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10 Freelance Writers Reveal How They Landed Their First Gig & What They Learned from It

One of the most frequently asked questions I get about freelance writing is “How do I get started?” In this post, we’ll see how 10 successful freelancers landed their first gigs, which will give you a some great ideas for how to go about landing your first few clients.

I tell ya, the first ones are the hardest ones to land. After that, it does get easier, I swear!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Here’s the site’s affiliate disclosure policy for full details.

There are So Many Ways to Get Freelance Writing Work

The following stories detail how other freelancers got their start. Luckily, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for getting freelance writing jobs. Note that most started with no previous experience at all.

1. Content Mills

Although they are vilified by more experienced freelance writers – and in many cases – rightly so, the reason I don’t think they’re going anywhere, ever,  is because they are such fertile ground for newbies. Here’s how freelancer Elna Cain landed her first writing gig – which was via a content mill. She wrote:

The very first place I found work was on iWriter. Now I know this isn’t a freelance marketplace; it’s a content mill. All I knew was that it was easy to sign up and create a profile, look for a gig and get hired. My first – and only – writing job I had was for a toy product description. It was around 300 words, but it took me hours to write.

The lesson Elna learned was that content mills were not for her.

Another Take on Content Mills

Even though she didn’t stick with writing for content mills, some freelance writers have found great success with them, like this freelancer who landed a $50,000 editing job via Upwork.

2. Blogging

This is one of those “where upfront work pays off” inspirational stories. Freelance blogger Bamidele Onibalusi, writes of landing his first gig, saying:

I invested a lot of time and effort into blogging; I was so committed to posting regular updates and promoting my blog on other blogs via guest blogging that people started to call me names like the “king of guest blogging”, “the grandfather of guest blogging”, etc. …

I was barely making a cent from my blogging efforts even after a whole year of blogging. Then something happened…

I got an email from the person who would be my first client, Richard P., on the 6th of December 2010; Richard was the director of a company that owns around 20 websites, including leaders in the broadband and telecommunications industry and he reached out to me because he “enjoyed reading my blog” (his words).

Now, not many would be willing to write for free for a year before making any real money with their blog, but Bamidele learned that tenacity can pay off – big time.

He went on to earn $85 to $100 per article writing for this client – even signing a contract for guaranteed work for six months.

Blogging Leads to a Book Deal

I can attest first-hand to blogging being a great way to get writing jobs. In December 2015, I landed a book deal with a trade publisher who happened up on my blog and thought I’d be a perfect fit for the kind of book they needed an author for.

Again … sweat equity – and persistence – pays!

3. Social Media (FB Group)

Until recently, I didn’t realize the power of Facebook groups. I joined a couple to learn more on my goal to earn $10,000 per month in affiliate marketing by years end after taking this e-course.

Boy let me tell you, the right ones can be powerful! Not only am I learning a ton – I started my own group because it was so inspirational. So, when I read about freelancer Annie Kontor’s story, I was nodding my head going, “I believe it.” She wrote:

One of the best online resources I use is a private Facebook group, for fans of a female entrepreneur’s podcast. … One week, I offhandedly mentioned my goal was to edit the draft of an e-book I wrote to sell on Amazon. A fellow boardie asked if I ghostwrote e-books. I had done a couple pieces, so I responded, “yes.”

After some back and forth, she landed the ghostwriting gig — and that was her first “official” writing job, after writing for friends and family for the first 6 months of her freelance career.

Anna learned some valuable lessons which she outlines in her post, but perhaps the most valuable one is to “evaluate your own circles” and reach out to them. There could be writing work right under your nose!

As an aside, one thing I’m learning about Facebook groups is that they tend to be very close knit and helpful. You have to join with the idea of learning and contributing – NOT promoting. This will come naturally via your learning and contributing, eg, someone will ask to see your online bookstore, or what tool you use for X.

Because it’s more organic, it also tends to be more authentic – and lead to long-term sales/jobs.

