Consider this: every time you’ve see a written word online or in print, someone had to write that. The words in an editorial section of a newspaper, that instruction manual, that ad campaign—if you’re looking to find work as a freelancer writer, it’s right in front of you.
That sounds harsh, and I can hear the protests already: “But how do I do it?!” In this article, we’ll take a look at a number of concepts and approaches you can take to find freelance writing jobs. Trust me, they’re out there and you’re probably more qualified than you think.
Gotta Start Somewhere
It’s the classic Catch-22 conundrum for any jobseeker: every open position asks for experience. But how does a freelancer writer get experience if no one gives ‘em a shot? Before you blow your top because of this paradox, I’ll just say this:
You gotta start somewhere…
The truth of the matter is that how can anyone be willing to assign you a task when you don’t have any examples of writing? Can you actually complete tasks according to direction and under deadlines?
Getting clips (examples of your published work) is your key to starting your freelance writing career. To get clips, you just need to have your work published with your byline. How do you do this?
- Volunteer: Non-profits, religious organizations, and new businesses are perfect opportunities to try out your writing skills. From my experience, these opportunities tend to be informal ways of getting your feet wet. Often, they’re just happy to have volunteers to join their fold and take care of the tasks that they don’t have the budget and resources to spend.
Don’t expect to be paid, but that shouldn’t be your goal right off the bat. Your goal is to just build up your clips to add to portfolio (see below). However, you can get fringe benefits to your future career like networking, references, experience working with “clients,” and letters of recommendation.
- College Publications: If you’re enrolled at a college or university, you may have noticed invitations to contribute to their publications posted around campus. Often, a collection of students and faculty will create work that has lower standards than paid positions.
Seeking college publications was actually my entry into freelance writing, joining The Stony Brook Press after enrolling. My participation didn’t pay, but I had the pleasure of seeing undergrads laughing at my work and an open submission policy that I abused (I submitted 70 articles in 2 semesters).
Now, for freelancers that aren’t attending college—fear not. Most of these publications have an open-admission policy for any writer with a pulse; however, some don’t. If you’re looking to go this route, there is a workaround: sign up for the cheapest class that you can. Often, this will give you the ability to be enrolled at the minimum while concentrating on the extracurricular activity that the college has to offer.
- Your Self-Published Work: If you’re struggling with the last two suggestions, as you feel you are already past this point, the fact of the matter is that you probably are! These days, many writers get their start by self-publishing their work. To me, a finished piece by an author, whether it’s your blog or your collection of written work, is nearly equivalent to being published by a “legitimate” business/publication. Most entrepreneurs out there are looking for you to handle writing their self-published work, so this shows that you not only know how to write, but that you understand the mechanics of the process.
Having a track record instantaneously sets you from the pack of novices out there. Once you’ve got your clips, you’re in. Now what?
A Pitch and a Portfolio
The real way to find freelance writing gigs is to directly approach people when you are fully prepared. You’ve got your clips, which comprises your portfolio that you can show to prospective clients. However, that’s not enough—you need a pitch.
Your pitch is simply a way ask a potential client if they could use your services. Whether you choose to email clients or visit them in person, you’ll have to give them compelling reasons why you’re the person for the job.
Often, just exactly following the submission guidelines that are included in the publication/website is enough to spark a dialogue with the person(s) in charge of written content. Your pitch is equivalent to a Letter of Introduction—a bio, your professional background, your capabilities, and what you can bring to their business should all be included in a cohesive email. If you’re pitching someone in person, you want to create a rehearsed run-down of your abilities and experience.
Once you tell the person in charge of your work, they’ll normally ask to see some examples of your published work—your portfolio. If you’re a good fit, you’ll often have to pitch a query on a trial basis. Once you knock the first assignment out of the park, you’re really in. Plus, you’ll be getting paid depending on your negotiation skills.
Now, you’re probably saying, “hey that’s nice, but WHERE do I start looking?”
Now that you’re prepped and ready to go, understanding just what clients expect from a freelance writer, it’s time to venture out. But you don’t have to go far—anywhere you see the written word is a gig just waiting for you.
Start specific and then get general. The idea is almost like a sports player: you have to start in the Little Leagues (local) before you can make it to the Major Leagues (national publications). You may get lucky with some well-written ambitious article but it helps to work for local businesses to understand the opportunities available for writers.
Remember that all those local publications have advertisements or public announcements. Not every company has in-house personnel to compose press releases for their company. That’s your job and you must take the initiative to find those looking.
The list of local opportunities is massive, but here are some examples to get you started:
- New businesses: New businesses are often bootstrapped into existence. Getting their venture off the ground can be an all-consuming affair. Few businesses come completely formed and owners simply don’t have the time to hem and haw over their website’s content, press releases, menus—anything written, really. Understanding their needs is crucial to getting your freelance writing business off the ground.
- Government: Don’t forget that civic institutions need writers on a regular business. Whether it is handling their web content or producing the content for their materials (i.e. pamphlets), writers are in demand on a regular basis. Libraries are always in need of monthly newsletters or articles written about upcoming events.
- Real Estate: Anywhere there’s building, there’s realtors. Those homebuyers’ guides and elaborate descriptions don’t write themselves. Best of all, realtors are always in need of attractive prose to bring business in and entice buyers.
- Lawyers: Law can be an all-consuming endeavor for lawyers and those involved the legal profession. Most are more than happy to outsource aspects of their work to reliable freelancers, whether it’s SEO content to bring in new clients, copyediting, and so forth.
- Local Websites: Some entrepreneurs have taken a local approach to conducting business, but without a physical location. For instance, local guides for tourism are always looking for writers to bring fresh content to their webguides and other materials. Looking up “local [TOPIC] guide,” with “topic” being anything related to your town (ex. “local rafting guide in Durango, Colorado”) can start the ball rolling for you.
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That about wraps it up for finding work on as a freelance writer. Once you’ve got your clips, then your portfolio and a solid pitch for clients, it’s up to you look to local opportunities. However, this is only the beginning. If you’re looking for more writing opportunities out there, be sure to check out our article, “11 Ways to Make Money Online” and start raking in that sweet, sweet cash!