Freelance Writing Jobs: How to Find Your First
Note from Tom: My content marketing agency is currently hiring freelance bloggers with self-hosted WordPress experience. Interested? Submit your application here!
As many of you know, I am an advocate of making money online through freelance writing. As far as I am concerned, the barriers of entry are relatively low and the opportunities are numerous.
Plenty of Leaving Work Behind readers have contacted me asking how to find freelance writing jobs. Some people don’t know where to look, what to look for, how to apply for jobs, and so on.
And this comes as no surprise — taking those first few steps can be rather intimidating. I say that from personal experience. When you have certain freelance writing websites telling you that you should be commanding rates of $100 per hour and up, taking that first step can be a paralyzing experience. However, in this post I want to show how the process can in fact be relatively simple.
Freelance Writing Jobs: Don’t Be Afraid To Start Small
Whilst you can make upwards of $100 per hour doing freelance writing jobs, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting at a lower level. Don’t be intimidated into thinking that you should be aiming for “jackpot jobs.”
My hourly rate was $20 when I started. These days it’s more like $150 per hour. And it’s not just me; my friend Gina was able to go from $50 to $150 per hour in a matter of months.
My equivalent hourly rate at the moment is well under $100 per hour, but I have no problem with that. I have regular work, I don’t have to look for jobs, and I have prospective clients coming to me (rather than vice versa). Edit 27/10/14: my equivalent hourly rate is now around $150, which aptly demonstrates what is possible with freelance writing!
The fact is, you can’t walk straight into $100 per hour jobs as a beginner freelance writer. You need to build up your skill set and portfolio. There is nothing wrong with taking on a $20 per hour job and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you had two regular clients paying you $20 per hour, eight hours per day, you’d be earning upwards of $40,000 per annum — that’s nothing to sniff at. It may not pay the bills, but it can be your start point.
Besides, there are other benefits to starting out modestly:
- You can bulk out your portfolio
- It is an opportunity to increase your network
- It can increase exposure to your blog (if you have an author byline)
- It’s good practice!
And remember: you can always ask for a raise once you have proven yourself. If a client is unwilling to increase your pay, you can always walk away (on good terms, of course). Working for a below-ideal rate does not have to be permanent, but it is nothing to be afraid of in the short term.
Avoid Content Farms
Let me get something straight: when I say you should be ready to start on modest pay, I am not suggesting that you work on so-called “content farms” (such as Text Broker, Elance and oDesk). Quite the opposite in fact. There is no reason that a reasonably competent writer can’t work on something real; something rewarding; something that you will be able to display in your portfolio with pride.
I am talking about finding work where you will be valued — where you will be able to further your skills and connections. I have never worked for a content farm and I never will. It’s just not necessary.
Browsing Freelance Writing Job Listings
For the purposes of this article I am going to be referring to the ProBlogger Job Board as a means of sourcing work. It features a number of online writing opportunities; most typically related to blogging. It’s also where I found my first two freelance blogging jobs.
The first thing to bear in mind is that when it comes to finding work, you have to throw a lot against the wall in order to find something that sticks. I submitted quite a few applications to get my first couple of writing jobs. Once you have a good template pitch set up it only takes a few minutes to submit an application, so don’t be afraid to get stuck in and send out a whole bunch. What’s the worst that can happen?
What To Look For:
- Something that interests you
- Reputable sites/companies
- Clients who have worked with writers before
- Permanent/semi permanent freelance writing jobs (you don’t want to constantly be looking for new work)
- $ per hour or per article
What To Avoid:
- People asking for free trials — if they’re serious about finding someone, they’ll offer paid trials
- “The rates aren’t good, but…”
- Incentive-based pay
- Nonexistent / private sites
- Blog networks / SEO / mass article writing work
Freelance Writing Job Opportunities Are Plentiful
Multiple Leaving Work Behind readers have gotten in touch with me, voicing their frustration that they can’t find viable freelance writing job opportunities online. But take it from me as someone who researches freelance blogging job opportunities every single day for Paid to Blog Jobs: there are plenty of opportunities out there.
