12 Free Tools to Help You Bid High on Freelance Writing Gigs

Get better pay for freelance writing gigs

There’s nothing more exciting than getting a client nibble. It doesn’t matter where it came from, in that thrilling moment when you open their email or hear them on the phone.

Excitement! Visions of dollar signs dance in your head.

That is, until the moment you ask the client what they pay, and they say, “I don’t know — I was hoping you’d tell me your rates, or put together a bid.”

Gulp. Then you end up second-guessing yourself, bidding super-low, and wondering if you left money on the table.

And you probably did.

If you’re at a loss when you have to name your price, let me acquaint with you my toolbox for sleuthing out appropriate rates, and getting information about a prospect. Whether it’s a magazine or a business, there are ways of getting a sense of whether they’re a $10 million company, they’ve only got 5,000 subscribers, or have just three employees.

You can do this fairly quickly — and it shouldn’t cost a dime. I don’t usually spend more than 10 minutes researching a prospect, using free resources, before I have a clear sense of whether I think they will pay pro rates.

Here’s my list of research tools for getting company details – and landing better freelance writing gigs:

 

1. Read the company’s website

No need to go on a big research hunt if you can find a press release on your target’s website. They’ll often give up useful facts such as:

  • how old the company is
  • how many employees they have
  • annual sales
  • how many offices they have and where they are

You could also find news of mergers or acquisitions, funding secured, planned expansion, new-product introductions, or hiring initiatives — all of which mean they need to do marketing and may need a writer.

For instance, this sounds like a company that could pay pro rates:

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 7.03.29 PM

 

 

While this startup scarf-maker doesn’t:Company bio

If the company didn’t give you their site, that’s a red flag. Good companies want you to check them out and learn about what they do before they meet. They’re not placing blind ads on Craigslist. But even if you don’t have a URL, there are many other ways to get a sense of a company’s size.

Bonus tip: If the website has an ‘Investors’ tab, it’s a publicly traded company — usually a good sign it’s decent-sized. You can also check the SEC’s Edgar site to search for public documents on those companies, which often include revenue figures.

2. Newswires

If you have a company name, you can head over to PR Newswire (a/k/a iReach) or PRWeb and see if they’ve ever put out a press release there. Even if they haven’t put one out lately, you may be able to find older news that gives you enough sense of their size to know they’re a good prospect.

3. Google News

Next, to detect whether articles have been written about the company, try searching on the company name on Google News. (This is different from a wide-open Google search — Google’s News tab only offers news releases and articles, and screens out blog posts and other miscellany.) The company may not be saying anything to the press now, but they may have blabbed about their annual sales or number of employees in an article in some obscure business or trade journal a year or three back.

3. Hoovers

Part of business-filings giant Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers has a juicy company database they bill as the world’s largest — and you can usually get company revenue at the free level, as you see here:

Hoovers data

4. Manta

This website is all about helping small businesses sleuth out other businesses they can land as clients. Manta’s business directory isn’t the most up-to-date resource in my experience, but if your company turns up there, it’s a sure sign they’re pretty substantial. Manta has paid levels, but you can get the bare bones free, as with this search I did this week, for a writer who said they couldn’t find anything on their prospect, Oorjit, which turns out to have two companies by that name:Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 7.19.43 PMClicking on that top company gives me clear evidence that if it’s this Oorjit the writer wanted, they’re too small to bother with:

Oorjit company details

5. LinkedIn company pages

If you’re still stumped, try looking for a company LinkedIn page — more and more business have them.

For instance, a quick LinkedIn search for Oorjit, the company I looked up on Manta, turns up a bare-bones LI page that reveals another, much larger firm by that name which certainly has marketing cash (and also reveals who might be able to introduce me to them via my Connections):

LinkedIn search

A quick check of headquarters could probably clarify which of the companies bearing this name is my writer friend’s prospect — and tell him whether they’ll pay chump change or top rates.

6. VCAOnline

Wondering if a company has gotten venture capital or angel investor funding? VCAOnline is the place to go. Their site is a little non-intuitive, but that link gets you straight to their news database search tab. They do have databases you have to buy, but you can ignore those and just do news searches, like this one for “biotech”:

VCAOnline

 

7. ZoomInfo

This website goes around compiling information about companies and individuals off the Internet, 24/7. Isn’t that nice of them? ZoomInfo is sort of the poor man’s Lexis-Nexis (which costs beaucoup bucks these days). Do a quick, free search here, and you might find hiring announcements, past news articles on the company, and more.

They’ve gotten snootier about sharing their data, but you can do a free trial, no-credit-card-required. A quick look may well get you what you need.

8. Glassdoor

Do you get an oogy feeling about this company? You might want to do a search on employee-gossip site Glassdoor to see if people are hating on this company, or if salaries are low. If they don’t treat employees well, they’re probably not going to be paying freelancers great rates. A free trial gets you access to all their data.

9. Your writer network

Have you tried asking your writer friends if any of them have written for this company or publication? Sometimes you’ll really get an earful.

