Freelance Writing Jobs You Can Pursue Today

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on October 10, 2011 in Freelance Writing Jobs
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Last week I reached out to Demand Media Studios (DMS) writers who are upset about the announcement that there will be fewer writing gigs available from the company. Some of these writers are panicked because they aren’t sure where to go from here.

As promised, we’re running a five-post series this week for those writers (and any freelance writers looking for a fresh start). To kick things off let’s talk about different freelance writing paths you might choose.

More importantly, I want to share three types of freelance writing you can move into today — as in right now. Sometimes we get caught up in the traditional image of a freelance writer waiting for responses from magazine queries or hoping for a freelance journalism assignment from a news publication. There are other options, and those other options offer fewer barriers, growing client bases, and potentially higher pay.

I’m a big believer in choosing a specialty as a freelance writer. We’ve talked about this in depth before, so I won’t go into details again. Suffice it to say that specialists are frequently paid much better than generalists who claim they can write about anything under the sun with a bit of research.

You can specialize in niches. Or you can specialize in styles of writing. There’s nothing to say you can only have a single specialty (for example I’m both a professional blogger and a freelance business writer — my freelance blogging work even usually falls under that business writing heading).

If you want to learn more about specialization versus generalization, here are some posts you should check out in our archives first.

Web Content Writing


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If you’ve written for content mills like Demand, you’re already familiar with this type of freelance writing. But Web content writing comes in many forms. For example, in addition to mill work you can pursue anything from SEO Web content (for end clients or SEO and Internet marketing firms) to Web-based features (such as writing for online versions of newspapers and magazines).

One of the most common problems I’ve heard about in this specialty area is the lack of high paying advertised gigs. But that’s not a surprise. Here’s the thing. There are countless writers around the world who are willing to work for next to nothing. You’ll find these low paying gigs advertised everywhere from forums to classified sites to freelance marketplaces.

Whenever a high paying gig is published there, it makes sense that many of these writers think it’s their ticket to the big leagues. People apply in droves. And many of those applicants are completely unqualified. Mill work, for example, does not make you qualified for Web features at several hundred dollars a piece in the eyes of many buyers.

Buyers with adequate budgets don’t have the time to sort through this pile of applications. And they know many pros don’t bother checking these sources anyway — skewing their results downward. Instead they frequently find writers through the following ways:

  1. Writers they’ve worked with in the past;
  2. Referrals from people they trust (employees, other contractors, colleagues, etc.);
  3. Search engine results (after searching for writers in a certain specialty area).

If you haven’t worked with high paying clients in the past, you clearly won’t get repeat gigs from them, so the first scenario isn’t going to help. If you want to get gigs from these other sources early on you need to grow your network and make sure you have a professional website ranking highly in search engines (for specific keywords like “health writer” rather than generic keywords like “freelance writer” which are more difficult to rank for anyway).

These are things you should start working on immediately if you want a consistent flow of gigs down the road. But I know you can’t wait around. In the meantime, direct pitching can be more effective than relying on job boards and freelance marketplaces. For example, find a company you love that doesn’t have great Web content yet. They might not realize they could benefit from hiring a writer like you. Email or call them and offer your services. If you don’t like pitching, it will take a bit longer but you can still succeed. Just build your writer platform and network more aggressively from the start.

Blogging

Blogging is just a specialized form of Web content writing, so what I said in the previous section applies here too. A good way to get started is to launch your own blog. Make that blog in your specialty area, targeting prospects.

For example, if you blog about taxes you might launch a blog targeting accountants. Rather than publishing consumer-level tax information, you write for your target clients — maybe SEO benefits of blogging for an accountant’s site or teaching them how to engage with their own customers through a blog. Teaching is an excellent way to get prospects’ attention. I did this years ago when press release writing was my primary service.

I would teach others how to write and distribute press releases effectively. Because I ran a PR firm at the time (and my degree is in that specialty area), I had knowledge some couldn’t get elsewhere without hiring consultants. By sharing advice freely, clients could see that I knew what I was talking about.

Some would immediately hire me. Others would try to write their own press releases first. Once they realized the amount of work that really goes into specialized writing (and getting the results they want), they would come back and hire me for their next project.

I did that through blogging, forum posting, and writing an e-book. If the type of work you want to do is blogging, you can focus on a niche topic area instead. It’s like a living, breathing portfolio piece and with blog search engines and social media tools, you can get posts in front of the right people much easier these days, even if your blog is new.

