Finding work is perhaps the biggest challenge for any beginner writer. There’s no magic formula, no tried-and-true blueprint to ensure your success.
Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you work hard and it pays off, but mostly it’s a strong combination of both. As a new writer, you should look for opportunities everywhere and be willing to take them on at full force. Ultimately, developing this kind of resourcefulness is how you’ll find freelance writing jobs. That said, it also helps to know how and where to get started. Here are some suggestions.
Guest Post on Popular Blogs
I rarely suggest writing for free, but guest posting on popular blogs can be a surprisingly effective way for a writer to get her name out there. If you reach out to someone for a guest post, just make sure to have a few specific pitches ready for them, along with a due date. Try something like this:
Hi Emilie, I’m a big fan of Puttylike.com and I have a few ideas that I think would be a great fit for the site. I’ve included them below, and if you like any of them, I can have a completed draft to you by 4/21. Would any of these work for your site?
Networking skills are important here. If you can find a connection between yourself and the blog you want to write for, even better. Maybe you have a mutual friend. Maybe the blog linked to an article you’d previously written. Maybe you were quoted in the same article. Or maybe you’re just an avid reader. If there’s a connection, make sure to use it.
Tell Everyone You Know
When I first set out to freelance, I quietly searched job boards and didn’t say anything to my friends or family about my plans. My rationale was, I don’t like telling people I’m doing something–I like telling them I’ve done it. And while that notion has its merits, it’s also based on silly pride, and pride will get in your way every time.
Early in my freelancing career, I learned the importance of putting yourself out there and telling absolutely everyone about your endeavor, from friends and family to trusted colleagues. My first few gigs were referrals from friends who knew I was trying to break into the freelance writing market. My friend John scored a copywriting gig for me at a furniture gallery he worked at. Another friend introduced me to an editor who hired me to write reviews for an art magazine. These were my very first clients and they wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t put myself out there and say, “This is what I’m doing. I’m a freelance writer.”
If you know someone who’s already doing what you want to do, even better. My friend Eric, who connected me with his editor friend, was already an established freelance writer. Not only was he crucial for networking, he also gave me valuable career advice.
If You’re Going to Work For Free, Be Strategic
Speaking of that valuable career advice, Eric was one of the first professional writers to tell me writing for free is a bad idea. When you’re just starting out, though, you may be tempted to do it. How else are you going to build a portfolio? Some say you have to do it, others say it’s a terrible idea. It’s a controversial topic and I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but I have figured out of a few things about working for free. Despite Eric’s advice, I did work for free when I was starting out. He was right, some of that work was a complete waste of time…but some gigs did pay off.
However, based on my experience, you have to be strategic and extremely discerning about working for free.
Never Work for “Exposure.” It Usually Backfires.
Large, profitable companies or businesses will often hire people for “exposure.” Not everyone will agree with what I’m about to say, and I know some talented, well-respected writers who have written for exposure, but I think it’s pointless. If a company has the money and they’re not willing to pay their creators, it probably means they don’t value that type of work. Their reputation will plummet accordingly, nullifying the benefit of exposure.
I learned this recently when a large news site started hiring writers for exposure. I wanted to take part, but I was too late, and frankly, I’m glad it didn’t work out. A few months later, I quoted this site in an article for another client and my editor said, “never source them, they’re not really a reliable source anymore.”
So much for exposure!
Start a Blog to Build a Platform and Network
When I started writing for one of my first clients, an art magazine, I used my blog as a portfolio because I had zero professional experience. It was enough for the editor to see that I could handle writing for her magazine. You need a platform to show your work, especially when you’re new to the game, and a blog is perfect for that. You’re working for free, but at least you’re doing it for yourself.
There’s an added benefit, though. If you produce quality content, larger sites will start to take notice and you may become something of an expert in your industry, which can lead to professional gigs. The point is, you can (and should) create your own platform. This way, not only do you have a portfolio to show to clients, clients have a way of finding you.
Work on Your Terms to Build a Better Portfolio
Instead of begrudgingly accepting a company’s crappy work-for-free gig, offer your service to a large influencer. This is what author and entrepreneur Charlie Hoehn did when he was starting out. He reached out to major influencers like Ramit Sethi and offered to complete a specific task for them for free. This helped him get his foot in the door and build an impressive portfolio.
