It’s summer. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get terrific new freelance clients without having to do anything?
Well, you can — if you know how freelancers get hired online.
For starters, you need to be easy to find and contact. You also need to make a good impression, once they find you. Unfortunately, most writers don’t make this easy.
If you’re a freelancer who’s never gotten an inbound lead — a prospect who calls without your contacting them first, or applying to their job ad — this post is for you.
Even if you have a modest portfolio, a strong online presence can make a big difference, both in the number and quality of prospects you attract.
Let’s go through the to-do list of important items I ask writers to check off:
4 Key LinkedIn action items
Never get any nibbles off LinkedIn? I know a lot of freelancers who don’t take it seriously — but they should. This site is a giant search engine where great companies look to find freelancers, every day. (Three Fortune 500 companies hired me after seeing me on LinkedIn.) It’s a great place to get found — if you know how to use LinkedIn to attract prospects.
If you don’t have a profile, get one up and fill it out completely (especially a nice photo!). Then, do these four things to make sure your LinkedIn profile is set up to attract clients, and let them contact you:
1. Create an SEO-focused tagline
Freelance writers in particular like to get creative on this line, but instead, something like “Houston freelance healthcare writer” is going to serve you better.
2. Add your contacts to your header
Here’s a problem: Only your connections can see what’s in your ‘Contacts’ folder on your LinkedIn profile. That means many people can’t easily go from your LinkedIn to your writer site, or give you an email or call. They might shoot you an InMail, if they happen to be paying for a level of LinkedIn where you’re allowed to do that.
Otherwise, it’s a dead end. And that’s baaaad.
The solution? Take a look at what a nice job my friend Allen Taylor did in enabling all visitors see how to get in touch (you could add your writer-site URL, too):
3. Add contacts to your Summary
Likewise, you can put a phone number, email, or naked links to your writer site or blog into your Background/Summary section of your LinkedIn profile.
These won’t be clickable (why, oh why, LinkedIn?), but visitors can at least see them, and can cut and paste them to connect with you. It’s a trail of breadcrumbs prospects can follow to get in touch.
4. Add clips to your Summary
One recent, nifty development on LinkedIn: It now has a tool that allows you to add documents to your Summary. Especially if you don’t have a writer website, this can be a terrific opportunity to pop a few clips on that prospects can browse. Allen also does a great job with this, too, showing several types of writing — and note how the visual covers make the Summary more appealing, too:
6 Writer website to-do’s
I’ve said it before, but if you don’t have a writer website, or at least a portfolio page somewhere that people can view…you’re invisible online. At this point — especially if you want to get online gigs — good prospects don’t take you seriously if you haven’t bothered to create a virtual home where they can learn about you.
I could write a whole post about how to improve your website copy, but here let’s focus on the five most basic problems I commonly see on writer websites. Check to make sure your site doesn’t have any of these issues:
- Doesn’t say what you want. Does the Home page of your website make clear who your ideal client is and what types of writing you do? If not, rewrite.
- Only a form. Is the only way to contact you on your writer site a fill-in form? Those malfunction quite often, and many people are leery of online forms and many simply won’t fill them out. They don’t think anyone will really answer, and think they’ll end up being spammed. So if that’s your only point of contact, trust me, you are losing a big chunk of prospects who give up and leave.
- Invisible email address. When you say, “Contact me here,” realize that many people have set their email preferences so that will not pop up an email form with your address filled in, as you might be hoping. People with popup blockers — same thing. Instead, enliven your actual email address (and stop being paranoid about scrapers — I’ve had mine up for nearly a decade without a single problem) and those people can copy and paste if clicking doesn’t work.
- Dead-link email address. If you list your email address, but it’s not clickable…that’s a problem. It makes prospects think you don’t understand the Internet. You’ve failed to meet their expectations that email addresses should be clickable…and especially if they have an online writing project in mind, they may tend to move on.
- Buried contacts. We all know that every click you make visitors take on your website, some give up and leave. (Yes, people get impatient quickly online!) So don’t hide your contacts under a tab and make prospects hunt for them — make contacts visible in your sidebar or header, so they’re seen on every page.
- No phone. I’m all about email…but some people just want to call and talk to folks on the phone! That’s their preferred way to connect. If you don’t list a phone number, you lose all those people. They leave your site and hire another writer who lists their phone number. Not saying you have to give your home phone number to the Internet — I know many writers using a cellphone, Skype, or Google Voice number they check once a day.