Just as important as your blog is in attracting blogging clients, it can be an income source in its own right. You can publish ads for example (although that will be more effective when you have a lot of traffic). You can promote affiliate products and services. If you do, just make sure you’re transparent or you risk hurting your blog’s reputation. You can also use your blog to sell information products like e-books and short reports. You can bring in money that way even before you attract clients looking to hire you as a blogger.

Business Writing / Commercial Writing

Business writing is a fairly broad type of freelance writing. And it’s very much in demand. Whether a business is trying to grow, a new one is launching, or companies need to outsource writing because they can’t afford full-time staff anymore, these gigs are always available. You can approach them the same way you would with Web content writing — build a platform and network for long-term interest and kick things off with direct pitching if you need immediate work.

If you’re not sure what business writing (or commercial writing) includes, here are some examples:

  • white papers
  • email marketing copy
  • website copy
  • sales pages
  • brochures
  • press releases

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By no means is this list exhaustive. Businesses need internal communication writers as much as those specializing in external sales copy. You could be asked to write a long annual report or come up with short slogan ideas or brief ad copy. You don’t have to do all of these things. For example, I don’t care for long-form aggressive sales letters, so I don’t offer that service to clients. I specialize in other types of business writing — like business blogging, press releases, and white papers. If you love writing sales copy, you might take the opposite approach. It’s completely up to you.

If you want to transition quickly into client work beyond content mills, direct pitching can be a great option for you. But I know that not all freelance writers are comfortable aggressively marketing themselves. That's fine too. While it's highly effective for some freelancers, there are equally effective ways to land new gigs.

When you build your writer platform and focus on your network, you can take a seemingly more passive approach to finding freelance writing jobs. More appropriately, the jobs find you. The approach is so effective that I intend to publish a book on it next year (it's already drafted). While you won't get new clients tomorrow this way, within several weeks to just a few months you can have more demand for your services than time available. And let me tell you, it's a great feeling to be able to pick and choose the best gigs like that.

Whichever approach feels better for you, the key is that you start today. Don't wait until your current work dries up completely. You can make the transition much smoother if you have a prospect list ready to pitch or a platform already built. So get started on that. It's equally important to move forward with a plan. When you come back tomorrow we'll talk about the basics of market research and planning for freelance writers.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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31 Comments

  1. Kimberly October 10, 2011 Reply

    Jenn, I really like the fact that you are offering clear solutions for freelancers who want to grow their business, but may not know where to start. Sometimes knowing how to proceed is all that stands in the way of a freelancer’s ability to realize their goals.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      I’m glad you like it Kimberly. And you’re exactly right. It’s impossible to set realistic goals if you have no idea how to reach them.

  2. Yo Prinzel
    Yo Prinzel October 10, 2011 Reply

    I really like the fact that you are helping people who, to some extent, are losing an important source of income and you aren’t expecting anything in return–like money from their already threatened wallets.

    I hope people remember, before they spend what savings they may have on webinars and ebooks to help them make more money, that there are comprehensive sites available with free information on improving your freelancing business. If I were a DS writer, I would start there and develop a more secure financial future before researching which paid services can give my career that added little kick. .

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      You’re absolutely right. I just don’t understand the concept of aggressively marketing a product or service to someone who is admittedly struggling and near the point of desperation. Yes, I sell e-books. The sales page is on the site for anyone who wants to find it. But I don’t think this is the right situation to shove it down people’s throats. I’d rather they get a feel for the free content on-site first to decide whether or not they like the approach here. If they don’t like the blog, they’ll hate the e-book anyway.

      In fact, you’ve given me another good idea. I already have two people lined up for the offer mentioned in this post. I will respond to a third today. That leaves two more openings.

      As of now, I’ll agree to give a free copy of my two e-books for freelance writers to all five of the former Demand contributors who volunteer to share their stories and get advice on the blog. I’m only accepting submissions through the end of this week, and it’s first come, first serve. So email me at jenn@allfreelancewriting.com with the information requested in the post if you’re interested.

  3. Lori October 10, 2011 Reply

    Super post, Jenn. There’s no reason why ANY writer couldn’t take this post and make hay with it right now.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Lori. And keep up the great work on your blog — one of the best resources for those looking to make a change. Your “this job, not that” series would probably be pretty enlightening to many in this group. :)

    • Yo Prinzel
      Yo Prinzel October 10, 2011 Reply

      “I just don’t understand the concept of aggressively marketing a product or service to someone who is admittedly struggling and near the point of desperation.”

