How to Make Your Own Freelance Writing Opportunities

on October 20, 2010 in Freelance Writing

You've probably seen or heard this before. Freelance Writer A is having a discussion with new Freelance Writer B. The newer freelancer talks about how they're struggling to find decent paying freelance writing jobs on job boards and classified sites, and even when they do find one there's too much competition there. Writer A tells them to hang in there because there really are high paying freelance writing jobs -- they're just looking for them in the wrong places.

Writer B asks where the high paying gigs are then if not on the job boards. Writer A explains that you have to either build a platform, a strong referral network, or directly pitch prospects you'd like to work for. Writer B says something to the effect of "No, I mean where are the high paying freelance writing jobs." Unfortunately it doesn't sink in that there's no magical place where all of the high paying freelance writing clients congregate.

In the end it comes down to this: you need to make your own freelance writing opportunities. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas to get you going:

  1. Set up a professional website right away if you don't have one. It's extremely important to maintain visibility these days, and a lot of high paying freelance writing clients don't advertise for writers -- they search for portfolios of writers that might be a good fit. You need that search engine presence if you want to land those gigs.
  2. Ask colleagues if they know anyone hiring. Just don't be obnoxious about it. Another way to handle it is to simply remind them what you specialize in and let them know you're taking on new clients now if they happen to come across something that would suit you well, but that they couldn't take on personally. Writers refer work to each other all the time. But if they don't think of you, you won't get the jobs.
  3. Ask existing clients for referrals. If you have one or more decent clients and you simply want more, ask them for referrals. They might be well-networked within their industry or niche and be able to point you to others who are hiring. After all it's in their interest too. If you give up on your writing work because you can't make ends meet, you won't be there to handle their work anymore either.
  4. Use job search sites in a different way. Forget about looking for gigs for freelance writers. Instead look for job ads hiring editors (often full-time). If you read the job requirements they very often say a part of the editor's job is managing a team of freelance writers. Yet these same companies seem to rarely advertise for the writers themselves. But now that you know they hire freelancers, you can pitch them on your own. Even if they're not hiring immediately, they might keep you in mind if an opening comes up down the road.
  5. Look a bit broader. While it's smart to know your target market and stick to them with your marketing efforts, some freelancers look a bit too narrowly. For example, if you're a Web content writer you might not think to look beyond the Web itself for your clients -- like in webmaster communities. (Hint: while some bigger budget clients do hang out there, many do not. They don't have the time.) Take a broader approach. Perhaps that means conducting a more general search for existing sites in your niche or industry. If you feel you can help them improve their Web content, pitch them your ideas. Or maybe it means you'll look to small local businesses that either don't have a Web presence yet or that have a very limited one. You probably wouldn't come across them easily online, but if they're interested and just waiting for the right help to come along, that could be you.

While I'm certainly in favor of a more passive query-free freelancing approach, for most people that would be an end goal rather than a starting point. There are times when you do have to get aggressive and make your own freelance writing opportunities.

How do you make your own freelance writing opportunities when the job market seems to dry up? Share your tips and stories in the comments.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. Through her company, 3 Beat Media, she operates All Indie Writers,,, and numerous other blogs.

Jenn has over 15 years experience writing for others, over 11 years experience in blogging, and 9 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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  1. Jessie Haynes October 20, 2010 Reply

    Looking for the quick fix in any business really is the problem for a lot of business owners, and no different for freelance writers. We should all repeat “consistent marketing is key” before we start tapping our keyboards in the morning.

    And regarding networking, I think it is important to note that you don’t need a colossal network to see results from that. What you need is to be loyal to the network you have (give, too, beyond always expecting to get) and keep making solid connections.

    Sometimes we have solid networks, even if they are from previous professions and not our freelance writing work. But just updating those people on what you do now could mean work now, or often later, but it helps you to keep your head up to know that just letting people know what you do means they’ll probably remember you when they or someone they know needs your kind of work done.

