Why You’re Not Having Any Luck Finding Freelance Gigs

Unlucky businessesman under a cloudAre you having trouble getting hired as a freelance writer?

I hear from a lot of writers in that boat.

A frequent complaint:

“I’ve been applying for writing jobs everywhere…but no luck!”

Well, here’s the thing. I don’t believe there’s a whole lot of luck involved in the freelance writing game.

Earning a full-time living as a freelancer involves marketing yourself effectively. And most writers don’t do that.

When wishing and hoping for gigs doesn’t work, instead of putting the blame where it belongs — lackluster or nonexistent marketing — which would cause you to have to change what you’re doing or put out more effort…it’s popular to lay the blame at the feet of the luck fairy.

Why doesn’t the luck fairy bring you a gig already?

It doesn’t work that way.

Mostly, when you’re not getting clients, you’ve got one (or more) of these three problems:

1. You’re not marketing

The first clue as to why the luck fairy isn’t smiling on you comes in that word “applying.”

That tells me you’re spending most of your time responding to Craigslist ads and other mass-job board postings. But that’s one of the worst ways to look for writing gigs.

In fact, it’s so bad I don’t count it as marketing at all.

It’s more like swimming in an Olympic-sized swimming pool that’s completely packed with other swimmers, and hoping you’ll be the one to spot and retrieve the single tiny pearl that’s at the bottom.

When you apply on a mass board, you know that prospect is getting 200 replies or more, from writers all over the world. Those long odds make it hard for you to be the “lucky” one who gets the gig.

And in the case of Craigslist-type gigs, you’re often luckier if you don’t get them, because they are going to pay squat. After all, if you don’t like the peanuts they’re paying, they’ve got a stack of other resumes ready to go.

2. You don’t know how to market

I recently had one writer comment on my blog that he had done 1,000 cold calls with zero results.

If this is you, stop what you’re doing right now.

That is a big red flashing warning sign that you need to learn more about how to do marketing.

When you do marketing right, you get a result. Some percentage of your phone calls or InMails or emails or meeting connections or whatever you’re doing responds to you, and you get an email back or a phone call.

If you send query after query and no editor ever responds, even to say, “Not quite for us, but pitch us again,” then you need to learn more about how to write a query letter.

My experience is that most writers do not come naturally to marketing. It’s something you have to learn.

I review queries and letters of introduction in Freelance Writers Den, and I can tell you we seldom see a first draft that is going to get that writer a gig.

If you need to learn how to market effectively, do it. Buy a book, find a mentor, take a class…whatever you need.

Don’t keep wasting time on marketing that doesn’t get you gigs.

3. You don’t have a sharp writer website

When writers give me the “no luck” whine, I ask them if they have a writer website.

Often, the answer is no. My recent writer website survey found more than 40 percent of freelance writers do not yet have a website.

They have no home online where prospects can view their work, virtually meet them, and learn how to contact them.

And yet writers are baffled why they’re not getting the good-paying, pro gigs.

Of the writers that do have a site, most of those sites don’t do a good job of helping that writer get found and of presenting their work in the best light.

Instead of waiting on the luck fairy, look at your marketing and your marketing tools, especially your website.

Improve those, and your luck is bound to change.

How have you changed your luck as a freelancer? Leave a comment and tell us how you find clients.

 Freelance Writers Den

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41 comments on “Why You’re Not Having Any Luck Finding Freelance Gigs
  1. Alfrick says:

    I like the the article. Particularly, no. 3 stands out. Without a website, a writer cannot stand out and get noticed. Thanks Carol.
    Alfrick recently posted…How to start a blog successfully–the legit guideMy Profile

  2. I don’t know what it is about going into freelance work but so many bad habits from having a job seem to carry over. We’re so used to applying for a job, sending a resume, doing an interview and getting hired, that doing the opposite of that (creating your own opportunities, pursuing the projects you want, pitching projects on an individual basis) all seem completely foreign and uncomfortable. Even for me after almost seven years as a freelancer, I still struggle with that. Do you have any tips about ways to change your mindset to having the confidence to do the later rather than the former? I still find when money is tight (as it has been for several months due to my husband losing his job) that I go to the job boards for a “quick fix” but it always turns into a sinkhole.
    Charity Kountz recently posted…Award Winning Children’s Book: Jason, Lizzy and the Snowman VillageMy Profile

    • Charity, I wrote a good bit about Maslow’s Hierarchy, Herzberg’s Motivation/Hygiene Theory, and Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow” in my last non-fiction book “You Don’t Want a Job.” If you’d like a digital copy (no charge) I’d be delighted to share it; just drop by my site and ask in the contact form. (I promise, I’m not setting you up for a pitch; it’s just the simplest way to *start* answering your questions about the psychology we haul with us from employee to entrepreneur.)