5 Ways to get found on Google
A quick, sad story: I had an online-business friend contact me recently. She was looking for a writer — one she’d worked with before and knew by name.
She couldn’t find her anywhere online. Her website was down. We tried Wayback Machine, but it had only cached the home page, and her contacts were on a subpage. Google search turned up nothing. She wasn’t on LinkedIn. I put my investigative-reporter hat on, confident I could turn her up…and nothing.
She didn’t get the gig, even though this prospect wanted her and only her! It was heartbreaking. And I think this wasn’t a fluke.
Which leads me to ask: When’s the last time you did a Google search for your own name (or if your name is a common one, for your name plus your type of freelancing, as in: <your name><freelance writer>? Do it right now, and see what comes up. If you haven’t done it in a while, you could get a nasty surprise.
For a long time when I first started freelancing, a rather mediocre article I’d done years back was the first link that appeared. I cringed every time I saw it. Also, there was another Carol Tice who was a prominent therapist or horseback-riding instructor or some such in California, and had more link juice than me. (Of all the nerve!)
Right now, I’m doing pretty well on my name search. My writer site comes up first, followed by Twitter and this blog. Then come other social media links, my blogs for Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Freelance Writers Den.
Not a bad turnaround from when I was hard to find — and what you did see of me wasn’t that complimentary. If you see you get poor Google results for yourself, you’ll want to take action (see my points below). But first, do one much more important Google search…
Check your keywords
While you’re Googling around, try the keyword search for whatever phrase you want to get found on — for me, that is “Seattle freelance writer.” With 1.3 million Google results on that search, I’m the top organic link:
How’d I get on top of these searches, from a cold start in 2005 with no writer site? Here’s a few action items:
- Share your best stuff frequently. That will help it rise in the rankings and eclipse any dull or unfavorable mentions you want to eliminate from view. When I started, I used to share a new blog post once, and then move on. Now, I routinely see smart bloggers I know retweeting the same post for a month, every day. Be in that second category.
- Post frequently. If you have a blog on your writer site, frequent posts will help you rank better.
- Respond to comments. This helps Google feel your blog is popular.
- Update your writer site regularly. After this blog spun off of my writer site, I created a ‘Carol’s favorites’ sidebar where I’d post new clips as they got published. Then I’d move one of the older favorites to another page, which helped refresh the content.
- Have a ‘hire me’ tab on your blog. If your main online presence is a blog, make sure it’s clear to visitors that you don’t just write your own blog — you are also available to write for pay. Otherwise, visitors assume you’re just doing your own thing.
One final idea to consider is figuring out if you can guest post for a site that gets big traffic, such as Forbes or The Huffington Post. I’m not a fan of the latter’s business model…but I have to admit it might help you bubble up to the top on a Google search for writers on a particular topic.
2 Big tips for Twitter & other platforms
If I had a dime for every Twitter profile I’ve seen that has no linked website, email, or other contact information, I’d be on a beach with a margarita right now.
If you’re active in social media, make sure all your profiles are connected to where prospects can find out more about you! It’s hard to impress prospective freelance clients with just the tiny bio they give you on Twitter.
For bonus points, mention (or even hashtag) keywords in your profile that you might want searchers to find you for. Like these savvy freelancers do:
Final tip: Lurk, don’t work
Here’s one other tip that may surprise you, since I spend so much time warning writers away from places like UpWork: You can use these sites to help boost your online visibility (without having to work for peanuts).
If you’re not getting any calls, try putting up a profile on one of the big freelance platforms. Fill it out completely. Name a substantial hourly or per-piece bottom rate.
Then, sit back and see if you get any nibbles. Don’t waste hours bidding on gigs on the platform. Simply let the popular site help you get found.
A few tweaks to your online presence now could really pay off in more calls and emails from good prospects this summer. If you’ve been wondering how freelancers get hired online — well, it’s the writers who make sure their online messages are clear, and their contacts are easy to find.
It’s worth a few minutes’ work to make it happen. There’s nothing like the thrill of having the phone ring and hearing a prospect say, “I found you online.”
Have you gotten inbound leads online? Leave a comment and share what’s working for you.