Four days in, hawk-like stalking and 17 email pitches later, I was able to land my first freelance writing job.
I couldn’t believe myself.
I was a total newbie, no prior experience or ‘established’ credentials…how on earth was I gonna make this freelance writing thing work for me??
…I didn’t even have any connections!
But I did. It happened and I want to tell you all about it and hopefully achieve three things:
- Inspire you
- Equip you
- Give you a nice dash of motivation
Freelance writing is a great way to monetize your blog if you enjoy doing it and have no trouble meeting deadlines.
And even if you have no interest whatsoever in the writing niche, there are key takeaways to learn from the experience.
Here are the steps I took to market my skills and land my first assignment.
What I Got Right
First thing’s first.
As a freelancer, you need to make sure you’ve set your foundation as solid as possible.
This means having a blog up and running is a major PLUS.
While it’s not a complete necessity, I can say for sure it’s what helped me land my first writing job.
This way I was perceived as more professional, experienced, and like I knew what the heck I was doing.
Not to mention I was able to pull some ‘samples’ of previous posts I had written to show I knew how to write for an online audience (or so they thought haha).
Narrowed my niche
This is HUGE.
My original plan was to be a potpourri, omnipresent, omnipotent freelance writer.
I’d write it all, about everything. This was such wrong thinking.
Thankfully I was able to educate myself on the internet and see the fallacy in my thinking.
As the example that is often used puts it, If you have a broken arm, would you rather see a general doctor or a doctor that SPECIALIZES in broken arms?
I’d say at the time of my need and pain point, I’d always want the doctor that specializes in that one thing—broken arms.
Same with freelancing. As someone looking for content, you’ll always want to aim for a writer who knows their stuff and can write about a specific niche instead of someone who spreads themselves thin and writes about everything.
This is why I narrowed my niche down to B2B content marketing. Of course, there are other sub-niches that can fall under online content marketing like email marketing, lead generation, SEO, content promotion, and on.
Narrowing your niche will increase your chances of getting the job and gaining experience.
It’s always a good idea to be active on a social media platform.
For freelance writing, Twitter and Linkedin seem to work the best.
Linkedin can be a mine for freelance work if you know how to leverage it. While I’m still in the process of growing mine and using it to its full potential, it’s a great platform for the job hunt.
I’ve never been much of a Twitter person (still not) but many applications can require you to submit your twitter link, so I made one.
But wait, where do you even look for freelance writing jobs?
Before jumping in head first to freelancing I researched as much as possible.
They were invaluable in providing experienced advice and tips. They’re a great source to really check out and help you get started. (and they have in-depth courses for extra hand holding every step of the way if you choose so!)
My strategy for finding jobs was literally bookmarking every job board I could find, opening their tabs early in the morning, checking out the listings, and applying for the jobs that matched my niche.
Did this constantly— early in the morning and late at night, to make sure I was one of the first to apply.
Interestingly, during my pitching process, many responses came from the ProBlogger Job Board.
To be exact, out of 17 pitches, four of them responded. That’s a response rate of about 24%.
Some freelancers claim to have better luck on other platforms, but from my personal experience, ProBlogger has always been the most responsive.
To get you started, here’s a list of job boards to stalk (and I mean really stalk):
- Problogger Job Board
- Working Nomads
- Living The Editor Life
- All Freelance Writing
- Freelance Writing
I read some candid pitch samples I found online (which were a bit hard to find) and found a couple of things in common throughout:
- They included a catchy subject line
- They focused on what they could do for the client
- They included at least three relevant samples
- They followed directions specified in the ad to the T
- They went above and beyond by doing their research on the company and familiarizing themselves with their value proposition
- They found a way to stand out and find common ground with the client
Phew, this seems like a lot.
And yes, it can vary from job to job— that’s why you need to take your time to read the job requirements carefully and do your research.
Here is a screenshot of the total newb email I sent to my client, fingers shaking and all:
I remember almost not applying to the job because I wasn’t quite sure if I was cut out for it.
But, on a whim, I decided to anyway.
