Leaving Work Behind

Getting Your First Freelance Writing Client: How I Did It

Written by Tom Ewer on February 6, 2014. 28 Comments

WPMU DEV logoFor most aspiring freelance writers, the greatest challenge is in landing that first client. By client, I do not mean a content mill, or an individual who is only willing to pay you pennies for your words. I mean someone who values you as a writer and compensates you accordingly.

I was fortunate to land a great first client: James Farmer of WPMU DEV. I will always be grateful to James for affording me such an awesome opportunity. Although the pay wasn’t outstanding ($20 per hour to start with), my role as a blogger for WPMU DEV established me as a freelance writer and helped me to win future clients.

In this post I am going to reveal exactly what I did to land my first freelance writing client and offer my thoughts on what I did right in order to secure the role. In doing so I hope that I can inspire you to land more quality clients.

Getting My First Freelance Writing Client: My First Move

First of all, I should tell you a little about the circumstances surrounding my birth as a freelance blogger.

The truth is that I never intended to freelance. Back in 2011 I had spent months trying (and failing) to build passive income. It was on a whim, borne out of sheer frustration, that I made my first move into the world of freelance blogging. I had no real idea what I was doing and had little to show for myself.

In fact, when I submitted my pitch to James’ job listing on ProBlogger, all I could show him were samples of work from my own blog — none of which were related to WordPress (the topic I would be writing about). Furthermore, my experience with WordPress stretched only to the handful of months I had been using it to run my blog. I was certainly no expert.

Perhaps surprisingly, I believe that my frustration helped me a great deal. It imbued me with a devil-may-care attitude towards my efforts in securing a freelance blogging gig. After all, I had nothing to lose. To be honest, I never believed I would land such a role, and if I had been taking the notion of freelance blogging more “seriously,” I might never have submitted the pitch.

My First Ever Freelance Writing Pitch

I should first point out that I sent pitches to five or six people as part of my process to landing my first freelance writing client, but James was the only one to reply with anything meaningful. This pattern repeated itself when I later submitted a second batch of pitches (which resulted in me landing a blogging role with ManageWP). To a great extent, submitting job pitches is a numbers game.

I’ve written about my pitch to James before here, so feel free to check that out. As I mention on that post, my pitch was brief and included samples of my work and background of my relevant experience.

What I find curious about my pitch is that I showed no real evidence of having anything more than moderate experience with WordPress. I believe that I “sold” James on the basis that I was an able writer, regardless of my lack of relevant experience.

It may seem obvious, but your ability to write well is your most valuable asset as a freelance blogger. The most important thing you can do when applying for jobs is send a well-written pitch that links to well-written posts. If your pitch fails, one of these two items are amongst the “usual suspects” in terms of determining your failure.

James didn’t know if my WordPress knowledge was up to scratch, but he could see that I could write — perhaps better than most of the applicants he had received. So despite my shortcomings in terms of experience, he was willing to consider me. His response to my pitch was as follows:

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the interest.

We’ve actually got a few people doing trials now, but as you can
clearly write I’m happy to give it a crack.

One thing that we’ve asked all candidates to do is pitch us 5 articles
– just a headline and a couple of sentences description wise that they
think will work on wpmu.org.

Do you think you could give that a crack?

Oh, and of course let us know your rates too.

Cheers, James

If I had been in his shoes, that’s exactly how I would have responded. Why? Because the second most important skill a freelance blogger must have is the ability come up with good topic ideas. Put simply, I wouldn’t hire someone with awesome writing skills if they couldn’t also come up with great ideas. The two skills go hand-in-hand.

My Follow-Up Email

What I did next was probably pivotal — I went above and beyond in terms of supplying what James asked for.

Hello James,

Please find attached a Word file containing headlines, introductions and synopses for 5 articles. I appreciate that some of these may not be appropriate for WPMU, but I thought the spread of topics I covered would give you a better idea of my knowledge regarding WordPress. I have kept the writing style broadly in line with the articles on your site, but can adjust according to your requirements (e.g. I can be more or less formal, inject a bit of humour, and so on).

My hourly rate is $20.

Thank you for your consideration – I look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers,

Tom

You can click here to see the Word file I sent him. Not only did I supply five headlines, I accompanied each one with a draft introduction and a synopsis.

I’ve worked with a number of freelance bloggers and I’ve never seen anyone go to such lengths as this, despite the fact that the quality of your post ideas is a crucial part of the pitching process. If someone did, I would be blown away. Talk about an easy way to separate yourself from the crowd.

That email was enough for me to land a five article paid trial. I had my foot in the door; all I needed to do now was write articles that James deemed suitable for WPMU.

Immediate Failure

Now here’s something that might surprise you: the first article I submitted to James was a complete dud. Here’s the email he sent me:

Hi Tom,

Thanks for that but I think we’re going to decline that article
(although of course we’ll pay you for it).

