Marketing 101 for Freelance Writers #11: Here’s Where the Good-Paying Clients are Hiding

Carol Tice

freelance writers have questions on how to find good clients

Have you wondered if all the great-paying writing clients are hiding out together under a rock somewhere?

Writers constantly tell me they’ve looked and looked at those online job ads, but they can only find the $5-a-post gigs.

That happens because most of the really good writing gigs are never advertised.

To find them, you’ll have to understand how these prospects think, and why they need writers. Then, you’ll have to go out and proactively locate and contact these prospects.

That right there is the difference between low-paid writers and well-fed ones.

Inside the mind of a great writing prospect

The good jobs begin when an editor or marketing manager is sitting at their desk, amidst piles of overflowing workload. They work at a major publication, custom publisher, company, or nonprofit. They are thinking something like this:

The stable of freelance writers I have now leaves something to be desired. These writers don’t turn things in on time. They’re less than brilliant.


One of my staff writers just quit, and I don’t know how I’m going to get my stuff written by deadline. I can’t overload the other staffers, or they’ll quit, too.


I wish I could find some new writers. But I don’t have any time to look. I definitely don’t have time to look at 300 resumes off a Craigslist ad.

So now you know the sort of situation you want to find — a quality publication or company that needs writer but doesn’t have time to search for them.

Identifying good-paying publications

It’s pretty easy to find publications that pay the best. Besides asking around in your own writer community, you could get the Writer’s Market online. Then you can set their database search to $$$$, the top pay level, and start searching.

Presto! A nice list of top payers to target.

You can also scan publications including the Wooden Horse magazines database, Editor & Publisher, and Media Bistro’s How to Pitch Guides for more publications intel.

One of the best and least-frequently looked niches for good-paying publications is trade publications. Trade pubs cover a particular industry in-depth, for business owners in that field. Daily Variety, for instance, is for executives in show business, and Ad Age is for marketing execs. You can see lists of them at If you have some related knowledge, think about marketing yourself to trade-pub editors.

Another great niche is custom publications. These are magazines and newspaper inserts created for companies by a publishing company. You can check out custom publishers — many of whom publish many publications in an industry niche — at their industry group the Custom Content Council. I’ve had one custom-pub client — easy, $.50-a-word work on newspaper special sections, where they hand you all the sources. These can be steady sources of good-paying work.

Identifying good-paying companies

The key here is to think big. Many writers get stuck writing for solopreneurs or small businesses. These don’t have big marketing budgets. To earn more, you need to identify larger organizations with bigger budgets.

How big? Well $1 million is a good start, $10 million is better, $100 million better than that, $1 billion really terrific, and the Fortune 1000 are awesome. Depending on where your writing career is at, one of these categories should work for you.

For example, my first copywriting client was a small local startup that sold call-center software. The second was a $1 billion global corporation. You don’t have to pay your dues for years and slowly inch your way up.

To get started, target industries where you have some experience or find the business owner easily accessible. These could be:

  • An institution you have personal life experience with, such as a rehab clinic that took care of your sick mom.
  • A local, independently owned store you love to shop.
  • A small business in an industry where you once worked.

If you’ve got a few clips from small-business clients and are ready to move up, here are seven resources for finding bigger clients who may need marketing writers.

  1. The business section of your local paper. Scan for news of growth, acquisitions, new locations, new products, new funding. All of these may spur new marketing efforts. You can assume most of the stories you see here originated with the business doing publicity to promote what they’re doing. They do marketing, so they may use freelancers.
  2. Your local business weekly. Similar to the above situation, except these are all business news, all the time. Smaller ones may flat-out reprint companies’ press releases or do pages of release-driven “business updates.” Grab an issue, and you’ve got a prospect list.
  3. A Book of Lists. These directories of the top and fastest-growing companies in every imaginable industry are available for more than 60 markets.
  4. An industry directory or guidebook such as the Chain Store Guides. The deal with these is they give free trade-publication subscriptions to all the companies willing to give them their data for the guide…which often includes revenue, so you can quickly focus on larger companies with bigger marketing budgets.
  5. Venture capital news. It’s my experience that newly funded startups spend like big companies — they often need to quickly ramp up their business to satisfy investors. VCAOnline has a great searchable news database where you can search by city name or industry buzzwords to find companies that have landed venture funding.
  6. Your library’s database subscriptions. Many libraries have useful databases they subscribe to that could make your searches easier — maybe they’ve got the paid level of Hoovers or Lexis-Nexis for searching press releases. Be sure to ask your librarian what resources they might have to help you identify companies and their size.
  7. Niche job boards. OK, not all online job boards are bad. Ones that focus on an industry, or where the listers have to pay to post their notice, can have better-quality gigs. Do some sleuthing to find boards that are appropriate for your writing niches. For instance, I got one good-paying blogging gig off a Gorkana finance alert (since I’m a business dork).

Need all of Marketing 101? Subscribe to this blog and you’ll get a free e-book right away — then stick around a few weeks, and you’ll get an offer to take the whole 20-week Marketing 101 e-course, absolutely free.

