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By Marcia Yudkin

Friday, November 19, 2003; 12:00pm EST

In 1995 I created and distributed a free document called Frequently Asked Questions about Freelance Writing, or the Freelance Writing FAQ. (http://www. yudkin. com/flfaq. htm) I've updated it several times since then and allowed anyone to post it at their Web site without a fee. That FAQ has done more than anything else to keep my 1988 book Freelance Writing for Magazines & Newspapers from HarperCollins in print. The last time I checked, my FAQ was posted at more than a dozen Web sites and linked from scores of others, as well as recommended in numerous books and magazines.

With the maturing of the Web, the strategy of setting out free bait for your target market has become more and more powerful. Here's how and why it works, and some non-obvious ways to make the most of the bait you create.

On the Internet, people are ravenous for information. Correspondingly, lots of sites find it in their interest to point their visitors to the best resources available in their topic area. If you can create a mostly unpromotional informational piece and make it available with minimal strings attached, you'll find complete strangers publicizing and distributing it to your benefit. Really!

In a nutshell, start by asking what data or advice would be of value to the group of people you want to attract as product buyers or clients. Search to see what's already available on that topic, so you don't spend your energy satisfying a thirst that's already been slaked. Create something authoritative on the topic that unobtrusively establishes you, your company or your product as serving that market. Then set out your bait online with explicit permission for people to spread it widely. Keep your piece updated and every once in a while search for new takers, and then enjoy the results.

I concocted my FAQ after interviewing a law student named Terry Carroll who said that his FAQ on copyright law had made him a minor celebrity with respect to the topic and helped him land his first job as an attorney. Since I'd been teaching classes on freelance writing for years, I knew all questions beginning writers had, and their answers. Following the format of other FAQs I looked at, I organized 24 commonly asked questions into five categories and did my best to keep the answers concise.

To make sure that writing and distributing the FAQ would redound to me, I also composed the last of the 24 questions to read, "And who are you, anyway?" That gave me a natural way to present my credentials and the titles of several of my books.

Although I believe the FAQ format has particular power on the Net, for you the ticket might be an article along the lines of "Five Things to Think About Before You Hire a...," "11 Low-risk Ways to...," "... Demystified," or simply "How to..." Call your bait piece a "white paper" if you're appealing to a corporate population.

Resist the temptation to devote any more than 10 percent of your bait piece to self-promotion. Doing so would make it less appealing for others to recommend or reprint it. Producing something that benefits your market without a heavy sales pitch attached puts you in a very positive light, and just a low-key business bio and contact information at the end entices readers to get in touch.

Think broadly about what kinds of sites might be willing to host or link to your informational offering. In addition to resource sites that aim at a comprehensive collection of topical links, consider non-competing businesses whose visitors need to know about your specialty. For example, with some of my small-business-oriented bait pieces on marketing and publicity, I've had requests to repost them to sites for a stock photo company, a specialty printer, a crafts dealer and numerous trade associations. Always request a live link to your Web site and an e-mail link to you when someone reposts your piece at their site.

If you have a Web site, the out-of-pocket cost to add a bait piece there will usually be zero. Mentioning your bait piece in your signature when you post to discussion lists is another way to spread it around effectively. If it has an appealing title and genuinely useful content for some well-defined, information-hungry audience, you'll find this piece soon funneling leads to you - without the big expense of a conventional push for traffic.

Source of Article Marcia Yudkin (marcia@yudkin. com) is the author of Internet Marketing for Less than $500/Year, Poor Richard?s Web Site Marketing Makeover and nine other books. Based in Boston, she provides business owners around the world with creative publicity strategies and performs marketing makeovers of Web sites and print materials. You can read more articles by her or subscribe to her free Marketing Minute newsletter at http://www. yudkin. com/marketing. htm.

 

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