How to Get Freelance Clients Without Doing a Darn Thing - Make a Living Writing

How to Get Freelance Clients Without Doing a Darn Thing

Editor | 31 Comments

lazy woman hammockBy Tiffany Jansen

I was a brand-new full-time freelance writer. I had the passion. I had the drive. I had the skills.

I did not have the clients.

But, I did as any good freelancer should and built myself a website … only to have my mom post the URL on her Facebook page the next day, exclaiming “My baby’s a writer!”

Humiliating, right?

Actually, it turned out to be the best thing for my career.

Because, as you know, it’s not a matter of “build it and they will come.” But, for me it was a matter of “tell them you’ve built it, and they will come.”

I may have been too modest to shout my new freelance writer status from the mountain tops, but my mother sure as hell wasn’t.

As a result, I got a client.

When I followed my mom’s example and let my networks know I was looking for work, I got two more.

All I had to do was flash my website URL to people I already knew.

Not only does “marketing” not have to be a dirty word, you can get other people to do it for you.

Here’s how.

  • Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work. I mean everyone. Your brother, your best friend from elementary school, your college roommate, your dentist, your grandma, the barista who just made your tall, skim hazelnut macchiato.They might not need your services, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know of someone who does. My mom certainly didn’t need a writer. But when she posted my URL to Facebook, the right person saw it. That was my mom’s high school friend’s neighbor — who paid me $1,000 to write web copy.
  • Alert your social media networks. State that you’re open for business in your next tweet or status update. Share your website URL. (You do have a writer website, right?) When I sucked it up and posted my website on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it didn’t take long before I had another bite. A friend of mine saw it, and when her sorority sister posted on Facebook that she was looking for a Dutch-to-English translator, well, you can guess who she recommended. SCORE! Another client AND my first translation job, not to mention another $2,000 in the bank.
  • Ask others to spread the word. They can keep ears and eyes open for someone who might be looking to hire a writer. If they see any possibilities or job openings, they’re more likely to recommend you or alert you to them if know you’re looking.

Have no fear. You’re not desperately pleading for work here.

All you’re doing is letting people know what you do and who you do it for. Let them do the rest.

What’s your favorite way to get referrals? Share them in the comments below.

Tiffany Jansen is an American freelance writer and translator in the Netherlands. Nab her free eguide, The Sure Fire, Can’t Screw it Up, Completely Kosher, Super Fun Trick to Making Your Competition Totally Irrelevant… And Six Ways To Do It.

31 comments on “How to Get Freelance Clients Without Doing a Darn Thing

  1. Christi McGuire on

    Thanks for the tips! I read this at the perfect time because I want to start marketing my services as an editor. During 12 years of being in the editing business, all my work has been word of mouth, and I’ve never had to market myself. I hate marketing myself! I am definitely not a “salesperson.” Do you have specific phrases you use when posting on social media about your services and looking for work?

  2. Kirsty Stuart on

    Great points made here.

    The power of just ‘getting it out there’ – via a website, blog, or any other means – that you’re a professional freelance writer available for hire is often underestimated. As a new writer you could sit at your computer every day scouring for work, but as soon as you communicate to everybody around you that this is what you’re doing and you’re serious about it strange things start to happen: you get work!

    I’ve got regular copywriting work through a friend of my mother and am ghost-writing a book for my best friend’s husband. It’s just a case of becoming the ‘go to’ person for everything in your niche. In my network of friends and family I’m the writer, so if anybody in their extended networks need a writer my name comes up straight away. This is the power of word of mouth combined with a solid reputation.

    Of course, the aim is that my social media network will soon work as effectively for me as my offline friends, but for now I’m busy enough!

    Thanks for a great post.

  3. Francesca Nicasio on

    “Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work. I mean everyone.” –Couldn’t. Agree. More. I did the same thing when I was starting out. I told my relatives, my friends, my friends’ parents (who ended up hiring me), even my wedding DJ (who also hired me).

    The whole “tell everyone” strategy worked out for me so well that it’s always the first advice I give to people asking me how to get clients.

    • Tiffany on

      Thanks fantastic! I figure it’s worth a shot, right? If you get something, great. If you don’t, at least it was minimal effort on your part 🙂

  4. Jessica on

    Hi!
    I enjoyed reading your article. I must say, though,I have not had luck posting my writing website to Facebook, or Linkedin. I haven’t given up, though! However, all of my friends and family, and their friends and family know that I am a freelance writer, but no one is biting. It’s been more than frustrating!

