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

Freelance writer job ads onlineI can remember when it was tough to figure out how to get a freelance writing gig. You typed and physically mailed query letters to editors, mostly. Or went to a lot of Chamber of Commerce meetings, hoping to meet marketing managers.

Now, of course, if you have an Internet connection, job listings are hard to avoid. Online job ads are everywhere! But finding one that pays anything substantial — and getting hired — isn’t always easy.

I hear from tons of writers who’ve had job-hunting experiences like this Freelance Writers Den member recently did:

“What am I doing wrong? I’ve applied and applied for online writing jobs, but I don’t get any response, ever.”–Hannah

As it happens, there is an art to getting a response from an online writing job-ad poster. I know because when I started freelancing in 2005, I started reading those Craigslist ads, just like everybody else.

After a few years, I realized spending hours each week combing through mass job ads was not the best way to find good-paying clients. But along the way to that insight, I got my job-ad process down to an art form.

I started getting replies, and found several decent-paying clients via online job ads.

If you’d like to start getting positive responses to those applications you send in, here are my five tips:

1. Only respond to ads you are perfect for

You know all those ads that say “Write about whatever you want — pets, health, food, etc.”? All scams.

I have been at this for nearly a decade now, and have yet to hear of a living wage happening at a site like that. Because there is no business where they’d want to pay people to write about whatever that is making a profit. Successful businesses sell a specific thing…and they’re going to want you to write about that and only that.

Instead of applying to anything and everything, or to websites where there is no apparent business model, think about your life experience and work experience. What do you know something about? Only apply to those gigs.

For instance, I was once a legal secretary, so one of the categories I trolled for was legal writing. That paid off in about $10,000 worth of blogging for lawyers through one company I found off Craiglist. They were thrilled to get me and I’m sure my experience made me stand out.

2. Realize this is a writing audition

Before you apply, research the prospect’s website. If it’s a blind ad, know that most of those are scams, and you should probably move on. Good, legitimate companies want you to be able to check them out before you apply, because it saves them time wading through inappropriate applicants.

If you can, take a look around and note the writing style this company uses. Then, use that style in your cover letter or email. Write it just like it’s something that’s going to get posted on their website.

If you do this, you will immediately stand out from the pack. Most writers are applying with a note like this:

Hello, I saw your job ad on Craigslist. Please consider me for the writing gig. I’m a really good writer.

Sincerely,

Boring, boring, boring. Also, your prospect can’t tell whether you could write the stuff they need done. Show them you ‘get’ their style right in your application.

Just because they’re making you apply in one of those super-annoying automated online forms doesn’t mean you can get a lazy attitude toward showing what you’ve got. This is your chance to impress them, so take it.

3. Explain why you’re unique

Instead of letting your application just lay there, have some personality. Really let them get to know you.

While you’re at it, be sure to call out any scrap of knowledge you might have about the type of writing assignment they’re offering, or their industry sector.

Did you used to horseback ride, and this is for a riding school? Clue them in. You nursed a friend through cancer and this is for a healthcare portal? Be sure to share that.

You might think all prospects want to hear is that you’re a long-established writer with a big portfolio, but you’ll be surprised how far you can get calling out your relevant life experience.

4. Watch out for this red flag

Here’s something I noticed scanning through thousands of online freelance writing job ads: If you’re required to submit a resume, it’s unlikely there is going to be good pay involved.

Why? Because successful, profitable companies that hire freelance writers a lot don’t read freelancers’ resumes. They review portfolios.

I know because it’s been many years since I was asked to provide a resume to a prospective client. At the higher pay levels, clients just don’t go this route.

I believe you see requests for resumes when a low-paying startup is expecting to get hundreds of responses, and they need to use the resumes to skim through and narrow the field. So the resume request is yet another ‘tell,’ like blind ads, that this is probably not worth your time — they’ll be choosing from hundreds of writers and your odds are extremely long of ever hearing back.

5. Avoid mass platforms

If you’re tired of never getting a response and ready to up your game — but can’t get out of the house and really need to prospect online — then stop looking at Craigslist and all other widely read job boards. Instead, find niche boards that don’t have a bajillion freelance writers scanning them.

Yes, these boards do exist, and they usually have positions advertised that pay a lot better than what you find on Craigslist. Once I got a great ongoing blogging gig for a website run by a major TV network off the listings on media company Gorkana’s journalist alerts. (Thanks to writer Sharon Baker for turning me onto them initially.) They’ve even expanded since I used them, and now have alerts for healthcare, finance, media, technology, B2B, and more.

