How to Find a Freelance Writing Gig: Here are the Options

Carol Tice

Road sign with many arrowsFinding freelance writing jobs (AKA clients) — especially good ones — seems to be the mysterious part of the freelance writing life.

People don’t write me asking, “How can I learn to write competently, so I can be a freelance writer?”

Instead, they ask questions like this one I got yesterday:

Right now the writing business is extremely slow. I’m finding the work isn’t there. Where are the new avenues or techniques to get writing work?

I usually reply by asking what the writer is doing to market their business.

The answer is nearly always, “I’m not doing any marketing right now.”

Why am I not shocked?

It’s a rare day when I meet a freelance writer who’s marketing their fanny off and doesn’t have clients.

If you want to earn well at freelance writing, you need to market continuously to insure a steady stream of client leads. It’s just a basic fact of business — and that’s what you’ve got. A business.

15 Ways to market your freelance writing

You want more leads because that allows you to pick and choose the types of projects you want to do. It makes you feel more confident asking for higher rates, too.

As it happens, there are a fairly limited number of ways most writers find paid freelance work. Here are the basic options, with a look at the pros and cons for each type:

  1. Friends and family. That’s right — let the people in your life know you are looking for freelance writing clients. You never know who they might know. You could earn a little, or a lot.
  2. Content mills. The pay is rock-bottom, but once you’re accepted, it’s so easy to grab assignments off that content mill dashboard.
  3. Bidding sites. It’s a race to the bottom against every writer on the globe on oDesk/Elance/Guru and all their imitators, but if you’re selective and choose quality gigs few are bidding, you might do fairly well.
  4. Revshare platforms. The effort you put in writing for Examiner and similar platforms will determine whether you earn pennies or thousands. I’m told you should post 1,000 articles in a short time to earn well.
  5. Craigslist ads. These are so easy to find…and so full of scams and lowballers. Every once in a while a real client wanders on here because they don’t know its reputation, which keeps scads of writers checking Craigslist compulsively in hopes of finding that one gold nugget.
  6. Place your own ads. Whether you get in the resource guide of your local professional association or place Facebook or Craigslist ads, you can spend a bit in hopes of attracting some new clients. This one’s real hit-or-miss, though with Facebook you’ll at least know how many people viewed it.
  7. Inbound marketing. If you take the time to create a strong LinkedIn profile, blog and writer website, they could send you quality clients while you sleep. I’ve gotten several Fortune 500 clients this way that paid $.50-$2 a word.
  8. Query letters. You don’t need connections if you know how to develop a stellar story idea and pitch it to the right publication. Pay at publications is all over the place, from $.10 a word to $2.
  9. Letters of introduction. For custom publications (that hospital magazine, for instance) and trade publications (think Ad Age), emailing off a strong letter of introduction can open the door to a steady string of assignments. Most pay $.30-$1 a word.
  10. Social media marketing. If you know how to do it, you can use LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with prospects of all sorts, from magazine editors to corporate publications managers.
  11. In-person marketing. Grab some business cards and show up at a business event. Shop around until you find the meeting your prospects visit. You never know who you could bump into — I met the editors of Costco Connection and Microsoft Office Live at in-person events.
  12. Cold calling. Reach out and touch marketing managers. Find out if they need freelance writers. Repeat as needed. Cold calling allows you to hit a lot of prospects in a short time.
  13. Direct mail. Sure, you’ll spend to put together a slick postcard or marketing package. But it allows you to impress the heck out of big-money clients.
  14. Referrals. If you have happy editors or business clients, either current or former, from either paid or pro bono work, they may tell their friends and send more gigs your way…especially if you tell them you need more clients.
  15. Contests. I got my start winning two of these. The prize isn’t the money — it’s the connections you make with the editors who read your entries. I ended up writing long-term for both the publications where I won contests.

My free Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers series has a ton more detail on the best ways to do the types of marketing that get better results, but that’s a quick overview.

How do you market your freelance business? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

32 Comments

  1. Willi Morris

    I love my Contently profile to send with queries (linked it to my name) but it does have some big limitations. But I’m using it as my portfolio until I get self-hosted.

    • Carol Tice

      Willi, I’d be interested to hear about your Contently experience. They recently pitched me that their rates are much better than mills…are they? I’m looking for a guest post from someone about their experience there…assuming rates really ARE at a more professional level on the platform.

  2. Darnell Jackson

    Bookmarked this one thanks Carol.

    I hope people spend time getting prepared before they approach these freelance opportunities just remember you only get one chance to make a first impression.

    • Katherine Swarts

      I agree. I think I made far too many bad first impressions in the beginning by jumping in too fast and not taking time in advance to evaluate my best fit and approach. I offer the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln (and elaborated by Stephen Covey as the “sharpen your saw” principle): “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

  3. Damien

    I got my first paid writing gig on Elance, so still have a soft spot for it – and pick up the occasional well-paying job on there now. If you’re selective you can still do quite well through those sites despite the race to the bottom mentality, as not every client on there is looking for the cheapest deal.

    Carol, I think dabbling in as many of the methods you recommended as possible and seeing what works (some will be long-term pay-offs, so the sooner one starts the better) is a pretty good strategy. Things that are really worth having are never easy, so it’s worth trying some of the harder ones (like direct mail or cold calling) as this is stuff that not many people are doing and can really set you apart.

  4. Jean Marie Bauhaus

    Flavors.me is another way to set up an attractive website quickly and on the cheap. It’s similar to about.me in that it aggregates feeds from your various profiles and apps, but unlike about.me it also lets you create content pages (I just added my writing resume to mine — and I linked it to my comment so you can see an example). They have free and premium options (premium lets you use your own domain and gives you more design options).

    I’m not affiliated with them in any way — I just thought this might be useful info. Anyway, thanks for this article, Carol. I suspect I’m far from being the only introvert trying to make their way as a freelancer, and marketing is definitely something that doesn’t come easily to most introverts. It can be overwhelming and really difficult to know how to get started.

    • Carol Tice

      Much like Weebly, I’ve never seen a site on these freebie platforms that looks professional. You bump up against a lot of limitations. They’re a great place to post your family photos for your friends or whatever, but I think less great as a business platform.

    • Jean Marie Bauhaus

      I agree, they’re definitely not a final solution or a replacement for a professional website. But if you’re just starting out on a shoestring budget and/or you need something fast to be able to point people to, I think they can work in a pinch. Mine is just another inbound marketing avenue to (hopefully) direct people to my actual websites.

  5. Kristen

    My problem is keeping up with the marketing when I’m busy with billable hours – then when a temporary project I’m working on that’s been eating up my hours ends, I’m stuck scrambling to find new clients.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s where inbound marketing becomes such a valuable tool — it keeps going when you don’t have time to do proactive marketing. So few writers take the time to build a really strong writer site…I think because they don’t understand what a powerful source of leads a good site can be.

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