The Old-School Content Marketing Strategy That Scores Freelance Writing Clients

image of a stack of magazines

I recently wrote about the benefits of direct mail for garnering new copywriting clients.

Now that I’ve been branded a “lover of all things old-school”, I want to teach you a pre-Internet content marketing strategy that still effectively lands new clients: Writing articles for trade magazines.

Trade magazines are print publications (remember paper and ink?) that focus on the business aspects of a particular industry.

You probably specialize in certain niches or topics, and focus your prospecting efforts on certain industries. Maybe you write for restaurants, or banks, or universities, or medical equipment manufacturers.

Believe it or not, there’s almost always at least one trade magazine for every industry you can possibly think of — including the ones you specialize in writing for.

Don’t believe me? I’ve written for trades ranging from In-Plant Graphics (for in-plant print shop operators) to The Federal Credit Union to Pizza Today, and my husband has written for Indian Gaming Business, a magazine for reservation casino operators.

Here are a few other interesting trade magazines:

  • Pig International
  • Candy Industry
  • Federal Computer Week
  • American Spa
  • Archery Business
  • Student Group Tour Magazine
  • Roofing Contractor
  • Biodiesel Magazine
  • OR Nurse
  • BUSRide

Get the idea? Each of these magazines has a very targeted market — just like your copywriting.

Many trade magazines run articles by professionals in the field and offer a bio at the end of the article, and that bio is seen by thousands of prospective clients. Even better, trades are often starved for quality content (like the kind you can provide).

For example, years ago I wrote for a magazine for KFC franchisees.

A franchise owner in California saw an article I’d written there and hired me to write a newsletter for his local business organization. Later, a software company hired me to write a brochure after seeing one of my articles in a marketing magazine.

So, if you’re convinced, bring on the trades! Here’s how to get started.

Find a Trade

I’ve found that the best places to find trade magazines are and Writers Market.

Writers Market costs around $30 for a yearlong online subscription, and is not a comprehensive directory of every magazine out there, but the benefit is that it gives tips on breaking into each market.

My post 11 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Writers Market on The Renegade Writer Blog gives advice on how to use Writers Market to find trades that aren’t even listed.

Choose a topic

Check your target magazine’s online archives to get a feel for what they run, and to make sure that you don’t brainstorm an idea they’ve already done to death.

In other words, a lot of the same things you want to do when you’re approaching a blog for a guest post.

As a copywriter, you probably want to focus on ideas that help readers learn to communicate with their customers, market their products and services, and write well. Assuming you’re also pretty social media-savvy, that’s another topic that many trade magazine readers will want to know more about, particularly with your business-friendly angle.

This will show prospective clients that you’re an expert in marketing and communication for your niche … exactly the kind of expert they want to do business with.

Write a query letter

A query letter is the pitch letter that sells the editor on your idea and you as a writer. It typically consists of three parts:

  1. A lede (beginning) that hooks the editor and makes her want to keep reading. For example, you can start with a surprising statistic, a compelling quote, or an anecdote from yourself or someone else.
  2. A body that tells the editor what you want to write about and how it will help the magazine’s readers. I often include a bullet-pointed list of a few of the tips I’ll be including in the article, and a couple of quotes from people inside the industry. For example, when I pitched an article on unusual marketing techniques for storage facility owners (yes, they have a magazine!), I included a quote from one owner who had a sign on his facility made from the world record largest pair of underwear. (It was something like 15 feet across!) You can find industry sources by calling industry organizations and using free source-finding services for writers like Help a Reporter and ProfNet.
  3. A conclusion that tells the editor why you’re the perfect person to write the article. This is where you tell the editor about your writing and industry creds.
  4. A closing that asks for the sale. I like to write something like, “May I write this article for you?” or “Does this sound interesting to you? I look forward to your reaction.”

This is a general overview of how to write a query letter; each situation is a little different, and you may find that another way works better for you.

For more details on the query writing process, check out the resources in my bio below.

Send it off

Find the name and e-mail address of the correct editor on the magazine’s website — trades, unlike national magazines, often list their editors online — and send your query with an eye-grabbing subject line.

I like to write something like “Query from Freelancer: Top 10 Marketing Mistakes Pizzeria Owners Make.”

This shows that I’m pitching an article — so editors don’t mistake it for a PR pitch — and the title of the article I’m pitching will hopefully reel the editor in.

And don’t forget …

Follow Up: If you don’t hear back in two to three weeks, follow up via e-mail. Editors are busy people, and sometimes queries fall off the radar.

