How I Got 4 Great Freelance Writing Gigs From Job Ads

Applying for freelance writing gigsBy Allen Taylor

You may have heard that there are never any good freelance writing gigs advertised in the online job ads. But that hasn’t been my experience.

In just the past four months, I’ve landed four solid new clients by trolling the ads on two key boards. Here’s how:

Where I looked

I joined Freelance Writers Den on October 22, 2013, and immediately dove into the Den’s Junk-Free Job Board. It’s a compilation of the best-paying listings culled from dozens of sources including FlexJobs, along with referrals from Carol and from other Den members. The board also has unique listings from employers who find the Den on search.

In six weeks in November and December, I worked the Den board and Problogger’s job ads. That’s all. I applied to more than 30 jobs.

I kept cover letters brief and to the point, highlighting critical skill areas required by employers in their ads.

Reaping multiple benefits

I saw three immediate benefits to applying:

  1. An increase in targeted traffic to my website
  2. Exposure for my personal brand
  3. Valuable feedback on my background and experience

Personal branding was big for me — each of the people I emailed about potential jobs saw my signature line with my website and phone number, even if they didn’t hire me.

Feedback sometimes came in the form of rejection, but often the positive kind.

One contact resulted in a phone interview. I was nudged out by a candidate with more experience in the critical required skill, but the interviewer let me know my skills and background were impressive. That was a real confidence boost.

Getting results

Of course, the best response is getting the job. And I got four of them:

  • Case studies on attorneys’ social-media practices for a legal publishing firm at 30 cents a word.
  • Two articles per month on creative ways retirees can supplement their income for a personal-finance blog.
  • Starting next month, I’ll be writing creative passages for English as a Second Language assessments for an educational-tools company.
  • Legal news articles for a consumer-rights news site at $135 apiece.

You can do it, too

Here’s what I learned from prowling these online job boards an average of 30 minutes each day:

  • Diligence and persistence pay off. One of my new clients pays four times my normal pay rate for similar services.
  • Address the skills/keywords requested. I got far more positive responses when I did this. Even if your background doesn’t exactly match what a potential employer is looking for, show how you fit their needs. For instance, one employer mentioned that I had no direct legal writing samples (I do, but they’re in print) though he was impressed with my experience writing on Internet marketing topics.
  • Include a resume unless specifically asked not to. I think if you have enough experience in a particular type of writing, a resume may not be necessary, especially if you have writing samples on your website.
  • Have a ‘Hire Me’ page. On this page, I list writing samples by category and links to PDF documents or websites where those samples are published.
  • Create templates. I did mine right in my e-mail application, so I didn’t have to keep writing the same thing over and over again.

Sure, there are plenty of low-ball ads out there.

But if you look in the right places and approach ads the right way, job boards can be a useful resource for building — or growing — a freelance writing portfolio.

Gotten any good writing clients off job boards? Tell us how you scored in the comments.

Allen Taylor has been a commercial blog manager since 2006. He now also creates premium authority content and helps independent authors create e-books at Taylored Content.

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38 comments on “How I Got 4 Great Freelance Writing Gigs From Job Ads
  1. I would like to get started doing some freelance writing. I have never really done it before. I have my Masters in IT with over 10 years experience and undegrad in Psychology (Social Services). I have worked in a school setting for about 6 years and in the last year working with an educational program for an intervention classes in Language Arts. I align work to be done in the program with the common core that they are learning in their class. I saw a job for a position where I can be a curriculum writer for an English class. I am very much interested. They want me to submit a writing sample (fiction or non-fiction). There are no other details. Can someone give me any information on what kind of sample I should give?? I have never applied for this type of job before, but very interested and excited about it. I am kind of at a loss however, but I don’t mind writing at all. I actually love to write. Is it supposed to be something related to something in an English curriculum. I would like to be considered even if I’m not selected. Of course, my desire is to definitely be selected. Since I don’t have the experience, I would have to create it. Any tips from some of you guys that have been doing this for awhile would be greatly appreciated.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’d refer you to John Soares at Productive Writers – I know he writes textbook supplements and I think has done some curriculum work. Not an area I’ve done!

