Looking at Craigslist Isn’t Marketing — What Freelancers Should Do Instead

Carol Tice

Avoid Craigslist and do this freelance writer marketing instead. Makealivingwriting.com

I talk to a lot of writers who aren’t earning much.

I’m talking maybe $20,000 a year. Maybe $10,000 even.

It doesn’t usually take long to figure out why their income is so low.

They start asking me questions like:

What do you do when they want you to quote a rate before they tell you what the gig is?

Can you help me polish my resume?

What do you think is a fair rate for an SEO writer?

How fast can you write an article?

I hear these, and I know what’s wrong.

These are questions writers have when the main way they get writing gigs is by looking at Craigslist ads.

Craigslist has mostly low-paying gigs

Yes, every once in a while a legit company where a manager doesn’t know it’s a slum in there wanders on and posts an ad.

But in general…this is the bottom of the barrel.

Despite that, you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a writing job off Craigslist.

You often have to send in a resume. Or quote a rate without knowing much about the gig.

You’re competing with hundreds of other writers…for crummy gigs.

It causes mental problems

Hang around here long enough, and it starts to affect your mindset.

You start thinking $10 a blog post is the going rate. And that $100 an article is great.

You also wonder how you are ever going to pay your bills through writing.

And yet, many writers stuck in this trap never see the obvious problem. They can’t understand where they’re going wrong.

Well, here’s the problem:

This is not marketing

Successful businesses do marketing. Active marketing, not scanning the job ads.

The owner gets off their can, and goes out and targets the kind of clients they want.

The kind that pay well and appreciate what you do.

Remember that nearly all the good jobs are never advertised.

So to make a real living as a freelancer, you’ll need to market.

Marketing that works

There are many ways to proactively market your writing business.

You’ll need to experiment a little to see what works for you.

I’ve had good luck sending query letters and marketing emails. I’ve also gotten clients prospecting on LinkedIn and Twitter. In-person networking has been good, too.

I thought I was doing well, until I hosted Chris Marlow on the Freelance Writers Den Open House call last week.

She revealed some research about what types of marketing have been proven to work best.

One big study found the best results rate came from doing direct mail marketing.

Few freelance writers are doing this form of marketing — which is probably one reason it can pay off big. It’s the method Chris uses to train copywriters on how to go from zero to $100,000 in income their first year writing.

Direct mail is great for top-drawer clients because they relate to it. It’s sophisticated marketing, like they want to do.

Done right, it makes them want to hire you.

Take the no-ad challenge

When I meet writers hooked on Craigslist, I challenge them to go a month without looking at any online ads. Instead, use that time for proactive marketing of some kind.

Once you start finding our own clients, you’ll never go back. It gets better results, and has the bonus of making you feel in charge of what’s happening with your writing business, instead of being at the mercy of whatever junk turns up on Craigslist this week.

What type of marketing works for you? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Join my freelance writer community. Makealivingwriting.com



  1. J. Delancy

    Craigslist is truly horrific. It always felt like I was sending my resume into the black hole of the internet. Elance is slightly better because there is some interaction between buyers and sellers. I continue to move up the food chain and want to have more private clients soon. Does direct mail work if the freelance writer lives outside the U.S but the potential client is an American based company?

    • Carol Tice

      Why not — probably get even more attention when they check out the postage mark!

  2. Suzanne Wesley

    I’m a graphic designer too. So when I assist with marketing materials I bring both copy writing and design skills to the table. Since print design is my specialty, it only makes sense to use direct mail and send them a sample brochure along with a more personalized letter of introduction. It works much better for me than ads or networking events ever have. Though I will say, it helps a lot if you have worked with someone they know in the past that you can use as a referral, or lacking that, you have worked for a similar business or industry they can relate to.

  3. Kinya

    I love network marketing. That’s really working out best for me at this moment. But I will branch out into direct mail marketing within the next month. I want those big bucks.

