Why it Can Take Months to Get Your First Assignment with a New Content Marketing Client

Each day I become more convinced that there is plenty of content marketing work for every skilled freelance writer who wants to write for brands and agencies. However, I think many writers get discouraged because it often takes several months to land your first assignment with a new client. When I ask how long they spent marketing for content marketing, they often tell me that they sent out 20 letters of introduction three weeks ago and haven’t yet gotten a work. While it is possible to get an assignment on the same day,  it usually takes a lot longer to get your first assignment with a new content marketing client than in traditional journalism.

For those of writers who have been writing for consumer and trade publications, assignments were often made quickly and marketing efforts seemed to pay off quickly. When a company says that they don’t have any work right now, but they will keep your information on file, it is not usually a blow off, but an honest answer. And it is very possible that you will get work from the brand or agency in the future.

Last October (almost six months ago), I sent out a batch of LOI’s and I just got my first assignment last week with one of the agencies I contacted. During that time, we have exchanged several emails, I have followed up a few times and we even talked on the phone for 20 minutes. And my patience and effort paid off, with a $1 word assignment and hopefully regular work in the future. I am still in contact with two other editors that I “met” during that marketing push and am anticipating work from them in the near future.

From talking with brands and agencies, I believe that there are three main reasons why it can take months to get your first assignment:

  1. Most brands and agencies have a regular stable of freelancers. Most editors with national magazines had a very wide net of writers that they used and were pretty open to a new writer who had a killer idea. But since most content marketing clients prefer to develop long-term relationships with freelancers, most companies that use freelancers already have a group of writers that they use regularly. Even if you are amazingly qualified for their projects, they can’t bring you on until they have work for you to do. But since life happens – people get full-time jobs, flake out on assignments and have babies – clients often need freelancers on short notice. And if you have been regularly following up, then you just might be the person that they call. It can just sometimes take a while.
  2. Agencies are constantly getting new clients. The other way to get your first assignment is when an agency gets a new client in your niche. Often an agency must ramp up quickly for a new project and if they have been emailing with you for the past few months, then you may be the first writer that they call to get started on the new project. Be sure to let potential new clients know about any new niches or experience you have acquired since you starting emailing with them. It is very possible that they next client that they get could be in your new niche.
  3. Brands and agencies want to have a rapport before bringing you onboard. When you are working for an agency, you often work directly with the agencies clients thus your professionalism really reflects on the agencies and impacts their bottom line. Agencies want to feel like they know you and can trust you before having you work directly with their clients.  But over a few months of corresponding with them, then when either #1 or #2 above happens, they will feel like they have a relationship with you and trust you with their clients.

What is your experience with the time required to get your first assignment with a new client? Any insights on why it is typically longer than with traditional journalism?

Comments

  1. Danielle says:

    More of a question than a comment, really, but do you follow-up with corporate prospects the same way as you do with agencies and custom publishers? I expect that the latter two might be more used to that/expect it, but corporate prospects might find it pushy?

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Danielle, Great question. I will follow up with everyone once, possibly twice with the second many months later. If I don’t hear back, then I don’t follow up again. I only continue to follow up if I get some positive response back, such as we are interested, but don’t have work now. As Dan Davenport with MXM said at a conference – be a friendly stalker. But I try to not go over the fine line to actual stalking. I try to gauge based on my fit with the company as well as any inside information that I have about their needs. It’s not a one size fits all answer. But you are right, I probably am less assertive with companies.

      • Danielle says:

        Thanks for your thoughts, Jennifer. Also, I wanted to say that your blog is a great resource and has been very helpful as I tweak my marketing program. It’s also been reassuring to know that someone else is having similar experiences/responses/challenges with this whole content marketing thing.

        • Jennifer says:

          Thank you so much for the kind words. Please let me know if you have any specific questions and I will do my best to help you.

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