      Exactly. I mean, it’s fine to want to charge for your expertise or your book or your webinars that you work so hard on–I get that (you not as in YOU but as in everyone). But people who’ve just had the rug pulled out from under them do not need to be sold to right now. Lead them to the free stuff so they can sort out their careers and then they may actually have the money to comfortably afford your product–which will generally not give them overnight success anyway.

      Don’t be an opportunistic shark when people are in trouble–haven’t we had enough of that lately?

  4. Yo Prinzel
    Yo Prinzel October 10, 2011 Reply

    Lol, replied to the wrong comment because I is a jeanus.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      lol It happens.

      And seriously… isn’t that why we have so much free stuff available in the first place? Maybe it’s just me (and years of this working successfully), but I prefer to let my sites sell my products for me by giving people a taste of what they’ll get. I don’t get aggressive about sales often (yet sell plenty), and if someone’s in a particularly bad spot why should anyone push it? It’s asking to alienate your potential buyers in the long-term. No one likes to feel pressured or taken advantage of. At least I don’t. And if someone makes me feel that way even once, I never go back for their next release. I’d rather not be on the other side of that equation.

  5. Allena October 10, 2011 Reply

    i also love This Job, Not That job! That’s a darn fine idea right there, Lori.

    Great post Jennifer. The one thing re: DS is that the pay is so very immediate. That will never be replaced, and I think many people used to that are going to be scrambling.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      That’s one thing I find to be a common misconception — that DS was great because they pay quickly. So do a lot of other clients. I get paid before I start a project, and I have for years. I think it’s important for freelancers to remember that they’re business owners. They set their company’s rates and payment policies — not the other way around. Unless they plan to work in outdated market types like magazine publishing (nothing wrong with it, but their payment policies are antiquated at best), that’s the reality of being in business. You get paid as quickly as you want to get paid. You just have to know how to target the right markets and convey the value of your services in a way that prospects have no reason to argue about it.

      I think it’s more about the almost effortless nature of it. Mill writers are spoon-fed topics and things become so formulaic that it’s a quick case of churning things out to collect a bit of cash. They’ll definitely have to work harder and take their businesses seriously if they want equally attractive payment speeds in pro markets, but the payment speed itself isn’t unique to mills like Demand.

      • Yo Prinzel
        Yo Prinzel October 10, 2011 Reply

        I require 50% down from most clients. Some keep me on retainer, paying me months (in one case, a full year) before we even start a project, others pay me in full when we begin a project, and still others pay weekly.

        And I get paid for everything I do–which can not be said for DS who could reject (and not pay for) $15 how-tos that their writers spent time on and subsequently edited per copy editor request. In addition, if pieces weren’t edited on time, they would miss cutoffs. Generally, my 50% down clients pay my remaining balance the same day I submit the content. I also get paid to create editorial calendars, whereas DS writers spend countless hours over the course of a month refreshing their screen to search for writable titles.

        I wrote for DS heavily in 2008, so I’m pretty familiar with the way they work. Anyone who hasn’t worked with them might visit DemandStudiosSucks.com for a taste of what it’s really like. Sure it’s a vitriolic site (I happen to cozy up to some good sarcastic vitriol) but the complaints they have about DS are valid, if aggressively made.

        Jenn is completely right–if you treat this like a business, you control the terms including how you get paid. No one has to rely on the kindness of content mills to get them paid each week.

        • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

          Here’s an important point to put your comment in context for people who don’t know you. That 50% you’re paid up front? It’s still almost guaranteed to be more than a DMS writer is paid after they finish an assignment. That’s another part of the control you have — you set your rates and who you compete with. It’s going to be a big mental adjustment for some folks to stop thinking of themselves as DS writers — especially those who rely solely on that company. But until you realize it’s time to compete on an entirely different level, it might be tough to take the reigns and really exercise that control in business.

          • Yo Prinzel
            Yo Prinzel October 11, 2011

            I didn’t even think to mention that but yes, I charge much more than DS pays–which, as you mentioned, is something a business owner can do when they’re in full control of their business. Regardless of what someone decides to charge, they can definitely get paid on the same schedule, or better, than DS pays.

