How Successful, Work-From-Home Freelance Writers Really Find Work

How Successful, Work-From-Home Freelance Writers Really Find Work
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Aspiring writers always ask me, “What’s the easiest way to find writing jobs?”

They’re hoping I can send them a link to some magical job board or bidding site where big-name copywriting clients and $1/word magazine editors are posting ads seeking writers.

Well, here’s the thing: There’s an inverse relationship between how easy a gig is to get and how lucrative it is.

So the question is: Do you want to do it the easy way — or the way that will land you assignments?

Where the writing gigs aren’t

Tons of writers flock to job boards and bidding sites, where they fall prey to clients who offer to pay them peanuts.

(That’s a metaphor, but actually, I think a jar of peanuts would be worth more than the cash these writers would earn from a typical article.)

Good clients don’t advertise for writers online because they have professional writers coming to them. For example, you’ll probably never see $1 – $2 per word magazines like Redbook, Entrepreneur or Health posting on job sites. (And if you do see it, it will likely be the case that they’re looking for “citizen journalists” — another term for “unpaid writers.”)

Carol Tice of the Freelance Writers Den likes to say that businesses that advertise for writers are dysfunctional — and not the kind of clients you want to write for if you can help it.

And she’s right: What else would you call clients who are willing to sift through thousands of applications from low-quality writers who are slavering to score $5 for an 800-word article? You’re not one of those low-quality writers, so these clients are not for you.

Yes, there are some paid job boards that vet listings to make sure they pay a decent rate. But those free ones most writers flock to? Not so good.

OK, now I’ve scared the jelly out of you by saying there is no easy way to find writing gigs. But the good news is, if you put forth more effort in seeking out, qualifying and approaching prospective clients, you can land assignments that pay a hundred times what you would make from some content mill that advertises online.

A great truth of freelance writing is:

Shoe leather counts

Here’s an illustrative example. Let’s pretend we’re interviewing the writer who earns mere pennies and the one who makes a good living writing, and have asked each of these writers, “How do you find gigs?”

Here’s what the cheapie writer would say:

“So, I go to sites like Elance and spend a few hours looking through the ads, and I apply to the ones that will pay me at least $5 per article.

“When I get an assignment, I bang it out super fast so I’m making $10 per hour! I spend a lot of time scrolling through ads, and write to a couple of potential clients every week.”

And the writer who rakes in loads of moolah would say this:

“OK, so I search around online and keep my eyes open in the real world for trade magazines I might be able to pitch, since that’s the market I like to write for. I write for the banking and credit union industry, so another thing I do is when I go to a bank or do any banking online, I ask the person working with me what industry trades they read.

“When I find a good market, I read it online and figure out what kinds of articles they run and whether the articles are written by freelance writers, staffers (which means they don’t use freelancers) or industry experts (who typically aren’t paid).

“Then, if the magazine looks like a good match, I write a customized Letter of Introduction that outlines a few targeted article ideas and my credentials. I search through LinkedIn or the magazine’s website to sleuth out the best editor to pitch and their email address, and then I send my LOI to that person.

“I do this non-stop, even if I have a full plate of assignments. I typically earn 50 cents per word — so a 1,000-word article will pay $500. That would take me six hours to research, interview and write, so I’m earning $83 per hour.”

Bake your own loaf

A metaphor I like to use is that many writers go out and pick up crumbs tossed out there by clients who advertise gigs — where they could learn to bake their own entire loaf.

Do you see the difference in the amount of effort the two writers we interviewed expend in landing writing gigs? One works to find high-quality markets to approach and customizes her pitch for each one (that’s the loaf baker), and another waits for markets to extend an engraved invitation asking him to apply for low-paying gigs (that’s the crumb collector). And you know which one makes the big bucks.

If you want the impressive-byline, lucrative writing gigs, you need to go out and get them. Search for businesses in the industry you want to write for. Read magazines at the bookstore, at the library and online. Pore over magazine directories like Writer’s Market.

Learn how to write a compelling query letter and kick-ass Letter of Introduction; these formats are challenging at first, but they get easier the more you do them. Research how to cold call potential copywriting clients. Take the time to qualify your prospects and pitch only those you have figured out will pay you well.

Don’t just wait for assignments to fall into your lap. Make them happen. Bake your own loaf.

Your effort will be paid off in dollars — and you’ll be laughing in the face of the clients who want to pay you pennies.

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Linda Formichelli is the author of the new book How to Do It All: The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life — While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie. Go to the book website to lear... .

The Renegade Writer | @LFormichelli

Linda Formichelli
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Comments

  1. Great article, thanks. Would you say the same for content mills, i.e. Crowd Content and sites like that? Or is that a step up from the bidding sites?

