3 Ways to Avoid Insulting Your Freelance Writing Prospects on Social Media

Carol Tice

It’s come to my attention that many writers are mystified on social-media etiquette.

I know because I keep getting pitches from writers who are complete strangers to me, asking if I would subcontract them some of my freelance writing assignments.

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But it keeps on happening.

I asked around to some of the other successful freelance writers I know, and they told me it’s happening to them, too.

So today, I’m laying out three basic rules about contacting prospects on Facebook, Twitter, et al to ask for work.

I want writers to be able to do this without pissing people off, so here we go:

1. Never pitch as a first contact.

If you have never interacted with this person before and don’t know them, do not ask them for work, period. DO NOT set an autoresponder to ask them for work the minute they follow you on Twitter.

Back up a bit. First, retweet or share their stuff. Comment on their blog. Say “hiya” and chat about something you notice them talking about that interests you. Follow or connect with them. THEN, maybe, if it feels comfortable, you might talk business.

Don’t be like this guy who hit me on Facebook recently out of the blue:

Why some writers think another writer would hand over some of their good-paying writing work to a total stranger, I cannot guess. Sure, I’m going to put my reputation on the line for you, bud!

But for anyone who is still confused, let me assure you: It is going to happen when pigs fly over the moon. You are wasting your time.

2. Identify likely prospects.

This is where writers seem to be going way wrong.

Generally, other writers are not going to be your main source of gigs. You’re just being lazy here, asking other writers to hand over their clients instead of going out and finding real clients of your own.

The thing is, my clients hired me because they want my experience and they like my writing style. You are fantasizing if you think I could randomly plug in a few other writers who have less experience, turn that stuff in, and my clients would think it’s all good.

They would definitely notice, my reputation would be shot, and neither one of us would probably end up getting paid.

To sum up, this idea is a non-starter. Move on.

If you want referrals from writers, start networking and getting to know other writers — ideally, by meeting them in person.

3. Craft an intelligent pitch.

Just because it’s social media, it doesn’t mean you can skip crafting a smart (but short) letter of introduction that shows you have writing skills and some knowledge of the prospect’s topic or industry.

For starters, it’ll help if you compose complete, grammatical English sentences, unlike this reachout I got below. It was so poorly done that, as you’ll see, I thought maybe the poster was looking to hire me instead of vice versa:

It’s at the point where I’m seeing several of these a week, between Facebook, Twitter, and my email inbox. Just stop it, people.

I mean, take a look at those two examples above. Neither opening sentence actually makes sense. Or starts with a capital letter, even. They needed to get together and swap punctuation marks so their sentences would work.

I know we’re an increasingly casual culture, but not this casual, folks.

The big rule of social media

Social media is just like in-person networking or socializing with friends, only it takes place online.

So follow the big rule: Don’t do anything in social media that you wouldn’t do at an in-person networking event.

Would you walk up to a stranger at a networking meeting and say to their face, right off, “Hi, you don’t know me but would you give me some writing work?” I’m going to hope not.

First, socialize. Help people, too. Then, you’ll be ready to think about asking for gigs.

Have you used social media to get clients? Leave a comment and tell us how you did it.


  1. Terri H

    It’s such a shame that you even need to write such a post. It seems as though the more technologically advanced we become, the more we forget basic etiquette and common sense. While I appreciate the convenience technology has given us, I can’t stand the intrusiveness. I want to know when people decided that contacting me at all hours regardless of medium became appropriate. Along with the tweets asking me for work, my latest pet peeve are clients suddenly texting me to let me know that they sent me an email, etc. Since when has texting for professional needs become acceptable? And why do people think they can just get work over social media when we’ve never met?!!! It’s so baffling to me!

    • Carol Tice

      Oh, I love when people do that — I’m calling on the phone to tell you I sent you an email, or equivalent.

      I think the point of social media is being able to send something whenever we think of it…it’s on US to remember that doesn’t mean we have to answer immediately. I once saw a great post I think by Chris Brogan (or maybe Seth Godin?) about how people are ruining the AnyWhen convenience of social media by turning it into something you feel time-pressured to respond to…and I so agree with that.

      But it’s clear both from my survey — stay tuned, blog subscribers, for results on that by the way — and from messages like those above that there’s a real need for social media training for freelancers. So I can’t wait to put that bootcamp on next month!

  2. Erica

    I agree with Terri. That you need to write this post at all is astounding.