    I still look at Craigslist, but not to apply to jobs. I use it to remind myself that I’m better than the rates they’re offering. I also use it to get a good laugh. I see so many ridiculous listings for things outside of writing. One woman wanted to hire someone to spy on her boyfriend to see if he was cheating on her on Facebook. But that’s about all it’s good for.

    • Carol Tice

      I know Linda Formichelli has done well in the past with direct mail. I just think SO few freelancers are doing it anymore…much less know how to really KILL at it, like Chris Marlow teaches you how to do, with the irresistible package people really respond to.

      Yes, there’s a cost to putting that together…but it really puts you in a different league and allows you to go after really blue-chip clients and just SOLVE your income problems. Quick.

      • Kinya

        I think they reason they don’t has to do with cost – if they’ve heard of it. But even if it costs you hundreds of dollars to put the package together, if you get those five clients you’re shooting for and they pay you $20,000 each, that’s completely worth it. If you’re shooting for higher paying clients you can’t be cheap on your marketing. They’re certainly not cheap on theirs.

        I wish I could be on the call cause I’m sure that’ll be touched on, but I’ve got appointments to keep. I probably won’t be home until 2. But I do plan to learn how to put together a professional package. It’s one of the things I’d love to master.

        • Carol Tice

          Dang — well Chris does a much more in-depth version of this but it’s at a serious price compared to this 1-hour event. I was talking to her this morning and I don’t know if she’s ever going to present this in a format this affordable again!

          @Kinya and @Terri — you might consider doing this now to get the recording and handout materials, and transcript, while you can get this training at this low price.

          Den members could ask some followup questions in the Den, too. I know Linda Formichelli could give some pointers too!

          • Jennifer Reginald

            By direct mail, are you suggesting a letter (on my business stationery), or do you think it’s worth the cost of getting a brochure designed? (I do writing and marketing for small businesses and nonprofits.) Thanks!

          • Carol Tice

            Hi Jennifer —

            Chris Marlow actually has a very clever package she teaches you to put together that I gather is extremely effective in convincing prospects to hire you…she explains the details in her course. Not just a letter, different from a brochure…and it helped Ed Gandia earn $167,000 THE FIRST YEAR he was freelancing. Chris is the one who taught everybody how to do this, so it’s like learning from the horse’s mouth.

  4. Samar

    Craigslist and content mills are right at the bottom of the barrel. Having spent time on both, I can only nod my head at everything you’ve written Carol.

    Instead of spending hours applying to craigslist jobs, spend that time networking. Pick up a classified and find ads that print their web address. Someone must have written their ad copy right?

    And here’s something we tend to overlook at times. EVERY company needs a good writer. So you’re not imposing on them by asking about their writing needs or if they work with freelancers. You’re doing them a favor.

  5. Sophie Lizard

    Carol, I love your “ad-free month” idea! It’s amazing how much time some people spend trawling Craigslist for work – it’s like spending hours every week staring at somebody’s fridge door waiting for a Monet to show up there.

    • Carol Tice


      The saying that insanity is doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting a different result really applies here. I learned pretty quickly that these online ads weren’t going to be a source of good clients, and moved on.

      I think it’s sort of an addiction – you look on Freelance Writing Gigs or wherever, and it takes a lot of time, and you feel like you’re trying to find gigs. Once you kick the habit for even a week or two and do more proactive marketing, the light dawns that you’ve really limited your potential client pool by only looking at the lowest-common-denominator type ads.

  6. Mark Sherbin

    I’ve never thought about direct mail seriously, but that sounds like a great idea to break my brand free of the clutter. I have a full book right now but it’s definitely on my agenda when it comes time to replace someone.

    I can’t understate how guest posting has affected my online visibility. You can do guest posts almost anywhere if you have a strong concept, and you can point people back to your website, to social media, etc.

    • Carol Tice

      It’s true — especially if you want more paid blogging work. You want to be posting on the highest-traffic, highest-prestige place you can appear. I know writers who get quite a few clients off those posts.

