How I Found Great Freelance Work on My Doorstep
Carol Tice | 30 Comments

Freelance writing work comes to your doorBy 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. 
The Freelance Writers Den: Grow Your Writing Income! Sign Up

 

30 comments on “How I Found Great Freelance Work on My Doorstep

  1. Pankaj on

    Hi Gwen,

    I totally related with your points, sometimes your clients are living right next to your home and you never give attention to them. So apart from looking clients from other areas, you should also concentrate on people in your local area as they’re more likely to convert.

    • Gwen Boyle on

      Hi Pankaj,

      I agree, and this definitely opened my eyes to the fact that there are local clients out there. My first couple of clients were based in other countries, and it took a while for me to realise that there were plenty of opportunities nearby.

  2. Elke Feuer on

    I loved what you said about “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.” Great idea, Gwen!

    • Carol Tice on

      That comes straight out of our Step by Step bootcamp (or ebook, these days!), Elke — I think you’re a Den member, right? So check that out — that bootcamp has a lot of useful exercises for finding first markets.

    • Gwen Boyle on

      As Carol has said, that came out of the Step by Step bootcamp – it really helped, and I identified areas of my experience I had never even thought of. Definitely worth doing!

  3. Lori Ferguson on

    Great story, Gwen! So glad that you’ve had luck with your alma mater. I,too, have found success writing for both my undergraduate and graduate institutions, as well as a number of other secondary school and college alumni magazines. In my experience, many of these pubs rely on freelance writers for alumni profiles as well as feature articles. I have scared up lots of business by just sending out LOIs to everyone in my region. 🙂

    • Gwen Boyle on

      Hi Lori,

      That’s great to hear! I’m planning to get in touch with a few other colleges in the area on the back of this, and I actually never thought of secondary schools – good idea. It’s encouraging to hear that you got a good bit of work from writing for these kinds of clients.

      • Lori Ferguson on

        It’s been amazing the response I’ve gotten, Gwen. I would strongly encourage you to reach out to all the schools in your area–secondary, college, university, even medical schools (many of whom have alumni magazines)… everybody. I’ve gotten *lots* of work this way….. Best of luck…

        • Gwen Boyle on

          Excellent, I’m glad to hear it! I wondered if the positive response I got was down to my personal connection to the institution, but your experience is giving me the impetus to look for work with other colleges and schools – thanks Lori 🙂

          • Lori Ferguson on

            I think that having that personal connection certainly helps to get your foot in the door, but after that, you’ve got a ‘track record’ and other institutions are more willing to hire you. I’ve found this vein a very good one to mine, Gwen, and I’ve received a lot of ‘repeat business.’ I would strongly encourage you to pursue all leads. 🙂

  4. Peggy Carouthers on

    It’s so easy to overlook part of your experience, because you don’t think it would be valuable to a client. Since I transitioned to being a freelancer full-time, I didn’t think my retail management experience in HR would be valuable. I thought my journalism work would get me more jobs, but my best client actually chose me to write articles on job hunting because I worked in HR and was a hiring manager. You really do have to think about all your experience.
    Peggy Carouthers recently posted…5 Places to Find a Good Freelance WriterMy Profile

    • Gwen Boyle on

      I agree completely, Peggy, and its nice to hear another story of experience being unexpectedly relevant. In my case I initially overlooked it because I was in the mindset of “Right, I’m done with college. Freelancing is a new chapter.” I hadn’t figured out that my recent experience could be a serious asset to me in my new career!

  5. Samantha on

    Hello Gwen, It’s great to hear about a PhD being able to write for their alma mater. I too have a recent PhD — do you mind if I ask 1) Will you be working within the communications department? and 2) Would you happen to know where they’re getting the funding for your work (e.g. a grant)?

    I’ve tried approaching alumni and advancement offices myself and have had some great conversations with people who said they’d love to hire me but couldn’t. The reasons were various: either the university doesn’t hire freelancers due to union rules, there’s no line in the budget for freelancers, or that kind of writing is delegated to the communications department (usually, it seems, staffed by full-time employees with journalism or communications degrees). Lack of funding seems to be the biggest stumbling block.

    It’s truly encouraging to hear your experience was different and I wish you continued work with the school you enjoyed.

    • Gwen Boyle on

      Hi Samantha,

      Thanks for you kind words!
      To answer your questions:
      1) I’ll be working as a freelancer contracted to the marketing and communications department, who also cover university publications such as the alumni magazine. My first assignment with them is a feature article in the magazine, but I know that they have areas (e.g. web content) that they’re interested in working with me on.

      2) I’m not sure how the funding situation works in other universities, but I know that in this case, they’re centrally funded through a combination of public and private funds. They wouldn’t have a specific grant to cover the cost of freelancers. The marketing and communications department would be allocated its own budget within the overall university budget.

      I noticed that the alumni magazine had worked with freelancers (it named each writer and whether they were freelance in the editorial blurb at the front, which was handy!), so that was what put the idea in my head to begin with. It turned out that the editor of the alumni magazine was also the person I needed to talk to within the marketing and communications department.

      Sorry to hear about your frustrating experiences with departments lacking funding – hope you come across one that has the money to work with freelancers and find a way in!

  6. Rob on

    One of my first paid assignments came as a result of being annoyed that a friend of mine wasn’t being covered in a series of articles about surfboard designers. I suggested that the magazine interview him and added as an afterthought: “If you can’t send anyone up here, I’d be happy to interview him for you.” They accepted my offer and I even got 3 more article assignments from them.
    Rob recently posted…When Freelance Writing and Expat Living Go Hand in HandMy Profile

    • Gwen Boyle on

      Thank you Marcie, and the same to you! It’s definitely worth a try, especially if you already know that they’re your kind of people and that you’d like working with them 🙂

    • Gwen Boyle on

      I found the bootcamp that it’s based on incredibly useful – I realised there were more options nearby than I thought. Glad to hear you think so too!

  7. Martin Orton on

    One can find leads for work in the most uncanny of places. Sometimes places you would have never considered. That’s why I never discount any avenues to find new clients.

Comments are closed.