The Bulletproof Guide to Launching a Successful Freelance Writing Career
Your name on big publications. Waking up to another email from a potential client asking you to write for them. Controlling where and when you work, and the words that you produce.
You want to be a freelance writer.
You’ve been trying to figure out how to find freelance writing gigs, but so far all you hear is crickets and you’re wondering what you’re doing wrong.
Maybe you’ve scoured sites like Fiverr, oDesk, and Elance for clients who will pay more than $20 for a 1,000-word article but came up short.
You’ve started a blog hoping that clients will take notice and offer up writing jobs like banks offer credit cards on college campuses.
But it seems as if the only jobs out there are meant for people who are willing to work for $2.50 an hour and sacrifice on quality to get the job done.
Do those successful freelancers have some sort of special tool they use? You begin to wonder if they’re just lucky. Maybe there’s some merit behind this whole “starving artist” thing.
I have good news for you: there’s a way to start booking high-paying clients so you can write on topics that you love.
Here are six steps you can take to land your first freelance writing client, charge a premium for your work and never have to pitch again. I used this method to start my freelancing career, and just to make sure, I replicated it again and booked three clients with the framework again. It works for people other than me, too.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not luck or special tools and it has nothing to do with glittery unicorns. And the truth is, with a bit of hard work and strategic “marketing”, chances are this will work for you as well. So try it out.
6 Steps to Landing More Freelance Writing Gigs Than You’ll Know What to Do With
1. Create a Writer Website
In the rest of this post, I’ll be teaching you how to find freelance clients in a series of steps.
But to effectively land your first freelance client (and all subsequent clients), you need a website. Trying to find clients without a website is like applying for photography jobs without a portfolio. You can do it, but it won’t be very effective.
Having a writer website not only gives your potential client all the information they need in one spot, but it also communicates that you’re serious and professional. Potential clients need that reassurance. After all, they never know if you’re going to plagiarize their article instead of write an original and with a website, they know where to find you if anything goes wrong.
And this isn’t even mentioning competition. You’re not alone in the fight for freelancing jobs, and you don’t want to lose them to writers who seem more legitimate because they have websites.
I created a writer’s website for the sake of testing the methods in this article again (they worked for me once, so I started from scratch and replicated the process to make sure they would work for me again. Good news: they did!) and my website sealed the deal on 4 of the 5 freelance jobs that I took to test this article.
I even had a client tell me they were relieved I had a website to showcase my work. So..
If You Already Have a Blog or Website
If you already have a website, you can (generally) use your hosting that you already have to register an “addon” domain to your account to host another website. If you use Bluehost, go to your dashboard in Bluehost and press “addon domains”. Then, type in the domain for your writer’s site (usually your name – here’s how to choose a domain) and choose “use an existing directory”.
If You Don’t Have a Website
First, you need to choose your domain name. This is the fun part! For writer’s websites, usually people will register their first and last name, or use something like writingbysarah.com or sarahwrites.com.
Second, you need a simple, self-hosted WordPress website. You can set these up inexpensively. I use BlueHost, which costs about $65/year. Their customer service is great, my sites are always up and you get a free domain name when you sign up.
Get your domain for free by signing up for Bluehost here:
(Disclaimer: this is an affiliate link. If you choose to buy through my link I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for the support if you do =))
I’ve also created a step-by-step tutorial to walk you through how to set your website up in 5 minutes using Bluehost.
Third, you need a simple, clean WordPress theme. You can find these for free through your WordPress dashboard under Appearance>Themes, or you can buy a cheap 1-3 page theme on a site like Themeforest. CreativeMarket releases free goods every week and they also have some great simple themes in their freebies every once in awhile.
My writer website uses TA Portfolio, which is a free theme and is super simple and easy to use.
Fourth, you need to populate your website. Here’s what you need to include:
- A “Hire Me” page: Whether you call this page “Work With Me” or “Contact Me”, you need a page with your contact information. Include your email address, Skype username, and any social media profiles that make sense (ie LinkedIn).
- A Portfolio page: My website above includes a “writing” tab, with links to the articles I’ve written so far and RESULTS. That’s in caps for a reason. You’ll find out why below. You likely don’t have much of a portfolio right now, but we’ll fix that as you continue down the article.
- An About page: For potential clients that want to know a bit more about you – and especially your story about how you came to want to write about the topic.