      Carol, I’m trying to behave here in your comments. If I’m misbehaving I’m very good at sitting down and shutting up when asked 🙂
      Joel D Canfield recently posted…Who Says a $10 Book is Better Than a 99¢ Book?My Profile

  3. For every author who doesn’t have a website and active blog, a kitten dies.

    When my clients answer “no” to #14 on my questionnaire (“Do you have a blog?”) I weep silently and have to go lay down for a while.

    It’s not just a new year, folks; not even a new century.

    THIS IS THE THIRD MILLENNIUM.

    I set up websites for $300 (after 16 years of web dev experience, it’s just not that hard.) There are loads of developers who do more or less the same.

    If you’re writing for money, invest the money from a single magazine article and have a decent website.

    Glad my friend Karen J pointed me here. Should have come here ages ago.
    Joel D Canfield recently posted…Commonsense zero-cost DIY marketing for authorsMy Profile

  4. Andrew says:

    Thanks Carol. I promise, I’m not schizophrenic. At least, I haven’t received that diagnosis. You’re advice has already helped me, as I separate the wheat from the chaff.

    The abundance of info available today on-line, the same cornucopia of instant knowledge that makes our business model possible, can choke a knew freelance writer, as he drills down for truly promising areas of endeavor. When I discover that I have 14 windows open, and one is on a page about making a hibachi from a coffee can and another features a video of kittens doing funny things, I will know to review my notes to determine what crazy path got me there and just what I was looking for initially.

    It’s clear that it takes a great deal of discipline and focus to make this work. And I know to put the “passion projects” aside until I can afford to pursue them. Perhaps, by then, I will also have figured out how to make some of them profitable! If that happens, I’ll let you know.

    Thanks again, Andrew

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, commit to stay off LOLCats now if you want to make a career of this!

      We deal with the ‘overwhelm’ issue in Freelance Writers Den all the time, since we now have more than 100 hours of trainings. We tell people to NOT feel they need to watch them all!

      Instead, we ask what they’re trying to learn or do, and then try to send them to 2-3 resources that will suit that best. Consume, and execute. Then you’re ready for more training.

      There’s a Talmudic saying: “Too much and the mind cannot absorb” that’s important to bear in mind in cruising the Internet.

  5. Andrew says:

    I’ve only been working seriously toward pursuing freelance writing for about a month. But I find myself really struggling already. Some of the biggest hurdles I’ve been realizing include:

    3) Committing to “just writing”.
    My previous careers include “Marketing Consultant”, “Ad Agent” and “Video Producer”. So many things related to what I once did are attached to the periphery of professional writing (and the process of finding clients), that my “marketing mind” wanders into considering the huge void (and thus, opportunity) that still exists in areas of providing those services that are not “writing” but are intimately attached to it.

    For example, I’m considering the collision industry as a core niche. As I define my target market, I realize that many of the prospects that I first considered prime targets, are not ready for me. I’ve researched and found that they are no where near the point within the evolution of their on-line marketing efforts, that they are ready to (or need to) begin paying for content.

    Most of the independent body shops (a large part of the collision industry segment) have such a lackluster presence on-line, that someone needs to get their e-infrastructure built and their strategies planned and implemented before I can talk to them about providing content. Then my marketing mind asked the next logical question: “why can’t that someone be me?”

    An hour and a half later, having visited “Social Media Today” and really dug in, I have the epiphany: “I’m a 47-year-old marketing dinosaur who has done just enough learning to barely avoid extinction.” These shops need someone who has really remained current- someone with real social media expertise and e-knowledge.

    The marketing brain clicks again and says “You profess to be a proponent of strategic partnerships! That someone could be someone who you partner with to help develop a separate revenue stream for your fledgling effort!” Well, then I’m off on another tangent that is NOT in the top 10 or 15 or even 20 of the items on my short-term goals list.