Mostly my fault, I should have picked up on this from your initial
list of titles, the main reasons are:

– We don’t really want to make any more enemies than we already have 🙂
– We try to avoid being directly negative at other folk
– It’s a bit light on proof of why Thesis is actually bad (you say it,
but there isn’t much evidence)
– It comes across as too showy and salesy on DEV products (WPMU.org is
different from WPMU DEV btw – some issues there too).
– I think stylistically all the bold and links don’t work so well –
and the image is a bit lame

Hope that feedback is helpful – please let us know if you have any
questions around that…

Cheers, James

Not a great start! I was pretty devastated — although James accepted much of the liability for the “failure,” I knew I could have done better. As such, my response to his email was vital. Here’s what I sent:

Hi James,

Thanks for your feedback on the article, which definitely is helpful!

I have gone back to the article and can’t help but agree with your points. In retrospect, I am not happy with the article at all. I like to think that I set myself pretty high standards, and that article does not meet them. I’ve trashed it and will not be charging you for the time taken in writing it (I wouldn’t want to charge you for work I consider sub-par). Perhaps I am being too frank, but that is the way I feel!

Let me put something better together for your consideration.

Cheers,

Tom

Although I didn’t consciously know it at the time, there were a couple of things at play here. First, I was demonstrating a willingness to accept feedback and criticism (which is vital). Second, I was demonstrating a level of pride in my work (something I always look for in writers). In doing so, I turned a negative experience into a largely positive one.

Acceptance and an Ongoing Role

Fortunately, I was able to produce better posts for the remainder of the trial, and before long I offered an “extended trial / ongoing arrangement.”

From that point onwards, it really was my job to lose. Fortunately, I didn’t! I continued to work with WPMU until I resigned from the role in late 2012 (when the rate was no longer sustainable for me).

I believe I was very lucky to stumble across what was a golden opportunity at the time. However, I helped myself a great deal by writing a solid pitch and putting together comprehensive post ideas. I demonstrated a willingness to accept feedback and adjust my approach accordingly, and I was prompt and professional in my responses at all times.

If you’re interested, you can check out all of the articles I wrote for WPMU DEV in my first stint with them here (I’m now writing for them again under a new profile). Just keep paging back through those posts and you can see the first posts I ever wrote for my first ever freelance writing client.

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28 Responses to “Getting Your First Freelance Writing Client: How I Did It”

  1. JoDavies
    February 6, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Great read Tom!! I love hearing about the process you went through the first time, and seeing how you handled the criticism is great advice. It really does become up to you to find ways to stand out from LOTS of other applicants!

    I also think that it is inspiring to hear about the ‘dud’ you really show some great skills for aspiring and current bloggers for how you should act in the trenches!

  2. Ragnar
    February 6, 2014 at 10:08 pm

    So you’re not perfect after all, who would’ve thought! Haha. Cool to see your origin story Tom.

  3. Darren Boland
    February 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Tom,

    Hi, some really interesting points there, I was a little surprised with the way you got into Freelancing, sometimes the opportunities present themselves and you just need to take them.

    Its great to know how you really got started… .. You certainly made the most out of it that’s for sure, well done..

  4. Marc Andre
    February 7, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing from your personal experience. Those details are interesting to see.

  5. Kaya Ismail
    February 8, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    Real life stories make such good blog posts, and this is just one more example. Nice one Tom!

  6. Brian Lang
    February 9, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I read your first article… looks like some girl was trying to pick you up in the comments section – LOL

  7. steve
    February 9, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Tom,
    As I prepare for my journey into freelance blogging, I appreciate all of the info you share. Your blog/course are a tremendous help to me and I’m sure to many others. Keep it up..please!

  8. Debashish
    February 10, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    Your story bears an uncanny resemblance to my own! I got my first client by writing a good pitch, doing one month of free trial, and got a not so good feedback on my first post.
    Great to know the origins of LWB, Tom.

  9. Holly Bowne
    February 11, 2014 at 2:54 am

    Thanks so much, Tom! This post was incredibly helpful and encouraging as well. I love how you broke the entire process down for us–and especially, ESPECIALLY how you included the failure and your response to it.

  10. Taylor
    March 22, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Wow Tom this was a good read! Thanks so much for sharing. It’s great to see the process and how it takes resilience. Hopefully I can get my big break soon too 🙂

    Taylor

  11. Steve T.
    December 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Tom, I read this article and it spoke to me. I’m planning on starting freelance writing soon and this was very inspirational, knowing that even seasoned veterans have lousy starts.

    I’ll be sure to follow your advice on going above and beyond and maybe I’ll see you around in the industry sometime.

    Cheers and thanks for a good read, as always!

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