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I Spent a Solid Week Applying for Freelance Writing Jobs: Here’s What I Learned that Can Help You Land More of Them (Part I)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve been writing SEO content since 2007 and have several income streams, ie, self-publishing a line of ebooks (see the “Shop” section on this site), internet marketing and writing for clients.

I relay this to say – I rarely apply for freelance writing jobs. Most of my work comes by way of referral from existing clients, or because people find my SEO writing company (NewMediaWords.biz) online and get in touch. Also, because I’ve worked to develop several streams of income, I don’t have to rely on writing work from clients so much.

So why now? Why am I back on the grind applying for work?

Well, I redesigned NewMediaWords.biz and was anxious to start getting the word out about the new site. To be honest, the main reason I haven’t marketed the last few months has been because my site was such a hot mess! It was downright embarrassing.

The second reason I’ve started up marketing again is I’m trying to break into a specific niche. As I’ve hunted down leads in that niche, I inevitably ran across other stuff I saw that I thought I’d be a good fit for. So I sent in my credentials. All in all, I applied for/reached out to about 150 companies over a six-day period.

The Freelance Writing Market Today: Who’s Hiring, What They Want & What They’re Paying

This started out as a regular post, but then as I started jotting down ideas, I saw that it could get out of hand, so I decided to break it into four parts.

In this first part here, we’ll be discussing some things I noticed about what’s going on in freelance writing these days. In Part II (Thursday), I’ll give you a step-by-step plan of what to do to make it easier to break into a specific niche; in Part III (Monday) we’ll discuss my marketing results; and in Part IV next Wednesday, we’ll dive into how to brand yourself to earn more. So let’s get started.

Note: Here is Part II, Part III and Part IV of this series.

I. There Are a HECK of a Lot of Freelance Writing Jobs Out There!

This is the first thing I noticed when I started applying for jobs. See? The following graphic displays some of the freelance writing jobs listed on Indeed. Look at how varied they are. So whether you want to specialize in sports, or tech, or marketing, or legal, or lifestyle content, there’s something for every interest and skill set.

Types of Freelance Writing Jobs Available

Where to Look for Freelance Writing Jobs Online

In case you don’t know, Indeed is a great site to look for jobs because they are kind of like Expedia for travelers in that they pull listings from thousands of sites. This way, you don’t have to look on a gazillion sites to find leads. For most jobs you’ll find on popular sites like Craigslist, you’ll find them on Indeed.

A couple of other sites I searched are ProBlogger and JournalismJobs. I got some pretty good leads from ProBlogger – actually got offered a social media gig from a lead here. I didn’t find too many good leads in the freelance category on JournalismJobs.

The best leads were ones I found on Indeed. I like the site because they make it easy to apply. Once you apply for your first job, you have the option of having them store your resume, so for other jobs, all you have to do is basically click and your credentials will be sent. I applied to as many as half a dozen within a few minutes.

Some employers require you to log into their systems to apply, or apply using your LinkedIn profile (a good reason to update/upload a profile there if you don’t already have one). Some put you through other hoops to apply, but for most jobs posted on Indeed, it’s as simple as clicking and responding.

Indeed also automatically sends you an email to confirm your application for a position, so you have a record of every job you apply to on/from the site. For all of these reasons, it’s a good source to utilize to find freelance writing gigs.

II. Two Types of Content That’s Hot in Today’s Market

The type of content requested by employers is wide and varied. They want blog posts, case studies, landing pages, white papers, ebooks and just regular ole web content. Two things stood out to me though in this area.

a) Long-Form content is definitely in. FYI, this is also known as foundational content, cornerstone content and/or skyscraper content.

Long-form content can be anywhere north of the traditional 500, 600 or 700-word post. Most of it seems to fall in the 1,000 to 2,500-word range. Skyscraper content is really long – 4,000, 5,000, on up to 10,000-word content. So when you hear these terms, these are roughly the parameters that are being talked about.

b) “Short” content is still in great demand. I landed one gig to write 600-word blog posts for a content marketing firm. I have two more clients on the hook (hope to reel them in within the next week or so) for regular 400- to 500-word blog posts.

So while the industry has been talking about Google rewarding longer content; hence the death of shorter posts, I found that the demand for shorter content is still there – heartily so! As an SEO writer, you should be offering both.

III. Content Writing Rates are Up

There’s no doubt about it – freelance writing rates have increased. Have they increased to the point where it’s still not a hot-topic for debate when it’s brought up (eg, everybody’s paying at least $1 per word)? Nope, not like that. But, it’s not unusual to see $20 – $40 per post rates.