    I have a question about networking in forums. I know that creating an honest and authoritative presence in forums where your target market hangs out can lead to work (even if penny gigs are advertised those PMs come in for your services), but with so many forums out there, how do you know which ones to work in? I’m sure that it is better to get to know the community in one forum rather than join them all and get spammy. What are some factors you use/recommend to use for evaluating forums for networking?

    • Jennifer Mattern October 20, 2010 Reply

      When I was doing heavy forum marketing I did opt to stay in one primary community. It lets you build a stronger presence than when you spread yourself too thin (kind of like when people use too many social media tools, so they never really build a worthwhile presence in any). Post count can be important so early on contribute frequently. But only contribute when you really have something to add and don’t post just for the sake of posting.

      As for choosing forums, remember you can also opt for niche social networks these days — very similar. I’d stick to reasonably unsaturated forums (as unsaturated with competitors; not low on members as a whole). For example, you’re doing adult writing again so you might want to look for a community — or section of a larger community — that focuses on webmasters owning adult websites rather than site owners in general. Contribute to discussions, but include a link with a brief marketing pitch in your signature area if it’s allowed. You can also use the signature to announce sales, so people seeing your recent and older posts know what your current offer is. No need to do it all the time, but in those communities, deals for first-time orders can be a pretty big hit.

      • Jessie Haynes October 20, 2010 Reply

        That saturation part seems to be the b*tch of searching for adult webmaster forums for networking. I was looking to find something that didn’t seem to be overly spammy or unethical–those websites that are all about webmaster trickery and not honest web work–and those are the sites where my savvy competitors seem to already have good presences. Post counts to the tune of the tens of thousands! Nonetheless, I shall not be overwhelmed!

        Especially not now that I’ve explored the niche social network avenue and I’ve found an industry website that seems like a better opportunity that another forum full of one to two time posters and spammy people all interacting and propagating penny pay for freelancers. Woo and hoo!

  2. Wendy S. Johnson October 20, 2010 Reply

    Local businesses are great. Most of my clients are local companies. Sometimes, you can drum up business by staying on top of local events or holidays coming up in your area. I can then try to sell some of them on various print materials like flyers or brochures. I’m working on a couple of Christmas flyers and a fundraising letter that I sold the clients on.

    Flyers aren’t exactly a huge money-making opportunity, but they can, at least, get your name in the door for future projects.

    • Jessie Haynes October 20, 2010 Reply

      In the past with other businesses I’ve owned, I loved working with local businesses. You’re right about flyers because one inevitable thing is that they’ll see your flyer and want one for themselves. Have you connected with local graphic designers and print shops? You guys can market the work as a team and grab some large projects!

  3. Lauren Dugan October 20, 2010 Reply

    I agree Jenn – once you’ve reached a certain point in your freelancing career, you simply can’t rely on the job boards anymore. I scoured them in my first year of part-time freelance writing, but after reaching a point where I saw I couldn’t make more than $15/500 words through the majority of the job ads, I moved on.

    I do find it difficult to be aggressive at times, but it’s necessary when you’re just starting out to forge relationships with other freelancers and potential clients.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 20, 2010 Reply

      Congratulations on moving on to hopefully bigger and better things Lauren. As for being aggressive, don’t worry. You don’t have to take that approach permanently. With a strong search presence, platform, and network clients will find you without you having to pitch them directly at all (unless you still want to). Think of it as a transitional phase, and the more aggressive you are now about building a platform, making connections, and lining up some initial clients then the sooner you can be done with that if you prefer to be.

  4. Carol Tice October 20, 2010 Reply

    Keep pounding that hammer…and maybe at some point we’ll penetrate the brains. I get that question all the time, still — “Where ARE those high-paying freelance jobs? I think they don’t exist, because they’re not on Craigslist. When you say you’re making $2,000 an article, I think you’re making that up…” etc.

    From the end of ’08 when business started to get slow I attacked marketing on all fronts. I built my writer site so it now ranks very highly for my key search terms. I did in-person networking. I built my LinkedIn platform up and participated in groups to get known. I sent query letters, and letters. I responded to job ads.

