Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #5: How to Quickly Mine Job Ads for Gold

Carol Tice

Find great gigs in freelance writing job ads. Makealivingwriting.comAnyone who has spent a week looking at the writing jobs posted on Craigslist knows online job ads are not a great source of top-paying clients.

The best clients, you find doing your own proactive marketing.

However…there are a few creative ways you can use job ads to find good gigs.

The key is to not let online job ads take up too much of your marketing time. You need to scan the ads quickly and move on to more effective marketing methods (namely, just about anything else).

I went through more than a year solid where I was scanning the job ads nearly every day. After a while, I got it down to a system and didn’t spend more than about 15 minutes a day on it.

How did I do it? Here are my seven tips for how to quickly find good leads in the job ads:

1. Look at the ads for full-time jobs. Yes, you’re not really looking for a full-time job. But when a company is advertising for a full-time person, my experience in 12 years of staff-writing jobs says that means the publication or company is now freelancing out that staffer’s workload to avoid overloading the remaining staffers.

Concentrate your attention on the companies that are a perfect fit — you know their industry or read their publication.

Maybe they need someone to fill in until they complete their job search? Maybe they also use freelancers regularly, as well as in-house writers? You won’t know unless you ask.

The full-time job ad simply provides me with a good contact. So if it’s a company or publication that fits my expertise, I go ahead and apply. I say, “Hi there, not looking for full-time, I’m actually a happy freelancer. But I have the skills you need (I usually throw in a few relevant samples here). Do you use freelancers?”

I’ve scored several great new editor connections this way over the years, including two in the past year or so that paid $1 a word. It’s a great way to get your name in front of people that use writers, at a time when they may well need help.

2. Be picky. As I hinted above, you don’t want to apply to a lot of online job ads, as most will be a waste of your time. So skip everything that asks for free samples, or says you can write about any topic you like, or that they have unlimited assignments. These are never good gigs. Be very wary of blind ads, where the company isn’t identified. You’re looking for the ad that seems like it was made for you — it mentions the exact expertise you have, and the company checks out as a real, decent-sized, going concern. That’s the one you want to take the time to apply for.

3. Look at site-specific job ads out of your area. I’m selective here — if it says anything like “meet with us weekly at our Akron offices,” I move on. On the other hand, if the ad title mentions a city, but the ad text doesn’t describe anything that needs to be done in person, and it mentions my expertise, I go ahead and apply if the company seems legit.

Just ask right up top if they’d consider someone working remotely. Play up your expertise both in their field, and your expertise in working remotely.

4. Watch for paid listings. Companies that place paid ads are usually established, legitimate organizations. Specialized job boards and organizations’ job listings are often paid situations. These companies are telling you something when they take out that paid ad — they want to post in more exclusive places as they don’t have time to wade through 300 resumes.

To me, a paid listing qualifies that client right away as a good lead.

5. Use social media. If you’re not looking at the jobs on LinkedIn, I highly recommend it — many of the listings are exclusive to the site. And LinkedIn listings are paid listings, which as we’ve just discussed is highly desirable.

LI is a great place to find full-time job ads you can piggyback on with your freelance request, as per #1. You can also try to use your connections to get a referral attached to your application, which I’m told greatly increases your odds of getting the contact’s attention in the pile of resumes they are likely receiving.

Twitter is also a growing place for freelance gigs. Not only can you tweet about the work you’re looking for, but you can use Twitter’s search feature to troll for jobs. Some of the sites mentioned above are on Twitter tweeting about listings, so you could get a jump on the masses this way.

There are an increasing number of job-focused tweeters, too — I’ve checked out  @WritersDigest, @FSsJobs (that’s Freelance Switch), @tweetajob, and many others.

Even Facebook is getting into the act lately — I’ve been spotting some interesting-looking listings going up from Facebook4Freelancers, which has a lot of writer listings.

6. Look for niche job boards. Get off Craigslist and find more exclusive job boards. These usually focus on one niche area. For instance, as a business-finance writer I’ve had good luck with Gorkana Alerts (they’ve got alerts for healthcare and media, too). You’ll have to do some sleuthing to find where your best ads hang out, but it can be well worth it if you find a good board. I got one of my biggest, long-term blogging gigs through my niche board.

7. Try the Junk-Free Job Board. Inside Freelance Writers Den, we’ve developed a job board that scans dozens of the mass job-ad places, screens out all the junk, and then only presents better offers (thanks to some tech help from Ty). Some weeks there’s hardly anything on it — a testament to how few good jobs can really be found online. But the few listings we have tend to be quality, and all are a cut above the usual $5-$10 article offers. You save a ton of time by not having to wade through the junk, and quite a few Denizens have already gotten good gigs from them. The bonus: I pass on a lot of freelance offers I get these days, and when I do, I often add that lead to the job board, too.

In this market, it pays to get creative when you’re looking for clients. If you’re not able to go out and do in-person networking, a discerning scan of the job ads can help you turn up good clients without leaving home.

How have you found good clients through online ads? Leave a comment and let us know.

Need more marketing help? I’m available to answer your questions in here…

Join my freelance writer community




  1. Debra Stang

    I’ve actually struck gold a couple of times on Craigslist. One ad was for a ghost-writer for a healthcare agency–I have fifteen years of experience as a medical social worker–and I still get regular assignments from them.

