Your first freelance writing job can be the most difficult to land. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Potential clients are all around you, and you might be closer to your first than you realize. Or maybe they’re halfway across the world and you just haven’t figured out how to find them yet.
Let’s look at some ways you can land your first gig as a new freelance writer (and additional ones as you go along). Bonus: Each of these options can be explored with little to no investment.
How to Find Your First Freelance Writing Job
Here are 10 ways to land your very first freelance writing gig:
- Work your network.
- Browse job boards.
- Spend time on social media.
- Sign up for email job leads.
- Join communities.
- Explore writers’ market listings.
- Browse a media database.
- Do direct outreach.
- Look locally.
- Attract leads.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these options.
Work Your Network
One of the most straightforward ways to land your first freelance writing job is to turn to your network.
This could include your family, friends, current or past bosses or coworkers, neighbors, or even local establishments you frequent.
Do you know someone who runs a small business? You could pitch them on updating the copy on their website (or helping them set one up).
Did you leave a previous writing-related job on good terms, and you know they often have extra work? Consider pitching your services as a freelancer to help fill in when they have a heavy workload.
Chances are good someone you know has a need for your services. And because you already have a relationship, you might feel more comfortable discussing potential projects with them, especially if you have no portfolio pieces yet.
Browse Job Boards
While I’m not a big fan of job boards for more experienced freelance writers, they can be a good place to find an early gig or two.
This can involve searching traditional job boards such as SimplyHired. Or you can browse niche boards like the freelance writing jobs here at All Freelance Writing. There are also job boards specifically for remote workers (like We Work Remotely).
Remember, most high-paying freelance work isn’t advertised in this way. So, while they’re worth a quick daily check for some freelancers and might turn up occasional gems to fill holes in your schedule, try not to become over-reliant on job boards.
Sign Up for Email Job Leads
A less time-consuming option might be signing up for freelance writing job leads via email.
You can subscribe to the freelance writing job board here at All Freelance Writing for example. And I set it up so you can subscribe to receive only jobs meeting your minimum rate range. This way you don’t have to wade through irrelevant listings by visiting the main job board page directly.
Many job boards offer a similar option to subscribe to job leads that meet your criteria, either through email or on-site alerts (which will require you to set up an account on the site).
For example, if you search for freelance writing gigs at Glassdoor, you can save your search as a job alert. Then you can go into your account settings to decide whether you’d like to see job alerts daily or weekly.
Spend Time on Social Media
Social media might be a less traditional avenue for finding your first freelance writing job, but it can be effective.
Yes, you can announce on your social media accounts that you’re accepting work. This might be a way to reach members of your existing network. But what if you don’t have much of a social media following yet?
Start with LinkedIn. It not only features its own job board, but it can help you identify leads to target (companies fellow freelance writers work with, editors and marketers posting about their experiences working with freelancers, and company staff lists).
For other social networks like Twitter, browse hashtag feeds that indicate someone’s looking to hire. For example:
That’s a small start. You can browse hashtags related to project types you’d like to get hired for (such as copywriting), or you might have luck searching for a specialty niche or industry followed by “jobs” in the hashtag.
Look beyond social media to more niche communities too. This can mean in-person networking or online communities.
Personally, I’ve used both at different points in my career. For example, when I started out in music PR consulting (which involved a lot of freelance writing – press kits, press releases, promotional material, etc.), I made myself a fixture around the regional indie music scene.
When I later transitioned to digital PR and social media consulting for small, mostly online, businesses, forums played a huge rule in my early marketing. Why? Because that’s where my target clients hung out (and where many still do).
Don’t focus too much time on communities built around writers. If you want to make the most of your time, especially early in your career, you need to be where your future clients are.
Do Direct Outreach
While I advocate for a query-free approach (involving PR, platform-building, publication strategy, and inbound marketing) in the long-term, cold pitching is a great way to land your first freelance writing client.
There’s no waiting around. You find companies or publications you want to work with, and you pitch them on your services.
You can do this with letters of introduction, query letters, or cold calls.
If you enjoy this kind of marketing, this could be how you choose to pursue clients throughout your entire career. And if you want to freelance for magazines, this will be a necessary skill to learn whether it’s your preferred way to market or not.
