If you’re struggling with confidence…if the ability to land your first client seems like a complicated process, here’s how you can forge relationships in a simple, everyday way.
You don’t even need an existing network; you can start building your own. And you can do that one person at a time.
E-letter and business-building expert Michael Katz smartly encourages you to contact those you already know. That’s a fantastic way to begin. I’m here to tell you that you can also land clients by talking to strangers and just being plain nice.
You never know how being helpful, just having a friendly conversation and following up to say hello can lead to paid work.
To give you ideas for how this can work for you, let me share some of my wonderful experiences… and then I’ll give you three non-networking tips that can help you build your business.
The Time I Was Just Being Helpful
I got my copywriting break in my 20s when I worked as a temp doing admin work at the Young & Rubicam ad agency in Cincinnati. One day during lunch, I heard that one of the executives I didn’t know yet needed funny sales awards for a client right away.
I talked to this executive, a stranger, from another department briefly. Then guess what I did during my lunch break? I tried to be helpful. I wrote up a list of humorous awards. Soon after, I had a portfolio of not only spec work, but also real projects I had been paid for.
Another true story…
The Time I Just Stated What I Was Looking For
One very hot day, I was standing on a Manhattan street and began chatting with another woman who was also enjoying a frozen yogurt. I told her I was looking for writing work. She invited me to an executive women’s luncheon shortly afterwards.
That’s where I met and was hired by Judy, a ghostwriter ─ a woman who charged clients $100,000 a book. I worked a bit for her on the memoir of a Holocaust survivor, Sam Solasz, who was nicknamed “The Angel of the Ghetto.”
(A documentary about him and another war veteran who went through tremendously difficult times and who also ended up running a successful business premiered at The 92nd Street Y some weeks back. This month, it was also featured on NPR stations.)
And I didn’t just get lucky twice.
The Time I Mentored a Younger Woman
When I worked at Pace University in their Publishing Program, I tried to be a mentor about business, publishing, and marketing to Ayana, a wonderful Black graduate student. She was entering the publishing world, where 76% of those who work in the industry are white, according to The Diversity Baseline Survey by Lee & Low Books in 2019.
After she graduated from the program, she became an editorial assistant and then assistant editor for Verywell. The Verywell brand reaches over 38 million readers per month. She worked for the vertical called Verywell Mind. It was ranked the #1 mental health website for part of 2020.
Because I guess I was kind to her, Ayana offered to recommend me as a writer. I was now doing more content work and had recently published in Forbes and The New York Times. Ayana suggested that I write regularly for them.
Thanks to this lovely young woman, I’m now on contract and write four articles per month for Verywell Mind. As of today, I have researched, written, and published 29 articles for them, with four more in their pipeline.
The Time I Got Hired Just by Being a Friendly Acquaintance
Lastly, as a lover of fashion, I somehow landed my dream job at the age of 60. I was hired along with a team of about 25 people to sell dresses that ranged in price from $200- $6,000. The team consisted almost entirely of 20 and 30-year-olds… and then there was me.
The girl who pasted fashion pictures and poetry on the walls of her childhood bedroom became a personal shopper working on commission on Lord & Taylor’s dress floor! It was at the tony Manhattan flagship store on 5th Avenue, too. The store had just invested millions in renovating the department. It looked like a museum with its pillars, marble floors, and huge windows facing the city.
Well, I happened to work with Renee, a shy young woman who was responsible for gift wrap. She spoke softly, dressed simply, wore no makeup, and was far from glamorous.
One day, she confided that she wanted to be a writer. I was doing copywriting, developing content and articles, and working side jobs. I told her to connect with me on LinkedIn and I’d try to help her.
She didn’t seek me out, but I kept saying hello months after by text and email. Well, Lord & Taylor is no longer around, but Renee landed another position in the city ─ at Shape Magazine. She recently edited and published my article about preparing for the COVID vaccine.
These Three Non-Networking Tips Can Help You Build Your Business
If you already started telling family, friends, and neighbors — those in your inner circle — that you’re a writer, congratulations!
I suggest you tell those outside this circle too — those strangers and others in your greater world that you see when you’re out and about.
No need to hand out business cards, attend conferences, or pitch your B2B services directly now. Those activities definitely have their benefits ─ don’t get me wrong.
But if driving new business and lead generation is going at a snail’s pace for you now, start simply connecting.
Here are three tactical takeaways and non-networking tips:
- Be nice. Act kind without any ulterior motive or intent to get hired. Just be a good human being.
- Simply state that you’re a writer. It’s just a fact. Also, have conversations with co-workers at jobs that have nothing to do with writing. Like at that Starbucks where you work part-time or at that accounting office that you hope to leave as soon as you become a B2B copywriter in the accounting world.
- Offer to help. Like from the examples I shared where just helping someone out gave me some great opportunities.
You might just land your first client or new business by doing simple things ─ being kind, letting people know you’re a writer, and volunteering to help. Although you may have been warned as a kid to be careful talking to strangers, be open to talking to those outside your inner circle, too.
It feels good to connect with other people — and you never know where it might lead.