If you write about a particular industry, check out their industry association website — they may have members posting about needs they have for marketing help. Yes, you might have to pay a fee and join in some cases. Consider doing it.

Do I know which niche job board is best for you? No. You’ll have to do your own Google work to find it, based on your interests and level of experience. But it’s worth it, I promise.

Of course, the very best way to earn more as a writer is to stop looking at online job ads altogether, and begin proactively prospecting to find your own clients.

While you’re growing your income to where you can make that leap, these tips should help drastically cut back your time wasted flipping through online freelance writing jobs that will likely never lead to a gig.

Have you gotten a gig from an online job ad? Leave a comment and tell us what worked.

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49 comments on “How to Get Hired When You Apply for Online Freelance Writing Jobs
  1. Willi Morris says:

    I did get a blogging job from a ProBlogger ad, but they had a bare minimum strategy, and when I asked for more money around 6 months in, they bailed. Did I ask too soon?
    Willi Morris recently posted…Three Ways to Drive People Away from Your WebsiteMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      No, Willi — it’s just that the kind of clients you find through mass job ads will rarely be receptive to the idea of giving you a raise. They’re trolling a pool of hundreds of writers they think can write their stuff, so there’s never a need to pay more. They apparently don’t think your knowledge of what they do is of value to them…your clue they’re the wrong kind of client.

  2. I used to hang out at job sites like Freelancer.com, elance, and odesk. I was doing well at nabbing jobs–1 out of every 5 applications–using some of the techniques you just described. Paying attention to the job ad, especially. But I eventually realized that the job amounts didn’t cover the time spent searching and bidding (and actually working). I wish I’d figured that out sooner!
    Patrick Icasas recently posted…5 Teachers That will Stunt your GrowthMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Same here…it wasn’t until I did an analysis of my clients and looked at how time-consuming scanning the ads is that I realized it wasn’t as productive as sending queries and in-person networking.

  3. Carol, I’m far from the most prolific marketer of my own writing services. So maybe I’m not the best person to comment here.

    But there’s one lesson I still always remember from my job hunting days in previous careers. I noticed that for jobs where I had to apply by sending a CV (resume) my chances of success were pretty poor.

    By contrast, when I had to fill out an application form then I’d very often land an interview.

    I think this is because, with application forms, you have to put in far more thought, time and effort. And, through your answers, you have much more scope to demonstrate your suitability for the job.

    Now I’m a freelance writer, like you, I get a bad vibe whenever I see a writing opportunity that requires you to send a CV (resume).

    I always feel the prospect is barking up the wrong tree with CVs – like they’re more interested in the grades you got as a child/teenager than what you can offer them now.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…10 super simple strategies copywriters use to find a sizzling-hot USPMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I so agree — the reality is you can’t tell a great writer by their resume. So if they’re asking for a resume, you know they don’t need a very good writer! They don’t really care, they’ll take anybody. So pay is going to suck.

      When they ask for a portfolio, they have very specific creative needs, and not every writer can meet them, so they have to pay more.

  4. Lisa says:

    Love this, Carol! I was actually just thinking about pitching you a guest post on this exact topic. πŸ™‚ One thing I would add is to always include sample pitches. I learned that from you and Linda, and whether I do it is pretty much the deciding factor in whether I get a response when I pitch a job ad. I’ve gotten several clients from job ads — maybe even most of my clients; I should go through and evaluate that! And my longest-standing client was from a job ad on problogger.

    I’ve also gotten clients from job ads even when I didn’t get the job. Once I applied to a community manager job ad, and the company didn’t want me for the community job, but it turned out they also needed a freelance writer, and they’ve given me 3 or 4 top-dollar writing projects.
    Lisa recently posted…Why Cooking Dinner Sucks β€” and How to (Mostly) Avoid ItMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve had that happen, too — get hired for something else. It always pays to put your best foot forward, because you don’t know what else they need that they’re not advertising.

  5. Daryl says:

    I did manage to get at least one long term paying gig through an online job board (it was Problogger I believe)

    However, this ended up being another low paying gig, and I eventually moved on from them.

