Do you know how self-employed writers earn a decent living and maintain their professional security? What they do during their office hours? How they keep their careers moving forward? Growing? It’s not a riddle; it’s the best piece of freelancing advice I can give to new writers:
They keep putting themselves out there.
They market themselves.
Rejected, told no thank you or not at this time; they rinse and repeat. It’s how freelancers take control of their incomes and professional goals. It’s what they do when they’re not swamped with deadlines already—and even then, it’s scheduled for later in the week.
Any new writer with one client (or less) trying to build a full-time career should be marketing daily for another client. And the next article assignment.
Unless you are beating clients off with a stick, you should be marketing. And even if your client roster is full, you should still pitch features and articles to bigger and better publications that support your niche or specialty.
If you rely on the income from your writing but are scared shitless of not being able to pay your bills if you lose your only client, you need to put some of your eggs into other baskets to help you sleep at night with a sense of financial security immediately.
Mix and Match Marketing
Use a combination of these rinse and repeat marketing tasks to keep your career growing:
Pitch and Query
New to freelance writing? Start by pitching so you have samples to include when applying for steady positions. Want to break into a niche? Pitch article ideas to related publications. Want to build influence in your niche? Pitch influential publications. Plan to market your blog? Pitch guest posts—especially paid ones. Want to supplement your income? Pitch.
Keep a handful of pitches circulating with different goals.
Keep an eye on job boards (try these) and use your related writing samples (once you have them) to land steady or contract work. Clips don’t have to be subject-specific; well-written newsworthy pieces, research-driven articles, and other formatted writing styles can land more of that type of writing, despite the subject.
To target a specific type of position, reverse-engineer your portfolio by pitching assignments that will impress these hiring editors. It won’t be long before you do have related writing samples to include in that email.
Typically, these positions will be your bread and butter. This could be a contributing writer gig for a website where you complete so many articles a week, an editor/content coordinator position for a website, a book editing assignment, an email copywriting project, recipe development and writing, press releases, grant proposal writing, course development, hell I’ve even seen ads for captioning television shows and movies.
If you retain the rights to your work (this will be on a publication-by-publication basis and your rights will be outlined either on the website or in your contract) you may have the right to resell it. I suggest keeping a list of the articles you’ve sold that you retain the rights to as you complete them. If the rights don’t revert to you until a specific date, note this as well.
As completed articles become available for resale, market them as reprints to paying websites and international markets for translation. This marketing strategy works well for established freelancers enjoying steady work (giving them lots of possible re-marketable articles) and can increase income with little effort.
To increase your chances of having reprints to sell, negotiate your rights once your article has been accepted with the submissions editors. It never hurts to try, even if you can only retain international or translation rights.
Use Your Website
Make your professional website client-friendly, search engine friendly, and include a Work With Me page, or its equivalent. It may take a while, but as you build your career you’ll find more and more editors and interested clients contacting you directly through your site. Make sure you impress these hiring agents when they land on your home page by adding effective design elements (like testimonials and client logos—I cover them in depth here) and keeping your online portfolio up to date.
Update Your Professional Tools
Speaking of updates, make sure you’re also adding your newest guest posts, assignments, and clients to your resume. Many job postings request a resume so don’t put it off—add qualifications and assignments as you earn them.
I also suggest bookmarking your digital articles and clips as they go live around the internet. This keeps them handy for when you’re writing emails and have to attach samples. Your links will be only a couple clicks away.
Who says a desirable client has to be advertising an open position to email them? Send a letter of introduction (known as an LOI, though this may more accurately be a EOI nowadays, for email) that genuinely compliments the publication and offers your services.
Since I apparently have a knack for long content, I often use LOIs to market my Ultimate Guide and Opt-In Incentive writing services. When I come across a blog without a free download for new subscribers (and it’s a site I’d be interested in) I zip off an email with a few ideas for converting visitors into subscribers. The same goes for sites that publish regular Ultimate Guide To… pieces, depending on the niche. Since these articles are longer, they usually pay more and I can write a number of these a month. Many of these contacts evolve into recurring clients who email me regularly to see if I’m available.
If you specialize in a specific type of content, keep an eye out for opportunities to market yourself and fill a need. Obviously LOIs are more effective for established writers with easy-to-hire qualifications. If you lack professional experience but want to write for a site that isn’t hiring but accepts pitches, start with the pitch. Get the assignment. Rock it. Then ask about contributing positions.
Do you dream of being an award-winning writer? Wouldn’t that look good on your website! Well, there’s one way to become one—win an award. You can Google writing contests and find plenty of reputable sites that compile lists of them for freelancers like yourself. You can also find an extensive list of distinguished and trustworthy contests in the annual Writer’s Market encyclopedia of publications and writing opportunities.
Beware of contests with disproportionately high entry fees and contents that claim you won, but want you to order an anthology. There are scams so stick to trustworthy sources for referrals.
A blog can build authority in your niche, help you land the type of assignments you’re applying for (if that’s what you choose to blog about—keep that in mind), keep you writing regularly, and give you a medium to showcase different writing skills.
As far as the specific use of WordPress goes, use WordPress. The majority of clients you’ll write for (or edit for) will expect you to be comfortable with WordPress. The more knowledge you have of it, the more marketable (and valuable) your skills are to publications. Do yourself a favor; schedule a few hours a week for blogging.
Your blog can also draw in clients the way your website does. Publications and editors are always on the lookout for new talent so include a contact form for potential clients (and readers) on your blog. I recently had an editor email me and offer me a contributor position because she’d seen a guest post of mine. You never know who’s reading so make yourself easy to get a hold of.
Of course all of my old high-school friends and current buddies on Facebook know I’m a freelance writer—because I share my general-interest articles on my personal page. I also have a FB group and page for this site, another page for another blog, a professional Twitter handle, an Instagram account for a side project, and a LinkedIn page to pull it all together.
Use social media to put your work out there. Put yourself out there. You never know how work will find you.
If you have writing samples or a client or two and are ready to make the leap to full-time, self-employed freelance writing, skip over to Six Steps to Full-Time Freelancing.