What, don’t have a writer network? Yes, I’d usually plug my Freelance Writers Den community of 1,400 members here…but this post is about free resources. So you might check LinkedIn Editors & Writers, or a local journalists or copywriters group — but ask around. Really. It’s a heartache-saver.

10. Media kits

Wondering how big circulation is for that magazine you’re querying? Look on their site for their media kit for advertisers. This will invariably brag about how many subscribers they have, or how many locations distribute their rag. AdSprouts has collected thousands of media kits you can check out.

11. Rate sources

While you’re researching your prospect, the other approach to take is to find out what going rates are for the type of writing proposed — say, a 5-page white paper, a 3-fold brochure, or a 1500-word article for a national magazine. I’ve put together a collection of rate survey resources and guides on rates for various freelance writing gigsΒ here. And of course, there’s always my list of 140 websites that pay.

12. Google a key phrase

That phrase is “[company name] sucks.” This is another one to do if you’re getting a bad feeling in your gut that this prospect may not be totally legit.

You’ll be amazed at what may come up. Sometimes, you can find whole sites devoted to slagging on a company, even smaller ones, or at the very least angry blog posts from wronged past workers.

To sum up, there’s no need to fly blind on bidding your writing services. Do a little research work — seriously, this usually takes maybe 10 minutes — and find out how big and successful your prospect is. Then, you’ll know whether this client is unlikely to pay even $50 for a blog post, or whether they sign you for a $5,000 white paper without blinking.

I’m often asked — how big of a magazine or company should I aim for? My answer is: Whatever size you’re pitching now, go bigger. Pitch as big as you dare.

Get Great Freelance Clients

 

 

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39 comments on “12 Free Tools to Help You Bid High on Freelance Writing Gigs
  1. Kristi says:

    Very informative article. Thank you.

  2. Heather says:

    Another brilliant post Carol – some of these tools I use, some are completely new to me. And having come from an organization that used Lexis Nexis, I’m loving the poor man (or woman) version!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know! I miss Lexis-Nexis so much…it’s soooo useful. I used to do corporate espionage work (quality of management research reports), and they gave me L-N access for that. And it was AMAZING how easily I could turn up 5-year-old press releases about a company on there, see where executives had moved in order to locate and interview them.

      I’ve hocked them that they should have some kind of lower-cost journalist access, which I gather they have a level of now, but it’s still pretty pricey, especially considering how far you can get these days on free resources.

  3. Oussama says:

    Oh that’s some awesome and useful resources here! Except to look at the website itself, google news and do some basic research for some press releases, I didn’t know about all the others. Thank you Carol!

    • Carol Tice says:

      When you’ve had to file 3-4 stories a week as a staff reporter for 12 years…you learn how to find things out. πŸ˜‰

      • Oussama says:

        You were a staff reporter for 12 years?! Wow! I am really impressed by how much experience you must have, and that explains for the high quality of content that you produce (both here and many other websites like Forbes and so on…). I am really impressed and sure that there are a lot of things to learn from you.
        Be ready to see me more and more commenting on your website :p πŸ˜€

        • Carol Tice says:

          I’m just sorry I didn’t freelance sooner — I kept thinking I needed to keep building my portfolio…even after I blew past 500 articles for ONE of my two staff jobs alone! I guesstimate that’s about 1800 articles just from my staff days alone…and then you add my recent decade freelancing 2005-15, during which I was writing 70 blog posts a month at one point! I wouldn’t even want to know what the total would be if I could add it all up, at this point.

          But nothing makes you a better writer like writing a LOT…of course, it takes a lot of time. That’s one of the reasons I teach — I’m hoping to provide writers with some shortcuts so they don’t have to take as long as I did to become a well-paid freelancer!

          • Oussama says:

            Wow! Carol, I am really impressed a lot! And what you just said just show me how much you are even greater than what I ever imagined. In fact, you are may be by far one of the best writers on the Internet according to all your experience.
            I think that the best way to know if I am a good writer, who makes good content with great quality, is to have your approval about one of my works.
            I am going to add having a guest post on your website makealivingwriting.com as one of my goals.
            I know that there are some strict conditions that require from me to be a students or a member of a group before to even consider it, but I am just sure that it’s going to be the best way to know if I deserve to be considered as a good writer too or not.
            Don’t worry I will not contact you, or try it until I feel ready of course ;).

            • Carol Tice says:

              You might want to check out my FB page right now, if that’s your goal: https://www.facebook.com/makealivingwriting (Scroll down to what is currently the 2nd post.)

              P.S. — I’m so *not* the best writer online. I could probably make a long list of people I think do a better job…but I’m glad my writing is helping you. πŸ˜‰

              • Oussama says:

                By the time I read the comment, I think it’s the 3rd post on the facebook page.
                Well, since I can’t afford to be a member of te Freelance writers Den, I have to wait until an open pitch period.
                In the meantime, I am going to prepare the headlines and what kind of posts I should postulate with.
                Thank you again for the great information.
                PS: I appreciate that you are so humble. That’s great! πŸ˜‰ (y)

  4. Cat Johnson says:

    Great roundup of resources, Carol. Thanks!

