It’s fair to say that freelance writers struggle with sustainability.
Data echoes this sentiment. According to Venngage, the average freelance writer makes less than $0.25 per word – which means they need to get multiple assignments and write more than 4,000 words per month just to earn minimum wage.
You and I want to find copywriting clients.
We want to land gigs and make money.
So sometimes we take less than desirable gigs.
It happens… because BILLS.
We take these “meh” gigs by jumping to the “hourly writer for hire” services where we can quickly find jobs. I’m talking about the usual suspects we’ve all considered listing ourselves on: the Upwork, Fiverr, eLance, Craigslist, Freelancer, Peopleperhours-type sites of the world.
This is the problem with using sites like Upwork to find copywriting clients
The pay often sucks on sites like Upwork.
Just look at some of the most recent listings in the ‘Copywriting’ category and see for yourself:
An $8 budget? Seriously?
The fact of the matter is: Much of the time, these sites aren’t linking freelancers with their dream clients. There’s not much sustainability there.
It’s just a quick buck.
Don’t believe me? Browse through forums like Reddit, and you’ll see freelancers sharing their woes.
Of course, there are exceptions to every situation. Freelance writer Danny Margulies makes $100K+ per year using Upwork and has taught fellow writers how he approaches this platform (and similar ones) with an approach that helps him land high-quality jobs and clients.
But unfortunately, for many freelance writers, it typically just doesn’t pan out this way.
So how can you build a more sustainable freelance copywriting business… reach your ideal clients… and ditch the “hourly wordsmith for hire” sites?
Let me tell you what I’ve done:
Over the course of the past three years, I’ve grown my freelance writing revenue by more than 40% year over year, been hired by a top 10 company on the Fortune 500 and landed gigs writing for publications like Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine.
How’d I do it?
1. Get in front of dream copywriting clients using a surprisingly simple tactic.
If you want to get noticed by your ideal clients, you should try to get your name and work in front of them.
With repeated exposure to your name, face and stellar content, over time, the fact that you’re great at what you do is going to eventually stick with them. When the time comes that they need to hire a freelance writer or they need to make a referral, they’re more likely to think of you. After all, they’ve been exposed to your brand all the time.
To find out where your ideal clients are reading, here’s what I do.
- Look at the social media accounts of content managers and editors at the companies I want to work with–and see where the content they’re sharing comes from.
- Study successful writers within your target niche and see where they’re getting bylines.
- Ask. Reach out to people you’d like to work with on different channels and find out where they go for information.
In my case, I discovered that the people I most wanted to work with were reading general, mass-distribution business publications (think Inc. Magazine and Fast Company-type reads) as well as some industry/niche-specific blogs.
Which led me to this question:
“So how do I get published in those places? Don’t I need crazy credentials?”
Yes, you have to work hard to get in these places, but it’s not that impossible. I found a couple of different ways to go about approaching these outlets – and I’ve had varied levels of success. Let me start by telling you about getting into the large publications, like Fast Company.
Trying to Get an “In” at Large Publications
Some large publications accept new contributors through a formal application process, which is outlined on their website. Lucky for you, I’ve made it easy and put the process and application forms for some of the top news publications all in one place.
- Entrepreneur’s ‘Become a contributor’ form
- Forbes’s ‘Become a contributor’ form
- Business Insider’s details on contributor application
- Fast Company’s details on contributor application
- Huffington Post’s ‘Become a contributor’ form
- Bloomberg’s details on contributor application
- Wired’s details on contributor application
It works like this: You fill out a form, sometimes submit an article or writing samples and then… sit tight.
The thing is: The success rate for this route can be low. And the wait time is long. Trust me, I tried this route. You can imagine the volume that comes through these channels on a daily basis, right? It has to be a deluge.
But there’s another way you can go about this.
All of these publications have editors. Yes – real, human people with social media accounts that you can talk to.
So here’s what I did – step by step: I was able to land my first writing gig with Entrepreneur by building a relationship over Twitter with an editor there. And he and I still chat on a regular basis.
The relationship began after I heard this particular editor share on a podcast interview his frustration with how hopeful contributors were approaching pitching in a very unsuccessful way. Day after day, he saw potential contributors strike out because:
1. They were missing a relationship-building element – and before getting to know the editor via social media, they were instead just going straight to the ask.