4. Going Direct!

This is the method I used when I started writing SEO content for clients. Like Jawad Khan, a certified inbound marketer, freelance writer and professional blogger, I reached out to clients directly via email. He explains how he did it, writing:

I started listing down companies, through Google search, that I believed could use a content makeover for their websites or blogs. … Once I had a decent list of companies with me, I drafted an email that included my brief introduction and a few points on how I believed the content of that particular website could be improved.

Long story short, after contacting some companies he found on a “Top 100 blogs” post in his niche(s), he landed a client that paid $100 per post — and he was off to the races.

5. A Content Mill Gives Yet Another Freelancer a Start

Freelancer Kelly Vo makes no bones about the fact that landing her first writing assignment via a content mill came with some hard-earned lessons. Even though she had a friend who freelanced to turn to for advice, she still found herself going the content mill route — because it’s so convenient. She wrote:

When I first started freelancing, I did what everyone else did. I turned to Elance, the global freelancing platform (now named Upwork). I was desperate for a client, any client, and that was the best place to start—at least that’s what I thought. So, I made my profile, paid the monthly fee, and started applying to everything in sight.

It took a few weeks, lots of applications, and a few disappointing losses until I finally landed my first client—a gentleman who needed 1,000-word articles for his technology app. … Mind you; I didn’t earn a lot of money. For the first and last time, I charged per word instead of per article.

As stated, learning how to charge (or rather, how NOT to charge) was one of the lessons she learned. On the bright side, this assignment gave her the confidence she needed to realize that she could support herself as a freelance writer.

6. Local Newspaper

Although newspapers can seem old hat in the digital age, they can still be a source for finding freelance writing gigs. Freelancer Amber Mae Weston shares that that’s exactly how she found her first paying gig. She details it like this in a post on Horkey Handbook:

My first paying client as a freelancer was the local newspaper. I saw an advertisement for correspondents, applied for the position, gathered some samples from my work on the college newspaper and got an interview. I was hired on the spot. I worked for them for about a year and then quit when my family moved out of state.

I remember years ago when I lived in Manhattan in New York, I reached out to my local, neighborhood paper about doing some freelance writing work. I got a piece published and was offered a regular writing gig, which I didn’t take because it didn’t pay enough and I just didn’t have time.

But, the takeaway (lesson) here is that if a major city like New York has papers that are scrambling for good content, there’s a good chance your local paper would be open to some too. So reach out. Ya just never know.

7. Newspaper Ad

Instead of responding to an ad, freelancer Cynthia MacGregor was proactive enough to place an ad in her local newspaper. She explains why, writing, it was:

… the best way I could think of for reaching local people who might need a ghostwriter. I placed it in the business section for a number of reasons, including but not limited to the fact that people reading the business section were more likely to be able to afford me. The ad emphasized ghostwriting but also mentioned other types of writing and also editing.

Now that’s thinking outside the box, which is a great lesson for any freelancer.

8. Blogging & Social Media Get the Job!

Once again, proactively blogging makes the list. But freelancer Wendy McCance went an extra step, throwing social media into the mix. She details her journey this way:

I started out like everyone else with no previous articles and was basically unknown when I was offered my first writing job. Yep, I didn’t look for the job, the company came to me. The way I started out was writing this blog and making sure that several social media sites saw my work. I linked my article to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and many other social websites. The goal was to place each article where it made the most sense.

If I was writing on a parenting topic, Mommy Bloggers got a link. If I was writing about blogging itself, there were a few blogging groups on Linkedin that would see my article. In fact, it was because of those articles on Linkedin that I got my first job.

She netted $65 for a 300-500 word article on a financial topic. Not bad for a first-time, relatively low word-count gig.

The lesson – write, then promote your work via social media. You just never know who could be looking for just the kind of content you’re producing.

9. Writing Sites That Pay

In the post, “How I Made $2500 In My First Four Months As A Freelance Writer,” freelancer Lindsay from NotoriousDebt.com writes:

I found a few sites that paid people to submit stories, including the Penny Hoarder blog. I reached out to them and proposed a couple of stories, and thus was born my very first, and second, paid blog posts.