For long-form content, rates tended to start at around $50-$200 for posts in the 700-1,500 word range. Many asked you to submit rates for content longer than this, eg, “Submit your rate for a 3,000-word post on digital marketing, with images included“.

I’ve been saying for a while that I thought $25-$35 is kind of bottom-of-the-barrel rates for (SEO) content writing. A week of steady marketing bears this out, thanks to – believe it or not – content mills. By the way, I predicted this very thing would happen years ago.

Many content mills (aka content farms) pay $20 to $30 for simple 400-500 word articles, and they have a ton of work. As these outlets are frowned upon by many, some freelancers use them as a barometer of how low they’re willing to go.

Freelancers tend to have a love/hate relationship with them, as discussed in the comments section of this post, which gives first-hand insights from 14 freelancers who worked for some content mills; some you may have heard of, some not. Some writers report making pennies per hours; others report earning from a few hundred to a couple of thousand per month.

What Freelance Writers Today Think about Content Mills: Where Do You Fall?

The freelance writers who commented seem to be divided into various camps, ie:

Those who write for these types of sites because they don’t want the hassle of marketing for higher-paying work. They like that they can just log on, select an assignment (where available), get it done and get paid;

Those who like the freedom of picking and choosing what they want to write about and making some side income; and

Those who use content mills as training grounds to hone their skills before marketing for higher-paying jobs.

Some thought $20 per blog post was fine. Others railed that it was slave wages. I try to stay out of these types of debates. One thing I’ve learned through the years is that people turn to freelance writing for all kinds of reasons, so what may be pennies for one freelancer may work just fine for another. This is not going to change.

It’s why my mantra has always been – do what works for you. With this being said, no matter who the particular client is, one thing I noticed in applying for roughly 150 gigs is that you have to …

IV. Prove Yourself

As in, not only were job listings asking for writing samples, but many required you to take a test, or link to samples that were already published on high-ranking sites. Don’t let this alarm you – there are plenty – and I do mean plenty – of reputable sites that you can submit stuff to, eg, Business2Community, to prove your mettle and writing ability.

If your content is good — and particularly if it’s in a niche the company needs writers for — it can be published anywhere and still get attention. Of course, they’re not going to say that. So if you don’t have published pieces somewhere, get some samples up on places like the site mentioned above. Also, another great outlet is the LinkedIn publishing platform.

Insight into Freelance Writing / Social Media Testing

Of all the jobs I applied to, I’d say about 10 percent of them wanted over and beyond a writing sample. For example, I applied for one gig as a social media specialist. They wanted someone to source content for client blogs, then write short posts to accompany it. Pretty straightforward, right?

But, I had to take a 20-question test, which included grammar and spelling, and it tested my social media knowledge skills. Part of the test went something like this: here are four posts; one is NOT ideal for the client (which they give you a profile of). Which one is it? Or, following are four posts. Which one works best? Explain why you chose that one.

I’d never been tested like that before. It was kind of cool, because it underscored, “Hey, I really know my stuff!

Others employers wanted you to submit a writing sample — on a topic they give you, using their (or their clients’) style guide.

Three Actions to Take Before Applying for Freelance Writing Jobs

a) Get your writing samples ready. In my opinion, you should write a few short ones, eg, 400 to 600 words; and a few long ones (700 to 1,200) to demonstrate your ability to produce long-form content, as well as short copy.

b) Publish them to reputable outlets (particularly those in niches you’re targeting, where possible).

c) Read up on social media marketing and what’s required of a good consultant if that’s one of the services you want to offer.

V. Six Skills Freelance Writers Need Besides Writing

SEO, SEO, SEO: I can’t say this enough. Most of the online writing jobs require a working knowledge of SEO. One test I took required me to write what was, in essence, themed SEO content. They assigned me a set of keywords, and told me to select one to use in the headline, and use another 2 or 3 in the body of the article (it was a 400-word article).

So if you want to apply for any type of online writing job these days, this is a must-have skill. FYI, this is discussed in the latest version of the SEO writing ebook, and of course in the SEO writing ecourse.

Quite a few companies had mini courses that gave an overview of what SEO is all about. Some also said that they would train you if you didn’t know. In my opinion though, you run the risk of not even being considered because many candidates who apply already have this type of knowledge.