2. Pitches often weren’t relevant to the editor’s specialty or “beat.”
Hearing this, I decided to follow his advice. I did just what he asked. I followed him on Twitter, and for several weeks I engaged with him on a regular basis without asking for anything. Then, after about a month, I reached out with this message:
@Kaleighf from Twitter here.
I listened to your podcast interview a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been rolling around in my brain ever since.
My question, of course, is: Would you mind if I sent over a few article pitches for Entrepreneur?
I’ve re-written that sentence about 15 times, and can’t find a less stupid-sounding way to ask.
I spend most of my time writing for SaaS companies and blogs geared at small business owners, so I’d love to share some ideas for articles around one of my most favorite topics: Unexpected places to get new clients.
Interested? Annoyed? Willing to critique my pitching abilities? Open to anything, really.
Thanks, Kaleigh Moore
Within seconds, I got this response:
Pitch freely. Here’s my email.
I was an official contributor by the end of the week. Success!
I repeated this approach with other editors and content managers and found that Twitter especially was extremely useful for building rapport and eventually pitching. And time after time, this simple tactic has helped me land new writing gigs and clients.
The lesson here: Networking through social media can pay off if you’re committed to building actual relationships. Don’t drop off the face of the earth after you get what you want, either.
Now: A few things to know about writing for major publications…
The pros include:
- Building credibility
- Reaching new audiences
- Interviewing clients you might want to work with
- Developing a broader audience
- Getting instant social proof
To say nothing of the fact that your mom actually knows Entrepreneur, Forbes and Fortune.
Now, there are also the cons. I’ve put them in this handy list so you can compare the two sides:
The pros and cons balance each other out.
And, above all, writing for a big-name publication can be an extremely rewarding experience. Sometimes you even get paid for contributing… but in my experience, when you do, it’s not much.
But remember: your ideal client is reading more than one publication.
So let’s talk about writing for niche-specific blogs.
How I Guest Post on the Niche-Specific Blogs My Ideal Clients Are Reading
The other important place to get published is on those industry specific blogs where your ideal clients are going for information.
Well, for one thing, it helps you build authority as a thought leader within your niche.
If you can associate your name with an established brand known for excellence in a specific industry or subject matter, that’s a quick way to build up authority by association.
For another, it’s a hyper-relevant place for you to get published. Again, getting your name and face in front of this audience means you’re not only showcasing your knowledge and expertise to the audience you want to hire you, but you’re also becoming increasingly familiar to them via repeated exposure.
So writing for niche blogs can help you:
- Build your authority in a niche
- Get better exposure to that niche
How do you figure out which niche blogs your dream clients are reading?
The exact same way you found out about the major publications they’re reading.
- Study the social media accounts of people who work at the companies you want to write for–and see where the content they’re sharing comes from.
- Study successful writers within your target niche and see where they’re getting bylines.
- Ask. Reach out to people you’d like to work with on different channels and find out which niche blogs they turn to for information.
Pitching works the same way, too. Use social media to build relationships with the content managers and editors you want to work with. Time and time again, Twitter has helped me land writing gigs with the niche blogs that help associate authority and ethos with my byline.
What happens when you start getting authoring content with large publications and those niche-specific blogs?
Freelance writer Aaron Orendorff has an interesting perspective:
“My entire approach to building a freelance writing business has revolved around guest posting. Over the last two years my byline has exploded on two fronts: (1) main-stream media like Inc., Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, and others; and (2) niche-marketing sites like Copyblogger, Content Marketing Institute, Unbounce, etc.
For me, guest posting works for new client generation and especially for price positioning. With client generation, I do little more than post… and wait for direct, one-on-one emails for new work to come in. I guest post regularly (5-9 articles a month) and I also use Notifier to Tweet directly to everyone I include in each article. With price positioning, I don’t accept money for featuring clients in my posts, but when I drop the names of publications… I can immediately justify my skills. That one “social proof” approach has let me 5x-6x my rate in the last year alone.”
In short: Rather than just writing on your own blog and hoping people notice you, focus on guest posting and getting published in the places where your clients are reading. This will help you get the attention and exposure you need to attract more business from your ideal clients.
Now we’ve covered the first point in detail.
So let’s move on to your next action item if you want to attract the clients you’ve been dreaming of…
2. Learn to make copywriter friends – without worrying about competition.
I’ve built up a network of fellow freelancers who do similar work.
Not only does this help stave off loneliness on the days where I’m missing in-house coworkers. But it also helps to have go-to sources when you’re too busy… or too slow.
