It was May 2014, and I was panicking.
I was laid off from my job at a New York media startup three months before, and was squirreling away whatever severance money I had left.
To complicate things, I moved to Orlando after getting married, abandoning the biggest media market in the country for a city where media jobs were scant.
So, I did what any job seeker would do and scoured the job boards.
I came across the Orlando Public Relations Society’s job board and saw a contract position working for a local marketing agency on a hospital’s website redesign.
That three-month project launched my freelance career and became part of a strategy I’ve used the last three years to continually increase my income while growing a sustainable freelance content-marketing business.
Why work for agencies?
Most freelancers shy away from working with agencies for two reasons: the positions are usually in-house and the pay can be lower than working directly with a client.
Those are valid concerns, but with the rise of content marketing there are more opportunities for remote work than ever.
My first agency project, which involved creating content for a large hospital’s website, required four in-person meetings over three months. I did most of my work from home.
That first gig led to more projects with the agency, producing ghostwritten blog posts, press releases and content for email campaigns. Eventually the agency put me on retainer — and I still work for that team today.
Freelancing is a hustle.
Getting clients — and keeping them — is key to building a business. But this is often the most difficult part for freelancers. Marketing takes time, but agencies cut down the lead time for freelancers to get new clients because they’ve already done the hard work of building the relationship. They also manage the whole process, so you don’t have to worry about all the administrative work and meetings that are part of a direct client engagement.
Over the last three years, all my agency work has been remote: I’ve worked with an agency in California that hires freelancers to produce longform B2B content; a New York-based content marketing agency that works with Fortune 500 companies and a Boston content marketing agency that does the same thing.
I’ve also worked with the in-house content studios of a few New York media companies, another type of agency that’s emerged as the content marketing industry has grown. Many of these clients pay $1 a word. Some pay less, but all have given me a steady stream of work, which mostly has helped me avoid the financial ups and downs that are typical with freelancing.
How to get agency work
The best thing about working with an agency is that if you’re good, the work keeps coming. But how do you get work in the first place? Follow these tips.
- Start local: Reach out to local marketing and PR agencies. Marketers are skilled strategists — not skilled writers, so many agencies need people with journalism skills to write for their clients. Consider purchasing a Book of Lists from your local business journal, a comprehensive directory of the top local companies that also has contact info for their key executives. Or, scour online sources to find information for agencies in your area.
- Send a Letter of Introduction: After you’ve identified companies, send the marketing manager or director a letter of introduction (LOI) highlighting your writing experience and subject expertise. Make the letter concise and tailor it to their business. You may get work right away or it may take months. Either way, an LOI can put you on a marketing manager’s radar and establish an initial relationship.
- Stay connected: If you live in a smaller town, social media is the best way to expand your reach. Stay active on LinkedIn and Twitter, because this is where potential clients live. Engage in conversation, like their posts and share interesting content. Last year, I landed work after staying in touch with a former colleague on LinkedIn who now worked for an in-house content studio. She wouldn’t have known I was now freelancing had I not updated my profile.
- Join organizations: Join the local chapter of a marketing or public relations organization. Attend chapter events or volunteer. Doing this will let you connect with people in the industry you’d likely never meet. If you’re an experienced freelancer, join the American Society of Journalists and Authors. ASJA is starting to embrace content marketing and holds virtual events and a big conference every year where you can connect with clients.
- Start a blog: Start a blog focused on a topic you’re passionate about. I recently attended a webinar with Skyword, a leading content marketing agency that works with big clients, and their community manager said they often look at a writer’s blog when selecting freelancers for campaigns. A blog can show potential clients your writing style and knowledge about a topic — and it doesn’t cost you a cent to launch one with a platform like Medium.
Working for agencies has helped me create a sustainable freelance business.
I love doing content marketing, but there’s no way I would have written for brands like Hewlett-Packard or Marriott without an agency.
Freelancing can be feast or famine, but agencies can help you navigate these extremes so you never starve for work.