    The most annoying ones, for me, are those who contact me and say that they’ll get back to me, or that they love my work, and then mysteriously drop off the face of the planet when I send them emails asking what happened to them!
    Daryl recently posted…August 2014 Freelance Writing Income ReportMy Profile

  6. Jessica says:

    Great post, Carol! I’ve actually had some great success with Media Bistro’s freelance writer listing service. I signed up back in August and have gotten 3 leads, one of which I’m in negotiation with, and the other which started out as as blogging gig and has expanded into web copywriting, product descriptions, press releases and social media, totaling about $3500 in work so far and continuing to go up. There is a fee but it absolutely pays for itself!

  7. Sabriga says:

    Hi Carol,

    I’ve just looked through the Gorkana site but didn’t see job listings. Did I miss them?

    Thanks for the tip about typical pricing for jobs that require resumes! I just sent two yesterday, but will save myself the wasted effort from now on.
    Sabriga

  8. Iva Ursano says:

    This is a great article and I’m just starting on the path of Freelancing. I’m currently looking into the how’s. One thing that confused me is that you say no resumes but two sites I would like to write for, About.com and LovetoKnow.com, both require resumes. Some Freelancing sites I go to say a resume is crucial. I’m overwhelmed. Help?
    Iva Ursano recently posted…Happy Thanksgiving πŸ™‚My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Iva, neither of those sites pay very well…as I said, most places asking for resumes don’t. I don’t recall the business model at LovetoKnow, but I assume it’s either revenueshare (translation: you will likely earn pennies) or a shockingly low flat fee (the basic content mill format).

      About.com once paid not too badly — $800 a month if you met their requirements and survived their lengthy, pro bono audition process, I think — but I gather their model has been evolving, and not in a good way for writers.

      The question is, why would you like to write for these sites? Their reputations aren’t great, so they won’t help you build the kind of portfolio that will impress good-paying prospects, and you also won’t earn much.

      You might want to take a look in my sidebar at the link to my resource post with 140 websites that pay, mostly $50 a post or more, for examples of better markets to think about.

  9. Amy Newman says:

    I’ve gotten two, and one call back writing audition for one (which I confirmed via friends who lived in the area that the mag was legit). One is legal ghostwriting, and it doesn’t pay much, but it’s better than nothing while I plug along looking for higher paying gigs. And it gives me a ghost writing cred. The other was for a legal e-book. It also didn’t pay much for the amount of time I spent, but it gave me a publishing cred and makes me look more like an authority in that specific field.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well…here’s hoping you can move on from these kind of gigs soon! I’m sure I don’t want to know what you got paid to write an entire legal e-book…if it wasn’t a figure with four numbers in it, you were radically underpaid.

  10. I’ve recently given up on mass ads unless I have significant unique experience for these jobs. This post would have saved me time a few months ago. πŸ™‚

    It’s too much hassle, and there isn’t much of a payoff. I have found that if you are a great fit for a good job ad, though, some posters have a little wiggle room to pay for experience. Now I only target those great fits that also have detailed ads, and I NEVER look at craigslist or Elance anymore. Junk free *paid* job boards only for me!
    Peggy Carouthers recently posted…6 Ways to Revitalize Your Blogging PassionMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It really saves you a ton of time, doesn’t it? Once you realize all of the general, “write any topic,” blind, vague ads are a waste of your time. I got it down to where I could look through masses of ads in about 10 minutes flat a day, grab the one or two listings that were worth it, and apply. I created some stock language I could mix ‘n’ match to make it even faster.

      What happens once you do that is you have more time to do proactive marketing. I’d challenge anyone using ads to allot themselves no more than 10 minutes per day to look through them, and commit the rest of your free time to proactive marketing.

      Or, take my ‘no ad’ challenge, and don’t look at any ads for a month. What will you do instead? I know few writers who’ve ever gone back to reading online ads after they do that. Because once you do nearly *any* other kind of marketing, you realize it’s more effective than apply to mass job ads that are getting hundreds of applicants.

  11. I’d like to see more–perhaps an entire follow-up post–on point #1, deciding what you are “perfect” for. I know writers (and job-seekers in all categories) who have succeeded by copying the full list of Yellow Page listings under their favorite industry and cold-calling them all in order to ask “what are your needs here?”–going through twenty or more possibilities per day–and equally successful others whose approach is to analyze every potential client down to the frequency of Twitter postings and number of mutual favorite charities, averaging two or three meticulously crafted approaches per day.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Drowning in DutiesMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t know — that latter sounds like over-researching to me! You don’t want to invest too much time in a prospect that may not pan out. To me, if you can spot one thing in their marketing you can comment on — their blog hasn’t been updated, they don’t have any recent case studies, etc. — you’re good to go. I’m always in favor of sending more marketing out than less…because it’s a numbers game. More leads in the water is what you want. I’ve never been a cold-caller, so I guess I’m in a middle ground between your two friends. A little research so you can say something specific…and press ‘send.’