    Now, one of the things I’ve learned from Carol and some of the writer’s blogs that I’ve navigated to through her page, is that one of the wonderful things about becoming a professional freelance writer is that it allows you to continue to pursue other interests and revenue streams. A shout–out to Karen Banes for her List of 99 Reasons to Be a Freelance Writer.

    But my experience with “independent contracting” tells me, I’ll REALLY have to focus, and tune out some of the tantalizing distractions; especially as I get started. I know also that I will have to make a task list and prioritize it. Which leads me to Hurdle #2:

    2) Defining my niche and establishing my brand.
    Thanks to Carol and her crew of awesome connections in the indie writer community, I’ve had another epiphany- I must avoid “wishy washy syndrome” and define myself and my market. As a writer and marketer, I know that my “voice” has to be one that is consistent. If I “cast my net to wide” (borrowing from Carol again, I think) I’ll be using a multitude of voices and cause the reader to not trust me, not relate to me, or be completely confused by me.

    So, which of my “voices” do I choose? Marketing mind screams: “You have to define your target before you choose your voice, Dummy!” Well, that’s a journey, not a destination. I know I’ll be adjusting that at is progresses, but I have to find a starting point. Especially now, because I’m starting to work on my writers website.

    This morning I got back to my list of interests and areas of expertise. My goal for today is to explore where those two intersect, then attach a defined set of markets to each. But I am already seeing that I will have to make some tough choices. Like any good writer, I have a wide set of interests:

    Global politics, marketing matters, the changing media, the plight of small business, the “conspiracy theorist community”, the military industrial complex, independent and live music, the changing small town, intolerance, religion, equestrian matters, the outdoors (caving, scuba diving, hiking, camping, trail-riding, environmentalism), the collision industry and consumer advocacy, raising kids on the autism spectrum, advocating for families with an autistic member, helping that community get exposure and connecting them with limited resources (and, of course, addressing why resources are so darned limited), blended families, the corporatization of farming, unemployment, homelessness . . . . whew. . . panting now. . . . heart racing.

    Catching my breath and realizing that this list is incomplete and marketing mind screaming at me again: “This is unmanageable, you Moron!”

    Oh, I forgot- intrusive, omnipotent internet technology destroying society and the fabric of families, education and “should we encourage our high-schoolers to consider college or are internships, apprenticeships and trade schools viable alternatives?” So, hurdle two is a toughie. I guess I’ll be categorizing these before I start associating them with potential niches, but marketing mind whispers “Get this right, or your endeavor may be doomed before it gets off the ground.” Forgive marketing mind- he’s prone to melodrama.

    But he is correct in his assertion that this is an important rung on the ladder to success. I have to consider where my “warm market” is, where I have contacts and inside knowledge. That is where I suspect I’ll have to start making those hard choices and compromises. I’m already saddened by the prospect of “having to let go” and want to Karen Banes completely when she says “you can do what you want to do”, but I have to begin generating an income.

    Maybe I can do what I want to do later. And speaking of Karen- the time I’ve spent researching has exposed me to so many great writers! And I have friends and acquaintances who really are great writers. As I marvel at what they do, I begin to question myself. Which has become my “hurdle #3”.

    3) Conquering Self Doubt: Thanks, again, to Carol for linking Erica Hayes piece “Conquering Self Doubt” on her page. Now I know I am not alone in this dark place. I read “Conquering Self Doubt” and realize that we probably all feel this way at some time or another. But I have a pragmatic side and I know that I am not a great writer. I’m a good writer with passion and a great work-ethic. Furthermore, I see a lot of writing out there and think “I could’ve done better”.

    But, what helps more, is doing what Erica’s piece suggests- repeating my accomplishments to myself. Maybe I’ll even try it “Stuart Smalley-style” and pull a chair up to a mirror and start the litany of self-ingratiation with “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and people like me.” Of course, marketing mind is yawning and interjecting, “Not everyone likes you, Bozo. Just try to find the ones that DO, and add them to your prospect list!”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Woaaaah there, tiger.

      Let’s try to keep the head from exploding.

      First off, nothing wrong with being a writer who has marketing consulting and video production in his expertise. I think that’s a terrific set of skills! Video is hot these days and I would think that gives you a unique position.

      No law that you have to only be a ‘writer.’ Lots of hybrid freelancers do great — writer/photographers, writer/designers, writer/marketing strategist types.

