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Freelance Writing Jobs For Beginners

writing help wantedWhen you’re just starting out as a freelance writer it’s often difficult to decide what sort of writing job to look for.

Some of your decision about where to look, of course, will depend on what kind of writing you think you want to do.

But in the beginning your initial goals are to begin to get paid for your writer and develop some clips or samples you can use to promote yourself as a writer.

Content Mills

Probably the easiest writing job you can pick up on the fly is with one of the longer lived content mills like Demand Media and/or its sister site, eHow, LiveStrong, etc. Assuming you can write a coherent sentence and follow instructions, you can pick up a little pay and have a credit or two to point to.

It’s not as easy to write for content mills as it was a year or so ago. That’s because Google changed its search algorithm to encourage better content. Which isn’t to say you should stick with content mills.

Incidentally, you’ll hear from some that many editors don’t consider these “real” writing credits. My experience as an editor says that what most editors want is some evidence you can write reasonably well and a story or two on fitness on LiveStrong or on gardening at eHow or whatever will quickly give me a sense of your ability.

On the other hand, if your only list of credits is page after page of content mill or low pay seo writing as an editor I’m not going to be impressed.

My suggestion is you write no more than two or three articles for them and begin to move up to better or at least more respected gigs. You’ll feel good because you’ve actually been paid for your writing and you’ll have a couple of credits that may well help you find your next, better paying writing gigs.

Your Local Free Newspaper

Many communities in the United States have free weekly newspapers. These may be alternative papers which often focus on local music as well as act as watch dogs for local politics.  Some actually pay pretty well and have excellent reputations. Most are open to beginning writers.

Others are more straight forward featuring news of local businesses and community events like Little League and service clubs.  Most are also accept news stories by beginners. Editors love it when writers come to them with ideas. If you meet the deadlines and the specs about length etc., your stories will probably be published and you’ll receive $10 or $20 for each article.

Almost all weeklies now also pubish online, giving you articles you can link to from your own website.

And I think it’s probably true that editors have a bit more respect for these articles than they do for the content mills.

Again, your goal is to get paid and to begin to build a portfolio or writers resume.

Business or Corporate Writing

It can be surprisingly easy to get started in business writing as a freelancer. Put your portfolio together, even if it’s only samples of free newsletters you did for a non-profit. (If you don’t think you have any clips, watch this video.)

Watch your local Craigslist for writing gigs and writing jobs. You’re looking for small businesses that need some help with their writing. Believe me, most of them do and many are prepared to pay at least small amounts of money – an ideal setup for beginning writers.

You can begin either by telephoning small businesses in your community and asking to talk with whoever is in charge of writing their ads or sales letters and offer your services. Yes, this is cold calling and it works. Try making five calls a day for five days and the chances are you’ll end up with at least a couple of solid leads and probably at least one assignment.

Another approach is to simply walk down a street with small businesses or light industrial shops and talk with as many people as you can, offering your business card. This isn’t as efficient as calling, but can be a lot more fun, and if you’re also writing for a local newspaper can give you great stories.

In fact talking with local businesses on the phone or in person is a wonderful way to get story ideas you can then pitch to trade magazines.

You see, it all begins to work together.

How did you find your first freelance writing job?


{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Thanks for all of the great tips Anne! With the new year right around the corner I am ready to venture out and begin to put myself out there! Always enjoy your blog! Happy holidays!
    Colleen Cook recently posted..Best of 2011 Giveaway HopMy Profile

  • Thanks for posting this and all the other advice, really very helpful to know I’m not the only one going through similar issues! I’m throwing myself into getting my freelance writing going during my time off from my full-time job. My goal is to specialise in international trade/export/business/shipping publications. I have one steady gig, but any advice on how to get in with those magazines/blogs/newsletters. Is it better to pitch based on their editorial calendar? or just a blind, ‘here i am, please hire me’ kind of query?

  • I won a couple of writing contests, and both led to ongoing relationships with the editors who judged the contest. I think a lot of people don’t realize what great opportunities these can be to get your work read by people in a position to give you ongoing gigs.

    I never wrote for mills (as they weren’t invented yet at the time!), but I did write for the alternative press. And it WAS easy to break in to writing for business.

    I say everyone has at least one small, locally owned business they patronize that would let them write some web content and give you that first sample. And from there you’ve got samples, and you can pitch anybody.
    Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..7 Stress-Busting Interview Secrets from a Successful Freelance WriterMy Profile

    • That’s a good way of putting it Carol, that everyone patronizes at least one business they could write for.

  • Just to add on to what Anne said, always go for the 80/20 rule.
    Ron’s Copywriting Blog recently posted..Art of Storytelling in SEO Sales CopiesMy Profile

  • I found that volunteer work is a great place to get going and build up clips. I feel good about doing it, and most volunteer organizations are actually pretty slick and well run. You can find gigs at volunteermatch.org and a couple similar sites.
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Resolutions? Really?My Profile

    • True, Amelia. I have to be careful I don’t do too much volunteer work… there are a couple of causes I just could give my whole life too.

  • Lisa

    Please learn the it’s/its rule. Otherwise, this is an informative article.

    • Ruth N

      Thanks for mentioning that, Lisa.

      Anne, I really enjoy this blog – I have it on RSS feed and read just about every post. It’s disheartening to see errors in blog posts by professional writers. You’re not the only professional writer to publish posts with errors, and I’m sure you, like the others, are very busy; however, I counted 12 errors in spelling, punctuation and usage in this post, and that makes me sad.

      • About have of them were the it’s it thing, right? And just out of curiosity, why would you count them?

        • Ruth N

          I counted them only to support my point rather than make an unsubstantiated comment.

          By “have of them,” do you mean “half”?

          • probably.

          • Ruth, seems like I can’t win… since the blog is unedited and probably will be for the foreseeable future it will have errors. Often I’m unaware of them. Sometimes I find them much later. I’ve never represented myself as a copy editor or as someone who does details well. I hadn’t thought that someone might count to support their point… but that makes sense.

    • sigh, Lisa, I know the it’s it rule… my fingers don’t always get it right. Think I got em all, thanks.

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