Like most new freelancers, one of my first questions after deciding to take the plunge into freelance writing was, “How am I going to find gigs?”
I knew I wanted to write for businesses rather than publications, but which businesses should I target? I looked at my experience and selected an industry where I had work experience and that tended to have healthy cash flow. Education — particularly English as a Second Language — was my strongest potential market.
As I began marketing to companies in this niche, I narrowed my strategy to four simple steps that brought me something I’d never imagined I’d get in my first year in business: a $10,000 freelance writing gig.
1. Qualify potential clients
I knew that not all businesses would be able to pay me good rates. So I sussed out which of my prospects had potential by putting them through Manta.com and Hoovers.com, websites that track company revenue.
Once I got the results, I highlighted the prospects that made a minimum of $500,000 a year in revenue.
2. Develop a personalized LOI
The next step was writing a letter of introduction (LOI) that would stand out from the pack.
I wanted prospects to see that I not only had industry experience but also could identify ways to help them in their business.
As it turns out, a business’s own website is a great source of information. Once I culled my list of prospects, I headed over to their websites to identify any missing components that were featured prominently on competitors’ sites. (When it was particularly challenging to locate a missing piece, I Googled recent press releases for that company to see if there was a recent development they needed to promote more on their site.)
Using my notes, I developed a personalized LOI for each prospect.
3. Follow up
My LOIs returned a reasonable amount of interest, but nothing definite. Still, I followed through with my promise in the LOI to contact each prospect again within a month.
Soon enough, after my followup email, one prospect responded and offered me an editing gig. Could I edit a series of lesson plans and suggest new activities to include? Sure!
Although editing wasn’t where I was hoping to direct my freelance business, it was a foot in the door.
4. Surpass expectations
After my now-client mentioned they were working on several exciting upcoming projects, I knew I wanted to be considered as a writer.
To prove my worth and keep myself fresh in their minds, I made a conscious decision to ‘wow’ them on my current gig by exceeding expectations. I worked quickly and efficiently, carefully respected deadlines, and responded positively to all requests.
The project ended and my client paid, without more reference to future projects.
Be open to more
Luckily, the story didn’t end there. A month or so later, my client emailed to say he’d been impressed with my editing work. He wanted to know if I’d be open to developing the lessons myself.
I was told their previous writer had missed deadlines, which served to confirm that at least one component in my “go over and above” plan helped me stand out.
I compiled a quote. There was so much writing needed that it worked out to more than $10,000. To my ecstatic surprise, they accepted.
I’ve now gained writing experience in an area I’d never thought of working in, and that I enjoy.
Key takeaways? Qualify your clients for income. Identify how you can help them. If you decide to follow up on prospects, design and stick to a schedule. Finally, be a professional and exceed your client’s expectations.
How did you land your first big freelance writing gig? Tell us in the comments below.
Erin Walton is an Australian freelance education, culture, and travel copywriter and Spanish-to-English translator based in Chile.