You can turn to your network of freelancers and say,
“Hey! I need help with this project – I’m way overloaded right now,”
“Hey! Need any help with projects right now? Things are a bit slow for me at the moment.”
Data from Freelancers Union shows that this is a common practice for the entire freelance.
- 81% of freelancers refer work to each other (tweet this)
- 52% of freelancers team up on projects or do paid work for other freelancers (tweet this)
- 37% of freelancers trade or barter services with other freelancers (tweet this)
Freelance writer Emma Siemasko told me this:,
“I’d say 50-80% of my work comes from other freelancers. Most of the time I’m not doing work for the freelancer, but working alongside them. Often clients have needs that can’t be met by writer (sometimes it’s because of bandwidth, other times it’s because of specialty).”
She explained that, for her, a network of freelancers is much more than a source of ideal clients and regular work:
“My network of freelancers has also helped me in practical ways – but the biggest benefit has been having the emotional and social support. As a freelancer, you don’t have coworkers, but you still need a community. You need validation that you’re doing okay. You need people that relate. It makes you feel sane. That’s what a network of freelancers can give you.”
Finding a network or community is pretty simple, too. Consider joining relevant online communities such as:
- WordWorkers Facebook Group
- Copywriter Cafe Facebook Group
- The Write Life Facebook Group
- Freelancers Slack Chat
- The Copywriter Mastermind by Copy Hackers
For freelancers, having a network of fellow freelancers often means having a regular flow of work, which is good news for sustainability.
And now, onto your third action item for attracting stellar clients…
3. Get face time with dream copywriting clients (without wasting your precious time).
Sure, you could keep going to the local Chamber of Commerce meetings and handing out business cards to people who never call you. You talk to a wide variety of business owners there. But none of them really fit the ideal client you’re aiming for, do they? None of them actually excite you.
You could also keep going to meetups with other content marketers who are all facing the same problems you are. But if no one there has ever sent a client your way or passed you a job, something’s gotta change.
Rather than going to a general networking event or an event that’s filled with a bunch of peers facing the same struggles you are, do like I do: attend events targeted at your most ideal clients, like SaaS companies, eCommerce brands or creatives (for example).
Doing this helps you get face time with the clients you want to work with.
Sure, there might not be as much value in the content covered during the actual event for you – but the content isn’t the point for you. Not when you’re in networking mode. Remember: you’re going to these events to have the opportunity to chat and connect with your most ideal clients.
The next question, then, is: How do you find the right events?
First things first: Define who your target client is (DUH).
Then, look for nearby networking events using sites like:
You can also check out what conferences are coming up in the coming months for your niche and pick out a few that might be worth attending. Turn to social media and ask which ones people are attending as well – this might help narrow down your search, too.
Conferences that you might want to grab tickets for include:
- If you want to write for SaaS, Business of Software
- If you want to work in CRO, ConversionXL Live
- If you want to create partnerships with SEOs, MozCon
- If you want to write about education, Education Writers Association National Seminar
- If you want to write for healthcare, Medical Writing & Communication Conference
- If you want to work in eCommerce, IRCE
- If you want to write about content marketing, Inbound
If you see there’s someone you want to connect with attending a particular conference, this could opportunity to reach out in advance with an email or a tweet:
“Hey, wanna go grab tacos Tuesday night at the conference?”
But don’t just limit yourself to attending.
You should also seek out speaking opportunities (if you’re comfortable with that) as sharing your insight at conferences and in-person events can be a great way to land new clients, too.
Ross Simmonds, a freelance content consultant, told me:
“The majority of new clients that have come through my door in the last couple years have come from attending or speaking at targeted events. I leverage sites like Eventbrite, Facebook Groups and LinkedIn Groups to identify events happening at industries that are relevant to me.
Some of the events will have an audience of 20-30 people while others will be 500+. The goal here is to find events where you’re the only person who knows or is talking about a specific topic. In doing so, you’re able to stand out as an expert and don’t have to compete with hundreds of other designers, copywriters, marketers or agencies.”
The bottom line here: Attending in-person events can be a serious time investment. When you’re a freelancer, time = money. Invest wisely.
And now, numero four!
4. Learn to become the Michael Jordan of referrals.
For freelance copywriters like you and me, referrals are HUGE.
Because referrals are pre-qualified leads who are ready to get to get to work (little to no sales pitch required.)
You don’t have to convince a client whose come via referral to hire you. That’s because someone they trust has already verified that the quality, value and communication of the freelancer is muy bueno.
