How Can a Freelancer Build a Web Content Client Base?

So, you want to write web content for more than one-third of a penny per word.  Or you’re doing the Demand Studios thing and would like to branch out.  Maybe you write for some of the other content mills and think it‘s time to cut out the middle man/woman.  Maybe you’ve been working the bid boards and are tired of giving them a cut.  Maybe you haven’t received so much as a “thank you” for anything you’ve written, but you’re ready to get things rolling and you want to deal with real-life clients who’ll toss work your way on a regular basis.

You’re not alone.  I know that because I get emails asking, “How in the hell can I get decent clients?” on a regular basis.  I know that because I see folks quizzing discussion board participants with variations of the same question.

I decided I’d take a stab at answering the question.  Here’s my seven-step recommendation for those who want to find their own clients in the not-always thrilling but sometimes cool world of writing web content for dough.  I suppose you should consider this more of an outline than a definitive, detailed guide.  On the other hand, this really isn’t rocket science.  If you can write and you really want to write web content, you can secure a good client base.

If you follow these seven steps, you’ll soon find yourself sleeping on a mattress stuffed with C-notes.  At the very least, you’ll have more than enough work to keep you busy.*

Step One:  Buy a domain name. That’s right, my first step requires you to spend a few dollars on a .COM domain to call your very own.  If you have some super-clever business name, feel free to use it.  If you can get your own name or some variation thereof, that’s not a bad idea, either.

If you’re not willing to spend less than ten bucks to secure a domain name, I think it’s safe to say that you’re either too risk-aversive for the whole entrepreneurial scene or that you’re so dead broke that you should probably be more concerned with finding a way to generate some immediate cash instead of focusing on building a career.

Plunk down the money.  Yeah, you can make blogs look pretty these days, but it just isn’t the same.  You need a credible home base.

Step Two:  Spring for hosting.
Yep, another expense.  Don’t worry, you can find cheap hosts.  A few bucks a month.  Stop griping and pry open your wallet.  It’s time to put that domain to use.

Step Three:  Put something decent together.
Now, get a website up and running.  It doesn’t need to be the most awesome website of all time.  It does need to be credible and readable.  It should be something that doesn’t embarrass you.

I personally recommend building on a WordPress backbone.  Don’t think of WordPress as a mere blogging platform.  It’s actually a relatively strong content management system and it makes building attractive, structurally sound websites incredibly easy.  There are 384,429,083 good-looking free themes available and about 238,488,992 of those are customizable if you’re interested in doing a little extra work.

Your site needs to have a few things.  It needs to have enough information about you to convince people that you might be worth trusting.  It needs to have readily accessible contact information.  A contact form (easily created with one of many simple WordPress plugins) is a good idea.  You can take it from there.

If you want to build a massive site complete with a regularly-update blog, go for the gusto.  If you want to create a front page, an about page and a contact page and call it a day, that’s okay, too.  The critical thing is building a credible outpost for yourself.

Step Four:  Be easy to find.
I’m not talking about dominating the search engines for “freelance writer” queries.  I’m not talking about paying for pay-per-click advertising, either.  Those are potentially smart moves, but they warrant several other long discussions.

I’m talking about getting yourself in front of people and spreading your good name around the ‘Net enough that when people try to find out more about you they can get some idea of who in the heck you are.

There are a billion ways to do that.  They include:

  • Guest posting on other blogs
  • Commenting on other blogs
  • Utilizing Twitter
  • Joining the ever-growing ranks of LinkedIn users
  • Writing and submitting articles to directories for distribution/syndication
  • Creating and publishing press releases
  • Blah, blah, blah

At this point, you need to worry a little more about giving your name and presence some breadth.  You can concentrate more on depth as you refine your approach.

Oh, and don’t forget that you should be utilizing these opportunities in a way that allows you to share as much contact information as you can.  Your URL.  Your email address.  Your phone number.  Your address.  Your photo.  Your _______.

Did I say phone number?  Damn straight.  Many newer writers seem reluctant to hand out their numbers.  I can understand that.  However, I can also tell you that seeing a phone number tells people that there’s a real human being on the other end of things and they like that.  It’s a credibility builder, as well as a contact outlet.  It makes people feel better when they know they can pick up the phone and talk to you.  If you don’t want to give out your real number, use Google Voice to snag a free one and have it forward to your cell.  Or invest $30 a month in a cheap Cricket cell phone.  Get a cheap VOIP line.  Whatever.  Just get a number, okay?

Step Five:  Perfect your pitch. This article isn’t about how to run your business in general terms.  It’s about landing regular web content clients.  Eventually, you should be in a position to have clients find you.  When you start, you’ll be finding them.  That means scouring leads like the ones here at Freelance Writing Jobs and elsewhere and following upon the ones that look like a fit.

