6 Basic Steps to Score Your First Freelance Writing Gig

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6 steps to score your first freelance writing gig. Makealivingwriting.com

The biggest problem I faced as a new freelance writer was wondering when I’d ever feel ready to make the leap to marketing myself effectively, and getting that first freelance writing gig.

I took me some time to realize that I’d never feel 100 percent ready. But if I wanted to make real progress, I’d have to start taking consistent action to find that first client.

Sometimes we just need a shot of inspiration to send us down the right path, and mine came from Bamidele Onibalusi’s recent Earn Your First $1000 as a Freelance Writer challenge.

My strategy and email template are adapted from his articles, and used here with his permission.

Here’s what I did:

1. Nail down a niche

With so many companies out there, it can be difficult to know who to contact. What worked for me was choosing a niche. I looked at my hobbies and interests and chose two industries I’m interested in pets and travel. This allowed me to narrow down my search to businesses in that niche.

2. Identify potential clients

Some great places to look are online business directories like Manta.com, trade magazines and directories, and lists of companies attending industry trade shows. I picked companies that seemed to  be decent-sized, and are already using content marketing. I actually found a great list of prospects on a tradeshow website that listed the names and companies of tradeshow vendors and participating companies. Google “your niche” + “tradeshow” and see what you can find.

3. Build an email list of decision makers

Next, I needed names, job titles, and personal emails for marketing-decision makers at the companies on my list – the best contact usually holds a title such as Marketing Manager, Brand Manager, or even the CEO or Founder of a smaller company. To save time, I decided to outsource this task to a vendor on Fivver.com

Here’s how I used Fiverr to find contact info for prospects:

  1. Searched Fiverr for the highest-rated vendors in the data-mining category.
  2. Hired a couple Fiverr vendors to test them out on finding contact info for a small batch of prospects on my tradeshow list.
  3. Hired a Fiverr vendor to work through the entire tradeshow list and find me as many emails as possible. (Turned out to be about 700 contact names and email address. It’s a huge list that I’m still working through to grow my freelancing business.)

4. Email 100 companies with a simple email template

Armed with a spreadsheet of contacts, I started to send out emails. I found I could send a batch of 20 emails in an hour, so I blocked out an hour a day for 5 days to devote to the task. ANd sent out 100 prospecting emails in a week. Here’s the email template I used:

Hi <prospect’s name>,

I’m reaching out to see if you need someone who can help with content at <company name>.

My name is <name>. I’m a writer for <your industry>, and have been featured in <publication name>.

I’d like to know if you need a freelance writer who can help with your content needs.

I can help with <your main services> and any of your other content marketing needs.

I’d be happy to discuss how I can be of help.

Best Regards,

<your name>

Finding prospects and reaching out by sending LOIs doesn’t have to take weeks or months. I found the tradeshow list, picked a Fiverr vendor, scored a ton of contacts, and sent out 100 prospecting emails in one week.

5. Follow up

The follow-up is an important part of email outreach that many freelancers forget. My response rate rose from around 10 percent to 20 percent after one follow-up. People are busy, and a tactful reminder at the right time can jog their memory and encourage them to get back to you. In the future, I plan to experiment with more follow-ups to see if I can increase my response rate.

Here’s how I followed up if I didn’t hear back after a couple days:

Hi <prospect’s name>,

I sent you an email a few days ago, but you didn’t reply.

Did you get it, <Name>?

Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with your content needs.

Best Regards,

<your name>

6. Negotiate by emphasizing your value

Instead of focusing on myself, I made sure to discuss the value I can provide to potential clients. Ask yourself questions about what you can do for their business, listen to their problems and needs, and then position yourself to provide a solution. I added value by using statistics in my emails, e.g., “clear content can improve your conversion rates by 69%.” I also mentioned my expertise, e.g., “I work exclusively with companies in your industry.”

And a freelance writing career begins…

After emailing my list of clients I got my first job, a press release for a mid-sized company in the pet niche for a good beginner fee of $250. I spent about five hours working on this press release about a new range of collars sold by a pet supply company. $50/hour…I was thrilled and motivated to keep going.

I just completed a big website rewrite project for a client, wrote an article for a trade magazine, and landed a blogging gig with ongoing work. And I’m still marketing. I’m focusing on pitching pet and travel companies that need blog posts or newsletter content. My big push to reach out to 100 prospects in a week has also got the conversation started with potential clients for more work.

I think the moral of my story is to TAKE ACTION. I learned to put myself out there, consistently and methodically contacting prospects until the strategy paid off. I’m now looking forward to doing more of the same, and seeing the progress I can make over the coming months.

How did you find your first freelance writing job? Tell us about it in the comments.

Richard Rowlands is a freelance writer from the UK with a passion for pets and travel. Find out more by checking out his website.

117 Comments

  1. Rebecca

    I looked at the Full Contact website, but it seems to be all about contacts you already have. I didn’t see anything about finding the e-mail address of strangers based on the domain names of the company they work for the way that email hunter does.

    I often find the person I want to contact on LinkedIn, then just go to email hunter and put in their name and the domain name of the company. It’s worked great for me so far.

    • Carol Tice

      If you have a name, you put in likely email permutations and if you hit one they used to set up a social account, you see that confirmed by FullContact. It’s magical! Much better than using something like hunter to just take a guess.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m going to do a post all about how to use FullContact, so stay tuned! It does NOT have to be a contact you have…just someone who has set up a social media profile, SOMEWHERE.

  2. Rebecca

    Great article, lots of really helpful stuff, also from the comments. I have a couple of things to offer some people might find helpful.

    While not necessarily great for 100 pitches a week, if you are looking for the email of a person at a particular company, Email Hunter is fabulous. For instance, if you know who is in charge of content acquisition for a publication and you know the website for the company, Email Hunter lets you put in the domain name and returns every email address it can find with that domain. Usually, that will be enough, sometimes a little extra googling will help. Rarely does it fail completely to find the info I need.

    Second, I got most of my paid work in the very beginning from one unpaid piece published by a reputable well-known company on their blog. I follow them on Twitter, and use their products.

    This was before I even started to write professionally. At the time, I only had a brand new travel blog set up for friends and family, it was in no way professional. But I replied to the brand with a photo of me using their product, and I guess they checked out my blog. I later found out that it was an intern who contacted me about writing a post for them, but I was happy to do so. It came out looking great, and I still sometimes use that link as a reference.

    Even though I’m getting paid much more than the content mills where I started, I’m still only getting sporadic work at 10 and 15 cents a word, so I am not anywhere near where I want to be. It has finally occurred to me that I could possibly use this tactic with other big companies, to build up a better portfolio of bigger names.

    I do like the trade show suggestion. I did try pitching one or two trade publications, but no success. 🙁

    My biggest problem has been finding the places to pitch, so I really like the idea of outsourcing this chore to a competent data miner. Huge thanks to the comment with that suggestion!

    Good luck, all. Thank you so very much, Carol, for this resource.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m hooked on FullContact for gmail myself–tried hunter.io and this is more robust.

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