If you want to be a successful freelance writer, you’ve got to find a way to get paid for your writing.
Generally this means that, one way or another, you’re looking for freelance writing jobs or gigs.
The first time you think about becoming a freelance writer or begin to take your first steps toward that goal it seems strange and mysterious.
It turns out finding freelance writing jobs is a learnable skill.
Like most things, however, finding the writing gigs you want involves repeatable steps – things you do over and over again, often with little variation, that get you the results you want. The more you repeat your efforts, the easier it becomes.
Sure, there will be times when you want to take a new direction or find a different kind of writing job. Once you’ve mastered this pattern, changing the kind of writing you do will be darn close to a snap.
What kind of writing job are you looking for?
Unless you’re looking for a change, knowing what kind of writing job you’re looking for is pretty obvious. In my case, for instance, I want well paid blogging gigs, maybe some PR, and ghostwriting books. So that’s what I look for.
That doesn’t mean I don’t keep my eyes and ears open for other opportunities. I don’t want to deflect good ideas, but I’m also not taking a scattered, shotgun approach when I look for writing gigs. I’m a generalist mostly, but I focus on just a few categories or job types to keep focused. Really, you repeat this step every time you read writers needed ads, or pick up the phone to cold call, work a trade show or send a query or letter of introduction.
Writing for magazines and websites
Consumer magazines and websites – that is magazines you’re likely to find on a magazine rack at the grocery store or bookstore – need writers. In many cases they need writers both for their print magazine and for their website.
Generally these entities are best approached by queries. I think queries work best when you treat your query like a sample, propose a single idea and spell out why this will benefit the magazine’s readers. In other words, you need to demonstrate you’ve studied the magazine and its website by your proposal.
Trade magazines and websites – those that are aimed at a particular industry – often love beginning writers. You won’t find trade magazines in grocery stores, but you could ask the manager what trade magazines she reads. The same is true for the hair stylist, the hardware store, the restaurant, etc. etc. etc. Almost every category of business has at least one trade magazine and most of them have a website too.
You can approach trades with queries – there probably isn’t a magazine editor in the world who doesn’t appreciate good ideas. Some writers who have real specialties, often from former corporate employment (insurance, banking, food, customer service, etc. etc. etc.) can also make good use of a Letter of Introduction (LOIs) – a more generalized query that gives your specialized credentials, some writing credits and asks for assignments. Queries and LOIs should are approaches you can do over and over again.
Finding Writing Clients
Finding clients who need your writing is what many call ‘corporate writing’ and/or ‘marcom’ (marketing communications.) You’re looking for businesses (including not-for-profits) who know they need writers to get their sales letters, websites and blogs, data sheets, annual reports, white papers, copy writing, press releases, grant writing, etc. etc. etc., and are willing to hire freelancers.
You find the companies and organizations who want to hire freelancers through ads they post or by contacting them directly.
Answering ads is a bit of an art – the things to remember is they won’t acknowledge your submission and they won’t (normally) answer questions. Apply knowing you will only get the gig if they think you can solve their writing problem. Contacting companies directly actually requires about the same thing – showing them you can solve their writing problems. You can do this by phone, by email, or even by physically knocking on doors.
Again, however you approach finding clients, it’s a repeatable step – one you can do over and over again.
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Write well and often,