I 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.
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.