      But remember…blogging is one of the lowest-paid opportunities in business writing, relative to white papers, case studies, annual reports, web content, etc. So doing direct mail with a white paper or some other high-quality content in your sales letter allows you to show a higher skill level.

  7. Terri Forehand

    Wish I was free on Wed, would love to take this. I think I need Linda too, the last class I took sent you to job adds to grasp anything but I have been doing that and getting several low paying gigs with high expectations. I want to try something different. I am published now with one book out and a kids book coming out so I think I am ready to move on. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  8. stephanie

    I have done direct mailings about 3 times in the 2+ years that I have been freelancing, and I have gotten my best paying customers through direct mails. Thanks for the article, Carol! It reminds me to get back to it. I think a good rule of thumb is to do direct mails quarterly (4x per year) and send out as many as you can afford! It is time-consuming, but worth it!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for weighing in with your direct-mail success story!

      I just think so many writers are stuck in a low-pay trap, and this marketing method can really get you out of it.

  9. Ron

    Hello Carol,

    I’m a bit confused by your post. I noticed several of the jobs listed on “Junk-Free Job Board” have a Craigslist link. Are these jobs offers better than the usual writing gigs on Craigslist?


    • Carol Tice

      As we’ve said, every once in a while a gem does turn up on there — so yeah, we do sometimes spotlight a quality listing that did originate on Criagslist. I think we have very few Craigslist ads that end up on the Den’s job board — it’s mostly referrals from me and from some high-value other paid boards where either job-seekers or the companies have to pay to participate. I find that really ups the quality level of what’s on there.

      The main point of the Junk-Free board is to boil down what might be hours of poking around trying to find that one good listing, so writers can focus most of their marketing time on more effective and proactive marketing methods.

      • Ron

        Thanks for having that service, Carol.

        • Carol Tice

          My pleasure — and love your gravatar BTW! I always loved Animal, and my son just had flip flops with him on it this summer!

  10. Abby Hayes

    Networking in person is SO scary for me. There’s a reason I work from home. By myself. With only my baby for company most days. πŸ™‚

    But I’m really thinking this direct mail thing could work, especially since I’m targeting local small businesses right now. Now to go see if I can pound out the budget for this training tomorrow…

    • Carol Tice

      Hope you can – it’s sort of a crazy opportunity to get a crash course in direct mail and how to do it successfully.

  11. Ali

    The best paying gigs I landed were through my own site – the company wanted similar content as I’d already published. Nevertheless I’m dying to try query letters and direct marketing emails, but so far I’ve succeeded to procrastinate

  12. Terri H

    I think part of the problem is that some freelance writers are still thinking like future employees searching for employers/jobs as opposed to a business looking for some new clients. It’s totally a mental thing. Once people make that switch from job seeker to lead capturer the legitimate work will come in.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s a great point! We’re used to looking at the job ads. But as a business, it’s all about prospecting.

  13. NIna

    Surprisingly, the thing I hated the most worked for me. I started cold calling SEO firms and telling them about my writing services. I remember being on the phone for 4 hours, getting No, after No, after No. Then suddenly, I got a few yeses and those who said yes were well worth it. I have a SEO firm that I have been working with a little over a year now, he gives me consistent work, and he sends a lot of clients my way. One client in particular is gives me so much work that I had to hire other freelancers to help me.
    I also tried direct mail and got the standard response. I sent out 100 postcards and got 2 clients from it. I plan to do more direct mail in the future, I am just in the process of changing up my packaging and offerings.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for sharing that marketing success story!

      I rarely hear from a writer who’s done either of those techniques for any length of time without getting clients from it.

  14. Kevin

    Great article Carol, You are right but still people can find some great jobs on http://minneapolis.craigslistb.org/
    although majority of jobs might be low paying but still, something is better than nothing πŸ™‚


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