How 1 Free Article Caught My First Big Writing Client

Carol Tice

By Erika Gimbel

As a freelance writer, I agree with Carol’s Velvet Rope theory: value your work and don’t agree to low-paying assignments.

So why did I spend more than seven hours writing an article for free to land my first client?

How my client found me

As I got in touch with colleagues about my new gig, one contact prompted me to join a Chicago technology networking site.

I created a profile…and honestly forgot about it.  A few weeks later, the CEO of a health website saw my profile and contacted me, wondering if I was available to write articles for her company.

My first client meeting

We scheduled a phone interview.  I was glad I had been in Carol’s mentoring program and she’d guided me on updating my materials, because while we were on the phone the CEO reviewed my writing samples online as well as my LinkedIn profile.

Then, I asked a lot of questions about her business: when and why she started the company, what her own background was, how many employees she had, how her site made money, and where she wanted the business to go. She was forthcoming with all her answers.

Finally, we got down to business about her writing needs and pay.  She said she’d eventually need 15-20 hours a week of writing, and when I told her my rates, she didn’t skip a beat, but kept the conversation going about possible monthly vs. hourly fees, or payment by project.

Why I did a free sample

At the end of the conversation, she asked me if I’d be willing to do a free sample, and I said yes.  Why?

  • The company seemed stable and needed a lot of writing
  • The pay would probably be in line with the rate I quoted on the phone
  • Since I didn’t have a similar sample, I thought it was fair for the CEO to evaluate my skills before hiring me, especially if the job was ongoing
  • I’d get a chance to see if I could enjoy this kind of writing long-term

Landing the client

Even though the first assignment took me seven and a half hours, I could tell this was the kind of writing I liked: sifting through lots of information and distilling it down to an understandable concept.  The CEO was happy with the article and posted it on the site (still no payment for me).

Then, she gave me my first assignment.  I was able to confidently evaluate the proposal and accept the fee, since I had a very good idea how much time it would take me to write these health articles.

No regrets

After phone calls, e-mails, a free sample and an in-person meeting (10+ hours invested), I’ve started working with my first real writing client and I’m happy with the pay and with the future possibilities.

I spent a lot of time to land this client, but I felt in my gut that it would pay off in the end.  I’m glad I asked a lot of questions and trusted my instincts.

How did you land your first client? Leave a comment and tell you story.


  1. John Soares

    Erika, I’m a fan of the risk-reversal strategy you used so effectively. It’s an excellent way to demonstrate to high-quality clients that you really do have what it takes to meet their needs.

  2. George Beinhorn

    Free samples are basic, especially with hundreds of potential clients who’ve hired “writers” on Craigslist and been disappointed. What shocks me about the story is that the client, having posted Erika’s article, didn’t offer to pay for it. That’s completely unacceptable! Once a sample becomes work product, it must be paid for accordingly. It’s something I’m careful to mention in advance – in a friendly, natural way. Never had a client who argued the point.

    • hyderali

      George, I think the CEO demanded sample first because he wanted to know the writing skills, the spelling, grammers & everything like a customer is looking for a product. And yes, the name ‘sample’ itself reiterates that ‘you won’t be paid for this’. Me too ask for a sample first from any new content writer to know his skills & the writer knows that he can’t be paid for this.


  3. Erika

    George – I know – I feel weird about that, but live and learn!

    • Carol

      What I liked about this story was how different it was from the CL ripoff type scenario and all the contact, research and vetting Erika did.

      I agree this sample should be paid if used…but as Erika says, each client we often learn what we’ll do different next time!

      The main point to me is that sometimes doing a sample can get you a gig you don’t have the clips for. I got one of my staff jobs this way.

      Thanks for sharing an interesting success story Erika.

  4. Jackie Paulson

    My first client is in our “Tribe 360” which if you are interested please contact me on my blog. It’s a Mentor group that encourages and helps each other out across the world and so far it is free.

  5. Carol J. Alexander

    I like this article. I, too, landed a client by writing a freebie. However, my motives were different. I stumbled upon a blog that I enjoyed reading. Because the topic was a niche of mine, I sent them a guest post (unsolicited) just for the byline and exposure. The owner of the site liked the article so much he checked me out online and then asked me if I’d be a regular contributor. I’ve been writing for him ever since. Sometimes, I think writing for free pays off. You just have to know “in your gut” as Erika said, that this is the right thing.

  6. Chuck Ferraro

    Great article! I too am interested in all aspects of internet markting.

  7. That Free Thing Review

    Very informative thanks for sharing.I checked out some of your Google Ads as well.Your Blog is very well layed out and is a pleasure to visit.


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