I thought, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’
And really, that’s the mindset you need to approach every freelance job you apply to.
Think about it.
Applying to it even though there are big chances you might not get it takes nothing away from you, if anything, it adds to your experience.
Most of the time, there isn’t even outright rejection, because editors are busy, they don’t have the time to respond that you aren’t the right fit.
That’s why you need to always go for it even if you feel you don’t meet all the criteria (usually you never check off every single point they want).
After pitching and forgetting about it, I opened my email a couple days later and to my gasp* delight I had received a response.
Here’s what it said (notice sensitive information throughout has been blurred out for privacy purposes):
Ecstatic doesn’t even begin to cover it. Someone was interested in MY work and writing style?
Why yes, yes they were.
After a few friendly email exchanges, I was set to write the first article.
Yay me, right?
But it doesn’t end there. Setting my rate is where things really went down.
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This is where it gets tricky for so many freelancers, and for good reason.
They have no idea where to start when it comes to pricing their valuable services.
Confession: I didn’t either. But this is what I did:
When the client asked for my rate I read tons about what it should be.
There was no real answer.
Some freelancers would say they started off as low as 0.03 cents a word and worked their way up (sounds nuts!).
This means their payout, say, for a 2,000 word article would be $60. Keep in mind there is research, editing, and proofreading time in that quota…which can take hours.
On top of that, some writers warned against setting your price too high and ‘pricing yourself out of a job.’
So, after much thought, taking a deep breath, and going for it, I decided to pitch a rate of 0.10 cents per word.
Here’s what I said:
Yup, 0.10 cents.
That rate can sound outrageous for some beginner freelancers, but guess what?
My client had no problem with it.
No negotiation. No questions. Nada.
Here’s a screenshot of part of the long email I got to get started on the first article:
In the end, my very first writing gig paid out $200 for a 2,000 word article— which isn’t bad at all for being the first one ever.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
While I’m not the best writer the world has set eyes upon, I’m not exactly a completely lousy one either— and I love to do my research.
Also, I really don’t show this to brag. I put together this post because I found a lack of candid information on how all this works when you first start. And I hope it helps you get started if you’ve been considering freelancing to see that it’s not that hard if you put in the effort!
I wouldn’t say these are typical results for a beginner freelancer, you could certainly call it luck, depending on how you look at it.
But there were a few factors- like the fact that I had a blog, etc.- that I know played into it.
Especially because there were probably many other freelancers that applied for the very same job.
Also, I often hear that applying for freelance jobs is a numbers game, and with the experience I’ve had so far, I can say that’s completely true.
The more you apply the more responses you’ll get.
It’s also important to remember that while I was new to the freelance game, I did have a blog up and running with a couple of posts that revolved around my niche (online marketing).
Side Note: In case you were wondering, to Invoice, you can use services like Paypal. They make it easy to create, personalize, and send an invoice to your client and keep it for your records.
There is a great post on The Write Life that talks about the ins and outs of invoices and keeping payment records for tax purposes you can check out.
You. Can. Do. This. Too!
It might seem hard at first, that’s what I used to think.
But pitching is like doing ‘the dirty’— the more you do it the better you’ll get, and you’ll eventually lose the fear.
Also, a big part of it is how you present yourself.
If you’re sloppy and cut corners, it will show.
Remember that freelance writers are, at their core, their own breed of entrepreneurs.
They’re constantly on the grind, finding new customers, pitching, getting rejected, taking losses, but keeping at it anyway.
That’s what it takes.
Getting your foot in the door is the hardest part.
Really, the sky…and how much you’re willing to work (it’s tons of hard work but if you love it you don’t bat an eye) is the limit when it comes to your earning potential.
As you gain more experience you can always increase your rates. By then you’ll have a portfolio of a few real samples to justify it (not to mention you’ll get so much better at writing too).
This ultimately means doing the same amount of work (and the more you do it the faster you’ll get) for more pay.
So go on.
If you’ve been thinking about freelancing, lose the fear and, after setting a solid base, simply go for it!
What have been your freelance experiences so far? Shoot me a comment below!