    I’ve also found a couple of really good jobs on Elance.

    Your advice is good to skim the ads and be selective. I used to spend over an hour every day combing through the job ads and replying to anything that sounded even halfway interesting. Now my criteria are much stricter, and I spend less time applying and more time writing!


    • Carol Tice

      I have gotten a couple decent clients through Craigslist over the years…that’s what’s so maddening about it. If you need more clients and income you feel like you can’t totally ignore the ads.

    • allena

      I agree with you both carol and deb- there are some there @ Craigslist- a lot of nonprofs or companies that have never need to hire a specific writer before and don’t know where to go- but they are few and in between.

      One other hint for LI or any FULL TIME job… a lot of those position will need to build their OWN cadre of freelance writers. So pop them onto a spreadsheet and follow up in about 5-6 weeks, offering freelance services.

      • Carol Tice

        I know — I wish those random legit people would stop blundering onto Craigslist and leaving their ads, so we could stop looking there! But now and then you get a great company that simply doesn’t know Craigslist’s reputation and think it’s a swell place to advertise…which makes it so we can’t stop looking there.

        But this is why we created the Junk Free Job Board. Now 300+ writers who are members DON’T have to wade through that junk anymore, they just check our board. If something good has turned up, we’ll deliver it without all the wasted time.

        • allena

          COMPLETELY agree with you, and what a great service!

  2. Cathie Ericson

    I have applied for several jobs I have seen online either through craigslist or a LinkedIn post and have been shocked but delighted when I have gotten a few. Three in particular have been ongoing and lucrative.

    Good point to emphasize your expertise in working remotely. Sometimes potential clients need education on that, and I always link to two of my posted recommendations on my LI site that mention that when working with me, you would never know I’m not right down the hall. For the most part anymore, most writing gigs don’t need a physical presence.

    I also only apply for jobs that I know are almost a perfect fit and like you have gotten it down to about a 15-minute process; obviously more if I find an interesting one because I always customize my response.

    Sometimes I will admit I get caught up in the thrill of the chase, and have to remind myself that the best job is the one I have and I should focus on my current work so I can get more from proven contacts!

    I am surprised when I read other freelancers’ comments on how much time they spend applying and bidding for jobs. Seems like it wouldn’t pencil out.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah…it doesn’t. I did an analysis of where my clients came from in 2010, and that was when I stopped looking altogether. Using LI and Twitter, SEO for my writer website, in-person networking, targeted emails to prospects I researched…it all paid off better than trolling the ads.

  3. Mellissa Thomas

    Great article as usual, Carol. Freelance Switch also shared it on their Facebook news feed.

    I deeply appreciate the Twitter info. I started seeking the sites you mentioned here and came across even more job-tweeters.

    However, I tried the @FSsJobs hashtag, but got no results. Help, please?

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Mellissa —

      Hey, good catch…looks like their handle is now @FreelanceSw – looks like they may not be doing a jobs roll anymore on Twitter.

  4. Karen Lange

    Thanks for the tips. I’ve gotten some jobs through online means, but have encountered so much clutter that I regularly give up looking there (only to come back later and check again). Appreciate your insight.

    Have a good weekend!

  5. Damiana Wong

    Linkedin is really a legit source of online jobs. You can also see people’s background through their profile. There are also other sources of freelance jobs just try to navigate those paid advertising platforms to make sure that you’re not being scammed or something. What are the factors to consider in making a bid or rate? Could you give us some tips on that too?

    Thanks for the 7 tips above. These are really helpful for freelancers!


    • Carol Tice

      Hi Damiana — I feel like I’ve done a post on that topic before, how to set your rate, but not recalling the title offhand…maybe it’s time for me to do another one!

  6. paula

    I have also noticed by chance that paid ads are often placed by people who are much more serious, I usually hit these 1st and with a lot more effort than anything else I apply for.

    Nice guide!

  7. Conroy

    As a writer it is very important on how we can market our skills and find a very good client. Thanks for sharing this informative post, it surely will help alot. Do you have tips however in landing in a legitimate client since most that I have encountered are bogus?


    • Carol Tice

      Conroy, I did a whole 4-week bootcamp on that topic, How to Make Good Money Writing Online – it’s stored in Freelance Writers Den. One of the 1hr Webinar sessions was on exactly that, how to find legit clients.

  8. Josh Sarz

    Thanks for the great info, Carol. I’m looking for some neat job boards right now. Know some?

    • Carol Tice

      There’s one linked in the post, Josh, that’s good for finance and healthcare writers. Depending on your niche, you’ll have to sleuth around to find good niche boards for your writing specialty.

  9. Tyler Novem

    Great advice! Thanks a lot. I haven’t tried LinkedIn and Twitter yet, maybe I should.

  10. LuAnn

    Good tips, Carol. I’ve landed some jobs from Twitter contacts, and I just started looking through the possibilites on LinkedIn. One of the groups I belong to on LinkedIn had some editors looking for writers, but when they were pressed for details, most admitted they weren’t paying jobs. That’s the frustrating part!

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