  2. Thank you a million times over for talking about this topic. Personally, as a professional writer, people getting $5 for 800 words is a slap in the face to the profession. I have been wanting to write something of this nature, haha…but I have been busy sending query letters and securing writing gigs that support my lifestyle. I applaud you for taking a stance and talking about the truth. <3

    • Thank you, Shannon! Yes, I agree — a slap in the face it is!

    • “… getting $5 for 800 words is a slap in the face to the profession.” totally agree! Pros deserve more than that. I got an invitation from enkivillage.com to ask me share something with their audience and they’ll pay me by visitors. I’m considering. This could be a good deal, lol!

  3. I am all too familiar with the plight of the unsuccessful freelancer, and I appreciated reading what you had to say about what it takes to actually earn a living. As someone who’s just starting out, I find myself wasting time on sites like Elance simply because I don’t know where else to begin. I’ll focus on being more proactive about finding clients and building a solid portfolio to show them. This article is a big help, thanks.

    • Genevieve, you are not alone! I think every new writer is looking around the web for info on how to get started, and they’re hit in the face with information about these low-pay sites. It’s harder to dig up the details on the gigs that pay more.

  4. Thanks for the info. I just started doing research about freelancing and this site has been so useful.

    Before coming here, I totally would have been one of the ones saying: “So, I go to sites like Elance and spend a few hours looking through the ads, and I apply to the ones that will pay me at least $5 per article.”

    But I do have one question… I can still see myself starting with some content mills for $5 (or even less) per article just to practice and kind of get a feel of the business. Do you see any harm in that?

    • Glad you liked the post, Jason!

      The problem with starting with the content mills is that you get STUCK. You want to earn some money, so you have to write a ton…and you’re so busy writing for $5 per article that you have no time to pitch better paying markets.

      Also, I’m not sure why writers feel the mills will give them a good feel for the craft and business of writing. You’ll be writing keyword articles of the type that would never sell to a well-paying market, and the business model is simply crazy and not one you’d want to use when you’re trying to earn a living.

      If you want to get your feet wet, I’d recommend pitching some small, local markets like a local weekly magazine, or maybe a niche industry trade magazine in a topic you happen to have some background in. You could also pitch guest posts to blogs and use those as clips. Or write ONE free article for a nonprofit or local business you’re passionate about. There are SO many options that will get you much better clips and experience.

      I hope that helps!

      • Thanks! That helps so much. One of my spring projects was going to be to hit the content mills hard and see what I could accomplish. The posts I’ve read here have been enough to make me rethink that strategy.

  5. Thankyou for educating me on this. I have been wasting my time doing just what I should be doing. Now I will take your advice and change my strategy.

  6. Sound advice!

    I have been the writer who earns pennies, rising up to be the writer who earns dollars is what I’m doing now, it’s hard work but worth it in the long run I’m sure. 🙂

  7. Excellent sound advice Linda!

    I started my freelance writing journey last year while I currently work full time as a vocational teacher. It’s my plan to grow my business with my teaching job as a safety net, but eventually make a go at it full time.

    When I first began, the content mills were convenient to score gigs and build confidence, but there is definitely no future there so I didn’t stick around long. I have read some great books including your book “The Renegade Writer” and have now developed a business plan to give me direction, find my market, and keep me focused.

    I like your concept of “Baking your own loaf.” Within my business plan is a marketing strategy that is in-line with your concept. I have recently began reaching out to potential quality clients in my niche through LinkedIn, business associates, and educational institutions. I am currently researching some publications and plan on putting together that “compelling query letter and kick-ass Letter of Introduction” you discussed.

    I really appreciate your article as it gave that re-assurance I needed that I am on the right path!

  8. Indianna says:

    Hi,

    What would you suggest for those of us who have only just begun?

    It’s been a long time since I wrote any articles, University and my daughter took precedence. Now I’m in a position to try and begin again and start writing.

    What you say makes sense but for those of us whose credentials are limited, any pointers?

    BW

    Indi

    • Hi, Indi! Since you have past experience writing articles, I would research some pubs you would like to write for to see how they’ve changed…and start pitching ideas! I’ve been a freelancer since 1997 and the mechanics of pitching haven’t changed that much except that you can now send queries and letters of introduction via email. DON’T get trapped in writing for content mills just to get back into the game — you have experience, you probably have clips — and it doesn’t matter how old they are.

      You’ll also need a website where you can showcase your clips and tell editors about yourself. If you don’t know how to build one yourself, hire a Wordpress expert who can do it for you. It’s worth paying to get a professional image!

      Good luck!

Trackbacks

  1. […] How Successful, Work-From-Home Freelance Writers Really Find Work [The Write Life] […]

  2. […] website dedicated to freelancing. You can receive advice on topics such as how to find clients, success stories from other writers, and general guidelines. In the short time I’ve been reading their articles, here are three […]

  3. […] not stick with the job boards? For one, you’ll make more money pitching clients on your own, advises freelance writer and blogger Linda Formichelli. You’ll also likely have less […]

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