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My Online Writing Job-Search Rules…and When to Break Them

Carol Tice

Carol is on vacation. This week, she’s reprinting a couple of posts from the early days of her blog, back when it was on her writer site. Enjoy!

Searching for Freelance Writing JobsBack when I first started out as a freelance writer, it was tough to find writing jobs. I’d either have to look in the Writers Market, or get in my car and go down to the library and get out the Gale’s guide to research possible article markets. Next, I carved my articles on a rock…OK, I’m not that old, but there was a lot more legwork involved!

Nowadays, you can see lots of writing jobs online without moving from your living room. Personally, I like to look at Freelance Writing Jobs or About Freelance Writing. Between the two of them, they seem to digest all the major job sites around, so you don’t have to look at a lot of individual sites.

The catch is, most of the job ads you see online are a big waste of time for anyone who’s serious about making a good living from writing. They’re no substitute for in-person networking, asking current clients for referrals, cold-calling copywriting prospects, or any of the other tried-and-true methods of finding good clietns.

The key is to save time and not waste hours online looking at job postings. Over the past year, I’ve developed some rules for cutting through the junk and only responding to what seem to be viable, good-paying clients. I try to send out several resumes each week…but I’m pretty selective about who I take the time to develop a submission letter for. I try not to spend more than a half-hour a day online job-hunting.

My rules:

1. Skip the scams. Avoid anything that contains phrases such as “you’ll get good exposure” or “we pay on revenue share” or “pay for page views.” None of these pay anything that will even buy you a gallon of milk.

2. Skip all Craigslist ads. Especially the sketchy, two-line ones. The vast majority of Craigslist posters are either scam artists outright, nightmare clients with only a vague sense of what it is they actually want, or $10-an-article types.

3. Skip all “lots of topics,” “we need lots of writers” or “pick your own topics” assignments. Any ad that says they need lots of writers to write about lots of topics is unlikely to pay much. These are generally content portals where they make a fortune putting ads against your content, while they pay you nothing. If you can write about your dog, well, anyone can do that. So it’s not going to pay much.

4. Skip ads that ask for a sample article. These are all scams — they just take the sample articles, rip them off, post them, and don’t hire anyone. Or even if they do hire someone, odds are low it’ll be you. If you already have two clips, you don’t need to enter any of these article ‘contests.’

5. Skip anyone who says they pay by PayPal. Some may disagree with this one, but I consider this the hallmark of low payers and bogus companies, particularly U.S.-based ones. Any real company can write you a check, or use auto-deposit and toss that payment straight into your account. The reason they use PayPal is they’re planning to pay you $1.95 and want to save a stamp, as it would substantially increase their total expenditure! If they’re going to pay a substantial amount and it’s an ongoing account, you stand to lose hundreds of dollars of income in fees over the course of a year getting paid on PayPal, as they charge fees up to 3 percent.

6. Skip any ad that doesn’t tell you the company name or Web site Blind ads are a hallmark of scammers. Sane, functional companies tell you where to find them online so you can research them and send them an appropriate query with relevant clips. Those are the ones I want to work for.

7. Skip any ad you see frequently. If this ad agency, Web site or whatever is constantly advertising, there’s a reason. They are probably a nightmare to work for, or pay nothing. I’m looking for people who are a pleasure to work for, and pay well.

8. Target ads that ask for your specific expertise. For me, when an ad says applicants must have extensive experience in business reporting, financial, real estate, legal, tax, accounting, insurance or public-company coverage…they have my full attention. Niche expertise pays better. I’m probably going to send these folks a query.

9. Know when to break the rules. Sometimes, an ad will catch your eye even though by all the rules above it should be skipped. This happened to me a couple of times with Craigslist ads. Ordinarily I would automatically skip…but before I could hit the “back” button, I started to read the ad, and it asked for deep small-business newspaper or magazine experience. Which I have. The company listed their site so I could research what they needed.

I sent one a query and landed a two-month project worth several thousand dollars, which may lead to ongoing work…my first ever good-paying job off a Craigslist ad. I’ve since landed a couple of other very solid clients through Craigslist.

So rules are good most of the time, but remember to keep your mind open a crack for interesting exceptions to the rules.

Next time: how to use the job ads creatively to find more job opportunities.

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Photo via Flickr user dbdbrobot