When you’re a newbie freelance writer, it can be hard to see how to take the first step. How will you talk that first client into hiring you?
At first, many prospective clients you pitch will turn you down. Which can be discouraging.
And yet, somewhere in the back of your mind, you know it must be possible to break in and get hired — because every writer once had no clients.
One writer recently complained to me about her troubles breaking in.
I’m getting responses from prospects,” Tina told me. “But this is what they say: ‘Great — you talked us into it. We need a freelance writer! But you’re not the right writer. You don’t have enough experience.’ How do I get them to hire me?”–Tina
If you’re a new freelance writer who’s getting this response, there are three basic problems you may have. Here’s what they are, and how to fix them:
1. Targeting the wrong clients.
When you start out, you need to pitch your writing services to clients you are a perfect fit for. But that’s not what most new freelancers do. Instead, they apply for everything and anything — and then wonder why their response rate is so poor.
The way you sell a client on hiring you as a newbie is to show your connection to their subject. Maybe it’s a magazine for veterinarians — and you used to be a veterinarian. Or it’s an article for a parenting magazine about how to talk to your child’s teacher, and you’re a teacher. It’s Web content for a shoe store, and you used to work in a shoe store.
That’s one way to focus your marketing, to clients where you’ve got some inside knowledge most writers don’t have that makes you perfect for the gig.
One other way is to focus on likely first markets. Many new writers start out pitching major national publications, which rarely work with new writers. Then, the writer wonders why nothing’s happening.
When you’re a new writer, you want to go for some easy gigs you stand a good chance of getting off the bat, so you can start building your portfolio. In my new e-book on breaking into freelance writing, there’s a rundown on what these easy, break-in markets are. They include:
- The newsletter of a charity of professional organization where you belong, give, or volunteer
- Alternative papers
- Small businesses you patronize
- Small-town newspapers (may be daily/weekly/biweekly)
- Business journals (especially in smaller or more rural markets)
- Businesses owned by family or friends
- Free-box publications such as employment newspapers
These places are often hard-up for writing help and would be thrilled to have you revamp their Web pages, cover the city council meeting, or write a play review. These are also all places that give you a real client you had to please, and who could give you a testimonial to impress future clients.
All of these types of first gigs are preferable to writing junk for content mills that will never impress a prospective client.
2. Not making your case properly.
Another problem new writers experience is that you’re pitching markets you have expertise for, but you don’t successfully convey that expertise. You want to flash your knowledge throughout your query letter or letter of introduction, starting right at the top.
Also, it pays to prospect locally, if you can — your nearness is another positive you can have going for you that a lot of the competition won’t.
Finally, count any writing experience you have, whether it’s from your blog, your day job, the college newspaper — anywhere.
Then put it all together into a pitch like this:
“As a freelance writer who had a 15-year career in financial services, I was intrigued by your new payment solution. I looked you up and saw you’re based right here in my town.
I noticed you’ve set up a blog, but that it hasn’t been updated in a few months. As it happens, I’ve been blogging for years. Would you be interested in having a freelance writer with a banking background keep that updated for you? I’d be happy to drop by and discuss it with you.”
Simple as that. Now, you’re not just any writer — and you’ll notice I said nothing about being a new writer, either. You’re simply the best writer for them, because you understand their industry and the type of writing they want, and you’re nearby.
3. No portfolio.
This is the problem that plagues every new writer. You need clips! If you don’t have any luck finding paying gigs right off, the best way to break this no-clips, no-job cycle is to do a little pro-bono work.
When I say that, I don’t mean you should sign up to give free samples to some website. You’ve got to do pro bono right — and that means a small, definable project for a good company or publication with a good reputation, where a clip from them will impress prospects. The scenario also has to include their never telling anyone you weren’t paid, and they’ve got to be willing to give you a testimonial and refer you business if they’re happy.
Put these three steps together, and you should be able to overcome objections to your newbie-writer status, build your portfolio, and start getting paying gigs.
What’s keeping you from getting gigs? Leave a comment and tell us about it.