Marketing filter: How to find potential clients for freelance medical writing?
January 10, 2009 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Marketing filter: How to find potential clients for freelance medical writing?

Marketing filter: How to find potential clients for freelance medical writing?

Ask Mefi has always been pretty helpful with brain storming, so here goes…

I just made the leap to freelance medical writing. I have a couple years experience working at medical education companies (and we partnered with pharma companies). I wrote journal articles, posters for science conferences, etc while employed at the med ed companies. Clients and colleagues loved my work, but that really isn’t going to help me find clients now that I am on my own.

The good news is that I already have been given (and promised a lot more) work from former coworkers who now work at other medical education companies. There is no need for me to panic or worry for the next few months.

However, I am interested in a particular type of work (oncology articles vs the random topic assigned to me by my former work colleagues, although I really appreciate that they have given me the work).

Clients that I would like to work with include medical education companies, biotech companies, pharma companies, medical supply companies, medical journals, universities, and clinicians/investigators that may not have the time to write their own paper but can pay the market rate.

What I have tried to do so far:
• Email medical education companies with a brief intro letter and attached sample/samples. I also sometimes call the company to get the contact person’s email address and then send the email. In addition, I send follow-up emails. Success rate: Probably 1/10 people respond to the first email. Out of those people, after a query or 2, a few have stated that they would like to give me a project(s) once a certain oncology projects startup, but I can’t assess for now whether that will or will not happen. This has been really time consuming (it takes hours to send off emails).
• I’ve tried calling pharma companies to get the name of a person who works with freelancers so I can send an email – but it usually goes nowhere (the person answering the phone has no idea or transfers me to HR, and they don’t know either). Success rate: So far I don’t even have a potential email address.
• Paid to be listed on the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) “list of writers” Success rate: so far no contacts but I think this was a stupid model – clients are supposed to pay AMWA to get access to the list. There are several other medical writers on the same list, so there is no reason that I would stand out vs everyone else.
• Linked in Success rate: I’ve been contacted by a few potential clients as soon as I listed myself as a freelance medical writer. No work yet but I do think this will work eventually (because it isn't even a month and clients find me)

What I also plan to do:
• Make a web page and a blog (although the blog will be for other purposes, science writing)
• Send emails to journals, universities, and biotech companies.

Crazy ideas:
• Advertisement on facebook or linkedin? Blind email research investigators? Flier on the wall at universities? Print up fancy postcards and mail them to pharma, biotechs, etc? Twitter? I looked at similar mefi how to find potential clients marketing questions to come up with these ideas, but I don’t know if it applies to my industry or not (eg, would an investigator or pharma company really be perusing facebook looking for a medical writer? Seems a bit out there).

Current weaknesses:
• I just started my business so I can’t throw a lot of $$ at this – plus I don’t know what is worth the $
• In addition, writing email after email, even if it is cut and paste, it takes a long time. I do have projects right now and need to finish them.
• I am a bit introverted and not a great phone person, so right now calling people doesn’t help me (and I hate it), but I do plan to get over this.

So, any other ideas how to market? Do marketers have any suggestions? Or freelance writers? Or for people who work at such places, how did your writers find you? Should different strategies be used for each market (eg, pharma vs university?) Could there be a way to automate these processes (eg, once I know one of these techniques will = paying clients, I have considered paying someone to send out the emails for me, etc.). I hate spending a lot of time on something like this, but my business will flop if I don't master this.

posted by Wolfster to Work & Money (6 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite may have some. Association of Health Care Journalists has a job list, also National Association of Science Writers also. American Medical Writers Association, I think.

A woman named Emma Hitt also puts out something called the Hitt list that has lots of medical writing jobs. If google does not help with these, memail me.
posted by Maias at 7:58 PM on January 10, 2009

In addition to AMWA, look into ISMAP--they may have freelance job boards.

I work for a biotech company, and have hired freelance writers from time to time. I've had the best luck finding people through face-to-face interactions, and word of mouth. AMWA has small local conferences from time to time (usually Saturday mornings), and I was able to make a contact at one several years ago--I still depend on her for work today. That person was able to refer me to other writers in her circle. Vetted as they were by someone trusted, I have had good luck with them too.

In my experience it's the direct interactions that are strongest, rather than cold calls. Since you have previous med ed/ pharma experience, I'd suggest capitalizing on the relationships and contacts you made in your previous jobs. Send out a broad email to all your former contacts, maybe on a quarterly basis, with updates on your most recent excellent work, samples, and quotes from satisfied customers (with permissions). Send it to other writers that you will meet through AMWA meetings, too. It'll ensure that when someone is looking for a writer, your name will be fresh in their minds. Within a year, you will likely have regular work.
posted by oceanmorning at 8:49 PM on January 10, 2009

I have my own business that depends on writing. It's good that you're planning to have a web site, because it's very helpful, both with face-to-face networking (they'll get your card with your URL, and the site will reinforce your good impression) and with more distant contacts. On the site, you could make clear what makes you different from the other medical writers out there, from the perspective of your potential clients. I'd also include some short samples, a client list, and testimonials.

I agree that word of mouth is the best way to get new clients. But if you do send out emails again, having the site will make it easier--you'll just need 2-3 very short paragraphs making clear what benefit you offer and including a link to your site, which provides all the details. This worked all right for me when I was starting out.