    The same two rules of thumb apply to online networking as well as offline. First, a genuine desire to help others is your most effective asset for establishing authentic, lasting connections. Second, you’ll almost never offend someone by using proper manners, but you’ll almost always offend someone by not.

    My latest pet peeve is getting a request at 4:30 in the afternoon for an in-person meeting first thing the next morning. I have prior commitments here people. I’m not sitting on a meat hook waiting to hear from your happy butt.

    • Carol Tice

      People who try that on me are going to be disappointed, Erica, as I have a standing rule that I am NEVER available on no notice to do nuthin’. Just as a matter of policy. You ask me to drop everything and run somewhere and do something…I am just not willing. Because that request alone tells me you are not a client I want in my life. I’m a planner person and I want to work with others of my kind.

      I get slagged by people for being formal and I’ve been told we’re all on a first-name basis, but I was taught it’s Mr. Jones until Mr. Jones says, “Please call me Jim,” and I think erring on the side of courtesy is good policy. Or maybe it’s just the German in me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Kinya

      I have it listed on my contact page my hours of operation, and I stick to those. It’s hard because I feel like I have to respond to an email from a client the second I see it, but honestly, I don’t. When I do that it lets them know that they can contact me whenever they feel like it, and they simply can’t. It’s hard to break the habit on my end, but I’m trying.

      • Carol Tice

        For me, the answer has been: Don’t look at email in off hours. Just don’t look at it!

        As soon as you look at it, you see something you’re itching to respond to, but then you’re giving clients the wrong message, that you’re available any old time. I find I’m better off just not looking.

        • Kathleen

          Love this!

          You’re right…NEVER look at your biz email on weekends, evenings, or holidays. I just got a vicious email from a problem client who takes 3 – 4 weeks to respond to requests for edits…she wrote on the night before New Year’s Eve, again on New Year’s Eve, then on New Year’s…and had the audacity to imply that I was being unreasonably unresponsive.

          I counted to ten (about 12 times) and then calmly replied with the unanswered email from earlier in December and reminded her that I don’t work the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

          Clients will guilt you into anything, if you let them.

          So, don’t let them. Calmly guide them into proper behavior.

          If that doesn’t work and they threaten to take this biz elsewhere…let them! You don’t need that kind of headache in a client.


          • Carol Tice

            Oh, there is a special place in hell for these crisis-creators, and a special-special one for the clients who want to create that crisis on Saturday night, or New Year’s eve or whatever. Please!

            My favorite is when they use the red flag that says “this email is highest priority”. In my view, that is reserved for something that is a life or death matter, like a medical emergency or something. No lives at risk? Sorry, you are not the highest priority. Get a perspective on what really matters!

          • Katherine Swarts

            For my part, I use the “high priority” notice occasionally when it’s something a person has asked for or when the purpose of the message will be lost within a few hours. But only with people who will immediately recognize my name. Most of us have definitely learned to associate the red flag with spam, and for good reason.

            Not that the “crisis” problem is unique to the Internet age. Long before online-computer use of any kind was an everyday thing, the world was infested with human mosquitoes whose attitude was “My needs are more important than anything else you could possibly be concerned with, and I intend for you to deliver what I want NOW!”

  3. Sandra

    I’m surprised that people actually have enough nerve to ask strangers for jobs without even having made a connection. But then again, I’m not surprised because the online environment makes it possible for people to be so casual and unprofessional. What kills me is that many writers really don’t get how easy it is to create their own quality samples instead of begging someone else who’s paid their dues and WORKED for their success for a freebie. Whatever happened to using some creativity to get into specific industry, targeting a prospect with a specific clip and following up? Is it that difficult?

    I have no idea what this feels like, but with all these wacky requests, you can rest in the knowledge that you ARE a rock star :).

    • Carol Tice

      Or the person people think is an easy touch for a handout…I’m not sure!

  4. Amandah

    Yikes! I guess insulting your freelance writing prospects on social media is no different than receiving an email such as, “Hi. Do you need some help with your writing?” First, where’s the relationship building? Second, what kind of pitch or LOI is that? I don’t know. I think our society has become very relaxed since the internet and social media took off. It kind of reminds me of ‘Casual Friday’ in corporate America. I still have flashbacks of people wearing clothing that was too casual for any day of the week. It wasn’t called “Show Some Skin Friday.” ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Deborah Aldridge

      I think that is no more insulting than being on a social media site and having someone solicit you to buy one of their courses in the comments of a conversation. I would never do that. I find it extremely rude when I’m asking questions when someone tries to tell me something. Seriously, not long ago, I just introduced myself to a G+ community saying what I was planning on doing with my blogs next year, and someone piped up trying to sell me a course. If I wanted to buy a course, I’d have asked for one. It’s especially tacky to do it on an introduction thread.