      But it is a matter of personal marketing style — as you say, you know friends who work it both ways successfully. It isn’t about getting more tips on what you’re perfect for (which would be hard for me to do in a blog post for all my subscribers, since every answer would be different!), but about deciding how *you* feel comfortable doing it.

      And then…DOING IT.

  12. Scott says:

    When I started freelancing, I noticed the exact same thing. There is quite the learning curve for those getting their feet wet, but it is also hard to just jump into proactive marketing.

    That said, I have found some success on Craigslist, I landed one of my first clients that I made about $8,000 from over a couple of years. But I learned that you have to be one of the very first applicants to even be reviewed, and likely if you’re trying to make a living writing then you are charging more than they want to pay.

    I never send a resume to an online ad. It has all my contact info and my work history. Too easy to get your identity stolen.
    Scott recently posted…External Optimization: Site Exposure, Site Exposure, Site ExposureMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, that’s another interesting perspective on not sending resumes, Scott! Hopefully you’re not putting your social security number on those resumes. And of course, as I recently discovered, you can get your identity stolen just by having a writer website up, and a decent reputation.

      But your story of your good client to me only points up why we should avoid Craigslist. With clients I get through more proactive or even inbound marketing methods (i.e., they see my Forbes blog or LinkedIn profile and call me), I often make $8,000 over the course of a few *months*.

      A client it takes two years to earn $8,000 from is a low-value client. They’re only worth $4,000 a year to you. That’s not paying many bills. And that probably represents a lot of work.

      I try to look for clients that are worth $10,000-$20,000 a year or more. That’s the level where it makes sense to learn all about their business, their goals, their readers. If your clients are only giving you $4,000 a year of work, you’d need ten of those just to earn $40,000, a pretty modest income. You’d have to manage 20 clients to earn $80,000!

      And that’s too much admin work. Fewer, bigger clients will always pencil out better than more, smaller clients.

  13. Erica says:

    Good advice. Having spent too much time going through online job ads, I’ve noticed another red flag: writing sample requests.

    I don’t mean the requests for your existing portfolio. I mean ones that require you to write a specific sample per parameters that they give you. Often they claim that this is to evaluate candidates on an even level. However, it also leaves the door open for the less scrupulous to use what you provide as content for which they don’t have to pay.

  14. Scott says:

    I agree to an extent about the bigger clients, and yes, that’s where I am now. However, just starting out and earning decent money is where many people are at. The admin work wasn’t much, in fact that client tracked and paid without requiring an invoice, and I made sure to keep my hourly rate at $50+ per hour. In addition $8,000 over the course of a couple years all depends on how much work, I wasn’t putting in 40 hours per week for them, but more like 1.5 or 2 if I was having an off week. It’s silly to say they were a low end client, because I may have only written 8 pieces for them, only 1 per quarter. I stand by that they were a good client (especially for a Craigslist ad), but there are definitely better out there.

    And no, no SSN on my resume, but it does have my phone number, email, address, and work history. A lot of information in one place for someone to use to pretend to be me.
    Scott recently posted…External Optimization: Site Exposure, Site Exposure, Site ExposureMy Profile

  15. Shahrukh says:

    Hi carol,

    I’m new here and so far it’s been amazing reading your articles. I am looking to get involved in content writing.

    Please help, i need to find some reliable work and am looking for the past 10 months but haven’t found a reliable source. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Shahrukh, I’d check out my ebook The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success — see my ebooks tab up top. It’s got all my advice on how to start from zero and start building a portfolio that gets you hired. After you read that and get a few clients, read the next ebook in the series, How to Get Great Freelance Clients. That one teaches you how to qualify better clients — the type that have ongoing, reliable work.

  16. Amy Newman says:

    It actually did pay four figures, though the low four figures. It was in my niche area, but since I still don’t have a base of more steady clients I spent way too much time obsessing over it, when I should have been able to complete it much more quickly and have a better hourly rate. But that time management is a work in progress.

