Self-promotion: The thought of it can strike fear into the heart of beginning writers. Strangely enough, it often strikes fear into the heart of experienced writers as well.

The irony, of course, is that as freelance writers, we’re in the business of promotion. We’re professional communicators.

So you’d think, as a group, we’d be great self-promoters. Why then, is this a common stumbling block among freelancers?

Maybe it’s the feeling that we’re not ready, or not good enough.

Maybe it’s just the idea of what we think self-promotion is. If self-promotion and attracting clients conjures up images of standing out there announcing yourself to the world, or sitting at a desk making cold calls, then I can see how that would be scary.

But in reality, self-promotion and attracting clients are much more than that.

Self-promotion is part of everything freelance writers do. It starts every time you set pen to paper or finger to keyboard. The copy you write and the quality of the work you do will determine to a great extent how you will be thought of by potential clients.

With that in mind, here’s a kinder and gentler way of getting the word out about your services.

Be Ready

Invest in the proper training. I’m going to assume that you’ve taken the time to get the proper training, and that you are reasonably competent. Notice I’m talking about competency and not perfection — this is an important distinction.

If you wait until you’re perfect, you’ll be waiting a long time. If you’re 80% ready, that’s good enough to go. You’ll pick up the rest along the way. You learn, really learn, by doing. So do.

Adopt a professional attitude. Once you hang out your shingle, you are a professional. Don’t forget that, and don’t make any apologies. Always do your best work, and strive to be easy to work with.

Have a good answer to the following question: “So what do you do?”

And by good, I mean rehearsed, clear, concise, and to the point.

Next, let’s look at some relatively painless and effective ways to get the word out.

Just Tell People What You Do

In my early days as a timid freelancer, no one outside of my immediate family knew I was a copywriter. The easiest first step is to just let people know what you do. Gently spread the word to family, friends, and colleagues. If you have social media profiles, list your work as a professional freelance writer. The simple act of being out there may generate questions, interest, and could lead to work. Don’t keep your career a secret!

Have a business card. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be in your pocket.

Have a website. This really isn’t an option anymore. The good news is that getting a domain, hosting, and putting up a freelance website is easier than ever. You can literally be up in a few hours.

Ask

Again, simple advice, but amazingly effective. One of the big draws of a freelance career is to get rid of the “boss,” but here’s the thing about bosses: they assign you work. So without the boss, no one is really responsible for assigning you work. Not even your clients, and not even if you’ve worked for them before.

So the trade-off is that you need to ask.

But, it’s important to ask the right question. “Do you have any writing work for me?” is a weak ask. A stronger approach is to suggest an idea. But the best way to ask is to offer a solution: “Would you be interested in an article on three simple steps to get your social media campaign started on the right foot?”

Promote Indirectly

Don’t have the nerve for cold calls or speaking at seminars? There are plenty of other ways to get you and your reputation out there.

Create an e-letter and write blog posts on your site. Even better, offer to write a guest blog post or newspaper column.

Find forums in your niche and answer questions with helpful information. Join LinkedIn and participate in groups using the same approach.

Share content from other sources on your own website or social media channels.

These techniques increase your reach organically and work to build your credibility, all of which will help increase your perceived value.

Another great indirect promotion technique is to shift the focus from talking about yourself, to talking about what you do. Don’t focus so much on the features (you), but on the benefits (what you can do). So it’s no longer “I’m great, I have 15 years’ experience, I’ve worked with so-and-so,” but instead “My customers have consistently doubled their response rates with proper targeting of Facebook ads.”

If All Else Fails…

Two more tips for those who are still squeamish about self-promotion:

  • Hire yourself as your first client, and prepare as you would for any other client project. Try to detach yourself if you can.
  • Hire a copywriter to write your promotional materials. Better yet, find another writer in the same boat, and write each other’s promotional materials.

If you’re nervous about self-promotion or attracting clients, remember that you’re doing it already, and everything you do is actually part of that process. So, embrace it, be ready, try the above techniques, and get out there and do your best work.