I also hire freelancers. I'm likely to call someone that a colleague has recommended, but I'll Google them first. I want the freelancer's site to show that they know how to be an independent business person. I want to get the impression that they'll deliver on time, invoice on time, not need a lot of handholding, and generally be professional.

You might consider aiming your blog at potential clients, because a blog can increase your credibility. My blog has gotten me speaking gigs in addition to more clients because it apparently gives the impression that I'm an expert.

You might also identify what trade publications your clients read. It's usually easy to get articles in trade publications, and a classic way for a freelancer to get some attention is to write an article on how to find and work with a freelancer. Other pieces could address whatever issues your clients deal with in medical writing. Your URL should appear in the byline, with, ideally, a few lines about you and your services.

If you try cold-calling again, you might avoid saying that you're a freelancer and just ask for the person who is in charge of medical writers. Maybe ask friends in the industry what that person's title is likely to be and use it when you call. Try not to sound like you're looking for work until you get that person on the line.
posted by PatoPata at 9:24 PM on January 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for the suggestions so far.

I’ve been able to find job lists on my own (and have been a subscriber of the Hitt list for a long time). For now, that will make a low to nonexistent part of my marketing campaign. Sending in an application to periodic job listings while a herd of other med writers are simultaneously applying probably will not be worth the investment for me.

The contract from my last job forbids contacting the pharma clients (even if it were not on my contract, I would not feel right doing so – my employer pitched to the client, landed the work, so it would be unfair for me to go try to then take that work from them. I really liked and respected my coworkers at my last company, so I don’t want to cross this line.

However, past coworkers are fair game, and as I mentioned in my post, I already am receiving lots of work from these individuals.

Thanks for the networking suggestions – I’m not very good at networking, either, but oceanmorning’s perspective was very helpful. On that note, once I get the webpage up I will get business cards and see if attending events in the city will help (although I am probably not going to use AMWA, but rather, events attended by other scientists, biotech and pharma companies, with only a few med writers in the room).

@Patapata – wow, I was already planning to do a web page, but thank you for mentioning the rationale as to why it is important to do so. Also, I had not viewed trade publications in that manner, so I will also pitch to trade magazines and incorporate that as part of my marketing strategy.

Thanks to everyone and if anyone has additional suggestions, please post!
posted by Wolfster at 6:59 AM on January 11, 2009

As someone who has tried my hand at freelance medical writing but decided I didn't have what it takes... I have a few comments:
  • If you want to specialize in oncology, that's fine - but keep in mind that you may be competing for jobs with actual oncologists or other former practitioners. I'd suggest that you be willing to be a generalist, especially at first.
  • Unless you have an MD or PhD, you may be relegated to writing more medical education articles and articles for the lay press than peer-reviewed journal manuscripts.
  • Join your LOCAL chapter of AMWA and start going to meetings. Go to the AMWA conference and network. Subscribe to the AMWA listserv(s). Talk to other freelancers about how they find work.
  • Get really, really familiar with AMA style. Improve your grammar and punctuation skills. Take the AMWA workshops and get your writing/editing certificate. All of these things can give you an edge.
  • Most of the successful freelance medical writers I know started freelancing after more time in the business than just 2-3 years. They accumulated lots of contacts at pharma companies and had a stable of clients before they went out on their own.
  • Finally, be aware that the successful freelancers I know say they spent about HALF their time marketing and building their business, especially at first. If you don't love this part of being a freelancer, you probably won't be able to make it unless you get really, really lucky (this is why I decided not to pursue it full-time - I hated that part of the business).
Good luck - memail me if you have any more questions.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:07 AM on January 11, 2009

Final update from the OP:
I posted that question when I was freelancing during my first year. I was able to successfully find clients in the following years, until I stopped freelancing last year (I got burnt out and that is a different story).

But I wanted to leave this update for other people who have a similar question.

First, the key for me to get clients was to do a good job and work for the same clients over and over and over again. Even a few clients can provide more than enough work.

Here were the other things that worked well for me:
1) LinkedIn - Having an extremely detailed LinkedIn profile. I didn't just say "cancer" or "oncology" but listed tumor types, etc., that I did projects for. I also joined groups - I think that these things led to my name going to the top. I also provided contact info, including a link to my web page , from my LinkedIn profile. I have to say that this led to everyone from recruiters to managers to presidents of companies contacting me for projects. I had a lot of work come in this way, and it was very passive (for me).

2) Blind emailing and calling companies. I googled a bit for medical writing +email list + contact info to get a list of companies. If I had down time, I would contact a few. I did online research to see if either they worked with freelancers and/or they did work in areas that I was interested in. I sent brief emails with a few bullet points. This usually led to projects a few months to a year later.

3) Clients contacting me when they went on. This eventually led to pharma companies contacting me because there was a very high turnover rate. But this meant keeping emails and LinkedIn connections, if possible.

A few small projects:
-Posting on the AMWA site. It was worth it for one very large project in my first year. After a while, though, it wasn't worth it since I could land more work on my own (i.e., you had to pay for the AMWA ad, while LinkedIn or emailing was free).

I did not need to spend that much time looking for work. The LinkedIn worked for itself, I would poke people I worked with before if I had down time, and occasionally, I emailed people at companies.

This was what worked for me and I don't think that there are wrong or right answers. For example, I think PatoPata's would work well for people, too.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:24 PM on February 11, 2018

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