Get Better Freelance Writing Gigs With These 7 Sneaky Tools

Carol Tice

7 Sneaky Freelance Writer ToolsHave you ever wanted to spy on your prospective freelance writing clients?

There are some ways to sleuth out information that can really give you a leg-up in your marketing. The more you know, the easier it is to avoid scams and suss out better freelance writing gigs.

I love digging up useful info on prospective freelance clients.

So whenever I come across a new tool for this, I start compiling a list.

Below are the seven intelligence-gathering freelance writer tools I’m currently finding most useful:

1. Verify emails

Have you ever found an email for an editor or marketing manager online, and then wondered if it was still good? Well, wonder no more. You can use a free email verification site such as Verify Email to find out. (Other tools here include Email Hunter and Verify Email Address.)

One caveat here: If your target is using an email service other than their host’s (for example, using Gmail to pick up their Xfinity email), the email may show as ‘bad.’ I notice that nearly all of my many email addresses turn up as ‘bad,’ for instance, because I manage many of them via Gmail or pull them to my MacMail. So this isn’t foolproof.

Be sure to read through the results to see whether the email doesn’t exist, or if it’s another issue that may indicate it’s simply being picked up remotely.

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If you get a ‘yes’ result, of course — you’re golden. And that editor need never know how you snooped around to get their real email and stayed out of their slush-pile, editor@ email black hole. They just know you’re gooood.

2. See if your email’s been opened

Once you make sure that editor’s email is working and send off your query, wouldn’t it be great to know if they ever opened your message?

That’s a snap now with Yesware, which has a free trial.

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A couple other tools for this I’m hearing good things about are MailTrack and Hubspot’s SideKick, both of which also have a free level. (Editor’s Note: Sidekick has since been replaced with Hubspot Sales, which does also offer a free level.)

I’ve known writers who’ve seen their pitch email’s been opened multiple times, who then move in for the kill with a followup email — and gotten the gig.

The opposite is also true — if you see your email hasn’t been opened yet, that can be your cue to hold off.

3 Analyze competing sites

Ever wonder how your writer website stacks up against the competition? My new favorite spy tool for benchmarking your blog or website against the competition is SimilarWeb, which has a decent free trial level.

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I have to say, I find their raw data for my sites fairly inaccurate, as I do the data on Alexa and other sites like this.

But assuming it’s equally inaccurate among you and your competitors, it’s still a useful benchmarking tool to see how you rate in relation to others in your niche.

The details on where competitors are getting traffic from, bounce rates, and top search terms may give you some ideas on how to make your own site better.

4. Improve your headlines

We all know we should spend more time on our headlines, because headlines are super-important. Uninteresting headline = no readers.

But…HOW, exactly, can we make them better? I’m loving the headline analyzer from CoSchedule for this.

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The Advanced Marketing Institute also has a similar tool.From these tools, I’ve learned that I don’t use enough ’emotion’ trigger words in my headlines. So expect more headline drama in the months to come.

(I’m not going to work phrases like ‘act now’ into my headlines, though. I don’t care what the analyzers say. That’s not right.)

These are a great place to sit and tweak your headline, to see which version gets a better ranking. (Don’t get a complex when you do this — most of my headlines get a B+ from them at best, and I still do OK.)

Another always-useful resource for writing better headlines is Jon Morrow’s legendary Headline Hacks report — which has been newly updated! Always worth a re-read. (Yes, that one’s an affiliate link. All others in this post are not.)

5. Quick grammar check

Have you ever been busily writing on a tight deadline when a niggling thought comes into your head, that maybe what you’ve written has a grammar problem?

Should it be “hold onto him,” or “hold on to him”?

For this, there’s GoogleFight.

The correct answer is highly likely to have many more mentions in a Google search — so this tool quickly spits out your answer.

Of course, your desire to be efficient may be undermined as you start checking to see who wins such GoogleFights as BeyoncΓ© vs Taylor Swift. Avert your eyes from their suggested fights to stay on track.

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6. Read job-portal comments

Yes, Glassdoor and sites like it collect info mostly from full-time employees. But I’ve found it’s an increasingly useful source of intel about many of the online writing platforms.

For instance, when we were researching a recent post here on the blog, we discovered some negative reviews were up on Glassdoor about writing for Blasting News. Checking a bit more finds some positive reviews for WriterAccess (though saying “it’s better than other content mills” is damning with faint praise).

It’s worth taking a minute on here to see if there’s publicly available intel — good or bad — from previous writers about any major magazine, company, or online platform you’re thinking about writing for.

7. Tap your network

This is probably the most overlooked sleuthing tool in the entire freelance world. Tap the collective knowledge of other freelance writers to find out what the heck’s going on out there!

At this point, I’m on several FB writer groups, a Skype blogger mastermind, a local online-writer listserv, and of course always have an ear out in Freelance Writers Den. You want to be able to ask around.

Overall tip: Think of the info you initially get about a prospect — whether it’s from an ad or in an email to you — as the tip of the iceberg. Then, start digging for more.

What sneaky freelance writer tools do you use? Leave a comment and let us know what’s working.

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  1. Will Bontrager

    Just a quick note about Sneaky Tool #1, verifying email addresses. On our server, we don’t bounce invalid email addresses, just silently dump them. (The technical term is “black hole.”)

    Now, if there’s a dictionary attack (where a spammer tries lots of different words to try to guess valid email addresses), which almost certainly will have the From: address spoofed, our server won’t bound the emails to some poor and innocent person who’e email address was stolen for the From line — and we won’t be accused of spamming. (Yes, I’ve seen spam spoofed as bounced email.)

    What all this means is that servers set up similar to ours will never acknowledge an email address is invalid. (I tried the service mentioned in the article and they said the invalid email address I specified is valid.)