    • Tiffany on

      I’m nowhere near an expert, but I think a lot of it is a numbers game. The more people you tell, the more likely it is that one of those people will need you or know of someone who does. It’s just a matter of how long you’ll have to plug away at it. I’ll be the first to admit that I got lucky. But of all the places I thought I’d find a client was on my mom’s Facebook page, so you never know when and where it’s going to happen. In another comment here, Jennifer mentioned that she got a gig from one of her son’s friend’s parents!

    • Katherine Swarts on

      It is true that the social networks don’t always produce quick results for everyone, and the question of “why” can’t always be measured and analyzed. It might help to ask yourself: What approach best fits with what I truly enjoy and believe in? Most experts agree that success is as much internal as external–that following a step-by-step list (however many other people it’s worked for) rarely gets far without the “backup” of positive attitude and passion. Even then, it’s still a numbers-and-persistence game, and impatience is a deadly toxin.

  5. Terri on

    Hi Tiffany,

    I remember reading your blog last year. You probably don’t remember but I wrote to you that I used to live in The Netherlands for three years in the early 80s. My father was stationed there when there was a U.S. Air Force base in Soesterberg. The Dutch are some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I was just thinking this morning about how my younger brother went to Dutch kindergarden and picked up the language immediately. Sadly, he’s lost his skills. I remember a few phrases. Awesome memories…

    But anyway, what is it about writers that makes us want to hide under a rock? Then again, I’m sure it’s easy to think that what we do is so unique, no one will understand what we do or how to help us to get work. You make it sound so easy and really, it is easy if we just get out of our own way, right?

    I love when you wrote about winning a $2k job for your translation services. I thought, this is more money than many people earn PER MONTH. Yet you scored it for one job, DOING SOMETHING THAT YOU LOVE!!!. Life isn’t always fair but it sure can be sweet, right?

    • Tiffany on

      Hey Terri! Yes I do! I think we connected through the Freelance Writers Den as well. I’m actually not far away from Soesterberg 🙂

      I know for me it’s an inferiority complex. That idea that freelance writer is synonymous with “unemployed deadbeat.” Which is completely off the mark, totally self-defeating, and just sad that I would let myself feel that way.

      I wouldn’t say it’s easy. It’s just that this particular marketing “effort” was no effort on my part whatsoever really. That’s not to say I’m not busting my tushy on other aspects of marketing. But, yeah, we very much stand in our own way a lot of times. Luckily we have Carol here to slap some sense back into us!

  6. Pinar Tarhan on

    Hi Tiffany,

    Letting your friends know is a great strategy. I landed a part-time teaching gig that I loved after I told a friend (who worked for an education related company) I wanted to teach. Then that part-time job helped me out in all the right ways, resulting in a guest post here on Carol’s website. The post was about how my part-time job enhanced my writing career. Of course having been published here looks great on my portfolio : )
    Ah the power of networking…

  7. Jools Stone on

    Except that’s hardly ‘without doing a darn thing’ is it? Promoting yourself to friends and social contacts is hard work, and not the sort which everyone feels comfortable doing. It can feel like begging at times.

    Even though I agree with this piece and follow its lessons myself and have got work through doing so, I don’t think the glib, sensationalist, misleading, internet marketing-ish title does it – or this usually excellent blog – any favours at all. Sorry!

    • Carol Tice on

      I think letting your mom brag on you on Facebook is as close to no effort on your part as it gets…not seeing how it’s misleading.

      • Tiffany on

        Haha – certainly not. I didn’t even know she’d done it.

        Really all I did here was sit watching TV while my mom posted on Facebook and then the next day write a status update saying “My new website is up!” So, technically I guess I *did* do something, but I don’t know that I’d consider it hard work 🙂

        But yes, marketing can be tough, I certainly don’t deny that. This is just a super easy way to get the word out that you can add to your marketing efforts

  8. Terri on

    This post is on point. It’s why I also say that saying, “It’s who know” is wrong. I always correct it to say “It’s what who you know knows you know.” After all, they can’t help you if they don’t know what you need help with!

