Landing Freelance Online Writing Gigs: What to Do & What NOT to Do When Applying for Jobs

I’ve been a freelance writer since 1993. I also owned an editorial staffing agency in New York City for 8 years (1996-2004). I’ve applied for hundreds of online writing jobs, and have recruited for quite a few as well.

I’ve also talked to human resources directors, editorial managers and those directly in positions responsible for hiring freelance (and full-time) writers. So, the information in this post comes from first-hand experience — on both sides of the hiring desk.

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4 Guidelines for Applying for Freelance Writing Jobs Online

With the above in mind, following is some concrete advice on what to do – and what not to do – when applying for freelance writing jobs online.

1. Don’t Ask Tons for More Information (Yet)

Many respondents apply to jobs and ask questions. This will get you sent to the slush pile almost every time. Why? Because it means more work for the person who’s going through all of the responses that are pouring in.

Online writing job ads get a lot applicants, especially if the word “freelance” is included anywhere in the listing. The last thing the person who is looking for help wants to do is answer questions. There will be time to ask questions later on in the process; don’t make your initial query more work for the person who’s hiring as this is precisely the time they don’t need more work.

Remember, they placed an ad looking for help, not more work. I know that there are bad ads that don’t give you all the info you need. But if a person is really serious about finding help, I’d venture to say that these types of ads tend to be more of the exception than the rule.

The responses that always catch my eye when I’m in dire need of help on a freelance writing project tend to be short, sweet and – qualified. The applicant provides all the info I need to assess if they are right for the opportunity at hand. See the section below entitled, 4 Things Prospects Who Hire Freelance Writers Want to Know, for full details on this.

Exception: Asking one or two simple, insightful questions that will help deepen your understanding of what the client wants is ok, IF it’s not already given in the job description. But I’d say one, no more than two questions at most.

Otherwise, like I said above, it just makes for more work — right at the time when that’s exactly what’s NOT needed by the person/company looking for hep.

2. Looky-Loo Writers

What do I mean by this? These are the types of writers who usually freelance on the side and tend to apply to any and everything – even if they’re not qualified – just to “see what happens.”

Following is a typical response from a looky loo writer (FYI, this is an actual response to a freelance writing job ad I placed on Craigslist a while back):

I am a [insert FT profession] and an experienced writer seeking freelance opportunities. If this opening is still available please contact me directly via this email. I can provide my CV and more information upon request.

The problem with this response is as follows:

(i) The person obviously freelanced on the side. This is not what bothers me. BUT, it makes me wonder if the person will be able to meet my deadline. There’s no reason to ever point out that you freelance on the side when applying to online writing jobs because if you can get the work done within the specified time, employers won’t care (or need to know).

When I worked full time and freelanced on the side, I only told potential employers if they asked me directly.

(ii) The second problem with this response is that this respondent made it a two-step process when it should have only been one. Eg, he offered to send me his CV “on request.” What are you waiting for? Send it now; I’m hiring — NOW!

I call these types of responses “looky loo” writers because it feels as if they’re putting out feelers and if something comes along that fits their schedule or that they feel like doing, they’ll take it. Freelancer writers who are serious about making money market for work and take what comes in – as long as it meets their criteria (eg, rate, deadline, etc.).

3. Non-serious Writers

These types of writers are first cousins to looky loo writers. How? They’re not set up to do what the position requires, but if you hire them they “could be.” Here’s an actual response I received from the same job listing I mentioned above on Craigslist … “I do not presently have a PayPal account but I could set one up.”

Almost all serious freelance writers who apply for online writing jobs have a PayPal account. After all, it’s free to set up and takes about thirty seconds. Think about it, why would an employer use you if you’re not already equipped to provide what they ask for in the ad – especially when it’s such an easy fix? Remember, online writing job ads get a ton of responses. Don’t give employers a chance to send you to the slush pile.

In this case, I thought to myself, “How much experience does this candidate have as a web/freelance writer if they don’t even have a PayPal account?” Again, most serious freelance writers do. Especially those who provide web content.

4. “Life Story” Writers

This is such a basic no-no, but I felt compelled to include it anyway. Don’t send your life story in when applying for online writing jobs. A brief professional outline is all that’s needed, with links to applicable samples and other info on your freelance writing website – which you do have, right?