When you contact those people, you need to have a nice little pitch ready to go.

I’ve hired writers on several occasions.  Most of the come-ons fall into two categories:  Crappy ones and really crappy ones.  Very few are good.  The good ones exude confidence.  They’re short and to the point.  They’re specific to the ad to which the writer is responding.  They prove the writer knows his or her way around the keyboard without forcing the hiring party to wade through too much material.  They include handy links back to the writer’s website (see how it’s all coming together?) that provide necessary biographical information and or sample materials.

When you build your little ad response pitches, keep one thing in mind.  Most of the folks who are hiring content writers aren’t the Executive Vice Presidents of Fortune 500 companies.  They’re not shining the buttons on their Brooks Brothers suits from behind glossy black desks in high-floor corner offices overlooking the city.  They’re more likely to be geeky people in T-shirts who value good ideas, talent and quick thinking over formality and standard-issue resume filler.

Make use of your website in these pitches.  Put the link in the email.  Put it under your name at the bottom of the email (along with your phone number).

Step Six:  Pitch, Pitch, Pitch, Pitch and Pitch.
A significant percentage of those you approach will never answer you.  Some will answer you, revealing that they really want someone to do a helluva load of work for very little coin.  Some will be cool with you but will opt to go with someone else.  In other words, you won’t be thick with private clients if you’re answering one call for writers per week. Go for the gusto.  Answer every ad that looks potentially appealing.  If you end up not liking what the advertiser is cooking, you can also politely decline.

Step Seven:  Kick rump.
Do a good job.  Meet specifications and exceed expectations.  If you do good work, they’ll come back for more.  And they’ll tell their friends.  They’ll vouch for you when someone else needs a reference before hiring you.  Before you know it, you’ll have business coming to you and you won’t be spending as much time digging through the ads for writers.

There you have it.  You, too, can stay busy writing web content for individual clients.

*The success of this process is wholly dependent upon your ability to actually do the job.  If you’re a miserable writer, you’re doomed.  If you can’t bring yourself to sell your skills, you’re doomed.  If you don’t have the ability or knowledge base necessary to implement these steps, you need to figure things out and/or find someone who knows what they’re doing to help you.  Otherwise, you’re doomed.  The good news is that it’s all relatively easy.  At least it’s easier than many initially intimidated people think it will be.


9 responses
  1. Al Shaw Avatar

    A timely article at a moment when I’ve been thinking seriously about taking the next step in freelance writing.

    I’ve been pleased to receive a few regular well-paid gigs through my blogspot site, but I’m going to follow these next steps and move forwards.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jeremy Powers Avatar

    Carson – I was surprised when I clicked over from my feed that there were no comments on this post. This is solid advice.
    I have been in marketing for a long time. When you are in marketing, the rejection rate is just a percentage. When you are actually doing the selling, the rejection rate is more personal. After 9 months of contracting, I am still struggling to adjust to how many doors get slammed in my face each week.

  3. Laura Spencer Avatar

    Yep, you’re exactly right.

    These are pretty much the steps I took and they apply to more than just web content writers. Nearly every freelancer can benefit from a website, proper exposure, and knowing how to pitch.

  4. Tom Johnson Avatar

    Great post. I have been working on an article on the same topic but it keeps growing so I may have to turn it into an e-book at this point. You did such a solid and concise summary that I had to post a link to the article on my site. Thanks.

  5. Chris Avatar

    I’ll say this–building a successful freelancing career won’t happen by simply answering craigslist ads. I think the most important thing is getting your name out there. A great way to do this is through direct mail.

  6. Carol Avatar

    Right on, Carson.

    Often, writers whine to me, “But do I REALLY need a Web site?”
    Yes. You do. Get it up already!
    In the past year, I’ve had two Fortune 500 clients find me through just doing Google searches and finding my Web site. Google is the phone book of the 21st Century. Be listed in it!

  7. Kendra Avatar

    Keep in mind that even if you have a blogger blog, you can register your own domain name through them, choose from thousands of different templates (some adapted for blogger from wordpress) and not have to deal with a WordPress install.

  8. MarcyS Avatar

    This list thoroughly overwhelms me. The thought of allowing potential clients to telephone me directly makes me want to throw up. I’m going to take it all under advisement, but I can clearly see why I have so much trouble finding high-end clients. The quality of my work is definitely not the problem; in that I am thoroughly secure. This is a sobering moment for me, but thanks for the advice.

  9. Heather Ryerson Avatar
    Heather Ryerson

    Great article. I needed a little extra push this evening to start my week off right. I am going to use ALL of these suggestions this week. Thanks for letting me know that I am not, in fact, doomed.

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