This is pretty simple, and it should only take an hour or two to complete. After you do that…
2. Start Building Your Portfolio
Now that you have a website, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to put in the portfolio section. After all, you’re new to this. You don’t have any work to show off yet.
That’s where guest posting comes in. One of the best ways to boost your profile, get exposure, and put your writing in front of thousands of eyes is to write a guest article for a popular publication. Here’s the process:
- Consider what niche you want to write for
- Find the most popular publication in that niche
- Read through the guest posting guidelines – you can find them by Googling “Guest Articles”, “Submissions”, or “Write for Us” along with the publication’s name
- Once you have a handle on the guidelines and know that you can write for them, pitch them a headline that they can’t turn down.
Here’s the process I use for all of my guest posts to come up with a list of irresistible headlines:
Use Quicksprout.com to look up the publication and read the top 10 most popular posts. Is there a common thread between them? Are two or three posts about the same topic? Are there gaps? Read the comments sections. Are people asking about something that the post doesn’t answer?
Your goal here is to make the topic so irresistible to the editor that they can’t turn your pitch down. And once they email you back with the go-ahead to write the article, you need to write a killer article.
3. Promote Your Article Like It’s Your Job
When your post goes live, it’s important that you promote the post like it went live on your own website. Here’s what I do for every guest post:
- Schedule a few Tweets using Buffer on Twitter
- Post it to Facebook (your personal page and, if you have a website, your website’s page too)
- Pin it to Pinterest
- Post it to Google+
- Post it to Instagram
- Post it to LinkedIn
- Submit it to Digg
- Stumble it on StumbleUpon
- Bookmark it on Delicious
- Submit it to relevant Subreddits via Reddit
- Post the article to relevant Communities on Google+
- Answer relevant questions on Quora with a link back to your article
- Interact with people who have shared the post on Twitter
The idea here is to generate as much buzz about the article as possible. Not only will this drive more traffic to the article – and therefore potential clients – but it’ll also increase your social sharing stats, which will help you with the next step:
4. Ask for Results
Everything you did up until this point was with the purpose of getting results.
So it stands to reason that the next step to land your first (or next) freelancing clients would be to gather those results from the publications you’ve written for. You can start by gathering the public results yourself. A week or two after your post has gone live, go to the website and take screenshots of:
- Your social shares
- The comment count
- Any favorable comments
If your post did well, email the editor and ask for a quote on what it was like to work with you, as well as any traffic and popularity stats they are willing to provide in relation to other articles.
Don’t skip this because asking for results makes you nervous. If you were hiring a carpenter to renovate your kitchen before you put your house on the market, would you hire the carpenter that gives you photographs of other kitchens they’ve renovated, or would you hire the one that shows you photos but also gives you quotes of people who have purchased homes she’s worked on because the kitchen was so beautiful, complete with stats on how long a house was listed before vs. after he worked on it?
It’s obvious, isn’t it?
When you have these results and testimonials from the publications you’ve written for, you can begin to add some weight to your website.
Don’t miss out on this opportunity to showcase the benefits of your good work. As you receive these results, publish them on your writer website.
5. Answer Enquiries
It usually doesn’t take many articles on truly large publications to begin to get noticed. I began to get emails after my very first article (on Fast Company), though I didn’t know what they were at the time.
Sometimes, a website will come out and ask you if you are taking new clients. But sometimes, it’s a little more cryptic.
So here’s a secret:
When an editor reaches out to you to see if you’ll guest post on their website because they liked your work on another, they really just want great content. Ideally, free great content, but they’re usually open to discussion about hiring freelancers – especially if they are approaching you.
Sure, if it’s a big publication with a huge audience, don’t open up a conversation about freelancing. Take the opportunity to get your name out there and guest post without having to go through that initial pitching process!
But, if it’s a smaller publication and they invite you to guest post, don’t just assume they want only free content from you. Read the case study below for an example of an email I would normally get in this situation as well as a template response.
As you continue to post on these popular websites, you’ll begin to notice that clients are coming to you. But, if you want to speed it up a bit and land your first client as soon as possible, you can:
6. Pound the Pavement
If you’re a beginner, you might not get a ton of potential clients contacting you right away. If you want to speed up the process of landing your first client, you may have to pound the pavement looking for gigs.
