4 Strategic Ways to Get Great Freelance Writing Jobs From the Start

Successful girl freelancer working with documents at home
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As a budding freelance writer, it’s easy to find yourself intimidated by the accomplishments and accolades of others in the industry.

Competing for freelance writing jobs against experienced writers often feels like fighting a losing battle. But don’t buy into the lie that your work is only worth pennies on the dollar.

The very first freelance contract I landed paid me several hundred dollars. I’m certain there were better-qualified writers available to create content for my client, but he chose me in spite of my lackluster working history.

Sure, I may have had luck on my side — but I also took a few important steps to highlight my strengths for the client.

If you’re struggling to get clients, use this simple game plan to take control of your professional trajectory.

1. Take your eyes off the job boards

Listen, I understand it’s hard to ignore job ads offering handsome compensation opportunities, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by focusing your attention on such listings. You’re picking one of the hardest avenues for landing a well-paid writing job.

How many other writers are shooting off query letters with stars in their eyes, drowning your chances of landing an interview?

It behooves you to target potential clients who don’t already have an endless stack of query letters sitting in their inboxes.

Learn how to approach clients and start a conversation without the pressure of competing against hundreds of other applicants for a single job.

2. Polish your presentation to perfection

I always think of writing as the great equalizer: A freelancer either has the chops or he doesn’t. There are few in-betweens when it comes to producing well-written content.

Whether you’re pitching to an editor, responding to a lead, or simply networking with other business professionals, your correspondence serves as a writing sample. Think carefully about your word choices, and triple-check your sentences for accuracy.

You should also use resources that convey a sense of professionalism to would-be clients. If you maintain a personal blog (and you should!), host it on your own domain, as opposed to a free platform.

And for goodness’ sake, use a tasteful email address for your business endeavors. Nothing screams “amateur” more than using a cheeky nickname in place of your real moniker.

3. Highlight your personal history

Many writing newbies believe published clips are the only elements that count in the eyes of the client, but nothing could be further from the truth. While samples of your work do play a role in an editor’s decision, your unique life experiences often speak even louder than words.

Good writers choose a niche they’re passionate about, and inevitably, have firsthand experience with in real life.

For example, I spent five years living in Europe, and I often highlight that fact when I pitch stories on international travel or foreign language study. Yes, I’ve had the chance to write for some great publications in these niches, but my life experiences are what usually convince a potential client to work with me.

If you spent your teenage years babysitting the neighbor kids, you might be a great candidate for an educational blog targeting parents. Did you work in corporate America for decades? Parlay your years of experience in office administration into authority on career building and hiring practices.

You might feel inexperienced, but the truth is, you likely already hold the keys necessary to convince clients of your credibility.

4. Stay tenacious, even in the face of defeat

A simple Google search will reveal countless stories of rejection from many of the world’s bestselling authors. From J.K. Rowling to Stephen King, even the literary greats were once turned away by editors, time and again.

Receiving rejections (or no response at all) from clients can be demoralizing, but as the old adage goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Resolve to keep at it for as long as it takes to strike paydirt.

Tenacity is an invaluable trait for writers in an aggressive marketplace. Treat every query as a learning experience, and with hard work and a bit of luck, you’re bound to land a contract in due time.

How did you land your very first contract? What advice do you have for inexperienced writers struggling to compete with seasoned pros?

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Adam Zetterlund is a language enthusiast living in New York City. He partners with a number of international clients in a content marketing capacity and writes Writing from A to Z. | @writingA... .

| @writingAZ

Adam Zetterlund
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  1. “It behooves you to target potential clients who don’t already have an endless stack of query letters sitting in their inboxes”

    Please explain how to find leads then? How does one find the needs out there, if you don’t go to job boards?

    • Hi Ara,

      Thanks for your question. 🙂

      There are a couple of different ways to land contracts that don’t involve resorting to crowded job boards. If you’re thinking about writing for publications that work with contributors, you’ll want to read up on pitching story ideas to editors. This is the same model freelance journalists have used for years, though it’s also applicable for writers interested in working with prominent blogs, digital magazines, etc.

      If you’re instead focused on content marketing, prospecting for clients you can pitch your services to is a great way to get your foot in the door. Every healthy business invests in marketing as a means of generating additional sales, but many small businesses don’t even know where to start tackling the challenges of blogging and social media. By conducting a bit of research, you should be able to identify potential leads who could benefit from your content prowess.

      Prospecting for clients is an expansive subject, but you can find out a bit more using the link under the first job boards subheading above. That piece from another TWL contributor, Francesca Nicasio, explores the benefits of direct marketing and outlines a step-by-step approach for getting started.

      Best of luck to you! 🙂

      • Seems like Ara read my mind :p I’ve been spending too much time on job boards, because it seems so much easier. But as you say, the competition is fierce. It’s a happy day I even get a rejection, as most days it’s silence.

        Thanks for the wakeup call Adam, I’m off now to research and start pitching specific clients.

  2. Great article. I’ll be pushing it out through my social media. http://jerrynelson.org

  3. Great post Adam! I think job boards can serve a great purpose though (especially early on), but cold pitching and selectively going after certain niches, business etc. is where it’s at long-term. I would include #AlwaysBeMarketing and don’t forget about in-person opportunities – i.e. I recently pitched my lasik surgeon during my post-op and he’s interested in me writing for him. 🙂

    • Thanks for the input, Gina! You’re a veritable well of pitching knowledge—I’ve referenced many of your own posts when working with potential clients. 🙂

      You’re right on the money with in-person marketing. So many small businesses are desperate for help and don’t know where to start. “What do you do for a living?” can be a great opportunity to sell your services, almost without trying.

      Hope you enjoy being glasses-free in the New Year 😉

  4. Adam,

    You can’t imagine how helpful this article was. For months, I’ve meant to start a blog but delayed because I couldn’t come up with a topic. After reading point #3, it struck a chord with me. I realized the answer was right before my eyes, but I didn’t notice it until now.

    Thank you for this insightful material! Happy New Year!

    • Hi Kelly,

      Happy New Year to you!

      I’m happy to hear you found this post beneficial. I think so many of us fall into the same camp, wondering what topics to cover. I’ve always found personal experience to be one of the best wells to pump for inspiration.

      Best of luck to your with your business endeavors in 2016!

  5. Good, as well as, inspiratioinal advice, Adam. Thanks for the info!

  6. I landed a Journalism job by chance. I think because of my sales experience. I write poetry and short stories. Now what? How do I make a success from this point onward?

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