Some of my friends who are writers or creatives have asked me how I get my freelance projects. I certainly don’t have an enormous roster of clients (hence, as I tell new people I meet when they ask what I do: “I’m a nanny to support my freelance writing and editing career”), but those that I have are pretty regular, thankfully.
To be honest, I never thought I would even be freelancing. I heard nightmarish tales when I was in journalism school about pleading to publications for work, MAYBE getting assigned one story, if you even got a response at all, and never having a steady income. I always figured I would get an entry-level job at a magazine or other publication and work my way up. (Pop back a couple of blog posts to see how that plan turned out…)
While, yes, freelancing isn’t the most secure of work options, it isn’t impossible to find projects, and regular ones, at that. Pretty much every business needs written content, whether it’s for their social media, blog, website, or printed materials (especially if it’s a publication, of course).
I work for Nashville’s city magazine, Nashville Lifestyles, doing all of their copy editing for any editorial content (aka, non-advertising content) month by month, plus writing articles as needed, and I also have two PR companies I work with to produce content for various clients of theirs every week. That’s mostly blog writing, with some content pitching (which, yes! You can get paid for!), social media-post writing, and copy editing on the side.
It does add up — although, for now, it’s not enough to support myself (and my dog child) on. But it’s fulfilling and flexible, and, best of all, I have control over what I’m contributing to the creative space every day. And I love, love, LOVE that feeling. Okay, I’ll step off my pedestal now and quit with the humble bragging to get to how I got these jobs.
My main secret to getting freelance jobs is either good or bad news, depending on your personality. (It would’ve been bad news to me, if someone had told me this.) I secured every single freelance project I have — or have had — from people I already knew. For people who hate networking (let me just say, I’m right there with you), this is horrible news. Like, if someone had told me right after graduating that I’d be freelancing but I had to use my “network” to get the jobs, I might have punched them. Networking just feels so… yucky. To me.
If you’re someone who has 1,047 LinkedIn connections and can’t miss a creative professionals mixer, well, you’re probably already freelancing. That’s just my experience. For those of us who are a little weary of exchanging business cards with the person behind us in the Starbucks line, it’s okay. Sit tight — I have solutions for you, and the first one is that cold-emailing will become your best friend.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Didn’t I just say freelance jobs are all about working with the contacts you have? Let me explain — this is how the long game works. When I graduated in 2014, I emailed the editor of Nashville Lifestyles with my resumé, asking if she had any open positions or room for additional freelance writers. While it was a ‘no’ at that point (probably because I wasn’t even moving to Nashville), I had a slight connection.
Because she had responded to me with the ‘no’ three years ago, when John and I were actually moving here last year, I emailed her again, saying, “We talked way back when, and now I have XYZ experience, and I’m actually moving to Nashville in a couple months!” Since we’d emailed before, she was familiar with me, if only slightly, and I think that makes employers more apt to talk to you about possibilities. I had hoped for something full-time, but she came back saying that, in fact, their copy editor, a freelancer, was leaving, and did I have any experience?
Um, no, I didn’t, except for one copy editing class I took in school and the fact that I do actually love grammar. But I took the edit test, and that was that. I was like, “Well, I guess I’m a freelancer now!” and the ball was rolling.
All that is to say, save your emails. Save your contacts, even those who turn you down. Be gracious if you do get turned down, because you might have the opportunity to reach out in the future and offer your work experience to that company then. Also, a cold email could work immediately every once in a while. So keep doing it, whether or not the payoff is now or later.
The two PR companies I freelance for both became connections through personal friends. One was my previous intern when I worked the job I hated at the magazine in Dallas, and she truly saved me for, like, a year while she was working with me. Who knew she’d go on to introduce me to one of my more interesting, and lucrative, freelance clients? (I should’ve known, because she is truly an angel.)
If you’re interested in getting started in freelancing, I think one imperative way is to start talking with friends about it. Tell them you’re looking for some starter clients, and if they work in any kind of media, public relations, marketing, etc. role, odds are they can connect you with someone. People want to help other people and to see them succeed. So get to talking.
I have kind of dealt with a little mental back-and-forth about freelancing for non-journalistic clients. While I went to school for journalism, and blogging for tech or healthcare companies definitely is not journalism, I’ve learned that you can apply those research and organizational skills to any sort of storytelling, whether it’s in a blog post or a quick social media blurb. And, especially when you’re starting out, any project is better than no project, right? Plus, I really have learned to appreciate the way these clients, whose fields I wasn’t totally familiar with, have challenged and taught me about new industries.
My last tip for getting into freelancing is coming up with out-of-the-box ideas and pitching them like crazy to everyone you know or anyone whose email you can get ahold of. I had this idea a few months ago to pitch copy editing services to lifestyle and fashion bloggers. I adore and read so many of their posts, but I get a little cringe-y when I see the wrong “there” or a word missing a letter.
I love proof reading and providing technical edits so that a reader’s eye can absorb the material much easier than if there are errors all over the place. I pitched my idea to one blogger who I really look up to — but I think I need to perfect my pitch so that it doesn’t come off as offensive. Oops. I don’t think I was rude, by any means, but it’s important to be extra-sensitive when you’re basically saying, “Hey, I really think you could use some help in the grammar department.”
I added way more flowers and sunshine and fluff than that, but she still never answered me. So, yeah. I’m working on my pitch. Even so, I do feel like bloggers, especially more popular ones with a large following and a decent budget, could increase their engagement and benefit enormously from a copy editor. So, even though that plan isn’t necessarily a success story (yet!), it’s a starting point for something that could be incredible.
And, of course, write. If you want to be a freelance writer and you’re not writing in some aspect (even journaling), it’s going to be tough. The whole idea behind freelancing is to have creative flexibility, so it will be fantastic practice and soothing to your creative little soul to make your own in the meantime.
Clearly, I love to talk about this stuff (I mean, this post is pushing 1,500 words and I could write way, way more). If you have any questions or want me to address anything else, or something from this post in more detail, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. OR, if you’re a freelancer, I would love to chat and hear your experience. Let’s keep this convo going!