On average, I list around 70 new freelance writing job listings on Paid to Blog Jobs every week. That’s over 300 listings per month, or over 3,500 a year. That’s a lot of opportunities!
Bemoaning a lack of opportunities is a poor excuse; succeeding as a freelance writer is simply a case of hard graft. Find as many job sources as you can (or sign up to Paid to Blog Jobs and I’ll do it for you) and apply to any opportunities that interest you. Be sure to check your sources every day to check up on what’s new; although you can get a job on a listing that is days or even weeks old, it is always good to get your pitch in early.
It is absolutely vital that you make a good first impression with any prospective client. They will be receiving multiple applications; you should try your best to stick out from the crowd.
By far the best piece of advice I can give you is to follow their instructions. If they request specific information, make sure that you give it to them. Nothing demonstrates a lack of professionalism more than an inability to follow simple instructions in a job listing. It is a really easy way of filtering out potential candidates.
The makeup of your email will of course vary depending upon the type of client you are targeting and the existing portfolio you have to show off. Here is a copy of the application I submitted for my first client, WPMU DEV:
I came across your available writing position and would like to apply for the role.
I am confident that I tick all of your boxes in terms of what you are looking for. I am very proud of my blog (Leaving Work Behind). There are of course plenty of articles available to read on the blog, but I would suggest that the following posts demonstrate my writing style and capabilities:
I would consider myself pretty savvy with WordPress. I also have a good understanding of CSS and HTML (I used to build websites manually back in the day), and a passing familiarity with PHP.
A little bit about me – I am a 26 year old male living in the UK. I currently have a full-time and very flexible job in property development (it is a family business). I am looking to resign from that role as soon as possible and become self-employed. The role that you are offering may be an ideal opportunity for me to do that. Initially I would be available to work say 16 hours a week, although we could work on that. Rest assured, I am an extremely efficient worker, so you get a lot of bang for your buck!
I’d love to become part of what is already an established and popular blog, and would be very keen to help you take it to the next level!
Thank for your time – I look forward to your response.
There are a few things to note here:
- Brevity. The application is well formatted, gets to the point, and is packed with information — no fluff. Don’t waste their time.
- Examples of your work. This is essential. If you have nothing to show them, consider writing up a few example pieces.
- Background of your (relevant) experience. It shows that you have actually considered their listing — you are not just submitting applications at random.
- A little about yourself, your situation, and what you can do for them.
Here is the email I sent when applying for my second job at ManageWP:
I noticed your job listing over at ProBlogger and would like to apply for the position.
I consider myself a highly competent WordPress user. I am currently a staff writer at WPMU. You can find examples of my work here: http://wpmu.org/author/tom/
I also have my own blog (http://www.leavingworkbehind.com/) which showcases to an extent my ability to customize WordPress themes.
If my services are of interest, please note that I cannot start work until mid-January 2012.
Thank you for your consideration.
As you can see, this application was much more brief than the first. It was in fact rather speculative; I submitted a bunch of applications in November 2011 in the hope of attracting advance work in January 2012. Fortunately, Vladimir Prelovac (the CEO of ManageWP) decided to overlook my claimed availability, and I started writing for the blog shortly thereafter!
Despite my application being brief, it was still successful. I believe my involvement with WPMU was a big plus; one job can easily lead to another.
So what do you do if an application is successful? Being a successful freelance writer is an ongoing process: once you have the job, you need to do good work!
With that in mind, I have a few tips that should elevate you above the norm:
- Respond to emails and messages promptly
- If at all possible, never miss a deadline; be careful not to overextend yourself
- Always try to exceed your clients’ expectations
The fact is, your clients probably have to put up with a lot of crap in the process of running their business. Do your job well, exercise initiative and ensure that you are an asset rather than a burden and you will be progressing in no time at all.
Photo Credit: mpclemens