  17. logan mathis says:

    Hey now that first one is a big deal. I also never signed up for something if it didn’t meet my criteria (my expertise, price, ect). That will save you a lot of wasted time and money despite getting less projects.
    logan mathis recently posted…Day TwoMy Profile

  18. Carol,

    You’re on target here. So many writers still want to turn to bidding sites and other “easy” sources for jobs, not realizing that in the long-term they are actually harming their writing business.

    Good catch on the resume request too–I hadn’t thought about it, but my clients rarely ask for my resume.

    In fact, with a strong portfolio and an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, I don’t know how necessary a resume is for a writer. Of course, once in a while I update my resume just because I’ve always believed that I’m supposed to have one.

    Thanks for sharing a post that I know will help a lot of writers. πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Laura —

      Agree totally — I think of resumes as generally an outdated thing for freelancers, now that it’s so easy to have an online portfolio.

  19. Steph Weber says:

    Ditto on all the above, Carol.

    I have all but ditched the job ads, except for Freelance Writers Den, of course! And I’m going to take a look at Gorkana.

    And I’ve actually been disappointed in most of the ads on ProBlogger’s job board, too. The majority are pretty low pay or are based on number of social media shares and other criteria. At least the ones I’ve seen.

    The few leads I’ve pursued that appeared promising ended up being the exact opposite. For example, one client said that he had a “substantial” budget for the project. Well, after hearing the full scope of the project (rewrite entire website, plus additional long-form items), I provided him a four-figure quote.

    Turns out his budget wasn’t so substantial. He could only pay $500 total! And that was for roughly 80 hours of work. Huge waste of my time, but taught me so much about bidding and properly vetting clients.
    Steph Weber recently posted…Is It Time to F5 Your Perspective?My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know people who’ve done well on that board, but there is definitely plenty of junk. I think the filter is that they are paying to place the ads…but they take anyone willing to pay. Or…still too many lowballers. Maybe they screen some out, but not enough.

  20. Steph Weber says:

    Completely agree! There are certainly some diamond in the rough scenarios.
    Steph Weber recently posted…Is It Time to F5 Your Perspective?My Profile

  21. Annie says:

    I was able to find Gorkana job listings at http://www.gorkanajobs.com/.

    Thanks for the tips, Carol!

  22. Hi there!

    I completely agree with you, and the first point is the best one in the whole artilce… yes no one can write about any topic the client wants. If someone is truly a good writer he will definitely write about only one topic in which he/she has interest or have good knowledge about.

    Thanks for sharing
    Akshay Sharma recently posted…Best Web Hosting: Best Hosting Companies of October 2014My Profile

  23. Iva Ursano says:

    Great! Thanx Carol. I’ll check that out. No resumes! Gotcha πŸ˜‰

  24. Hey Carol! I’m new around here. Just wanted to say thank you so much for these posts and your continually awesome advice.

    – Kristine
    Kristine T. Hoang recently posted…Review: Bose SoundLink ColorMy Profile

  25. hi, carol
    since long i am reading your articles, if not from both sides, at least from my side i have developed a fan relationship with you. 2 years back i started this blog, but could not work on it as i am writing for money, getting little time to write for my blog. i need your help as you are an established and more experienced writer. first of all you have to check my blog and tell me that with this writing caliber, can i earn bread and butter from writing? and if you reply in affirmation then i will ask the next question.

  26. Hi Carol,
    Am new in online freelancing but am experienced and good at accounting, auditing, financial analysis and data entry. I have been doing this for the last 5 years for small firms.
    Can you advice me on landing better paying deals online and any links if possible.
    Many thanks for your helpful opinions. Regards.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I really can’t, Korir — it doesn’t appear that you’re fully fluent in English, and I’m only familiar with English markets. Wish I was more familiar with markets overseas!

  27. mintu says:

    great post with proper explanation
    Thanks

  28. I don,t know if you will ever reply me back, but the life,s boat is sailing so slow on my part.I have been writing so many poems and creative works(articles and novels), but I still fail to get a real chance at writing something on the online world. I still hope there must be a way of getting hired for a job as a writer. Please suggest, if you have an idea what maybe wrong on my part. I want to do some job so that I don,t get died of hunger. I am facing that type of problem right now. Why no one gives any value to the writers?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Unfortunately, the sort of fiction writing you do doesn’t really have jobs where you get hired — that’s about you building an audience of your own that you can sell to.

      Nonfiction, reported stories are most of what magazines pay for, and writing for businesses — those two types represent most of the pay in freelance writing. Hope this helps you redirect your efforts in a more productive direction!

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