Every time I place a freelance writing job ad, I invariably receive responses from candidates detailing how much they love to write (paints you as an amateur); how they wish they could do it full time (tells me you freelance on the side); and how they want to learn web writing (tells me you’re not qualified).

Responses like this will get you sent to the slush pile almost every time.

4 Things Those Who Hire Freelance Writers Want to Know

I’ve waded through thousands of responses to job ads in my life; and when I say waded, it’s not a Freudian slip. You get inundated when you place an ad look for freelance writing help. And, you can quickly drown if you’re not careful. Following is what I looked for when hiring help:

1. That You Can Follow Directions

Because I know I’m going to get a lot of responses, one of the things I do is put a code word in the ad. It may say something like, “Respond with ‘Pink Elephant’ in the Subject line so I know you read the instructions.”

That usually cut my work in half, because approximately half of job seekers don’t read the ad — at least not in full. So I can automatically delete all those responses that don’t have ‘Pink Elephant’ in the subject line. The rationale beihnd this, obviously, is you get one chance to impress, and if you’re not going to start off by following simple directions, then you’re not off to a good start in the impressions department.

Tip: Respond with humor, ie: I hope I’m the ‘Pink Elephant’ in the room; ie, that you won’t be able to stop thinking about me and hire me for this gig! Not only does this show me you read the instructions, but that you’ll more than likely be cool to work with.

2. About Your Writing Sample(s)

Unless an ad specifically states NOT to, include one writing sample (just one — again, unless more are asked for). Try to make it as relevant to the type of content you’ll be writing for the prospective client as possible. This way, they can quickly judge your writing ability.

Always have at least 3-5 writing samples on your freelance writing blog, and include a link there so prospects can easily access them if they want to.

3. Experience You Have

If you have the exact experience a propsect is looking for, by all means highlight that.

Note: For many online writing jobs, no previous experience is necessary. That’s why it’s always a good idea to include a writing sample. Sometimes your sample may impress a prospect enough to give you a shot, even if you don’t have any experience at all.

4. Your Rate

If you apply to a gig, the prospect assumes that the rate stated (if any) is acceptable to you … that is, UNLESS you state otherwise. Now, most prospects will give those who accept their rate a shot first. But, if your writing samples are superior and you have the direct experience they’re looking for, you might get more. So, you can state something like:

“I saw your ad for a mortgage writer. I was a mortgage consultant with Bank of America for six years. I processed hundreds of loan applications, walking customers through the process from beginning to end. I’m intimately familiar with the mortgage process from a client, and an institutional lending, perspective. Hence, I can produce content that is more in-depth, concise and insightful than those with no experience in this industry. My going rate is $75 for a 400 to 500-word article.”

I know that I would give  a writer with this kind of expderience a second look, even if they charged more. To pull this off, you need to be ‘in the ballpark’ of what they’re offering initially. In this case, if they were looking to pay $50 to $60/article, you might have a shot at $75 per piece.

Another thing you might want to use as a barganing tool is quanity, ie, “If you can guarantee me 20 article/month, I could go to $65. Everything is negotiable when you freelance, and it never hurts to ask.

Related Posts

Apply For Freelance Writing Jobs (And Actually Get Hired)

How to Get Hired When You Apply for Online Freelance Writing Jobs

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

BONUS Tip: RE Deadlines

It never hurts to reiterate that you are a stickler for deadlines. If you have some kind of guarantee to that effect, state it. For example, at my online writing company, if we miss a deadline, the client’s content is free. Think that instills confidence in a potential client?

Again, I’ve been freelancing since 1993. I think I’ve missed a couple of deadlines in my entire career — and those were due to power outages while working from the Caribbean.


When employers place an ad for freelance writers, they are usually inundated with responses. They scan the responses that come in, seeking the most qualified applicants who have provided all the info they ask for in the ad.

You’re not going to be qualified for everything, so don’t even try to be. Apply for those gigs you think you’re qualified for and/or have a shot at landing. Keep your responses, brief, on topic and to the point. All most employers really want to know from freelance writers is if the have the skills they’re seeking, if they can meet the deadline, and if the rate they’re paying is acceptable. Everything else is basically irrelevant.

Note: This post was originally published on Apr 24, 2009 on SeoWritingJobs.com, this blog’s sister blog. It was updated and migrated to this site on June 11, 2017.

P.S.: Make Money Writing in 3 Different Ways: Get full details.

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