      Beyond there…pick a few most likely industries and go after them. You’ve figured out body shops aren’t good prospects for content work. Move on. Autism is more of a passion project. In fact, a lot of those topics seems to be things about society that piss you off…which are more for op-eds to newspapers than earning a living.

      Trim those off and that leaves the outdoors — plenty of good businesses in there that earn well. Ecotourism companies, scuba places.

      Politics can be tough to earn in, but look around. Maybe you want to write campaign speeches?

      And marketing is always a great niche that can allow you to pitch stories or your services to any industry.

      In the first month, it’s normal to look around and explore a lot. Then, it’s time to boil it down and come up with a marketing plan.

      You don’t have to pick one positioning and stick with it forever. Websites get redone all the time, and business names. Go with what you think will work to get you paying work the easiest, right now. You are free to change it in future.

      And…don’t stress!

  6. Tom Bentley says:

    Good stuff Carol. I have gotten a few gigs from my site through organic search, but the site needs some reworking to more firmly separate my copywriting biz from my fiction-writing efforts.

    I’ve just started doing some direct marketing on LinkedIn: sending InMails to the HR or Marketing Depts. of businesses that have posted jobs on LinkedIn looking for full-time copywriters/marketing writers. I don’t want the full-time work, but have suggested doing contract marketing work for the companies while they look for their full-time candidates. We’ll see how it goes…
    Tom Bentley recently posted…Shakespeare Didn’t Use Scrivener—Why Should I?My Profile

  7. Luana S. says:

    As I’m trying to fully recover from an entire year spent battling depression, the temptation to rely only on Craigslist (or other job boards) ads is strong– but I’m determined to keep that a mere side ‘hobby’, as it used to be.

    Thanks for reminder, Carol. 🙂

    ~ Luana

  8. Angie says:

    Excellent post, Carol! I know more than one writer who never does any marketing; just sticks with the mills. Definitely not the way to make a living at this.
    Angie recently posted…Workplace Stress Series: Causes of Workplace StressMy Profile

  9. HeatherL says:

    Carol,

    Can you suggest some book titles or classes that focus on marketing yourself as a writer?

    Thank you.

    • Tiffany says:

      Carol’s 20 week marketing ecourse is way helpful.
      Tiffany recently posted…How To Manage Your Overwhelming InboxMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well…since you ask, Heather…you might want to click that banner down at the bottom of the post for info on the class I have starting Thursday! The best marketing is the kind where you don’t have to do anything, right? Set up a strong writer site and it’s like hiring a salesman who’s out pitching for you 24/7.

      Hopefully you also subscribe here and have gotten my Marketing 101 series?

      Beyond there, we have a couple of other Freelance Writers Den bootcamps that teach marketing basics — The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success is for newbies, and then How to Get Great Clients is for writers who have a portfolio but need to move up. And How to Be a Well-Paid Blogger, if that’s the type of work you want. All for one low monthly fee along with about 100 more hours of trainings, many of them on marketing too…crazy yes, but that’s how I roll.

  10. Rob says:

    Sheer luck. Seriously. I made some inquiries last month and didn’t get so much as a single response. Last week I got 2 referrals from an old client and two gigs – 1 a monthly newsletter and the other a research paper on the health care industry. The research paper was an interesting one. I got to see the email my client received. The person said they had gotten lots of responses to an ad, but were put off because “everyone thought they were Shakespeare” and they didn’t know who to believe. Taking that as my cue, I said, “I’m not Shakespeare, but that’s probably a good thing because the last thing you want is flowery language.” I also told them I had no experience in the industry but was “almost pathological about research.” I don’t know if it was my awesome introduction or the fact that they trusted my client, but I did get the assignment.
    Rob recently posted…What should you blog about?My Profile

  11. Great post, Carol! I have a website, but it’s not getting me any gigs. I am really looking forward to the website bootcamp coming up. I’ve put a lot of work into my website and I think I have a solid design. Obviously, it needs tweeks and I need to market it.

    The bootcamp will give me the kick I need to take things to the next level.

    Thanks for all you share!

    • Luana S. says:

      Hi Marie-

      One thing I noticed is that your portfolio doesn’t have testimonials from your clients. Those would be useful.