Explore Writers’ Market Listings
Writer’s market listings are another good option. These are similar to job boards, but not quite the same thing.
A job listing on a job board is about satisfying an immediate need for a client. Writers’ market listings instead feature publications that accept freelance queries or submissions on an ongoing basis.
For example, writers’ markets would include magazines you can pitch. Like with job boards, sometimes pay rates are disclosed publicly, and sometimes they aren’t.
There’s a writers’ market database here at All Freelance Writing. It’s completely free for you to browse, and currently links to publications will take you directly to their published writers’ guidelines.
You might be familiar with the Writer’s Market books. These would be another example, though due to a recent acquisition, it appears their online market database is no longer available.
You’ll also find smaller writers’ market collections on blogs.
You might also try a site like Who Pays Writers? This site provides a list of publications along with payments reported by your fellow freelancers.
That site isn’t a traditional writers’ market database and doesn’t direct you to contact information or writers’ guidelines. But the rate information could help you narrow down the publications you want to research further.
Browse a Media Database
Another resource that can help you land your first freelance writing job is a little less traditional – media databases.
These are used by those of us in the PR industry for media relations. If you think resources like Writer’s Market provide a lot of leads, you haven’t seen anything yet. Top media databases blow writers’ market directories out of the water.
Media databases are expensive though. Even on the low end, you’re looking at over $1000 per year for access.
Why would I recommend them as a way to land your first freelance writing gig then?
Because there’s a chance you’ll have access through your library. If you do, this will be an excellent way to find niche publications, trade publications, or other media outlets to pitch – especially ones not already being bombarded with freelance submissions.
Not all libraries have media database access. And sometimes you can only access them in the library itself. But it’s worth checking to see if one is available to you.
The media database I’ve most often seen made accessible through libraries is the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media.
Earlier in this article I suggested reaching out to your personal network, including local businesses you frequent. But don’t stop there.
Your community could be full of potential clients. Some freelance writers even specialize on their local market.
For example, you might write SEO-friendly website copy or blog updates for doctors’ offices. Depending on the size of your local community, you could have anywhere from a few prospects to dozens of them right in your backyard.
If freelance journalism is your focus, you might pitch stories to your local paper to land your first gig or build a few early clips.
Now we’ve come to my favorite way to land new freelance writing gigs – query-free freelancing.
In short, this is all about attracting leads rather than seeking out gigs or new clients.
Outside of magazine freelancing, the highest-paying freelance jobs aren’t usually advertised. Clients might ask people they trust for recommendations. But often, they’ll search for the kind of freelance writer they need.
If your ideal clients search for a writer like you, will they find you?
At the beginning of your career, that’s unlikely. So how can you change that?
You build a professional freelance writer platform.
Early on, this will be about building visibility. An important way to do that is by creating a professional website and creating content that earns you search visibility when those warm leads come looking for a writer just like you.
Will building a site and emphasizing SEO in your content strategy land you your first freelance writing job quickly?
That depends. The more targeted your specialty is, and the greater your pre-freelance expertise is, the quicker this can happen.
I’ve seen freelancers target overly broad specialties where they had nothing to set themselves apart, and it can take a year or more to see inbound leads. But I’ve also seen specialized writers who were experts in an area bring in high-paying full-time workloads without a single pitch in just a few months.
I recommend any freelance writer focused on business-oriented writing or online writing (like blogging) try a query-free approach at some point. But the effectiveness of this strategy for landing your first freelance writing job depends on how desperate you are for that work.
This strategy is more for those who begin freelancing on the site, or those who can devote at least a few months toward establishing themselves and building a presence in their specialty area, without that same urgency.
Even if you don’t go this route up-front, make sure you focus on platform-building with at least part of your promotional time, because the time you put in now will pay off repeatedly later.
These were just ten ways you can go about finding your first freelance writing job, and without getting pulled into the long history of exploitation of freelance marketplaces, content mills, and revenue share schemes.
The right approach for you will depend on the types of clients you’re targeting. So think about the process from their perspective – ask yourself how or where they would expect to find you, then make yourself both visible and available in those places or ways.