    And it worked. At this point I’m basically overbooked, after 18 months of marketing aggressively. Here’s an analysis of where the new clients came from through my varied marketing efforts in that timeframe.

    I’m not actively marketing anymore…but I connected with 2 Fortune 500 companies — one called me off a Google search and one off LinkedIn…and a venture-funded startup also hired me after a Google search.

    I think I’m getting to that query-free stage you’ve told me to aim for, so you should be proud of me! But I don’t think it works as well with publication editors…more on the copywriting side.

    • Jennifer Mattern October 20, 2010 Reply

      Woot! Congrats Carol. For me it’s mostly blogging these days on the query-free side of things, so not just copywriting. But it does work well in all areas of business writing and can be effective in most types of Web writing. It comes down to what you’re more interested in — the name or the pay. If you’re willing to work for relatively unknown companies that happen to pay very well, query-free freelancing can be very effective. But if you’re looking specifically to get your name in Publication A or B, then you’ll probably need to keep targeting them individually with queries.

      As for the “I think you’re making that up” crowd, that’s when I tell them they can go suck rocks. I’m all for helping those who want to do better and who are willing to work for it. But the moment they cross into that lazy doubtful category where they refuse to believe the gigs exist because they’re not handed to them, that’s when my patience runs out. If they don’t have time for their freelance career, I sure as hell don’t.

  5. Lucy Smith October 20, 2010 Reply

    The reason that the high-paying clients don’t advertise on Craigslist etc. is because they don’t need to. Why, if you have a stable of people you can call on, would you throw yourself to CL and have to deal with the thousands of rubbish applications that would land in your inbox?

    I also like going local, at least some of the time. It’s nice to work with people with whom you have a common bond, even if it’s just living in the same place. Especially in the beginning, it makes it easier to find potential clients because you’re more familiar with the local business climate. And if they don’t pay you, you can sit on their doorstep until they pony up 😉

    • Jennifer Mattern October 20, 2010 Reply

      Yep. For clients used to working with freelancers, that’s precisely it. They already have people they trust — either existing freelancers or people they trust for referrals. Even those new to hiring writers often won’t advertise publicly though. They don’t want to be associated with all of the low rate writers out there jumping on $5-10 article gigs. If someone comes in advertising that they’re willing to pay hundreds or more for the same length, they’re smart enough to know a lot of those $10 writers will apply even though they aren’t what the client’s looking for just because it’s a chance to earn more money. They seem to all think one good gig like that is going to fall into their lap and be their big break. Instead, clients seem to prefer writers who already prove their value and charge professional rates. It shows you’ve been vetted by others in the same market they’re in. A client in a $10 article market simply isn’t in a comparable position to someone paying 10-100 times that much, and they judge their contractors differently. Buyers want to know you can already handle their market and their needs.

  6. Carol Tice October 21, 2010 Reply

    @Lucy – Well…the weird thing is I’ve found many of these big companies DON’T seem to already have a stable of people! Partly because of the emergence of new forms like blogging…then they want to go out and find someone with that expertise. One of my F500 clients was just in a huge rush for a couple executive profiles for their newsletter, the other is doing its first enewsletter and wanted someone with some blogging/linkage savvy.

    I’ve been blown away the extent to which Google is the new phone book for major corporations. I thought sheesh, don’t they wanna ask their existing marketing pros? But no. Right now, big companies are looking for new writing talent that understands blogging and social media and strong Web content. Or that’s been my experience.

    2-3 years ago I had a client list with almost nobody local, from answering ads and sending queries, but SEO-ing my Web site has brought me back home. These big companies want to find someone who can come to a meeting in their town, so they’re searching “Seattle freelance writer” or “Boise copywriter,” scanning your writer site, and if you look legit they give you a call. AMAZING opportunty for writers who put in a little work on their Web site right now.

    I think of blogging as part of copywriting…anything for business is to me, Jenn.

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