Earning Your First Freelance Writing Job

Earning your first freelance writing job can be a frustrating experience. When I first moved to Portland, writing was the only thing I knew how to do well. The jobs or gigs listed on Craig’s List or the classifieds required 2-5 years of experience. I couldn’t get experience without, y’know, any experience.

I did earn a few freelance writing gigs in a short period of time, but it took me a year and a half to find a writing job, which is what I wanted at the time.

That’s all well and good for back in the Internet Stone Age.  What would I do now?

I’ll create three different scenarios for three different types of writing career paths:  a gig freelancer; a salaried professional writer; and a business owner.

The Gig Freelancer

Here’s some good news:  if you don’t have much experience as a freelance writer, you still have options.  Here’s a couple of ideas:

  1. Networking. This is a great way to meet people in the creative community. Networking can be as simple as going to happy hours or meetups, or it can mean attending conferences, seminars, and events. I’ve gained plenty of gigs this way. LinkedIn, your local chamber of commerce, and Google are the best ways to find the creative social gatherings to meet the right people.
  1. Join a creative staffing firm. Different firms have different criteria, but Creative Circle is a great first step. Amber James has written an overview on why you should or shouldn’t work for a creative staffing agency, and Cathy Chang has written a post on what it’s like to have a regular creative staffing gig.

 The Professional

If you want the security of regular income, the current economic climate is favorable for salaried writing jobs. Content developers, copywriters, and editors are in high demand at companies of all sizes.  Here’s some thoughts:

  1. Make a list of industries and companies you admire. Check the Career pages of those companies to see if they have openings for entry-level copywriters.
  1. Scheduling informational interviews can be helpful. My friend Balki Kodarapu also has an excellent strategy for job seekers with his frequent “I want to work for ____” meet-ups.

The Business Owner

This is my current path.  Gigs let you build a portfolio, and a salaried job can provide benefits, but schedule flexibility is important to me.  This is what I do:

  1. Develop prospecting strategies. Referrals are honestly the best way to earn repeat business. I am always grateful for referrals, and I recently wrapped up a project that came as a referral from my dynamite web designer, Leslie Bourke.
  1. Follow-up. I actively prospect in the industries I want to work within. It can take a long time to get an assignment, but a regular client in the industry I want to work within is worth the effort.

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All of these paths take a lot of work on your end. You must research, listen, and keep your skills updated. It also takes a lot of work to maintain the relationships you develop. When you have work to do, stay communicative with your point(s) of contact so they know when to expect your copy. Pace yourself so you never over-promise and potentially miss a deadline.

There are far more resources available to you now than I had when I was starting out. If you are willing to do the research, then you will earn the copywriting work you desire.

This article is part of our ongoing series helping new copywriters. Please see the new copywriters page on our website for more information.

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