      But in general…when you don’t have experience in an area, you need to look for a volunteer opportunity — perhaps with an education nonprofit? — to do a project of that type. Then you have a sample. It’s unlikely you’re going to get the gig without a single sample of published writing.

  2. Andy Nathan says:

    Allen,

    I have done work for the legal marketing firm also. Too funny!

    Andy
    Andy Nathan recently posted…Carol Tice Is Talking On The Start Up Gap Today At 4 PM CSTMy Profile

  3. Alexandra says:

    Motivating article, Allen. Thanks for your insight! Reminds me that I need to hunker down on the job search thing… Glad you’ve had some luck with the boards!

  4. Tanya says:

    Very helpful article, Allen. Thank you for the tips. I’m happy to hear that you landed the educational writing gig. That is where my interests are as a former teacher. I will be perusing the job boards.

  5. Wow those are some really nice clients to pick up and all for just 30 minutes work a day.

    Even though you say you applied for more than 30 jobs, it sounds as if you were actually quite picky. Do you think this helped you to land those 4 jobs or could you have potentially being hired for more if you so desired?

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Great Question, Brian.

      One never knows why a potential employer chooses not to hire you, or contact you. I was selective in the sense that I picked and chose which ads I wanted to respond to. I essentially have three criteria:

      1) Do the job parameters match my skills?
      2) Does the job sound like something I’d want to do?
      3) Is the pay what I’d be willing to accept?

      After that, I leave it up to my ability to sell my skills, the employer’s process for selecting the candidate they feel best fits their needs, and fate.

      I see it like this: If I spend my time applying for jobs I have no chance of getting or have no real desire to pursue, then I have less time to spend on the jobs I really want. The competition pool for writers is HUGE. So I have to set myself apart in some way that makes me attractive to potential employers. That comes by knowing my strengths. I’ve developed what marketers call a USP – Unique Selling Proposition:

      I am a great researcher with strong analytical and critical thinking skills and above-average writing ability who always meets deadlines.

      Being versatile in the breadth of topics I CAN write about helps, but I also have certain things I enjoy writing about more, so I apply to those jobs first. Everything else I apply for if I have the time and opportunity affords.
      Allen Taylor recently posted…How To Be An Expert In 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

      • Thanks for the terrific detail in your answer Allen.

        I agree with you that initially applying for those jobs that best suit your skills and interests is the right way to go. As you say, if you find yourself needing to get one or two additional jobs to tide you over then you can widen your search specifications.

        Brian

        • Carol Tice says:

          I found that even though I have a ton of experience, if I applied to online job ads where I couldn’t show directly relevant niche experience, I never got a response. It’s just a waste of time — too many people applying.

          Also, all those jobs that say “And you can write about any topic you want!” are either scams or pay pennies, so you can skip all those anyway.

  6. Tom Crawford says:

    Pleased you posted this, Allen. I have used the same approach for many years. Many of best long-term clients came via this approach. It just takes a little more time to sort, and be selective, but persistence pays off.

    The 2 points you listed (template email, which is then customized to the clients request) is exactly how I send in proposals.
    Tom Crawford recently posted…17 Simple Twitter Tips for Freelance Writers & BloggersMy Profile

  7. Jessie Kwak says:

    My two main clients were both off job boards–one (which I found on Craigslist) pays me enough to cover rent and bills each month, while the other (from the Freelance Writers Den job board) pays $50 a blog post and is steady work.

    You’re right that there are some lowball ads out there, but there are definitely some semi-precious gems in the rough, too. I think the key is learning how to qualify the ads quickly, figuring out which ones are worth answering, and which you should run screaming away from.

    Thanks for the post!
    Jessie Kwak recently posted…Our First Money Fight for LearnVest.comMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I did find one decent client off Craigslist, long ago — an agency that did lawyers’ blogs. Did a real chunk of work for them, they had a big backlog because they hadn’t been paying enough.