      Nice design anyway! 🙂

      ~ Luana

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m excited about the bootcamp too! Feel like this is the single best thing I can do to help the most writers get better clients the fastest. 😉

    • Penny Taylor says:

      Marie,
      Carol mentioned testimonials on your site and she’s so right, as usual. I’d like to add to that. I do a text box with a nice frame and put some of my testimonials inside that, then when I’m doing job proposals I put that text box on the right side of the letter and slightly under my letterhead as a graphic. It’s big enough to read, but not so big as to overwhelm. When people are reading my proposals, then the “oooo’s and ahhh’s” from previous clients are right there as positive reinforcement that I’m their “go to” writer.
      The other thing I do is save my MSword letter as a PDF and do the proposal as an attachment. Then it’s more like a real snail mail letter with the letterhead and all, instead of a fill-in-the-blanks proposal.
      I wish you all the best. All I can say is once you break through, it kind of gains momentum and before you know it people are standing on your doorstep.

  12. Daryl says:

    Loving this post Carol! I had a recent exchange with some online freelance writers that basically confirmed this –

    There are so many good freelance writers who complain about not getting work, or not being able to find any decent paying clients, when they have NO website, do NOT market themsevles, and only frequent mills and bidsites with low paying jobs.

    I mean, what else can you expect if you do that?

    And if you’re making 1000 calls without a single yes, then you’re definitely doing something wrong. Either something in your script is turning your potential clients off, or you’re not targetting properly.

    Funny enough, I recently got a decent sized gig with a client who pays well…without sending out a SINGLE LOI or job application…

    And even though my 4 week old website still isn’t fully finished yet (it’s coming I promise!), if I didn’t have it, I never would have gotten the job!
    Daryl recently posted…Why I Don’t Compete On PriceMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Daryl!

      I meet so many writers who simply don’t believe a writer website can make a difference…until they get that first great inbound client lead.

      I know I never thought my little bitty website could stand out in the sea of sites in the universe…but I fixed it up with the key phrase I wanted to rank for, and I honestly could not Ba-LIEVE the caliber of clients who called me off Google searches. A lot of top companies find freelancers that way, or from a LinkedIn search that then ends at your site to learn more.

    • Chris says:

      I’m the thousand call guy. (Or so I’m assuming…surely no one else can ‘boast’ such a freakish combo of incompetence and perseverance!)

      And yes, I’ve figured out that I’m doing something(s) wrong. 🙂 Got lots of “I’m interested’s” and “maybe’s.” But no jobs. A vivid demonstration that massive effort doesn’t guarantee success.

      • Great googlymooglies, Chris. That is persistence deluxe. You deserve recognition for that.

        Even a shotgun can be aimed the wrong direction.

        Carol is right, in section #2 where she makes you famous up above. All you need is some marketing knowledge married to that mind-boggling persistence to start seeing results.

        Marketing could take you a lifetime to learn, but you can learn the basics in a short time if you’re motivated (he said to the thousand-call guy.)

        I’m working on a book on commonsense zero-cost DIY marketing for authors, and have a dozen articles I’ve written to prep for it. If you’d be interested I’d be delighted to point you to them. The principles apply to anyone marketing a service or an art, so I think you’d find value.

        A thousand calls. You should be famous just for that. And I don’t mean infamous. I don’t.
        Joel D Canfield recently posted…Commonsense zero-cost DIY marketing for authorsMy Profile

      • Carol Tice says:

        I hope you’re able to tweak it and get the sale, Chris! And thanks for sharing your story here.

  13. Carol

    I was once friends with a girl who had been stuck in the same job for years and was desperate to get out of it. She often moaned about how many job applications she’d completed and how she just wasn’t having any luck.

    Then one time she asked me if I was going down the pub that evening. I said no, as I wanted to spend some time filling out a job application form.

    She told me this was a terrible excuse for not coming out – because it only takes 10 minutes to complete a job application.

    Well that told me everything I needed to know.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…Why reading books sucks if YOU want killer copywriting gigsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It took me a long time to learn this, Kevin, but most people when they complain about their job, just want to complain.

      When I complain about something, it’s because I really want it to change. Took me a long time to realize I was not the norm!

      I know people who hated working at the business journal I left 8 years ago who’re still there. Most people just want to vent. If it involves having to lift a finger to make a change, they’ll pass.

      Freelancers are the brave — everyone should give themselves some props for being the few who are willing to actually make a move out of their comfort zone and try to create the life they want.