She goes on to detail how she parlayed that timid toe stuck into the freelance waters into $2,500 worth of work in four months – one from a friend who was an editor at a magazine and knew of her knowledge of mushing.

How’s that for the universe working in your favor?!

The lesson – you just never know where your next (first) freelance writing assignment will come from, or what skills/knowledge are going to be needed by a client, so keep putting yourself out there.

10. A Job Board & a Devil-May-Care Attitude Do the Trick

Freelancer Tom Ewer of Leaving Work Behind details how he landed his first gig. It was borne literally out of frustration. Luckily, this and his “devil may care” attitude worked in his favor. He explained how it all unfolded in the following manner:

I submitted my pitch to James’ job listing on ProBlogger … [it was] brief and included samples of my work and background of my relevant experience. What I find curious about my pitch is that I showed no real evidence of having anything more than moderate experience with WordPress. I believe that I “sold” James on the basis that I was an able writer, regardless of my lack of relevant experience.

The lesson—you don’t need experience within the discipline on which you’re writing. Does it help? Sure. Is it a deal breaker for a lot of clients? No.

As a SEO writer, I have written a few thousand articles on everything from routers, to how to make wire jewelry, to tree-cutting. I don’t have experience in any of these niches but as a writer, I do know how to conduct research. That, and a demonstrated ability to write well (which your writing samples will show) is many times enough to land the gig.

As you can see, there are all kinds of ways to get freelance writing work. You just have to be persistent, and most of all, you have to start.

How Did You Get Your First Freelance Writing Job?

In the next post, I’ll detail how I landed my first gig. For now, share how you landed yours in the comments section below.

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Happy Hump Day! 🙂
Yuwanda

P.S.: If You’re Serious about Starting a Freelance Writing Career, You Need a Web Presence. Learn why and how to start one.

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    Comments

    1. Hey Yuwanda,

      It’s been a while — hope all is well with you. I’m like the person in #4, I got my first (and all my clients the first several months) through direct email. Since I purchased your guide, that is the method I followed. And thankfully, I also had John C. as a mentor, who assured me it would work if I kept at it. It took probably 150 or so emails before I landed that first one. And the funny thing is, this client — Jason is his name — is still with me today (6 1/2 years later) and I would guess something like 60% of my client base came directly or indirectly through him.

      After landing Jason, I quickly started to land others. And after a few weeks of having clients, I hired my niece (a Filipino teenager who needed a job) to do my emailing for me. She did I think about 100-200 a week, and every week, it seemed like I landed 2 or 3 new clients.

      Later, clients started to find me through web searches, and this is how I landed probably my most valuable client — a well-known MN-based legal publishing company that also happens to own a news wire service. Since 2013, I’ve made roughly $40k from this once client relationship. Not only that, my association with this company gave me the credibility to work with lots of other attorneys. These days, I get found a lot on LinkedIn, and I’m studying how to use that medium even more effectively.

      If you are starting now, just keep in mind that while direct email still works, you probably need to at least double the volume to get the same results. I would do a little more personalization of the emails as well, so they don’t look like bulk emails. Starting today, I would also try to use LinkedIn more. I prefer this medium to Facebook and Twitter, because these are all people looking to do business, and you can connect directly with decision makers. You just need to go about it the right way — don’t hard sell. Send connect invites to LinkedIn open networkers (L.I.O.Ns) — there’s plenty of LIONs btw, then send an innocuous “thank you for connecting” message saying to let them know if you can help them with any of their writing needs. Do this consistently, and you will definitely get clients.

      • Thanks for the additional insight into how to get clients Paul. I’m sure it will be helpful for many.

        6.5 years — has it really been that long since you started your SEO writing career? Wow! Time just flies like crazy. I mean, I’m sitting here with my mouth open thinking, “It can’t be that long. Really!”

        Continued success to you, and thanks again for sharing so freely. 🙂

        FYI, here’s the “guide” Paul referred to that he purchased that got him started.

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