    • Carol Tice

      Interesting — I think these tools are definitely a work in progress, but if you THINK you’ve sussed out an editor’s email from using the naming convention of a pub, maybe it lets you know if you’ve got it right.

  2. Chelsea

    I’d definitely agree with the advice to tap your network… and not just of other freelance writers.

    At one point, I was needed work and asked a couple of my favorite clients for referrals. While I didn’t get direct referrals, they invited me to be a part of some groups online that have really helped my work get attention from some big influencers in the space… which is huge.

    • Carol Tice

      I’m a big fan of asking for referrals, Chelsea, but that’s not the drift here — I don’t think you’d want to ask your current clients what THEY think of X prospective client you’re thinking of pitching, right?

  3. Sylvie

    Email Verifier is awesome!

    One note though — some email servers will give you a Yes result whether the address is valid or not. So I always do a control email test to see if an obviously-fake email shows up as real ( or something) to make sure the verifier actually works with their setup. If it gives false positives, I’ll try and do a bit more digging before sending off the LOI to try and confirm via another route.

    • Carol Tice

      Good tip, Sylvie!

  4. Mickiyas B.

    I specially love #1 and 2. Cold emailing can be an effective technique for getting clients, if done right. And those two are tools to use for effectiveness.

    Being able to see if your email has been opened is good information. Even if you get no response, you know that you’re halfway there. Besides, you can make an informed decision as to whether or not to contact your prospect again.


  5. Alison Lueders

    Hey Carol – great post! I will definitely try some of the above. One tool I use, since you’ve mentioned the importance of emailing the actual person, as opposed to “editor@companyname,” is LinkedIn. If there’s a company I want to contact, I search LinkedIn for that company’s current employees, and then put “editor” or “communication” in the keywords. If that person pops up, there is often a “Contact Info” link on the upper left side of the LinkedIn profile. Not always – but if you use LinkedIn already, this is worth a look!

    • Carol Tice

      It depends on whether you’re connected to them and their own privacy settings whether you can see, but yes, sometimes you can score their email that way. πŸ˜‰

  6. Robert

    As always, Carol, great tips! I think the biggest tip for better freelance writing gigs is to keep your eyes open to every part of an email and your query. You don’t want to lose a potentially good client over something small or get scammed because you didn’t read something completely.

  7. subrata

    Hi Carol

    Thank you for awesome tips. I have recently found “similar web” and use it before sending guest posting pitches( after reading about it’s inaccuracy, I am scratching my head though πŸ˜› ).I am using Coschedule as well. But I was not quite aware of the rest. Thank you again for putting them in a single post. πŸ™‚

  8. Ravi Roshan Jaiswal

    Hello Carol Ma,am!
    Nice to meet you here!

    Really one of the best post indeed….This topic shows that you are brilliant along with good supporter of writers.

    Reading this topic makes me sense that these tool can really great helpful for writer.I have just stared writing so this tools really play good role for my writing style ma,am.

    Combining these seven tool can really improve our writing style. The tool I like most from the above is “GoogleFight”. Really this tools works in amazing way.

    Thanks for sharing such a great informative set of tools ma,am πŸ™‚
    I am waiting next one..

    Have a nice week! πŸ™‚
    – Ravi.

  9. Roberta

    Hi Carol,

    Thank you for this posting. I’m a fairly new copywriter but I’ve been dragging my feet because I just don’t know how to dive in. I got my website so- check, I have one client (a relative but still…)-check, check and I’ve started reading your posts so, again- check,check,check.

    The tools you shared have taken away some of my apprehension because it helps me to believe that I really can make a career as a copywriter. It’s just not a phony, pipe dream career.

    Since I’ve started blabbing about my fears, can you suggest or point me in the right direction as to what steps to take and put into practice a starting point? Talk about a babe in the woods. That’d be me.

    Really, I’m just confused and/or overwhelmed.

  10. Colin Newcomer

    The Google Fight tool is cool, but you can also just go straight to Google trends to pull that same data + more I think. Great if you want to compare more than 2 phrases.

  11. Education Help

    One more amazing article on this blog. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Murali

    tools mentioned here for freelance writing gigs are good great job

  13. Joshua Lisec

    Love these tips, Carol! Another one you’ve knocked out of the park.

    My favorite freelance tool is actually one I designed myself.

    When I read “The ONE Thing” book on productivity, I realized I’d been spreading myself waaaay too thin. You know, the hamster wheel of pseudo-productivity? It says, “I’m busy, therefore, I’m making good progress!”

    Trying balance equally the tasks I *had* to get done (like bookkeeping) with tasks I *wanted* to get done (like writing a proposal for my Dream Client) ended with me in the ER from burnout. Not good!

    So I re-read Keller’s book on productivity and decided it was time to “human nature-proof” my to do list. That’s how I create a special formula called ONE Thing, ONE Focus.

    That bad boy biases my daily task list in favor of those “big win” activities without sacrificing the must-do’s of life. πŸ™‚

  14. Trovare lavoro

    After reading this post, I started to love CoSchedule!

  15. Obodo Charles

    Hi Carol,
    It’s always great to stay ahead of the competition, and with the kind of actionable tips and tools, you’ve ditched out, it makes things much easier. “headlines are super-important. Uninteresting headline = no readers”. I just love the above quote, it sums it all up for me. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

    • Carol Tice

      I think you mean ‘dished’ out…but thanks!

  16. Ben Lloyd

    Less sneaky tool, more sneaky technique – steer well clear of freelance portals like,, and These places have plenty of jobs – and even more clients unwilling to pay anything close to approaching a living wage.

    In which case Tool #7 listed above is all the more vital. Build your reputation and your network will build your sales for you.

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