How Kicking Craigslist Jump-Started My Freelance Writing Career

by Sarita Harbour

Are you desperately searching Craigslist for freelance writing gigs?

I was. But not anymore.

Using techniques Carol Tice and Linda Formichelli teach in the Freelance Writers Den, not only did I kick my Craigslist habit, I gained four quality clients and two potential new projects in six weeks.

And they were all at better rates than I’d ever earned from Craigslist clients.

Why I Stopped Looking at the Free Job Boards

After several frustrating months wasting time searching online classifieds for better clients to replace the content mill work that was (barely) paying my bills, I took a two-day writing break  to paint my kitchen.

I finally found time to listen to several Freelance Writers Den webinars.  As I taped, rolled, brushed and listened, a theme emerged.  Take a month to stop looking for quality writing clients on Craigslist and start marketing like crazy.

Here’s the thing.  For every legitimate small business using Craigslist to find freelance writers, there are hundreds of questionable characters who want 500 words for $10.

My Craigslist days were full of posts removed by authors within hours of appearing, ridiculously low rates, and requests for free work samples.

There were very few good freelance writing opportunities.

Even worse, it became a habit and a major time-suck. Up at six, coffee in hand, I’d go straight to Craigslist each morning.

Before I knew it, the kids were awake and my early morning work-time was gone with few, if any, leads to show for it.

How I Broke the Craigslist Habit in 5 Easy Steps

  • Remove the temptation.  I began by removing all bookmarks for job boards and online classified listings that were cluttering up my computer. It was scary, liberating, and made my toolbar and bookmark menu a lot neater.
  • Replace the activity.  Any addict will tell you that replacing unhealthy activities with healthy ones is key to staying on the path to recovery.  Replace Craigslist searching with identifying potential new clients and creating customized pitches.  I specialize in writing for online clients, and used Alexa rankings to identify top websites in my niches. Start at the lower ranked sites and work your way up the food chain.
  • Research.  My next step was to study current issues in my niches, and craft customized emails. These included an attention-grabbing subject line, a few possible titles, and detailed pitches for each target client. This took some time, but was worth it when my first marketing email resulted in two sold articles and an assignment for a third at a personal-finance website at almost triple the content mill rates.
  • Refine.  When the temptation to browse online classifieds was overwhelming, I refined my search to better-quality job boards such as LinkedIn (job posters have to pay to list here), MediaBistro, and the Junk-Free Job Board on the Freelance Writer’s Den.  To date I have signed contracts with two clients found on the Junk-Free Board. One is an agency that pays $150 an article for finance topics that take roughly a couple hours to write.
  • Repeat. This isn’t a one-day thing.  I vowed to keep stick to my guns for at least a month, and I did.

Now, I’m working on replacing my $150 clients with ones that pay more. One new client I recently landed has multiple sites, lots of work, and pays $200 per 500-word post.

I learned that replacing Craigslist browsing with proactive, daily marketing leads to higher-paying jobs from better-quality clients.  It worked for me and it will work for you, too.

Sarita Harbour is a professional freelance writer specializing in web design, small business, personal finance and content marketing techniques. She is thrilled to have kicked her Craigslist habit.

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28 comments on “How Kicking Craigslist Jump-Started My Freelance Writing Career
  1. Tracy Oeser says:

    Awesome article, Sarita. It’s nice to hear other newbies finding what works and making a productive path!
    Tracy Oeser recently posted..Your Writing Business Needs “The Freelance Writer’s Den”

    • Thanks, Tracy! It really came down to a time issue. What’s the most efficient use of my time? Searching through a lot of junk on Craigslist for the occasional gem just isn’t the best way for me to find new clients.

      • Carol Tice says:

        In 2010 I did an analysis of where I got clients that led me to the exact same conclusion, Sarita — I got fewer and poorer quality clients from Craigslist ads than from any other marketing method I used.

  2. Tanya says:

    Congrats on making a change and getting better clients. It takes a lot to stop doing something that yours used too. Also it takes a lot of faith in knowing that something better will come along. Great tips!
    Tanya recently posted..How to Choose Professional Organizations to Join

  3. Erica says:

    Very true. I’m a copywriter who went from corporate to freelance 6 months ago (has it really been that long?). And looking outside the job boards was a huge step. Not only for my freelance goals, but also for making the mental transition.

    When you’re looking at job boards, it’s easy to get sucked back into “Is there a job out there for which I’m good enough? Can I qualify? Is this all there is?”

    But when you start actively marketing for work you want, you’re taking matters into your own hands and acting like the walking, talking business you now are. It’s a scary transition to make because feeling like a “job seeker” is so familiar. But it’s necessary to make that mental switch.
    Erica recently posted..How to Be a Better Writer

    • Erica, I agree. Getting away from the job seeker mentality is also very empowering, and made me feel more like a business person who could work on “proposals” or “pitches” instead of an out-of-work employee filling out job applications. So much of a freelancer’s success has to to with your mental outlook.