  5. Amel

    I think it doesn’t make much sense to approach total strangers for work, especially when they have not indicated that they welcome this. People frequently send me their resumes without so much as an e-mail to introduce themselves. The fact is that I do actually sometimes hire writers and translators to work on various projects, and I am okay with someone taking the initiative to contact me…but I can’t recall ever hiring someone who contacted me in this manner. The more likely scenario is that I will reach out to writers who belong to the same forums and e-groups I belong to and ask them if they are interested in working with me. I am usually comfortable with these people because I’ve already been interacting with them for a while, or have at least seen how they conduct themselves while interacting with others. So, in my opinion, the wise way to use social media is to add something of value to the conversations taking place. If you do this consistently, do not be surprised when people start approaching you instead of the other way around.

  6. Servando Silva

    It’s really hard to do a connection like this. Nowadays it seems people don’t read anymore, and because it’s the “Internet” there’s no common sense at all.

    Even for guest posts; I did a page were I wrote down everything needed to accept a decent post and I still receive many emails asking me to accept a guest post without the requirements listed.
    The “funny” thing is that all of them contact me via the form at the end of the requirements page, which means they skip it over and just fill the form and click “send”.

    • Carol Tice

      I get the exact same thing, Servando — my guidelines begin with “Send a headline and outline for your proposed guest post” and what I get is, “Gee, I just found your blog and it’s awesome! Could I write a guest post for you? I could write on many topics..” Sigh.

      • Katherine Swarts

        Not following directions isn’t a sin confined to “casual” e-publishing; I’ve lost count of the number of major print publishers who complain about the exact same thing. People pitch novels to nonfiction publishers, and picture books to YA publishers, almost routinely.

        On the side, I realized just today that I made a MAJOR error of omission on my own LI profile: stated that I “have published over 100 articles” and didn’t include one specific link, bibliographic record, or publisher name!

  7. Deborah Aldridge

    I agree that it’s sad you even have to write this. Some people just don’t “get” social media. I had someone I’ve known for years ask on G+ if I was going to be doing guest posts after the first of the year. Before I could even reply, several people had piled onto the comment offering guest posts. I emailed him privately, and we laughed about how tactless some people can be. I asked if he knew any of those people (he has over 3,000 followers), and he said not a one. I know people are desperate for work, and I try to help the newbies just as you do, but they can be completely rude and ungrateful.

  8. Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.

    Hi Carol,

    When you said ” Donโ€™t do anything in social media that you wouldnโ€™t do at an in-person networking event.” I had to chuckle.

    There are folks who do the equivalent at in-person meetings, so I’m not surprised that they’d do the same on social media.

    At one Chamber meeting I saw a business person making his way around the room throwing a fist-full of his business cards in the center of each table without greeting or making contact with anyone. I wonder how that worked for him?

  9. Theresa Cahill

    A great way to wrap up 2012. I’m moving SO cautiously through LinkedIn because, prior to branching out, I really did not use (or need to use) these types of media. Maybe moving too slowly, but we all have our “style.”

    What I loved was hearing on one of the Den calls that you, Linda and John don’t use the inmail in LinkedIn (which also blasts a hole in your above examples). Even with an upgraded account, I was reluctant to connect that way. So thanks for putting out that information – find contacts, email from your business account.

    Slowly but surely I’m mapping out 2013, and I just wanted to add that I’m surprised to see would-be writers taking such shoddy approaches. Sounds more like IM’ers to me LOL!

    Well here’s to a New Year! May it be filled with wonder and prosperity!

    • Carol Tice

      Theresa, I definitely DO use InMail — not sure where you got that impression. I’ve found it invaluable both for connecting with sources for stories, and for reaching out to prospects.

      InMail has a 30 percent response rate, LinkedIn reports, vs 2-3% in direct mail. And if you don’t get a response, LI will credit you back. What’s not to like?

      • Theresa

        Rats! I wonder who in the world I heard say that… The only two webinars I’ve listened to recently were Linda and John’s, and one by Ed G. But I’d swear it was two people saying the same thing.

        Could be I misunderstood, too. Maybe what “they” meant was “only used in a certain way.”

        Well I know I have a TON of notes and transcriptions, so I’ll just go digging around….

        Thanks for clarifying!

        • Carol Tice

          You know, I think it was Ed — he just said he hasn’t tried sending prospecting emails via LinkedIn.