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  1. Dee

    A great and pretty exhaustive list!

    One thing I would like to add is that with content getting ever more importance in the search world, the opportunities for syndication are growing exponentially, especially in niche areas that are slightly out of the beaten path.

    By the way, business dorks are all the rage these days 🙂


    • Carol Tice

      Hi Dee — I’m fascinated to know what you mean, because my sense is the opportunities for syndication are imploding. Fewer and fewer sites would want duplicate content because of how Google is now treating it. Would love to hear more about where you see syndication opportunities.

      • Dee J

        Google says they don’t penalize for duplicate content. So it’s okay to post a syndicated article on your own site. However, if an article has been posted on a hundred different sites, only one of those pages (usually the oldest) is supposed to show up in the search engine results. That way, someone searching for info on “bass fishing” (for example) will get links to a variety of different articles on the topic.

        So if someone posts a syndicated article on their own website, unless they were the first to do it, that page might not show up in the search engine results. But the rest of their site shouldn’t be penalized as a result. And many site owners are okay with some of the pages on their websites not showing up in the search engine results. They just want to give their visitors plenty of good stuff to read.

        I’ve been hearing a lot of article syndication success stories lately, and I’m definitely interested.

  2. Ronald Sieber

    Thanks on the tips regarding where to look for trade and B2B publications!

  3. Bill Swan

    What many writers, and even more non-writers, fail to understand is that you don’t spend most of the day pounding keys. You spend at least half of it marketing and searching. You can’t send out a set of five letters and be done with it; it’s gotta be five a day for a month before anything good might come of it – marketing is the same in any business.

    When I had a property maintenance biz, I started with one or two little old ladys and I kept telling them everything I could do. This led to them telling everyone in their church. This led to more little old ladys. Rinse and repeat. Not big jobs, but it built reputation. Near three years later I was picking up apartment owners and downtown businesses that heard about me through their customers, employees and such. Do the work well, market the hell out of yourself, and the money follows behind you.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, ratios of how you spend your time may vary…but in general, you’ve hit on it. The high-earning freelancers market their ass off. Consistently.

      I once was discussing a proactive marketing strategy I used on LinkedIn to get a great, $1 a word client. (You can read more here: And I had one reader comment, “Oh, I tried that once, and it didn’t work.”

      On the other hand, I tried it 50 times, until it worked.

      Top-earning freelancers are not sitting around reading Craigslist ads or pulling assignments off a content mill dashboard. That’s the magical difference.

    • Kerrie McLoughlin

      Bill, are so right! Sticking power is important and also being willing and easy to work with. Marketing … yep … I’ve gotten some assignments from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and my blogs. It works … 1 time out of 100 so you have to keep at it 🙂

  4. Erin

    Wow, you have covered all the bases. Thanks for the great list!

  5. Charise

    This is so helpful – thank you! I’m now following you on FB too. 🙂

  6. allena

    So, I work mostly in two niche areas. I joined associations for those areas, and sure enough, those associations often have job boards. I found a 24K, three- month job through an association!

    • Carol Tice

      Right on, Allena – thanks for sharing your story of using a niche board successfully. I have found niche boards to be well worth the time, especially as compared to trolling Craigslist.

  7. Social Media Writer

    Some great ideas here, thank you. I got sick of seeing those depressing Craigslist ads that have no background information and pay peanuts, and started marketing direct. It’s early days but it’s paying off. It’s the only way forward!

  8. Keith

    A great list that I will definitely incorporate in my online business strategy.

    Being a newbie in this area, fulltime freelancer / blogger since February 2012; my initial take on writing for the online markets was that job boards were the only way out.

    As I spend more time researching and following some of the other blogs, I am encouraged to see that there is much more that what I imagined.

    Haven’t struck my first good earning job yet, still stuck on the job boards right now.

    Will let you know when the first one comes around.

    Thanks for a great article.


  9. Walker Thornton

    Writer’s Market, MediaBistro and Wooden Horse all require a paid membership to get ‘the good stuff’. If I wanted to pick just one, which one would you recommend?

    • Carol Tice

      Have to honestly say I don’t hear good things about MediaBistro’s how to pitch guides…gather they’re very out of date. I’m a huge fan of Writer’s Market and NOT just because my name appears on this year’s cover (still freaking out every time I see it!). Just very exhaustive, and getting it with online support means you can search their database and quickly see results for a key niche or type of market…way more useful than just getting the doorstop-sized book. Also has pay guidelines and about 175 pages of editorial how-to type articles in the front…including one by me this year, and next.

      You can read an old guest post I did about how to get the most out of Writer’s Market here:

      Wooden Horse, on the other hand, allows you to micro-buy small bits of market info at a time for low prices…so there’s that. And they seem to update their listings a lot.

      • Walker Thornton

        Great advice. Thanks. I’ll go read the other posts as well.

  10. Marcie

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and resources so un-selflishly.

  11. Marcie

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and resources so unselfishly.

  12. Mateeka Quinn

    Thanks so much for this info…put it to work today! Aiming to start with cold-calling this week (terrified!). This is great information.


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