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The Bulletproof Guide to Launching a Successful Freelance Writing Career

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 15/10/2015 Sarah Peterson
FREELANCERS © Maximkostenko via Getty Images FREELANCERS

This article was originally published on Unsettle.org
It would be nice, wouldn't it?
Your name on big publications. Waking up to another email from a potential client asking you to write for them. Controlling where and when you work, and the words that you produce.
You want to be a freelance writer.
You've been trying to figure out how to find freelance writing gigs, but so far all you hear is crickets and you're wondering what you're doing wrong.
Maybe you've scoured sites like Fiverr, oDesk, and Elance for clients who will pay more than $20 for a 1,000-word article but came up short.
You've started a blog hoping that clients will take notice and offer up writing jobs like banks offer credit cards on college campuses.
But it seems as if the only jobs out there are meant for people who are willing to work for $2.50 an hour and sacrifice on quality to get the job done.
Do those successful freelancers have some sort of special tool they use? You begin to wonder if they're just lucky. Maybe there's some merit behind this whole "starving artist" thing.
I have good news for you: there's a way to start booking high-paying clients so you can write on topics that you love.
Here are six steps you can take to land your first freelance writing client, charge a premium for your work and never have to pitch again. I used this method to start my freelancing career, and just to make sure, I replicated it again and booked three clients with the framework again. It works for people other than me, too.
It's not rocket science. It's not luck or special tools and it has nothing to do with glittery unicorns. And the truth is, with a bit of hard work and strategic "marketing", chances are this will work for you as well. And at the very least, you'll have built up a great writing portfolio which is necessary to land clients.
So try it out.
6 Steps to Landing More Freelance Writing Gigs Than You'll Know What to Do With1. Create a Writer Website
In the rest of this post, I'll be teaching you how to find freelance clients in a series of steps.
But to effectively land your first freelance client (and all subsequent clients), you need a website. Trying to find clients without a website is like applying for photography jobs without a portfolio. You can do it, but it won't be very effective.
Having a writer website not only gives your potential client all the information they need in one spot, but it also communicates that you are professional. Potential clients need that reassurance. After all, they never know if you're going to plagiarize their article instead of write an original and with a website, they know where to find you if anything goes wrong.
And this isn't even mentioning competition. You're not alone in the fight for freelancing jobs, and you don't want to lose them to writers who seem more legitimate because they have websites.
I created a writer's website for the sake of testing the methods in this article again (they worked for me once, so I started from scratch and replicated the process to make sure they would work for me again. Good news: they did!) and my website sealed the deal on 4 of the 5 freelance jobs that I took to test this article.
I even had a client tell me they were relieved I had a website to showcase my work. So..
If You Already Have a Blog or Website
You can (generally) use your hosting that you already have to register an "addon" domain to your account to host another website. If you use Bluehost, go to your dashboard in Bluehost and press "addon domains". Then, type in the domain for your writer's site (usually your name - here's how to choose a domain) and choose "use an existing directory".
If You Don't Have a Website
You need to choose your domain name. This is the fun part! For writer's websites, usually people will register their first and last name, or use something like writingbysarah.com or sarahwrites.com.
Second, you need a simple, self-hosted WordPress website. You can set these up inexpensively.
I've also created a step-by-step tutorial to walk you through how to set your website up in 5 minutes.
Third, you need a simple, clean WordPress theme. You can find these for free through your WordPress dashboard under Appearance>Themes, or you can buy a cheap 1-3 page theme on a site like Themeforest. CreativeMarket releases free goods every week and they also have some great simple themes in their freebies every once in awhile.
My writer website uses TA Portfolio, which is a free theme and is super simple and easy to use.
Fourth, you need to populate your website. Here's what you need to include:

  • A "Hire Me" page: A page with your contact information. Include your email address, Skype username, and any social media profiles that make sense (ie LinkedIn).
  • A Portfolio page: My website above includes a "writing" tab, with links to the articles I've written so far and RESULTS. That's in caps for a reason. You'll find out why below. You likely don't have much of a portfolio right now, but we'll fix that as you continue down the article.
  • An About page: For potential clients that want to know a bit more about you - and especially your story about how you came to want to write about the topic.