  10. anne grant

    Do you even respond to this nonsense?
    I’m surprised to hear how common this seems to be.
    I suppose it could be an opportunity for a teaching moment, but that behavior is a long way from the caliber of this blog’s followers…and certainly the Den members.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, at first I did just because I was so confused and boggled. Were they serious? As you can see from the conversation thread above, sometimes I want clarification because their ‘ask’ is so garbled.

      At this point I’m moving more toward telling them to join the Den and use the job board there to find better quality clients…or just ignoring, if they’re too obnoxious.

  11. Ruan

    Wow! People really do that?? I am shocked to say the very least…

    “Hey so Carol, I was thinking… You don’t know me yet but how about passing on one of those $150 per hour gigs of yours to me? Huh? What do you say?”

    I mean really!

    (still shocked…)

    • Carol Tice

      I know — I took screenshots because otherwise nobody would believe me.

  12. Kinya

    Their spelling and grammar alone is the reason I wouldn’t hire them. If you can’t craft a complete sentence on social media, why would I hire you for writing work?

    I know Twitter is 160 characters max so some shortcuts are fine. But if your message is way less than 160 characters, you have room to use proper punctuation and spelling. Please do. It’s simply unprofessional otherwise.

  13. Bree

    What a timely blog post. Last month I had someone at a larger marketing/copywriting company write me and ask if I needed copy for my website. For my personal writer’s website. The one that clearly states on it that I’m a freelance writer myself looking for work.

    You’re a larger company and you didn’t even notice that you were pitching a writer? Learn to do your research and find appropriate targets, people.

    • Carol Tice

      Bree, I think a lot of these marketing companies are just buying up URL lists or email lists and mass mailing the world. I got a classic one this morning, full of errors, about how great it would be for me to get “unique contents” from their company. Just hit ‘delete.’

  14. Felicity Fields

    I could not stop giggling and shaking my fist in appreciation of your disgust at these pitches. I don’t suffer from them myself (yet), but they do serve to remind me that there are people out there who don’t know what “everybody” knows about how to build relationships online.

    And, as a fellow lover of words, I totally relate to all the grammar / spelling / prove that you passed college English irritations. I come across them all the time with my clients. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Anne Bodee-Galivan

    I’ve gotten so fed up with people – on writing networks, no less! – saying we live in a “new age” and everyone uses “textspeak” now and we just need to get used to it and not be so hung up on things like grammar and punctuation.

    As far as I’m concerned, you’re either a professional or you’re not. Just like I refuse to dumb down my principles and values, I’m not going to dumb down my writing to suit anyone.

    And those who would contact you out of the blue on social media looking for gigs fit right in that dumbed-down crowd, if I may say so. It’s sad that they think those tactics would really work.

    Also, I love your comment, Carol, about calling people “Mr.” or “Ms.” until they tell you different. I think we’ve lost something in our society by not using such niceties. I was raised the same way, and I’ve taught my kids the same habit.

    I’ll never forget the time one of my nephews (who had gotten used to calling an in-law by their first name because everyone thought it was “cool”) first called me “Anne.” I said to him, “You mean ‘Aunt Anne’ don’t you?” He never made that mistake again.

    • Carol Tice

      The thing that’s behind formal address is respect. Probably no one under 25 can even understand what we’re talking about! But I extend respect to people because that’s what professionals do. That’s how I was raised and the professional environment I cut my teeth in, and I believe it’s the right thing to do, as well.

      They deserve it — they’re a source I want to interview. I respect them and their time, and calling them, “Ms. White” signals that I will treat them appropriately.

      We live in a culture now where disrespect is very hip…but that’s not how I roll. And at this point, good manners can be a great way to stand out from the crowd! Who knew it would be so easy.

    • Katherine Swarts

      Interestingly, I remember someone who wrote to an etiquette columnist complaining she hated her brother’s children addressing her as “Aunt Ann,” not because of anything against the respectful address per se but because that particular combination “sounds like the beginning of a sneeze.” I imagine there are more than a few Sams, Toms, and Jemimas out there who approve of “Uncle” and “Aunt” in principle but are embarrassed to have it used with their own names.

  16. maddie

    I’d never even think of approaching writers for work but I did connect with one and we became friends. I wrote some free articles for this person and one day I was asked to write a post for which the writer would pay me. I didn’t ask for it. It just happened!
    But, guess what, I wasn’t paid for my work and what’s more that person stopped talking to me.
    I’m not complaining.
    I call it experience.

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