By Gwen Boyle
As a beginning freelance writer, finding your first clients can be overwhelming.
Should you start with publications or companies? Big or small? What’s your niche? How on earth do you reach out to these people?
It’s enough to make you crawl under the bedcovers and pray that clients find you there. But you know that’s not going to happen.
Earlier this year, after getting a couple of pro bono clips, I was figuring out how to find paying clients.
I joined the Freelance Writer’s Den, and discovered a bootcamp: The Step by Step Guide to Freelance Writing Success, which teaches writers how to start from zero, build a portfolio quickly, and start finding good first clients.
The first exercise taught me exactly how to start finding clients. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to look very far for freelance work.
I reconsidered my experience
I thought that freelancing was a chance to leave my resume behind. As a writer, I could write about anything! What did my experience matter?
However, I learned that it makes sense to start with what you know. The first exercise, identifying “low hanging fruit,” encouraged me to reconsider my experience, education, and passions.
After making lists of every job I’ve had, every course I’d taken, my hobbies, and my interests, I pinpointed the intersections between these lists and areas where I might find good clients.
I reached out to likely prospects
With helpful feedback from Den Mother Carol, I found two likely areas to focus on: education and environmental organizations.
I had resisted the idea of having a niche. However, picking a couple of areas made it easier to start sending letters of introduction (LOIs), rather than just thinking about it.
Concentrating on education first, I drew up a list of prospects. I started with the most daunting: large higher education publishers. While it felt great to start contacting people, I realized there was one little thing on my list that I hadn’t tackled.
There was somewhere that used freelance writers: somewhere that was local, and that I knew inside out.
I found a great client in an unexpected place
I had scribbled down “Alumni Office?” on my list, identifying my former university as a prospect. But I kept overlooking it when making my way through my LOIs.
I had spent nearly nine years at a university I loved, finally leaving with a PhD last year. I was keen to make a fresh start in freelance writing – but why had I ignored a potential source of work?
I’m not sure why it took me so long to see a client in my own backyard, but I bit the bullet and sent an email. To my delight, I got a positive response, had a lovely meeting, and landed some writing work with my old university!
I’m looking forward to working with them, and I’m amazed by my blind spot when it came to finding a local source of work.
Clients can be a lot closer to home than you think.
Have you found a client from your past experience? Let me know in the comments below.
Gwen Boyle is a freelance writer from Cork, Ireland.