I’m thinking back to the early days of freelance writing. I’m remembering a time when the possibility of landing freelance writing jobs was overwhelming, yet seemed very real. I’m remembering the days when I couldn’t wait to look for work but was afraid to look for work. I’m remembering the time when fear and lack of confidence kept me from doing more than reading the freelance writing job ads.
Today, we’re going to talk to the folks who want to write in the worst way, but something is keeping them from taking that first step.
Today we’re going to discuss landing that first freelance writing job.
If you’re scanning the subheads below, you might think, “well that all looks easy enough, I can do that.” Yes, you can, but it’s not easy. I can tell you that you may not land the very first gig you apply to, and you will make all sorts of mistakes. Just because you’re taking those first steps, doesn’t mean you’ll actually land the gig.
However, nothing will happen if you don’t try.
Step 1: Assess Your Skills
I have an anecdote for you:
My friend Kurt wasn’t a writer, but he wrote well and his friends encouraged him to continue. He’s dabbled in novel writing, but never really sought out freelance writing jobs. When a friend with a car website approached me to ask if I knew anyone with a passion for cars, Kurt was the first person to come to mind. Kurt wasn’t a writer in the traditional sense of the word, but I didn’t know anyone else with such a genuine passion and enthusiasm for cars and motorcycles who also wrote well. Now my friend Kurt is lead writer for RideLust and works as an automotive journalist. As I write this, there’s a long list of luxury cars waiting for Kurt to have a turn at driving (for two weeks at a time) and reviewing them. Kurt is freelancing full time, talking about his passion.
You can be a generalist with your writing, this has worked for many people. In the beginning, I wrote about saving money and family finances. It wasn’t until I blogged for a few years that I began writing about writing and blogging. Think about all the things you love or the things you can do best and exploit your passion.
Passion alone won’t get the gig
So here’s the kicker – just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you can write about it. First of all, there may not be any gigs available in said niche, but also, you may not have the writing skills. It’s easy to get writing gigs every day. For some clients it’s more about cheap labor than hiring the best writer for the job. However, if you’re not a very good writer you’ll only get the cheap gigs. Be realistic about your talent and skill. If you’re always having your writing corrected or don’t know basic rules of grammar, consider taking some writing courses or having your work critiqued.
We all think we’re good writers, but sometimes we’re in for a major reality check. I can tell you that I thought I was one great writer when I graduated from school because my family and teachers told me so. However, when I began working in publishing I learned from the editors there that certain things needed work and I went to school. There’s no shame in brushing up.
Step 2: Think About the Types of Writing You Would Like to Do
Ok, so now you know you have mad skills and something to offer to the world. Where are you going to write? Do you want to write a newspaper column or magazine articles? Do you want blog or write web articles? Would you rather explore business writing? There are so many possibilities available to you. Think about the types of writing that most appeal to you.
But wait…you’re not done yet….
These gigs don’t just fall into your lap. Now you have to figure out what is involved with each. You can say that writing white papers looks interesting, but unless you’ve done so, you’ll need to know a little about it. No one is going to hire you if you don’t have a clue about white papers are and how to write them. Think about your skills and the best way to profit from them. Research all the different ways to break into these gigs and markets.
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a freelance writer is not researching markets enough. I knew about magazine markets from publishing, but I thought all markets were the same. Though I landed the first job I applied for, the rest didn’t come so easy. Not knowing a thing about approaching the markets wasn’t a smart move. I did better after I took the time to research.
Step 3: Figure Out a Rate
What do you want to earn? No, seriously, what do you want to earn? Do you want someone to set your rate, or do you want to take charge from the very beginning? Knowing how much to charge will help to shape your career from the get-go. What do you think your writing is worth? That’s not an easy questions as it encompasses several factors. You’ll want to consider the type of writing, the amount of research involved, whether or not you will conduct interviews, expenses, fees and taxes. So if you state off the bat you want to charge $50 per hour, also work out if you will be able to support yourself on that amount after all is said and done. (For help, try this freelance rate calculator at Freelance Switch.)
Now stick with those freelance writing rates
You may be tempted to fiddle with those freelance writing rates. You might want to bargain in order to get your foot in the door. Sure, you could try that. Consider this though, when you negotiate lower rates, clients catch on quickly. They know you won’t stand firm. They know they can talk you down. If you’re firm, you will land the clients who will respect your rates, but make no mistake, they will expect value in return.
