While it still seems strange to me at times (I have a hard time believing anybody would truly want my advice or mentorship!), I’m on the receiving end of quite a few questions about freelancing—how did I find the courage to leave my job? What sites do I recommend to get started? But, the question I get asked most often is this: How do you find clients? And, more specifically, how did I land my very first one?
So, in the interest of being helpful, today I thought I’d share the story of how I scored my first client as a freelance writer. Let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
First, I think it’s important that I clearly define what exactly my first freelance client looked like. I actually had two freelance clients that I worked with while I was still employed full-time in my marketing position—I did some freelance public relations management for a local organization and then also wrote a monthly column for a community women’s magazine.
The public relations management was something that I was hoping would carry me financially after I quit my full-time job in order to commit fully to freelancing. However, only a few short months after leaving the comfort and security of my cubicle, that client dropped me. It was traumatic—but I won’t beat a dead horse. You can read that whole horror story right here.
The women’s magazine is actually an outlet that I still work with today. Are their rates extremely competitive? No. But, they’re one of the first publications that gave me a true shot, so I’ll likely always stick with them out of pure loyalty. Plus, I like having that local connection.
So, beyond those two, it’s hard for me to remember exactly what my first big freelance win was (aside from scrounging sites like Elance for potential jobs and projects). I actually dug through some old emails to do some investigative research and discovered that my first client as a true, bonafide, full-time freelance writer was CauseVox—a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits. They were looking for a writer to author blog posts, online guides, and ebooks on different industry-relevant topics—ranging from managing and marketing a nonprofit to using peer-to-peer fundraising.
I remember receiving the “yes” email from them and feeling positively elated. Perhaps “in disbelief” is a more accurate description. After months and months of trying to get anything to stick, something had finally worked out in my favor. I still get a little sense of that thrill every time I think about them—and it’s for that very reason that I actually still write for CauseVox today (well, that and the team is awesome to work with!).
That’s a heartwarming tale of success, isn’t it? But, now you’re probably waiting for the helpful information—how did I go about landing this opportunity? Well, allow me to dig into the details.
When most people think of freelance writing, they likely think of those big bylines in those well-known, reputable publications. But, let me tell you, those don’t happen right away. Most of those publications require you to send a cold email pitching them—and, that email likely isn’t going to go over too well if you don’t have any writing experience or published clips under your belt.
So, when I started out, I spent all of my time perusing job boards (see some of my favorites right here!) for any opportunities that seemed like a fit for me. In all honesty, I never heard back from over half of them. But, at least I knew I was submitting my information to a place that was actually looking for my skills and expertise—and not just sending all of my hard work into the internet blackhole.
THE BOTTOM LINE: While I don’t use these job sites too often anymore, they’re an awesome place to get your start. Yes, some of the jobs are low-paying and they’re likely not the glamorous start to freelancing you envisioned—but it’s important to get that work experience and those published clips.
I applied for the CauseVox opportunity during a point in my career when I hardly had any published samples to send them for consideration—let alone relevant ones. So, since I knew that my clips weren’t going to win them over, I figured my pitches better knock their socks off.
For those who aren’t familiar, most posted freelance writing opportunities will ask that (along with your writing samples and a brief note about your experience) you pass along 3-5 potential pitches you could see on their blog or website. This gives them an idea of whether or not you can come up with innovative, helpful content—and not just recycle stuff you see all over the web.
Well, I took this assignment seriously. I perused forums to see what sorts of questions people in the nonprofit world were struggling with—what were their challenges and pain points? I combed through other nonprofit blogs to see what type of content worked well for them. And, of course, I read nearly every article on the CauseVox blog to ensure that my pitches would be in line with their brand—without being redundant of something they had already posted.
I pulled those all together in my submission email and crossed my fingers that they’d like them. And, they did! In fact, I ended up writing most of them for their blog.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Your pitches can often be more important than your experience, so it’s important that you put the time in. If you have great ideas, people will want to work with you.
It’s important to remember that the people you’re applying to write for are likely extremely busy—that’s why they’re hiring someone to handle their content needs. I innocently and naively assumed that I’d get a response to every email I sent in 24 hours or less. It doesn’t work that way.
In fact, nearly every client I’ve landed has required a certain degree of follow up. So, you simply can’t be afraid to check in on a timeline or hiring process. I know you might feel like a pest, but sometimes you need to stay on top of things. I did this with CauseVox after not hearing anything for a little over a week, and it worked out just fine for me!
THE BOTTOM LINE: It pays to be pleasantly persistent. I recommend following up approximately a week and a half after you initially submitted your information, once more about a week after that, and maybe once more the following week. After that? It’s time to cut your losses and move on.
There you have it—how I landed my first freelance client! Have questions? Leave a comment here or feel free to drop me a note on Twitter.
Until next time!