    That is a terrible feeling when you’re left wondering if you could have/should have quoted a higher rate. Especially if you’re doing ongoing work for a client or publication and you feel locked in to a price range.

    I appreciate the encouragement here for freelancers to dig deeper and get a better sense of a company before throwing a figure out there. As with your example, it could be a $50 post or a $5000 white paper.

    I also really love the sentiment you expressed in an earlier comment: “…really, ALL freelance writers should be considered part of your network.” It’s so important for us to realize that other freelance writers are our communityβ€”not our competition. We all have different specialties, interests and strengths, and the more we support each other, the stronger the freelance movement becomes.

    I’m going to share this with The Freelance Cat readers and my social media circles. Thanks again πŸ˜‰

    Cheers,
    Cat

  5. This makes a great reference checklist – thanks Carol!

  6. Great post, but this assumes that a large, well-funded company is willing to pay writers accordingly. Alas, that’s often not the case. More so in article writing (just look at Huffington Post), but sometimes companies also have unrealistic budgetary expectations when it comes to hiring writers for newsletters, white papers, etc.

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s sad but true that there are companies like IBM out there paying very low rates through the mass platforms — it’s up to us to do our research, target good prospects, and qualify them quickly. I find the most opportunity in B2B companies that sell a complex product or service. Not everyone can write in a compelling way about what they do, so they still pay good rates.

  7. Holly Bowne says:

    Suh-weeet! Some of these I knew about, and some I did not. Thanks for such a helpful post, Carol!

  8. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. πŸ™‚ Perfect timing Carol, this is exactly what I was looking for.

    I’m planning to pitch some business clients and I was wondering how I can find more info on them. And now I know :). Thanks again.

  9. Kayla says:

    Great ideas! I’ve never used these to help me price my services before and I know I’ve been guilty of under charging a lot in the past.

  10. 14+ years of freelancing and I’ve never once done this (except for #9, which I do all the time). Thanks so much for sharing this incredible post, Carol. Definitely something I’ll be doing going forward for my business clients.

  11. Gail Gardner says:

    The first thing I do is look at their Wikipedia page to see if they’re publicly traded and on what exchange. I do this to support only small, privately owned businesses, but someone could do the opposite. Wikipedia is also a good place to get a general feel for what a company believes is important.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m not a fan of relying on Wikipedia — but for this kind of thing, check the footnotes! Wikipedia may leave you a trail of breadcrumbs to articles or press releases with valuable info on company size or revenue.

  12. Ava Jarvis says:

    Great information. Treat a client like any company you’re planning to interview forβ€”dig up information about how they conduct their business, how much money they make, whether you’re going to end up wishing you took the GlassDoor out.

  13. Stella says:

    Great information. I’m always concerned I’m pricing my services to high or too low with all the “slave mills” out there. I want to keep busy but be paid fairly.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, benchmarking against content mill pay is always a sure-fire way to end up bidding WAY too low. That’s why research like this is so important. You need to understand if it’s a big company with 200 employees — they should be paying $1 a word. Or $200 a blog post. They should pay REAL MONEY.

  14. Cherese Cobb says:

    Carol, thank you for these amazing tools. Except for Linkedin and googling a company’s name+sucks, these tools are all new to me, so they’re definitely getting bookmarked.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Wow, well then a whole new world just opened up to you. I’m sort of a naturally nosy person, so I LOVE these kind of sites! I want to know how big a company is, so I can BID MORE. πŸ˜‰

  15. Marcie says:

    Carol, thanks for sharing these tools and resources to help expand the mindsets and pocketbooks of writers. Your site have been helpful to me on many levels.

  16. Shari Held says:

    The timing for this post couldn’t have been better for me. I was asked to bid on a job yesterday from a company that contacted me out of the blue. They want a ballpark figure for a couple different types of writing, and I had no idea what to charge them. I still don’t, but I’ve researched them (after reading this post!) and they are a major corporation. I may not get the bid, but I’m not going to low-ball myself!

    Thanks, Carol!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right ON, Shari!

      I think too many writers think small on price, and don’t bother to find out the company size, and leave a LOT of money on the table.

  17. Ooh, excellent post, Carol!

  18. Angela Tague says:

    Great ideas! Thanks for sharing all these resources, Carol! Hoovers and Manta are new to me. Thanks, Angela

  19. Daryl says:

    Awesome post Carol! For me, LinkedIn is really a great free source of information about a company that gives me an idea of their scope. Another good idea is to check the background of the freelance writers who’ve written for them in the past (assuming they give their authors bylines) and check out THOSE freelancer’s websites to get a sense of how much those writers charge, giving you an idea of how much they’re willing to pay.

  20. Some incredibly useful resources here, thank you. Some I’d never have thought of.

    • Carol Tice says:

      The other company-research one is Reference USA — I didn’t put it in because I don’t personally use it, and I find their site a bit baffling to navigate — but I know writers who like it.