them. Then spread the word about that knowledge base you’ve accumulated. Become irreplaceable to your client–and let them know you can meet their needs. Above all, be remembered!.

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