  6. cjjohnsonwrites October 10, 2011 Reply

    What I find odd about Demand Studios, was the actual writing assignments. I remember when I made the decision to pursue freelance writing earlier this year. I drank the Kool Aid and signed up to be a Demand writer too, but after seeing the meager selections (quantity) laced with the odd ball topics. I said to myself, “I am not gonna labor for this and drain my writing juices on this type of content.” Granted, I know that means that I lost out on some immediate income but I just felt more value as a writer, as a novice writer at that, to even pursue assignments with Demand Studios. It is a shame that some writers feel that Demand was the answer to getting their start or sustaining them financially.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      Hopefully this will be the wakeup call some of those writers need. Even if they don’t move forward right away, perhaps they’ll at least think more seriously about it and spend some time exploring alternatives. I’m sure they’ll still have their hardcore supporters. That’s fine. But if even a few people take it as an opportunity to pursue something more, then I’ll consider it the first good thing to come out of Demand. They say there’s a first for everything, right? :)

  7. Kimberly October 10, 2011 Reply

    You hit the nail on the head, Jenn. I noticed a while back while lurking on a certain forum that some writers who wrote for DS and other content companies liked the fact that all they had to do was choose topics to write about in order to get paid. they didn’t want to deal with marketing. Now some of those writers don’t mind putting in the work involved with marketing to build their business – they just have no idea where to begin. This is why what you’re offering to 5 lucky readers is so incredible. They have an opportunity to get FREE guidance from a writer with demonstrated experience.

    Now it will take time for these writers to replace what was lost. I certainly don’t want to minimize that fact; but the possibility of building a steady freelance business is there for anyone willing to learn, roll up their sleeves and work for it. This post is a very good starting place.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      That’s what sets hobbyists apart from freelance professionals. Freelancers have a serious business to run, whether it’s part-time or full-time. That includes marketing, whether we always like it or not. If someone just wants someplace to write for the heck of it, more power to them (although I’d argue their own blog is often a more productive use of time). For the rest, it’s time to make some changes.

      If the marketing guidance they get in the e-books helps to push those five writers in the right direction, then I couldn’t be happier. We all had to start somewhere. The beauty of starting a new freelance business (or revamping an existing one) now is the fact that there are so many wonderful free resources out there that any writer can learn the basics of the business side of things.

  8. Wendy October 10, 2011 Reply

    Going from millwork to freelancing gave me a little more money, but I valued the sense of pride more. Now, I can take a little more time to produce better quality work. Feels good. Keyword cramming didn’t give me much, except a lot of headaches.

    By the way, you rock, with ALL that you’re offering for those 5. Good luck to them all!

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Wendy!

      You bring up an excellent point. It’s about so much more than money.

  9. Jake P October 10, 2011 Reply

    This is one of the reasons that I always recommend AFW to newbie freelancers who ask me where to go for practical steps to improving their biz. You can sit on your butt and whine about the bad economy/irritating clients/poor pay/fill-in-your-favorite-complaint-here, or you can make a substantive change to your approach.

    No matter how wonderful a writer you are, no one is going to knock on your door until you’ve knocked on enough doors yourself to earn a steady flow of referrals. But once it happens, it’s a darn good place to be–and frees you up to make objective rather than panicked decisions about which gigs to take.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      Well thank you kindly for the recommendations sir. :)

      As for excuses, it’s crazy, right? It’s like there’s a neverending supply. The one I find so heartbreaking lately is blaming the economy for a lack of success in freelancing. This kind of economy is often better for freelancers! It’s the perfect time to grow your business as companies turn to freelancers to fill the gaps when they can’t afford their usual full-time staff. You just have to step up and adapt your marketing strategy to the changes around you. For writers interested in doing that, check out the freebies section here. There’s a short report on that very topic, and it’s always free to download.

  10. Yo Prinzel
    Yo Prinzel October 10, 2011 Reply

    I’d like to donate $10 for you to give the Marketing Boot Camp book to a 6th emailer.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 10, 2011 Reply

      You are always welcome to gift an e-book. :) If you’d like to choose someone to donate it to yourself, you would just place a normal order and forward them the email with the download link (it should only work once, so just don’t click it before forwarding). Or if you’d prefer, I’ll have a download link sent directly to a 6th person on your behalf. Hopefully we’ll have some more submissions this week and people will take advantage of these free bonuses. :)

  11. Jennifer Mattern October 11, 2011 Reply

    Just a heads up — the five spots have been filled. Thanks to everyone who got in touch. I think we have a great mix of stories and goals to explore here next week. :)

  12. Meryl Evans October 11, 2011 Reply

    Go, Jenn! I’m amazed at the all the articles and details you’ve provided on this topic. Keep it up!

    • Jennifer Mattern October 12, 2011 Reply

      I just hope we eventually have enough that the message sinks in. :)

  13. David October 13, 2011 Reply

    Thanks, Jen. It’s been a real hit for some of us with Demand in flux.

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