Sure, there may be times when negotiating might be in order. For example, if you’re tackling a variety of projects or if you want to offer a trusted client a discount to reward customer loyalty. For the most part, your rate is your rate. Stand firm. It may be harder to find gigs with this rate at first, but once you land a few clients you’ll be happy you held your ground. Be the one to set your rate and clients will be less likely to lowball you.
Step 4: Press Send
It’s time. You know you have skills, you know what you want to do and you know what you want to charge. What else is there left to do but start querying and submitting. Notice I didn’t say “look for work?” That’s because if you’re like me, you spent a lot of time looking for work already. You know what’s out there. You can look for work until the cows come home, but unless you actually sit down and start typing those queries nothing’s going to happen. Stop looking and start taking action.
Create some samples
Notice how everyone wants samples of your writing? This shouldn’t be a deterrent. Unless a potential client specifically asks for “published” samples, you can create a few relevant samples to send with your query or application. Samples are meant to give potential clients an idea of your writing style. If you put your best effort into some samples, some clients will hire you, regardless of whether or not you have published work.
Research query examples
So, yeah…you’re going to have to send a cover letter or query and it’s going to have to be better than everyone else’s. Your query is your first impression. An editor or client should look at it and say, “That’s it! This is the person I want writing for me.”
We’re starting a query letter series here at Freelance Writing Jobs, and also, Linda Formicelli often features “query letters that worked” at her wonderful and helpful Renegade Writer blog. Do investigate successful query letters before submitting your own.
Editors are sticklers for details so proofread several times over before hitting “send.” If necessary, enlist another pair of eyes. As you gain more experience, the query and application process will get easier.
Step 5: Follow Up
When I worked in publishing, many of the editors had stacks and stacks of queries and submissions to go through. Many of them put it off as long as possible. I know one editor who only looked at queries once a month. When freelancers called to inquire about the status of their queries, we would unearth them from the pile and take a look. Not hearing from an editor or potential client is frustrating. Many times, they only respond to the person who landed the gig. Many times your query is lost in a pile somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with waiting a couple of weeks and sending a polite follow up.
A few years ago, there was a gig I really wanted. The pay was terrific and the subject matter was right up my alley. I sent in a cover letter and some of my best writing samples.
Three weeks later I sent the client a polite letter, only a few lines long, to follow up on my application. I told him I’d love to discuss the gig in detail more. The client sent me back a note telling me he already chose someone for the gig. However, two weeks later he contacted me again saying his first freelancer didn’t work out and since I seemed to really want the job he offered it to me. We still work together from time to time.
Step 6: Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Now that you sent out your first query, cover letter or completed your first application, what will you do? I hope you’re not going to rest on your laurels. You may not land your first gig. You also many not hear from a potential client right away. Continue querying. Use it for practice. Don’t stop after one try. The third time might be a charm or you it may take until your 20th try. Eventually your persistence will pay off, but only if you continue looking for work.
Are there easier ways to find freelance writing jobs?
As a freelance writing blogger I’m not supposed to tell you this. I’m not supposed to encourage this type of writing, but if we’re going to talk about the ways to find freelance writing jobs, not mentioning web content sites would be a glaring omission. In 2010 plenty of freelancers are earning a living this way. Keep in mind that “easy” doesn’t always equal “lucrative.”
There are plenty of easier ways to find work, for example you can work for content sites. However, most content sites are not high paying opportunities. You’ll have to see how they fit into your game plan. Is this the type of writing you want to do? Is this the rate you want to earn? If so, by all means start out writing for content sites. After a little while, take that experience and your new found confidence and look for higher paying gigs.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing for content sites, I did. Be careful though. You can find yourself getting caught up in the “easy” lifestyle. Content sites can be a terrific springboard to more lucrative gigs, but the easy way isn’t always the realistic way. Sometimes writers start with content sites to get their feet wet and that’s all they’re doing three years later. Make a game plan if you’re going to take on content site work. Use it to start out or supplement your work. Use it full time, if that’s what you want to do, but make sure it fits in with your vision.
Freelance writing is work. It’s not a fun “bon bon and bunny slippers” gig. We work hard to find work, we take pride in what we do, and we work hard to give our clients the best writing possible. Before you embark upon a freelance writing career, be sure you can deliver. Take it seriously as you would any other job and you’ll do fine.
Do you have any questions about finding or landing freelance writing jobs?