I’m a big fan of query-free freelancing. That means I don’t generally pursue freelance writing jobs. I do things that attract clients to me instead. For example, I run blogs that keep me fresh in prospects’ minds and I make sure my business site is well-optimized for search engines so I’m one of the first writers prospects find when they search for someone.
While the query-free freelancing approach works very well for most types of freelance writing, and it can work fairly quickly if you work hard at it up front, I know it doesn’t suit everyone — especially beginner freelance writers who want that first job as fast as possible. So today let’s explore some things you can do as a new freelance writer to line up your first few clients quickly, even before you take the time to build your writer platform.
Set up a Simple Portfolio
No matter how new you are to writing for clients, those clients will likely want to see samples of your work before hiring you. And you can set up a simple portfolio even if you have no client work under your belt yet. For example, you might write:
- your own website copy;
- a few posts for your own business blog;
- a brochure to market your freelance writing services;
- a news release to announce your new business launch;
- a white paper or report on an industry issue that would appeal to clients;
- a sample feature like those you might submit to magazines.
Create the kinds of writing samples you think clients will want to see, and feature some or all of them on your website. You can replace them with client samples as you accumulate some.
Tap Your Personal Network
Even if you haven’t had a chance to build a wide professional network yet, you do have a personal network. Reach out to the following types of people to see if they or anyone they know might be in need of your services:
- family members
- co-workers (if you still have a traditional job and your freelance work isn’t a conflict of interest)
- teachers / professors
- local business owners and managers you’ve gotten to know
You might be surprised how wide your personal network really is. Even if those you know don’t need to hire you right now, chances are very good that at least someone in your network will be able to give you your first referral.
Create a Client “Wish List”
What kinds of clients do you want to work for? List some of the features that would describe your perfect client — small business vs larger corporate client, end clients vs middlemen clients like marketing firms (which can bring you several clients at once), and other things along those lines.
Then do some digging and find companies who satisfy all, or at least most, of the items in your wish list. Come up with a list of writing services each company might be interested in. You can usually get some ideas by looking at their website. For example:
- Do they run a blog that should be updated more frequently?
- Was their last white paper released years ago?
- What kinds of topics does your ideal magazine or newsletter cover on a regular basis (or what’s coming up in their editorial calendar)?
Once you know what you want to pitch to specific companies or publications, put together your query or pitch letter (or cold call script). Then pitch them. Sure, you’ll get some “no thanks” responses. But you could also build client relationships early on with exactly the kind client you hope to work for.
By taking these kinds of proactive steps, you can land your first freelance writing gigs in no time. And you don’t have to rely on things like content mills which provide low value portfolio pieces and pay very little. Similarly, you can skip jobs on ad boards and bidding sites, which are often equally low in pay (if not worse).
Just get creative and professional about your early portfolio options, tap the network and resources you might not even realize you have, and get out there and introduce yourself to the people you’d love to work to with. It really is that easy to bypass the unnecessary “paying your dues” phase and get into the professional markets you want to be in.
What other tips would you offer new freelance writers trying to quickly land their first professional writing gig? How did you land your first job with your ideal target client? Share your thoughts in the comments.