      Then, as soon as I caught them up, they of course went back to trying to pay $15 a post. Best of luck!

      I found when I analyzed my marketing that the job-ad clients were sometimes OK, but never the best quality. And there were so many more flakes! I switched to concentrating on just in-person networking, sending queries, and LinkedIn marketing and never looked back. I just got better leads.

      But like you, I learned to be a quick troller — I used to limit myself to 5 minutes a day max. That makes you scan quickly and only reply to the ads you’re perfect for.

      • Jessie Kwak says:

        A quick job board scan of 5 minutes a day is all I’m doing at this point, only because I did find those nice starter clients there. I’ve been having way better luck doing warm email pitching–4 interested responses out of the 7 pitches I sent just this week!

        I’m starting to do some in person marketing, too, and I’m hoping it’ll lead to good leads on work.

  8. Aahna says:

    Hi Allen,

    Some really useful points, I know there are number of freelancers who still use same old technique. I mean they keep sending same quotation to all clients for their specific requirements. This generally makes clients more sceptical about your capabilities, so its really essential to send relevant quotation as per each client’s requiremetns.
    Aahna recently posted…Flash presentation agencyMy Profile

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Absolutely, Aahna. As they say about insanity: Keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

      If you want to endear yourself to potential employers, you have to make them feel special. Talk to them as if you listened to their concerns. 🙂
      Allen Taylor recently posted…How To Be An Expert In 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

  9. Congratulations! Those all sound like extremely interesting jobs. I concur on getting a good email signature. It’s a true mark of a pro.
    Williesha Morris recently posted…Reader Q’s: 3 Actions for Staying Creative When Life Sucks a Fat OneMy Profile

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Yes there are. If they ask you to send a writing sample (especially if they give you the topic to write about for your sample) and they’ll pay you “if they like it,” I never respond to those. I have clips and writing samples on my website. I also write to my blog twice a week. If they can’t get a feel for my style and determine if I’m a good fit for them based on that, then I’m not interested.

      Also, I don’t respond to revenue share gigs. The commitment is too large for the return you can expect to make, especially on start-up websites where the traffic hasn’t been earned.
      Allen Taylor recently posted…How To Be An Expert In 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Sorry, my last comment was intended as a response to Maggie F.

      Williesha, absolutely! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Something simple will do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been complimented on my business/website name. It gets people’s attention.
      Allen Taylor recently posted…How To Be An Expert In 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

  10. Maggie F. says:

    This really made me hopeful. I’m currently interning full-time as part of degree requirements, and I’m in the process of polishing up my online presence so I can send out queries and applications for gigs that will pay and I’m probably going to rely on boards at least partway through my initial stages. I did have one question- in your experience, are there any tell-tale signs that a job placement might be a scam or otherwise not worth the time of applying?

    • Maggie, I’ve found that many undesirable jobs will ask you to submit a trial article based on their chosen topic–which is essentially asking you to do work for free. Instead, some companies pay writers for custom samples (that’s what one of my clients did-and I wound up blogging with them for a year and a half). Not every client asking for samples is taking advantage–just ask Allen–but you have to be aware of the risk and make sure they’re worth it before submitting.

  11. I like the idea of setting up templates for job applications. In the next few weeks I need to hit the job boards hard to troll for some work, so that’s a tip I am going to use. I must say I find it quite exhausting and time-consuming to troll through online jobs, etc. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! Wish me luck!
    Deevra Norling recently posted…10 Rules for Writing First DraftsMy Profile

    • Allen Taylor says:

      That’s right, Deevra! Charge ahead full speed.

      When you create your template, be sure you customize it for each potential employer. The template should serve as your foundation so you don’t repeat the same information over and over. Salutations, opening and closing paragraphs, and addressing specific details of the job requirements should be customized for the job. Good luck!
      Allen Taylor recently posted…How To Be An Expert In 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

  12. Michael says:

    I use Flex Jobs. Since it is a paid service, about 50 bucks a year ( a great value) it has many “vetted” jobs for writers at all levels, and many non writing virtual jobs. I got two jobs from this job board, and even a job for my friend.