    • Carol Tice says:

      TOTALLY agree. It’s a big mindset shift, from taking what the universe is sending your way, to saying, “I’m not a leaf floating downstream here. I can go out and FIND clients!”

      The fact is there is SO much pent-up demand for copywriting out there, it’s not funny. Business owners with their heads in their hands, overwhelmed, not even realizing they could hire a writer to solve their marketing problem. And when you present yourself, they go, “Aha!”

      I believe we could actually be a lever of driving the economic recovery by helping more businesses to grow their sales by finding the companies that need help and getting the word out about them in a better way.

  4. Sarita,

    Thanks for your sharing your no-nonsense approach to moving away from Craigslist to lucrative jobs.

    I’m just returning to freelancing after a very long time, and wasn’t even aware until recently that writers used Craigslist as a source for freelance gigs. Now with your steps 3,4,and 5 I can go straight to the better-quality boards from the start.

    Congratulations on your turnaround and success.
    Flora Morris Brown recently posted..Not Quite All In: Ghostwriter of Petraeus Biography Breaks Silence

    • Thanks for your kind words, Flora, and I’m so glad you found the post useful. Best of luck in applying the steps – just keep at it, and good things will happen for you and your writing career.

  5. J. Delancy says:

    Don’t consider myself a sappy kind of guy, but I like ‘feel good’ posts where the writer, after many trials and tribulations, achieves the success they deserve.

    I Wish You All The Best Sarita
    J. Delancy recently posted..10 Things She Wants You To Know

  6. anne grant says:

    Your description of that valuable time before the kids get up sounds like the biggest motivator to using it wisely.
    Congratulations on the confidence those new jobs will bring to the next pitch you send out. Great success story!

    • Hi Anne,

      Someone very wise (okay, I just can’t remember who it was) once said that great things happen when you have a good idea and not quite enough time. As writer moms everywhere know, making the most of our “quiet time” is crucial to freelancing, especially when you have preschoolers!

  7. Hey Sarita,
    What an amazing blog post. I’ve also been searching through similar job boards for some time now without any success.

    I always hang out at Pro bloggers and Freelance switch job board but no success.

    Thanks for sharing Sarita.
    Theodore Nwangene recently posted..Special Report: Can I really make Money Blogging?

  8. What a great guest post. Thank you.
    Peter D. Mallett recently posted..Computers, Conferences, and Coffee

  9. Something clicked when you said, “Stop looking for jobs on Craigslist, and start marketing like crazy.” I’ve applied for lots of gigs, but I haven’t done marketing (at least not the right way) so that I can land other (and better) clients.

    I think I’ll start by really narrowing down the sites, companies, or publications I’d really like to work for, and write queries, pitches or letters of introduction to each one with writing samples.

    I can’t just rely on blogging, twitter and facebook for marketing. Thanks for the nudge.
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..Colorism: The Truth About Soledad’s “Who is Black in America?”

  10. blendahtom says:

    Sarita,

    Challenging and convicting post.. thank you so much for sharing!

    Tom
    blendahtom recently posted..How a Rookie Got a Top Google Ranking: The Holy Grail – Part 1

  11. Anne Galivan says:

    I have never used Craigslist, but did sign up for Elance a while ago. Forget that! I found the job postings there good for a laugh and that’s about it.

    Even though I haven’t used Craigslist, your ideas for finding higher paying gigs was helpful, especially since I am interested in writing for online sites as well. Thanks for the tips!
    Anne Galivan recently posted..10 (More) Smart Gift Ideas for Kids

  12. Tommy says:

    the key to making CL work is two-fold: having the right software, and knowing how to avoid scams.

    There is software out there with which you can search all cities/countries and categories at once. This shaves hours off of a manual search. I won’t name names, but the software is out there and it’s affordable.

    You still have to prepare individual cover letters for each valuable lead, but this should be standard practice anyway. You can save more time still by knowing the red flags of CL spammers and scammers. You can find those on Google easily enough.

    Few CL posters will be willing to pay up front initially, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re trying to scam you. There are a lot of big companies that use CL as just one of their channels for finding new talent.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Efficient software or no, Tommy, there’s still a bottom line that the vast majority of Craigslist ad posters aren’t offering a living wage. I got pretty efficient at scanning it over time, but when I analyzed my client base, my best clients never came from a CL ad.

      I don’t work for any business without an up-front deposit either — just too many writers I know who’ve told me about getting ripped off that way. So cruising Craigslist for leads is just not for me, at this point.

  13. Unhip Chick says:

    Great post and just what I needed to read. I’ve been a freelance writer and communications consultant for a while now and am always looking for new clients. I’ve fallen into the same CL and job board rut that it seems everyone else has at some point in his/her freelance career. I’m going to switch things up now and use my membership in the Freelance Writer’s Den to learn how to better market myself. Thanks for the inspiration!

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