Research from the International Freelancers Academy backs this up. Their data shows that freelancers named referrals as the top way to find and land ideal work.
I thought this was interesting.
So I took to Twitter. I wanted to see what freelancers on Twitter would say about the power of referrals. Check out the responses I got:
Anton Sten agrees with Joel:
And so does Melissa Jean Clark:
See a pattern here?
So maybe you’re wondering, “How do I get said referrals, hmmm?”
Ask (yes, ask!) your existing clients to refer you if they’re pleased with your work.
You have to be deliberate about asking people to recommend you to others.
Think of it this way: Who else, but you, is going to nudge one happy client to refer in a friend? As a freelancer, you’re part business owner. So you’ve got to put on your business owner pants sometimes and do the business-necessary tasks, too.
Here’s how to make short, easy, repeatable work of requesting referrals:
- Create a template email or an automated email for this process so that you’re not writing this from scratch each and every time you need to send it out. Chances are, this email is going to look pretty similar for all clients, so you don’t need to re-write it each and every time. Plus, efficiency!
- Within the email, remind the client that your business depends on referrals and recommendations – and that you’d very much appreciate any relevant referrals they can send your way.
- Thank them for working with you, and throw in some reminders of the great work/results you helped produced. Stats and hard numbers work well here (think boosts in conversion rates, sales, the turnaround time, etc.). This also keeps the fact that you’re an excellent freelancer fresh in their minds.
- If you like, you can also incentivise referrals by rewarding clients who send referrals your way with credits on their invoices and/or handwritten thank-you notes. I swear by this!
Want to see an example email?
Feel free to copy this and paste it into Gmail. Then use Mixmax or something similar to turn it into a template.
Hello (client name),
Just wanted to thank you again for working with me on X project. I really enjoyed collaborating with your team, and I’m so glad we were able to boost your conversion rate by XX%! That’s no small feat.
Now that we’re wrapped with this project, I wanted to see if you’d be willing to offer me some feedback.
What’s 1 thing I should do differently to make working with me a no-brainer breeze for folks like you?
I’m always striving to improve, so I’d very much appreciate if you could take a few minutes to let me know.
Thanks in advance,
PS: I’d love to work with more people like you – and perhaps your friends want to work with someone like me. Would you mind introducing me to one of your favorite business contacts?
Freelance writers can vouch that this works, too. Joel Klettke of Business Casual Copywriting said:
“The vast majority of my good leads – probably 80 – 90% of my business that closes – comes from referrals. When you come recommended, leads tend to come with a healthy expectation of what to expect and what they’ll pay. Pricing is less of a battle, and I’ve found trust is easier to earn and maintain.
My system for earning referrals isn’t all that revolutionary: At the end of a project, I always ask for a testimonial, a recommendation on LinkedIn, and whether or not they know other businesses in need of a copywriter. Then, I’ll check back in periodically to ask how business is going, what they’ve learned/experienced since we worked together, and again whether they have any peers or leads on who might be looking for conversion-focused copy.
Most times, it comes out of the blue – I don’t even have to ask.
I don’t incentivize referrals; it’s not something I’ve experimented with too much. From my own experience, I haven’t needed to offer incentives; my clients recommend me because they have faith in what I can do and like passing me on to people because they know I’ll deliver. I’ve referred people in the past, and there’s a certain amount of pride in being able to recommend someone good – that’s fulfilling enough for most people.”
To Find Copywriting Clients, Insert Eggs in Basket?
Maybe this post has you really excited.
We’ve covered a lot of actionable ways you can move down a path toward building a more sustainable freelance writing business. But it’s not a guarantee for immediate and long-lasting big-bank success.
There are no guarantees. These are just steps that have worked for me. To help set you up for the bumps in the road, keep this in mind:
- Not everyone gets granted access to write for major publications.
- You’re not going to be a perfect fit for every niche blog you want to write for.
- And no, every client is not going to give you a referral. (That doesn’t mean you’re not a *baller* writer, though.)
So what can you count on doing?
- Taking steps to get in front of your ideal clients by writing in more relevant spaces and attending in-person networking events where those clients are spending time
- Growing your network of freelancers who do similar work
- Being more deliberate about asking for referrals from your existing network and clients
Do those things, and with time, you’ll spend less time trying to make a quick buck…
…and more time doing freelance work you actually enjoy.
Kaleigh Moore is a freelance writer who specializes in content marketing for SaaS and eCommerce companies. Learn more at her website, KaleighMoore.com.