This is pretty simple, and it should only take an hour or two to complete. After you do that...
2. Start Building Your Portfolio
Now that you have a website, you might be wondering what you're supposed to put in the portfolio section. After all, you're new to this. You don't have any work to show off yet.
That's where guest posting comes in. One of the best ways to boost your profile, get exposure, and put your writing in front of thousands of eyes is to write a guest article for a popular publication.
3. Promote Your Article Like It's Your Job
When your guest post goes live, it's important that you promote the post like it went live on your own website. Here's what I do for every guest post:
  • Schedule a few Tweets using Buffer on Twitter
  • Post it to Facebook (your personal page and, if you have a website, your website's page too)
  • Pin it to Pinterest
  • Post it to Google+
  • Post it to Instagram
  • Post it to LinkedIn
  • Submit it to Digg
  • Stumble it on StumbleUpon
  • Bookmark it on Delicious
  • Submit it to relevant Subreddits via Reddit
  • Post the article to relevant Communities on Google+
  • Answer relevant questions on Quora with a link back to your article
  • Interact with people who have shared the post on Twitter

The idea here is to generate as much buzz about the article as possible. Not only will this drive more traffic to the article - and therefore potential clients - but it'll also increase your social sharing stats, which will help you with the next step:
4. Ask for Results
Everything you did up until this point was with the purpose of getting results.
So it stands to reason that the next step to land your first (or next) freelancing clients would be to gather those results from the publications you've written for. You can start by gathering the public results yourself. A week or two after your post has gone live, go to the website and take screenshots of:
  • Your social shares
  • The comment count
  • Any favorable comments

If your post did well, email the editor and ask for a quote on what it was like to work with you, as well as any traffic and popularity stats they are willing to provide in relation to other articles.
Don't skip this because asking for results makes you nervous. If you were hiring a carpenter to renovate your kitchen before you put your house on the market, would you hire the carpenter that gives you photographs of other kitchens they've renovated, or would you hire the one that shows you photos but also gives you quotes of people who have purchased homes she's worked on because the kitchen was so beautiful, complete with stats on how long a house was listed before vs. after he worked on it?
It's obvious, isn't it?
When you have these results and testimonials from the publications you've written for, you can begin to add some weight to your website.
Don't miss out on this opportunity to showcase the benefits of your good work. As you receive these results, publish them on your writer website.
5. Answer Enquiries
It usually doesn't take many articles on truly large publications to begin to get noticed. I began to get emails after my very first article (on Fast Company), though I didn't know what they were at the time.
Sometimes, a website will come out and ask you if you are taking new clients. But sometimes, it's a little more cryptic.
So here's a secret:
When an editor reaches out to you to see if you'll guest post on their website because they liked your work on another, they really just want great content. Ideally, free great content, but they're usually open to discussion about hiring freelancers - especially if they are approaching you.
Sure, if it's a big publication with a huge audience, don't open up a conversation about freelancing. Take the opportunity to get your name out there and guest post without having to go through that initial pitching process!
But, if it's a smaller publication and they invite you to guest post, don't just assume they want only free content from you. Read the case study below for an example of an email I would normally get in this situation as well as a template response.
As you continue to post on these popular websites, you'll begin to notice that clients are coming to you. But, if you want to speed it up a bit and land your first client as soon as possible, you can:
6. Pound the Pavement
If you're a beginner, you might not get a ton of potential clients contacting you right away. If you want to speed up the process of landing your first client, you may have to pound the pavement looking for gigs.
After you have a few solid articles with large, popular publications under your belt, you can do this by approaching the publications yourself.
Write a draft introduction email and if you use Gmail, save it as a "canned response". This will decrease the amount of work involved as you send more and more of these emails.
In your emails, list the articles you've written for these large publications as your writing samples, tell the company a bit about yourself, and demonstrate that you have taken the time to get to know their website. Identify a few topics you'd like to write about, should you work with them. You can get the exact pitch I used that landed me 80% of the clients I sent it to by clicking here.
If you've chosen a specific niche, head over to Alltop.com and start going through the top blogs in that topic and sending them introduction emails.
Don't just send one or two. Challenge yourself to send two emails a day for a couple of weeks. The more emails you send, the more likely you are to land a gig!
I'm a firm believer that most things, when it comes to building your dream, are just a formula.
They may seem scary initially, or daunting, or like you're playing Russian Roulette, but when it comes down to it, there are always going to be principles and methods that will always work.
There's no reason to struggle. If you follow this framework (and don't skip any steps) you will land your first client in a short period of time. And the first one is always the hardest.
Sarah Peterson is the author of Unsettle.org, where she helps people stop settling for "okay" lives and careers. Click here and join her free newsletter to get tips and tricks so you can travel whenever you want, too.

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