Social Media Marketing: This goes hand-in-hand with content marketing, so I ran across quite a few jobs that wanted you to not only write the content, but distribute it as well. And if not outright distribute/post it, at least know how to write for social media (like the social media specialist job I talked about in #4).

Other Skills: Besides the above, link building; sourcing royalty-free images; a working knowledge of PowerPoint and WordPress; and the ability to access projects via outlets like GoogleDocs and Dropbox rounded out what jumped out at me.

Conclusion

As I said in the beginning of this post, there is a lot – and I do mean a lot – of work out there. But it takes some get-up-and-go to get it. One day as I stared blurry-eyed at my computer screen, the expression, “The only thing worse than having a job is looking for one” came to mind. It’s so true. I skipped plenty of jobs that required you to jump through hoops just to apply, ie:

Submit three samples on this topic. Write one on this, and take our test. “What?! … No thanks, I’ll pass.”

With that being said, if a gig paid enough and/or I thought there was a chance for ongoing work, I bookmarked it to come back to later and possibly apply.

Most days, I applied for between 20-40 jobs. It’s been worth it though. Next Monday in Part III, I’ll tell you exactly what I did that’s so far landed me two on-going gigs in one week, with two more on the hook, and a couple of “We don’t need you now, but we’ll keep your credentials on file” responses.

Sweet!

Thursday’s Post: Part II: How to Break Into a Specific Freelance Writing Niche So You Earn More — Specific Actions to Take (It’s so easy, you’re gonna be surprised!)

What Have You Learned Applying for Freelance Writing Jobs?

Been applying for gigs lately? Have you experienced any of what I just shared here? How has the hunt been overall for you? Share your thoughts, experiences, questions and/or comments below.

P.S.: I’m Ready to Start My Freelance Content Writing Career

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How to Start a Freelance SEO Writing CareerGet the exact knowledge that pushed my freelance writing career to the next level – allowing me to travel and live abroad, get out of debt and really “live the freelance life.” One freelancer wrote:

Hey Yuwanda,

I hope all is well! I just wanted to let you know that this month marked the first month that my writing income surpassed that of my day job.

Thanks to your help and inspiration, I have more work than I know what to do with and have successfully landed a number of clients that give me recurring work. Thanks again for your advice!

SEO writing changed the trajectory of my freelance writing career. It can do the same for you!

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    Comments

    1. In my experience, most legitimate content marketing companies will pay for test posts. I once had a prospect ask that I write THREE posts (without saying they wouldn’t pay). I double checked with them and am so glad I did. I didn’t participate in this “try out.”

      So, because most will pay for trial posts, I always turn down any company that requires I write one for free.

      Jean
      Jean Henshaw recently posted…Need a Copywriter? Look for these 5 TraitsMy Profile

      • Wow, THREE original posts with no pay. That’s cray, cray! I don’t blame ya.

        I usually won’t write one either (I hadn’t done it for years before last week). But when I saw so many companies asking for it, I did some precursory research and found that this is becoming somewhat of a norm.

        If it’s in the niche I’m trying to break into and/or I think it can be ongoing work, I acquiese.

        I always immediately upload any samples I write to my writing portfolio, that way, it can’t be used as “original” copy. But again, I research companies first to see if they’re reputable. So far, no problems.

        Good to hear from you.:)

    2. I’m always a bit wary of writing up samples from scratch for jobs. There are writing scams out there which request that you write samples, come back and tell you it wasn’t good enough or you did not qualify for the job, etc. Then go ahead and use all the various samples they receive from writers applying for the non-existent job. Free content gained right there!

      I also find it a bit irritating. When applying for jobs, you usually have to send some samples you have written in the past. This is supposed to give them an idea of your writing style and ability. Then they request a test assignment. And I think, did the samples sent not already give you an idea of my writing ability! Yes, it’s par for the course for writers to complete writing tests and submit samples, etc. But I can’t help finding it a bit annoying as it takes so much time and you may not get the job in the end anyway.

      • Totally agree Deevra. I’ve written about this before.

        While this used to be a sign of a straight-up, easy-to-spot writing scam (mostly by slimy internet marketers), I noticed that more and more legitimate content writing companies are operating this way now. It’s up to each individual as to whether or not to comply.

        What I do is google the company to see if they’re legit. If they are, then — depending on what I think my chances are in landing the gig and how long of a sample they want — I may comply. If nothing else, you can always use the sample in your portfolio.

        And FYI, a few companies do pay for the samples — so those are an automatic go for me.

        Thanks for lending your thoughts.