Plus, you never know when your offer might turn into a paid gig. When I first reached out to my former colleague who was an editor of a major news site, I simply offered to submit a guest post. Instead, she offered me paid work. Again, if you’re going to work for free, be strategic and do it on your terms.
It should go without saying, but no matter where you write, you should also focus on doing your best work. That’s important in learning not just how to find clients, but also how to keep them. You don’t want your first client to be your last. It’s crucial to ask your first few clients for feedback, too. In the beginning of your freelance career, this feedback is more lucrative than money.
Also, you’ll probably fail at some point. A client might hate your work. You might write some stuff that makes you cringe later. We don’t need to glorify failure, but it’s important to recognize that failure is part of the process, too. Use it to your advantage by learning from it and creating work that’s even better than before.
Search the Traditional Way: Job Boards and Marketplaces
Of course, there are plenty of online job boards where you can search for media outlets or blogs that are currently hiring or looking for regular contributors. Here’s a giant list of them.
- LinkedIn Jobs: You should probably be on LinkedIn anyway, but an unprofessional LinkedIn profile is perhaps worse than no profile at all, so make sure your profile is professional and grammar-friendly.
- Indeed: Indeed is similar to LinkedIn’s job search engine in that the gigs are a bit more corporate than the gigs you’ll find on many of the blogging job boards. Expect to see listings for full-time jobs here, although blogging and other gigs are available.
- Contenta: This is a quality job board with a focus on helping writers work from anywhere.
- Freelancewriting.com: This site not only posts freelance writing jobs, it also provides tips and advice on making a living as a writer.
- FreelanceWritingGigs.com: This blog lists new freelance writing jobs daily. You’ll find decent options, trending more towards remote work and blogging.
- ProBlogger: The ProBlogger job board lists jobs in the blogging and freelance writing arena.
- We Work Remotely mostly includes programming or tech jobs, however, there is a selection of marketing, technical writing, copywriting, and similar jobs for writers.
- Remote OK is another tech-focused job board. As with We Work Remotely, most jobs are in the programming, coding, and general tech space, but the site also has a handy “non-tech” job search option for those of us who don’t know how to code.
- Mediabistro: Mediabistro is a journalism-focused job site with job listings at reputable companies like NBC, Vogue, or Rolling Stone Magazine. There are also remote, freelance opportunities available.
- Gotham Ghostwriters Gotham Ghostwriters connects writers with companies and individuals looking to publish books. Since it’s ghostwriting, you probably won’t be credited, but you’ll be paid well and will gain valuable experience. Some examples of advertised rates: $20,000-$30,000 for a book about wine, $19,500 for a project about educating millennials, and a “top of the market” rate for a hedge fund manager’s ghostwriting project. That could very well be a $100,000 project.
Social media: There are several social media accounts that tweet out new writing jobs. For example:
Turn on Twitter alerts to get these jobs as soon as they are tweeted out. You can also search writing jobs on Twitter or even Google. Search “hiring writers” on different platforms and see if any results pop up.
Thoughts on freelance marketplaces: Websites like Fiverr, Freelancer.com, and Upwork are sometimes pitched as a way to get your foot in the door as a freelance writer. While they can have some value if you set your rates high enough, chances are, applying to other jobs and developing your own brand is a better use of your time. If you do list yourself on these sites, just don’t price yourself too low.
Master the Art of the Pitch
Maybe you know someone who’s willing to connect you to an editor at a website or magazine. Maybe you just want to send out a cold pitch to an editor. If you’re lucky and have worked hard to establish a reputation as a solid writer, media outlets might even reach out to you requesting pitches.
Whatever the scenario, mastering the art of the pitch is crucial for almost any writer. You typically need to have a few ideas in your back pocket before you start writing for a new client. Pitching comes down to a few key steps:
- Step 1: Come up with a great idea (and headline)
- Step 2: Include all the necessary info, including research and interviews
- Step 3: Find the right editor to query
- Step 4: Introduce yourself
There’s a lot of work involved with each of these four steps, and if you want more info, I’ve created a totally free guide to help you. It not only details each of the above steps, it also includes real pitches I’ve sent to major clients (I only share pitches that were actually picked). You’ll also get a pitching worksheet to help you along the way, along with rate information that tells you how much money you can charge, depending on the outlet.
If you subscribe to my weekly newsletter, you should have already received this in your inbox (if not, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it to you). If you’re not subscribed, you can get your free copy below. Happy pitching!