After you have a few solid articles with large, popular companies under your belt, you can do this by approaching the publications yourself.
Write a draft introduction email and if you use Gmail, save it as a “canned response”. This will decrease the amount of work involved as you send more and more of these emails.
In your emails, list the articles you’ve written for these large publications as your writing samples, tell the company a bit about yourself, and demonstrate that you have taken the time to get to know their website. Identify a few topics you’d like to write about, should you work with them.
If you’ve chosen a specific niche, head over to Alltop.com and start going through the top blogs in that topic and sending them introduction emails.
Don’t just send one or two. Challenge yourself to send two emails a day for a couple of weeks. The more emails you send, the more likely you are to land a gig!
It’s always easier to learn with examples, so here’s an experience I had with landing clients through the methods in this post.
I was invited to guest post on the Buffer blog. I’m a huge fan of Buffer, so I snapped up the opportunity.
Because I want every effort I make to produce the best possible results, and because Buffer’s audience is so gigantic, I really wanted to harness the power of this opportunity, impress the Buffer team so as to not let them down, and hopefully make it worth both of our time.
Now, Buffer is not exactly on-point with what I teach at Unsettle. There certainly is some overlap, but it’s not the most perfect fit.
So when I went to go brainstorm topics for Buffer, I discussed with Kevan what Buffer was focusing on, and then made a Venn diagram with the type of audience I wanted to attract.
On the one side, I wrote down Buffer’s priorities. Buffer wanted to move away from self-improvement articles, and move more toward articles about content marketing, social media, and business.
On the other side, I considered Unsettle’s target audience. Unsettlers want to build careers they love online so they can find flexibility and freedom.
One of the biggest overlaps is business. Buffer blog readers are either business owners, content marketers, social media professionals and some bloggers. Unsettlers are building online businesses to pursue work they love.
To satisfy Buffer’s focus of social media, I wanted to write about something that combined the passionate career with social media and online business. So, the article that I pitched (and that was accepted) is:
(Nailed it! ;))
I wanted to write the best post possible, so it took me around 14 hours spread out over several days. And when it was published? Well, it definitely struck a chord, with almost 3,000 social shares.
My bio, which is at the bottom of the article calls the audience to act upon my current priority, which is enrolling in my free course to find the perfect idea. But if I were looking for freelancing clients, naturally I’d include that and a link to my portfolio in the bio.
Shortly after this blog post was published on the Buffer blog, it was picked up by Entrepreneur.com, a huge online magazine for – you guessed it – entrepreneurs, where it enjoyed a massive amount of additional attention, with almost 10,000 social shares:
I’m not showing you this to brag. I’m showing you this to demonstrate just how powerful those numbers are to clients to prove to them that your content and writing is effective, engaging, and will help them meet their objectives.
Think about it. If you were to hire a writer, would you rather hire the writer that emails you with links to (even really great, well written) articles on their own blog, or the writer that emails you a link to their portfolio where they show an article written for one massive publication which is then shared by thousands and syndicated by another massive publication, pushing the reach even further?
That’s what I thought.
The Buffer post landed me around 3 emails of people asking me to guest post on their websites. Here’s an example of one of them:
After a bit of digging, I realized that what they were really looking for was high quality content for their blogs, so I responded to them to let them know that I was taking on new clients, but my guest posting calendar was booked up. Here’s an example of something I would say in response:
Thank you so much for your kind email and for thinking of me. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!
My guest posting calendar is currently full, however, I am a freelance writer and am currently taking new clients. I’m open to a quick Skype call if you want to chat about your content needs. I could then send you a quote once we discuss what you’re looking for.
You can learn more about my services at Sarah. My writing samples and results are listed there.
This is almost exactly what I sent the inquiry above.
Of the three emails I got inviting me to “guest post”, I landed one paying client – a 33.33% conversion rate. Not bad, considering I did no pitching, no legwork to find my client, and the blog post landed me a lot of “street cred” as well.
I’m a firm believer that most things, when it comes to building your dream, are just a formula.
They may seem scary initially, or daunting, or like you’re playing Russian Roulette, but when it comes down to it, there are always going to be principles and methods that will always work.
There’s no reason to struggle. If you follow this framework (and don’t skip any steps) you will land your first client in a short period of time. And the first one is always the hardest.