Put Your Name in Lights: When you get an assignment, clarify with the editor that you will have a bio at the end of the article — and don’t forget to include it when you turn in your finished piece. In the bio, be sure to let readers know how to contact you.

Profit: Okay, I couldn’t resist. But seriously, writing for trades is a great way to get your name out in front of your target market. At the same time, it will give you more chances to hone your writing. And not only is it a free way to market — sometimes you actually get paid.

Happy trade writing!

About the Author: Linda Formichelli has written for more than 130 magazines (including more than two dozen trades) and is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock. On the Renegade Writer blog, Linda offers a free packet of 10 query letters that worked and an 8-week e-course on breaking into magazines

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Reader Comments (26)

  1. says

    I think freelancers tend to forget that traditional marketing methods still work.

    It’s great to be excited about the new, online marketing methods (specifically the social networking opportunities)–but I’ve found they work best if combined with traditional methods.

    Thanks for this timely reminder.

    • says

      I agree, Laura. And a lot of freelancers have gone entirely electronic, which leaves these “old school” methods less cluttered.

      I also agree that you want to pair them — take those print readers and lead them to a PDF special report or an email series, for example.

      • says

        Thanks Sonia!

        You’re right about many freelancers wanting to be totally electronic and I can sympathize with that myself. :) However, it’s impossible to deny that traditional methods still work.

  2. says

    I’m happy you covered article marketing to niche trade magazines.

    There are those who believe these methods are dead. The fact the folks still use them and are successful, is proof to the contrary.

    I’m also glad you covered query letters.


    • says

      There are also those like me who are not aware of these opportunities, so thank you for this article. Now I know at least one more channel wherein I can unleash my creativity. 😉

  3. says

    Very glad to see topic which isn’t often talked about. It should especially resonate with freelance writers looked to build their skills and their resume over time as well as create exposure in an industry that they find appealing.

  4. says

    Online content has our attention these days, for sure. And it’s important to remember that some niches haven’t caught on. Thanks for reminding about the value of submitting content to niche trade journals. The query tips are useful too.

  5. says

    Great article! Such at thing had never occurred to me… in fact, I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing as trade magazines, but it does make sense.

    Although I think you should have covered additional ground, to make this article even better: specifically regarding the submission follow up: How to act when those editors take to long to reply? Are there subtle cues that can be sent over to hasten their response, without coming across as pushy and/or desperate?

  6. says

    This is suddenly news? I and a whole bunch of other marketing PR writers have been making our livings doing this for years! I am continually amazed these days to hear bloggers talk about content marketing as if it was just invented. Thirty years ago and mor my PR mentors told me, “write for the reader,” and it’s been my mantra ever since.

    • says

      It’s certainly not news for many. That’s why it’s called old school. And yet, a lot of people don’t consider it with all the hoopla about social media.

  7. says

    Thanks for your comments, everyone!

    Pedro, your questions could be a whole ‘nother blog post — how to deal with editors, handle no-responses, etc. Check out my blog — I have something like 900 posts on topics like those!

  8. says

    This tactic is spot on. I used it to build my natural health copywriting biz. And Linda’s the best in how to crack the magazine market. Her book helped me get articles published in Health, Mothering and several trade mags.I highly recommend it. In fact I was going to write an article about it first and sell it for bundles of money since it’s such good info – but Linda, you beat me to it!

  9. says

    I am a new media junkie, and I read at least 5 blogs religiously. This one is fast becoming my favorite. ALWAYS chock full of Useful.

  10. says

    Those are some great tips Linda. I think it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that we should be doing most marketing of ourselves online, but that isn’t always the best way!

    It seems like some trade magazines would love to have someone new, because everyone gets tired of reading the same styles and opinions every week.

    And I love the idea of one article turning into business with a few other clients because they like your work :-)

  11. says

    Great article, Copyblogger! I used to write articles for trade mags, but haven’t in in a while. It’s just not as sexy. And articles are a great thing to put in portfolios (online and off).

  12. says

    Excellent to see someone pushing the old-school basics. This is how copywriters have landed freelance work for years, and just because the entire world of communication has changed with the introduction of the Internet, doesn’t mean that your approach to finding work needs to be totally different. Certain approaches have stood the test of time, and they’ve done so for a reason: they work.

    Thanks for sharing!

  13. says

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! I’m certainly not saying that this is a new way to garner clients, but it’s an oldie-but-goodie that’s fallen by the wayside as we speed to jump into social media, online content, e-mail lists, etc. I love writing for trades — have written for more than two dozen on them — and the benefits are numerous.

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