Your (Better) Kickstart to a Freelance Writing Career

What I’m listening to: I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ by Scissor Sisters

What’s the most common advice you see regarding freelance writing?

Where to find work.

Since beginning a freelance writing career has been a bit of a topic in the comments of late, I wondered why, since there’s so much advice on that very topic all over the internet, new writers were still confused.

Seems they have good reason.

I must have read through close to a dozen blog posts, articles, advice columns that all said the same thing — if you want to kickstart your career, work for the content mills. The advice suggests these are “great places” to get a career going.

Yet here these writers are, feeling stagnant and lost.

Content mills are anything but great places to build a freelance writing career. Click To Tweet

If you want to write without thinking about marketing or making decent money, that’s your place.

If you want to build a writing career and thrive, read on. If you’re already feeling stuck in the content mill loop of hell, definitely read on.

Here are some better ways to get clients and get your ass out of the content mill rut:

Send queries to magazines.

Does no one do this anymore? Seriously, nothing can score you faster work — and help you build a critical ongoing relationship with someone in the business — than writing for magazines. Why settle for Fiverr rates (which hey, are five bucks)? A magazine article of 800 words paying just 50 cents per word will net $400. That’s quite a lot more than $5. And you’ve already improved your profile by working for a legitimate publication. And you now have one more contact in your network.

Build a social media presence.

Did your eyes just glaze over at that thought? It’s not as technical as it sounds. You’re online already, right? So do this — head to Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google Plus. Find content you’d like to share (but be strategic — share things that are actually useful to the people you’d like to make clients). Share at least three things a day (space them out if you like). Use the hashtags that will get you in front of the people you’re wanting to work with. Attend a Twitter chat hosted by someone in your targeted area (I attend insurance-related chats). Every day, schedule something to go out that promotes good content, not your business. Yes, you can announce that you’re taking on new clients, but don’t make that every damn tweet or message you send. Instead, get a conversation going.

Find your focus.

You don’t necessarily have to specialize (though if you do, your marketing becomes infinitely easier), but try to focus on one area at a time. For example, you may want to write blog posts or case studies, or you may enjoy writing about sports. If you center your marketing approach around a bite-sized area like this, you’ll find it easier to A) locate potential clients, and B) market to them. Yes, you can change your mind later or add to your areas of concentration, but starting with just one area really does help you develop a plan of attack and build a portfolio of client work.

Look up potential clients.

See why the focus helps? If you have a general direction or theme to your approach, you’ll be able to find clients a lot faster. Look in trade show exhibition lists, on association websites, in magazines (advertisers as well as those quoted in articles), and on social media. Go to their websites. Look at who they are, what they do, and who their customers are. Then approach them with that knowledge under your belt.

Introduce yourself.

Paula Hendrickson first introduced us to the letter of introduction (LOI). It’s an effective way to get in front of your potential clients and float the idea that you’re looking for clients just like them. Go here for Paula’s post on the LOI. Use the letter to build a relationship as well as plant the notion that you and your contact should discuss working together.

Host a Twitter chat.

Who says you can’t? Take a topic that interests you. Write out four or five questions. Research them, noting where there’s disagreement or differing opinions. Choose a hashtag to use during and while promoting your chat. (For instance, if you’re hosting a chat about window fans, you could use a hashtag like #FanofFans.) Announce the chat a week or so out, and remind everyone frequently (I’d do once a day until two days before, then increase it to two or three times). Then post your first question, using your pre-selected hashtag.

Keep the conversation going.

No matter what method you use to contact potential clients (or editors), don’t stop at one communication. Follow up every few months — on social media, comment and share (but don’t stalk or kiss ass too much). In email, just a quick “How are you? What are you working on?” After a chat, follow up with comments on what the attendee said. Ask for a continuation of the conversation. Approach your client-building method by focusing on forming relationships first. Sales may or may not come, but the people you talk to also talk to other people. The more you communicate, the better the impression you leave, and the more likely that person will be to remember your name should someone need a writer.

Writers, what methods of locating clients work best for you?

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  • Paula Hendrickson November 3, 2017 at 11:54 am

    My post about LOIs might be seven years old, but the good news is the process is still pretty much the same now as then. Further proof that it’s a classic form of communication.

    • lwidmer November 6, 2017 at 10:28 am

      Exactly that, Paula. Solid advice stands the test of time.

      Hmmm…. that idea is a post on its own, isn’t it?