  9. Erica on

    Nice post, Tiffany! I’ve found that making friends with other writers and professional creatives can often lead to more referrals. When they have a project, especially for one of their long-term clients that they they don’t want to simply turn down, they’ll refer that client to one of their writing colleagues whom they can trust.

    The client comes pre-screened and is already in the market for a professional writer. And your fellow writer will often let you know what to expect when working for the client, which makes for less guesswork and smoother sailing.

    • Tiffany on

      Oooh, that’s a good one! There’s actually a LinkedIn group I found out about in the Freelance Writers Den called Writeful Share where writers leave their “leftovers” for other writers to nab. I love that this is a business where “competitors” are so wonderful at helping each other out!

  10. Jennifer Gregory on

    Great post!

    I totally hear you about mom’s. My mom likes to send out my articles (and I’ve been doing this for five years) to her entire email list.

    I have used this as well with great success! One of my son’s friend’s parents owns a PR firm and I posted a link to a story of mine on FB that had been published on a major business site. He had no idea what I did previously, but called me to find out my background based on my article. He pays very well and I have gotten over 20K worth of work from his company in the past 2 years.

    • Tiffany on

      That’s a great story! I always end up kicking myself for not being more open about what I do… just think of all the work I’d have! I recently sent out an email to clients of mine from a business I was running that I just laid to rest last fall. Just an update to let them know what I was doing now… And I got another gig out of it! Maybe we should start walking around with megaphones 🙂

  11. Lindsay Wilson on

    Great post, Tiffany!

    My father-in-law did just that even though my web site is still a work in progress! He then proceeded to give me an editing project himself! I’m doing it at a huge discount because he’s family, but it’s still a great project. Goes to show you never know where work could come from. If only some writing work would come my way now! 🙂

  12. Nida Sea on

    I’ve spread my word via Facebook through friends of my husband. They know people in the larger cities, and sometimes I get a project from one of them.

    When I first posted and stated I was looking for freelance writing projects, I felt kind of cheap. But, his friend’s are very sweet, and to my surprise, several of them freelance on the side and do programming and other things. So they were cool about getting me help.

    It’s a good strategy. Thanks for posting, Tiffany!

    • Tiffany on

      Yay! It’s so nice to have people ‘working’ for you. And amazing what can happen when one person tells just one other person, who tells another person, who tells another person… I also like the fact that you kind of know what it’ll be like to work with someone based on how it was they found out about you and from whom

  13. Kevin Carlton on

    Tiffany
    The one problem I’ve had with spreading the word around friends and family is that I’ve only ever ended up with work that pays peanuts.

    Because I mainly do SEO copywriting, most of the people I know (and the people they know) don’t have a clue about what’s involved. So my heart sinks every time someone says they’ve mentioned my name to a contact who needs some work doing.

    But if you’re just starting out then it’s an entirely different story. In other words, as more general advice, you’re dead right – spread the word far and wide.

    • Tiffany on

      Hey Kevin – Awesome point… it really depends on what you do.

      I’m an American and live in the Netherlands, so loads of my friends need or knows someone who needs a translator. And blogging and copywriting are well known niches these days, so I think that helped.

      Sorry to hear the strategy doesn’t work for your niche 🙁

      But, yeah, I think it’s a great habit to get into if you’re a bit more mainstream or are just starting out.

      And who knows… maybe you’ll get a bite eventually. Keeping my fingers crossed!

      • Kevin Carlton on

        As it happens, Tiffany, I got one of those friends-and-family type of queries earlier today.

        Not only is the gig for lousy pay but no author bio is allowed. I’m still trying to think how to politely say no.

        Thanks for replying and for the nice, crisp, clean and easy-to-read post.

    • Katherine Swarts on

      I have had a similar problem: most of my personal network, rather than having heard of specific people who are looking for writers, will try to “help me out” by suggesting I check out some big opportunity they heard of secondhand–which, nine times out of ten, turns out to be a content mill. However (not to point fingers at you or anyone else specific), sometimes when “no one has a clue what I really do” the real problem is that a “clue” is ALL the writer herself has. You’ve all heard of magazine queries that propose “an article about space travel” and work hunters who say “I’ll do anything” or “ANYONE is a potential customer”–those who aim at everything hit nothing, because no one can draw a clear and immediate mental picture of where they fit.

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