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Here’s a Fun Way to Build Your Freelance Writing Brand — And it’s Free!

by | Feb 12, 2016

Even before I made a living as a writer, I had a portfolio of clips and press mentions.

I participated in a photoshoot with Real Simple magazine about women who used creative techniques to land a job. I was quoted in TIME after calling unpaid internships “degrading.”

Sure, I still play by the rules and pitch like any freelancer, but creating buzz has made a huge difference in my career as a freelance writer.

These stories, from CNN to Jezebel, continue to drive traffic to my website and establish me as a credible expert.



What is HARO?

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) was founded in 2008 by Peter Shankman, who set up a Facebook group to help sources connect with reporters. The group quickly morphed into a mailing list with hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

Today, journalists use HARO to find expert sources for articles and assignments. Sources use HARO to secure media coverage. But even if you’re a writer yourself, getting press mentions through HARO is a great reputation-builder, especially if you’re just branching into the freelancing world.

Access is free and only requires an email address. You receive source requests via email three times per day, organized by topics like business, lifestyle and health. Here’s a sample query to give you a feel for how it looks:

Summary: Female-only spas

Name: Bob Bobson of BigBlog.com

Category: Travel

Email: [email protected]

Media Outlet: BigBlog.com

Deadline: 7:00 PM PST – 2 February


I’m writing an article about women-only spas and am looking for interesting properties, businesses owners or women who have spent time at these types of facilities. I will need a high-quality photo of the spa or a travel photo if you’ve been a patron.

Each email can have dozens of requests, so it may feel overwhelming at first. There’s a subscription option that starts at $19 per month to allow keyword filtering, search and text alerts. I just go with the free version — unless you’re a PR pro with dozens of clients, you probably don’t need the paid version.

Queries vary. Many are specific. “I need middle-aged women in Detroit going through a divorce.” Others may just need to “talk to life coaches.” Each request contains the topic, journalist name, category, media outlet and deadline. It also includes a HARO-provided email address that expires at the deadline so potential sources don’t bombard the writer for months and years to come.  

How HARO can grow your reputation

HARO has been instrumental in growing my online brand. So if the Internet is at all part of your strategy to get clips and clients, getting press should be part of that strategy.

The good news is: It’s easy and fun. A few reasons it’s worth paying attention to daily HARO emails:

Added SEO power

Regardless of whether you actively optimize your website for search, getting links back to your website is usually worth the effort. Many publications don’t link to their sources, but plenty of online publications do; if you end up exchanging emails with a HARO journalist, just ask if they’ll link back to your site if they quote you.

Valuable introductions

Just last week I answered a HARO query regarding a topic I’m writing an essay about. I mentioned the essay in my pitch and the editor said, “Send me your essay when you’re done, I’d love to read it!”

Boom. A new contact at a new-to-me publication where I’m less likely to end up in the slush pile.

New clients come to you

After my feature in Real Simple where I sung the praises of Facebook’s ad platform, I received a dozen or so emails from strangers saying, “I found you through TIME. Are you taking on new clients?”

It was that simple.

To capitalize on this, make sure your site explains your services and includes your contact information.

Press mentions feel fancy

Look, I like that I can brag about my photo in Real Simple. I love having publication logos in the footer of my blog. I feel a sense of accomplishment and credibility I don’t often feel during my life as a work-from-home writer. Your press mentions can be a valuable reminder of your credibility as an expert in whatever field you write about.

Tips for responding to HARO queries

As you can imagine, reporters often drown in a sea of press releases, so you won’t hear back from every pitch. HARO is only valuable if you’re valuable.

Here’s how I get the most out of HARO.

1. Be the perfect fit

Don’t respond to a query asking for photographers in France if you’re based in Australia. If you’re not an obvious fit but still think you have insight to offer, explain that to the journalist. Don’t make anyone guess your qualifications from your response.

2. Be enthusiastic!

You’re promoting yourself and your expertise. Capture attention by showcasing your passion. Whether you’re giving your thoughts on the latest social network or telling the story of how you met your spouse, your pitches need oomph.

What doesn’t have oomph? Press releases. A list of stats. A cut-and-paste form letter.

Stand out by caring. Write something personal!

3. Answer the questions

Never write, “Visit my website for more information.” Answer the reporter’s questions as they’re asked. If they ask for  “One sentence only,” write one sentence only.

This is not the time to be an overachiever.

4. Keep it short

Don’t send your entire media kit, complete with past clippings and press releases. If your story or expertise is a good fit, the reporter will ask for additional information they need.

5. Think outside the box

If your experience is different, spell out why. If the reporter asks for opinions on dating, don’t give the same tired tips.

The media loves controversy, different points of view and discussion. The best way to get publicity is to be different.

6. Write a compelling subject line

HARO tags all queries with the line, “HARO: New Pitch – Your subject line.” So make that line specific.

If the topic is vegetarian cooking and you run a vegetarian cooking blog, say it right away. Your subject could read, “I run an Oakland-based vegetarian cooking blog.” Some reporters will tell you what specifically to write, so follow instructions if they’re available.

7. Provide contact information

End your message with a phone number, website or Twitter handle. Make it as easy as possible for reporters to get in touch for further questions.

Bonus points if you include specific times you’re available to chat.

8. Respond before the deadline

If a journalist responds and wants to schedule an interview, reply as quick as you can. Most journalists are on deadline, so you’ll need to be speedy if you want to be featured.

9. Manage your time

I send HARO emails to a separate folder and sift through them once per day instead of as they arrive. I may miss out on the super time-sensitive requests, but doing this helps me manage my time and avoid getting distracted by endless queries.

I spend maybe half an hour per week max responding to press requests through HARO. As a result, I’ve met some incredible people, grown my writing business and built up a solid online brand I’m proud to share.

Have you ever used HARO as a source or as a reporter? Did you find it useful?