So, let’s have a frank discussion on sales. Not to force every writer into a stereotype (I’m certainly not stereotypical), but most writers I know are not social creatures. Now, they may socialize on Twitter or Facebook. But, I know few writers who are out there getting in front of strangers and trying to find work as a writer. Which is why it’s so hard for writers to find work. Especially paying work. I mean, like great paying work ($5 on ODesk for a short article is not good money—think $500 for a one-page success story). What you need as a writer is to have a steady income you can live off of–to learn how to sell.

Here’s the deal: I’m going to assume since you’re reading this post on the Georgia Writer’s blog that you’re a writer (or at least have some interest in writing). I’m going to also assume that you’ve dedicated time and energy to being a better writer. My final assumption is that you’re not currently nor have been previously a salesperson in your career.

Unlike me. Yeah, I’m the oddball. I spent almost a decade in sales and marketing jobs while writing in the early hours of the morning. After 9 years of writing from 3-5AM each day while working 80+ hours most weeks, I went back to school for my Master of Arts degree while working as a freelance writer. What I found when I worked freelance that as much as I needed the knowledge of how to effectively present a company’s message, what I relied on  was my former sales experience and the network I had built. A network that few writers I know have.

That’s why the first thing I wanted to cover with my audience is how to build a network that will feed you—not just a job that will feed you—but a network that will feed you now and in the future.

So, grab a cup of coffee. Feed that howling feline. And turn Facebook off because it’s time to get the skinny on how to sell your services like no one but a grizzled old salesperson with a crusted-over liver can tell.

The Hunter

In sales, there are two types of salespeople who are hired. The farmers (or account managers) who have the easiest job on the earth. A dime a dozen, they’re the ones who are given the accounts someone else sold, and their job is to take care of those accounts and grow them. Mostly, their job is to make sure the service provider doesn’t get fired.

Then, there are the hunters.

They’re exactly what you expect them to be. They’re the people who go out there, knocking on doors, shaking babies and kissing hands (well, at least that’s how I did it), and they live for rejection. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch. They hate rejection as much as anyone else. The difference is they’re used to it, and they know rejection is rarely personal. It’s about the potential client telling them they don’t want or need that particular service at that particular time. No problem. Hunters can wait because they’re banging on everyone else’s door at the same time.

I was a hunter. I loathed account management because I realized that the only thing I hated more than the stress of sales was the stress of dealing with fulfillment. Clients complain. Most complain a lot. Some, will never be happy no matter what you do.

Because people are who they are inside and outside the office. Some people are just unhappy people, and they will continue to be unhappy as clients–no matter what you do.

So what does that have to do with a freelance business?

In January 2009, I left my career and started a couple of companies. One was an online recruiting business, and the other was a freelance writing business that I used to fund my other company. With exception to a brief stint back in sales, I was a freelancer from January 2009 until May of this year (my current employer was a client of mine for 5 months before I came on full-time).

All of my clients but one was either someone I knew (or was connected to via LinkedIn) or a referral from someone who knew me. And I had a good deal of repeat business and some excellent portfolio pieces because I didn’t take a gig if it wasn’t something I’d be proud of.

And I also hit some walls. I got turned down. I had clients who didn’t pay (that little story will be a later post), and I had some clients who had the personality of a rabid Tazmanian devil.

But I survived in a really tough market during a trying economic time—mostly because of my phenomenal network.

How to Build Your Network

Step one to building your network: Get Out of Your House.

No, seriously. Get out. Do not think for one moment that social media is going to keep you fed. It won’t. Now, you’ll occasionally get leads for gigs from social media, and I’ll cover success with social media later, but when it comes to building relationships with people that you can leverage for work, you need to get your butt out of the chair and get your face in front of someone because the first step to getting respected is to get known.

And that means getting over your fears of rejection and shyness.

Here’s a secret: Anyone who isn’t a sociopath has some fear of rejection. None of us actually like standing in a room full of strangers and shaking clammy hands. Hell, I kept a bottle of Purell in my purse for 7 years. I really hate shaking hands, but I do it. And about 2 years into my sales career, I realized something: If normal people dread these kinds of confrontations, then wouldn’t they appreciate it if I took that discomfort away from them?

You know what? They did.

So, unless I was just having one of those “I have a headache, but I’m here because my boss expects me to be” days, then I was the one who was bold. The one who got up out of my chair and put on my brightest smile, holding out my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Crystal. How are you?”

You’d be amazed at how much people appreciate you reaching out to them first. And they never say, “Don’t talk to me, jerk!” People are out at events to hear information and to network. You should be there for the same reason, so get out there, put on your best smile, and shake those hands. Don’t be a wallflower.

What type of events should you attend?

Well, if you’re a writer, it doesn’t make much sense for you to go to a writing event and hang out with other writers. That’s not going to put money in your pocket.

Instead, you should go where there are people who need to hire writers. The Technology Association of Georgia’s (TAG) Marketing Group is a good place to start. If you have a particular knowledgebase from a previous career (like healthcare or technology), then you should look for networking meetings within those industries. And before you go, you make sure to put on your big girl panties because what I’m going to tell you next is probably going to scare 99% of you off.

When you go to a meeting, you can talk to people who are nice to you and completely unintimidating (salespeople generally fit the bill), or you can talk to the scariest person in the room (think CEO, CTO, CMO).

Guess what? They’re scary because if they say no, it’s a real no. Like “No, we don’t need your services–EVER,” and then you’re dead in the water until that person leaves the company.

But the reality is the C-level execs are the only people in the company who can really say “Yes.” They’re the ones who set budgets. They’re the ones who decide which projects get funded. And, they’re the ones who can streamline the hiring process if your goal is full-time employment. They can tell HR to bring you into an interview without you even having sent a resume.

Trust me. I know. It’s happened to me several times. Hell, I even got hired at one company before HR even had a copy of my resume (and this was for a Fortune 500 company). When I worked as a salesperson for recruiting services, fast-tracking my candidates through the hiring process was my goal, and I did it by going to the top. If that’s not enough reason for you to seek out the execs, I’ll give you one more: If you’re scared to talk to them, don’t you think everyone else is?

Do you really think these execs agreed to speak at the meetings without realizing people were going to talk to them?

I’ve served on two different technology boards, and my job with one of them was to secure speakers and create meeting content. Trust me, the execs know that people are going to talk to them. They know it. They’re okay with it, and even more surprising, most of them want it. They want people to tell them about their goods and services because as C-level execs, their job is to find the best products and services for their company. It is to their benefit to have an open ear and an open mind.

So, get out there and talk to these people. In my next post, I’ll cover how to find meetings, hone your pitch, and get yourself in front of decision makers, but for now, I want you to drop that best suit off at the dry cleaners, look at how you can polish your image, and get ready to open your business bank account because my next posts are going to be about how to get the kind of gigs that’ll make your friends jealous.