    • Allen Taylor says:

      That’s great, Michael. I haven’t used Flex Jobs, but I highly recommend job boards that operate on a pay system because they are less likely to be spam boards and the gigs will be higher quality. I consider FWD to be one of those. There are several more online, as well. Classified sites like Backpage and Craigslist tend to attract low quality gigs that don’t pay well.
      Allen Taylor recently posted…How To Be An Expert In 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Michael, we actually have partnered with FlexJobs and publish the best-paying of their writing listings twice a week on our board. They’re one of the sources we scan for listings, so we can save members that $50.

  13. Hi, Allen. Thank you for sharing your story. Bravo! I’m going freelance full-time next month (by choice, not a layoff), and I need to market myself. This is encouraging news.
    Bonnie Nicholls recently posted…10 Things to Do in South Park in 2014My Profile

  14. John Soares says:

    Good for you Allen.

    You put yourself out there and sold your skills and experience. I know of another writer that’s also working on a project that helps students interpret essays, and the company required a test. (Many of those educational companies do.)

    I like the idea of including a resume. What I do instead is refer potential clients to my LinkedIn profile.
    John Soares recently posted…Hey Starbucks, Here’s Why This Writer Ain’t Around Much AnymoreMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I like your solution, John.

      I think of resumes as so yesterday and haven’t sent one out in many years. Don’t have a traditional one on my writer site, either. So I was fascinated to see how sending one seemed to help Allen get these gigs.

      I spent a couple years where I was looking at mass online job boards every day — and I used similar methods as far as being picky and only responding to gigs where I could pitch that I was uniquely qualified. By sticking to those rules, I got a good response rate. Eventually, I got it down to about a 10-minute scan, and had templates to work with for my responses.

      • Allen Taylor says:

        Thanks, John.

        I like the LinkedIn solution too. Until now, I’ve been reluctant to use it. I just didn’t know how and wasn’t interested until I got serious about freelancing – that’s when I joined the Den.

        My LinkedIn profile is still in development but looks better now than it did a year ago. As I progress, I’ll likely go that route too. I don’t think resumes give a well-rounded picture of a person’s experience, especially people like me who tend to work in seemingly disparate directions simultaneously. With LinkedIn, you can add videos, podcasts, presentations, and third-party news to tell a broader story.
        Allen Taylor recently posted…Exclusive Invitation: Join The Freelance Writers DenMy Profile

  15. Daryl says:

    Great work Allen! I have a question – did you have experience, either personal or writing related, to all of the topics that you pitched? Or were there any instances of you getting the job based on your writing skill alone?

    Thanks!
    Daryl recently posted…What Nobody Tells You About Writing a Successful Guest Post PitchMy Profile

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Great question, Daryl. I was a journalist in one of my past lives, so that helped me get three of the jobs. Two of the jobs are law-related and I used my achievements in reporting on legal topics to land those gigs, however, since all my clips from that period are still in print, I had to rely solely on reputation and the prospects’ acceptance of my claims. Since my name is listed on the Dallas Bar Association website in connection with its Stephen H. Philbin Award, that was easy enough.

      The other job was based on writing ability alone. I actually had to submit a writing sample to secure it, which I don’t like doing, but in this case I wanted to pursue the opportunity bad enough that I made an exception. I have no experience in writing for education markets, but I do have plenty of experience in writing literature (and about literature), which is what I’ll be writing (little snippets of literature-related content for primary and secondary education assessments).
      Allen Taylor recently posted…How To Be An Expert In 5 Easy StepsMy Profile

  16. Jeremy says:

    While networking has landed me the majority of my clients, applying to old fashioned job ads is surprisingly overlooked these days. Great article, as I definitely learned a lot.
    Jeremy recently posted…Top 5 Resume Writing TipsMy Profile

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