Freelance Writing series part 9: Getting your first paid gigs

Article by Jess Gately

Image from Canva Free Stock Images

In the last post we discussed ways that you can start a portfolio of your writing by incorporating articles you may have written for university, for your personal blog or things you’ve written for former employers, or by listing previous ‘clients’ you’ve worked with for free. In this post we’re going to talk about where you can go and what you can do to get your first paid gigs.

Pitch your ideas

Pitching is a really big topic particularly for those of you looking at freelancing as article and blog writers, so we’re going to go into a lot more depth in the next post in this series. But in the meantime, you need to know what pitching is.

Pitching is the process of putting forward a story idea to an editor and if they like it, you’ll then write it and submit it. In order to pitch effectively, you’ll not only need to know a lot about a particular topic but the publication you want to write for as well. You need to know who the publication’s audience is, what topics they’ve already covered, and what makes your story relevant to them. Why do they need to run it now (i.e. what makes it timely?)? You then need to find out who the commissioning editor is for that publication and write a pitch that explains all of this in as few words as possible!

We’re going to expand on this point in Part 10 including more information on how to research your chosen publication and how to structure your pitch.

Ask around

Most writers, when they first start out, are really nervous about this one but it’s how the majority of people get their foot in the door.

If you’re looking to get into writing copy for small businesses (flyers, website, social media content) then contact that business and offer your services. Or if you want to write real estate copy approach a real estate agent in your area. Explain who you are and what you can do for them. If you want to be super prepared, maybe mock up some copy about their products or services to show them what you can do.

You can approach family, friends and neighbours to ask if they have any work they’d like you to do or if they know anyone who might need your services. You could approach not-for-profits and ask if there are any projects that they need grant funding for and sell your services as a grant writer. You could approach members of a retirement village, offer to interview them and write their memoir for them.

You might even want to ask your current employer (if you have one) if they have any work you can help with like writing up technical documents for the team, writing draft press releases that can then be sent to the marketing department, or if there’s any employee manuals that need revising.

People underestimate how much writing is involved in their day-to-day work life and if you can show them just how much time they spend writing and what you can do to relieve that pressure, you’d be surprised how many people are keen to take you on.

Network

Over the years, networking has become a bit of dirty word. People associate it with shaking hands and wearing fake smiles, but networking is one of the most useful and fun ways to find work. Meeting your fellow writers and talking shop can be a great way to get work (when someone can’t take on a job and refers their client on to you) and is also a great way to learn, to problem-solve, to discuss your industry and to make friends. Particularly in the writing world, networking is a great way to feel connected to others in a career that can be otherwise solitary in nature.

Go to conferences, join Facebook groups, follow your fellow writers on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, head to your local writers centre and attend writers festivals. You’ll find a huge array of groups that cater to writers of different ages, writers from different localities (all of Australia to just particular suburbs or towns), writers with particular writing styles (copywriters, sci-fi writers, romance writers, ghost writers, travel writers) and writers at various stages of their careers. Most of them are easy to find with a simple search in your social network search bar.

Advertise your services

This doesn’t necessarily mean taking out ad space in your local newspaper although that’s one way to go about it. You can also think of places like Gumtree or the job board at the local supermarket, or if you have a Facebook Page for your business, you can think about using Facebook advertising to reach your demographic (if you know who they are).

You can also think about the sorts of groups you clients might be in and advertise your services there. For example, you might approach a small business owners group and ask the head of the group if they’d mind sharing your flyer. Or you might look at conferences geared towards those sorts of people and apply to set up a stall there where you can run consultations with potential clients. Think about all the places your clients might be and try to make sure you’re there too.

Ask for referrals

Once you’ve completed a job, don’t be afraid to ask that person to refer you on to their colleagues. Ask them to suggest colleagues they may know who would be interested in your services or ask them to make the introduction so you’re not going in cold. Don’t forget to ask for testimonials either. Posting testimonials on your website or any of the social media pages you manage will go a long way towards convincing future clients to engage your services.

Use online job boards

Everyone has heard of places like Upwork, Fiver and AirTasker where many freelancers go to get some experience under their belt. You’ll usually find low-paying jobs here which may be a way to get started but remember not to stay in these markets long. If you do find a recurring client on one of these job boards, don’t be afraid to raise your rates when you have more experience. You don’t want to fall into the trap of missing out on better paying clients because you’re too busy with a high workload for little return.

Other job boards you might like to try that offer more reliable and better-paid work include Writers Bloc, ArtsHub and Copify.

Once you’ve got a few jobs under your belt, you’ll start to feel more confident when you approach new clients. Being a freelance writer means you’ll rarely be in a position where you always have lots of work. While you may get new jobs through recommendations and referrals, it’s likely that you’ll spend a lot of your business time actually searching for clients so its important for you to familiarise yourself with all of these methods. Even though this post is geared at finding your first clients, you’ll be doing this to find new clients throughout your career as well!

In our next post, we’re going to delve into the details of pitching and how to write one. While you may not be aiming to be a magazine or newspaper writer, you’ll probably find that some of the details of pitching an article are very similar to how you can pitch your services to new clients, so don’t forget to check in for Part 10—coming soon.

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