Finding clients is the biggest challenge freelancers face today. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a challenge for you.
The purpose of this course is to put you in a position where sourcing new high-quality clients (i.e. those who are willing to pay you what you are truly worth) is ultimately an effortless and passive process.
After all, there is absolutely no need to languish in low-paid writing jobs. It is possible to elevate yourself above the bargain basement level and start getting paid $50-$100 per hour within weeks or months. If you are currently working for peanuts then it is time that you made a big change.
I am going to show you how to source high-quality clients from scratch without any prior experience. I am uniquely positioned to do this as I built a freelance writing business from the ground up – with no prior experience – not too long ago myself. My first client (who I landed back in September 2011) paid $20 per hour for blog articles. My second paid $75 per article. I didn’t look back from there – before I swapped from a freelancing business model to a sub-contracting business model, I was earning in excess of $150 per hour.
What most aspiring freelancers don’t fully appreciate about sourcing new clients is that it can be broken down into a relatively simple process. Once you understand how the different parts should be assembled and put together, you will be well placed to land the type of clients that you are in search of.
This guide is broken up into two parts:
- How to pitch potential clients
- How to find potential clients
If you can write a good pitch and know where to look for prospects then you are far better equipped than the majority of freelance writers out there.
Let’s get started!
You Don’t Need a Lot of Clients
At the time of writing I have just seven clients that generate approximately $6,000 gross income per month. I’ve been working with some of these clients for many months — in fact, I have been with one of my clients for nearly two years.
That’s the beauty of freelance blogging — it’s an ongoing deal. If you find a top quality client and do top quality work for them, you can expect to be in the role for a long time.
If you can get five clients paying you an average of $750 per month (five posts), you’ll make $3,250 per month. And that’s only from working a couple of hours a day.
You don’t need to worry if your blog only gets a relative handful of visitors (i.e. potential clients). First of all, you’ll build the blog over time and new visitors will come. Second of all, you simply don’t need that many.
It’s all well and good identifying prospective clients, but doing so will be a fruitless task if you do not know how to pitch them effectively.
That’s why part one of this guide shows you how to pitch potential clients – I want you to understand the principles of effective pitching before you start reaching out to prospects.
Even if you feel that you have your pitch down pat I urge you to at least skim over the guidance below. You may well find something that can help you to increase your response rate from prospects.
In order to attract clients (especially top-quality ones) you will need to offer proof of your writing abilities. In fact, if I were going to highlight any particular area of sourcing clients in which you want to excel, this would be it. Although clients in seach of online writers don’t tend to discriminate against a lack of qualifications, your samples are like a doctor’s pHD or an executive’s MBA – you can’t operate without them.
On the assumption that you have a blog, consider the fact that it is a revealing showcase of your abilities (not only in terms of your writing but also your blogging ability in general). Only publish your best work on your blog – after all, every single post is a potential referral machine.
However, beyond your blog you should include samples of the work you have done for other clients within your pitches. With that in mind, the great thing about freelance blogging is that every post you write for a client immediately becomes a potential sample of your work. Non-disclosure agreements don’t generally exist in the blogging world.
You should be aware that the posts you link to will likely dictate prospective clients’ assumptions as to your particular field of expertise. If you don’t want to be pigeonholed as a fashion, technology or personal development writer, make sure that some of your samples cover alternative topics.
If you have 4-5 examples of your work across a number of topics that you would like to write about, this gives clear direction to a prospective client. If on the other hand you are keen to be known as someone who writes about one specific topic, you should focus all of your samples on that one topic and dispose of the rest.
What if You Don’t Have Any Samples?
It is possible to get work without any samples beyond the posts on your blog. I say this from personal experience – my first two job applications simply referenced some of the best blog posts on Leaving Work Behind as samples.
However, it will be far easier to source clients if you have examples of work you have already done beyond just the posts on your blog. It demonstrates that a third party (or third parties) have seen fit to publish your work – something that you cannot prove with content from your own blog alone.
Fortunately, creating such samples is within the reach of any competent writer – you just need to start guest posting. Not only will guest posts published on other sites result in samples that you can use to showcase your talents, they also bring a number of other benefits to the table. They drive traffic to your blog, can be great for building experience (don’t be afraid to ask for feedback) and can even lead to paid positions. One of my highest paying jobs so far was writing posts for a site that I used to guest post on.
Put together a portfolio of samples. If you don’t have any samples published on third party sites at this point, aim to get at least three guest posts published for use in your portfolio.
Before we get onto how to find clients we need to address something vitally important: your pitch.
To put it simply, without a good pitch your ability to find good leads will be rendered ineffective. After all, you only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and most clients will (quite rightly) assume that the quality of your pitch reflects the quality of your work.
Unless you are approaching a client who is not openly advertising for a position, they will probably have received a number of pitches in addition to your own. Those pitches will typically go into one of three categories:
- Immediate dismissal. Not worthy of a second look.
- Of moderate interest but not particularly eye-catching.
- Highly promising.
Whenever possible, your pitches should be in the “highly promising” category. If a prospective client receives 30 applications of which five are highly promising, the other 25 will probably get thrown out without a second look. That is the power of a good pitch.
It is not always the best writer that gets the job – it can be the best pitch. It can be your secret weapon, especially if you do not have a great deal of experience yet.
Putting Your Pitches Together
Assuming that your pitch is in response to a job listing or something similar, there is one golden rule that you must always adhere to: follow instructions.
If a prospective clients requests specific information, make sure that you give them exactly what they ask for. Nothing demonstrates a lack of professionalism more than an inability to follow simple instructions in a job listing. Noting a lack of attention to detail (or pure ignorance of instructions) is an easy way of filtering out potential candidates.
This logic also applies (to a certain extent) to people and businesses that you are “cold emailing.” Although you will have no instructions to follow, you must research the prospect and mold your pitch to reflect what you consider to be their requirements.
The exact makeup of your pitch will to an extent depend upon the nature of the job, but there is a general template that I would advise you stick to:
- State why you are contacting the person (e.g. in response to a job listing or because you believe that you can benefit their business)
- Demonstrate your ability to deliver on what they need – include appropriate samples and state relevant experience.
- Give some personal background information about yourself, relating to your ability to do the job.
- Close the pitch with confidence and enthusiasm.
Your pitch should be as brief as possible while conveying all of the necessary information. The information that you include in the pitch should relate to the benefits you can deliver to the prospective client – cut out any unnecessary fluff. Respect your prospect’s time and they will be far more likely to read and respond to your email.
Finally, it should go without saying that your pitch must be well formatted and completely free of any spelling mistakes and/or grammatical errors. To be blunt, if you fail on this front then you may want to reevaluate your desire to be a professional writer.
An Example Pitch
The pitch I used to secure my first client included all four of the elements stated previously. It was a writing job for WPMU – a blog that caters to WordPress users (a Content Management System for websites).
First, I clearly stated the purpose of my email:
I came across your available writing position and would like to apply for the role.
I would recommend that you clarify any identifying details (such as the reference number of a particular listing on a job board) in the subject line of the email.
In the next part of my pitch, I put forward an argument stating why I would be able to deliver on their requirements and included some samples:
I am confident that I tick all of your boxes in terms of what you are looking for. I am very proud of my blog (Leaving Work Behind). There are of course plenty of articles available to read on the blog, but I would suggest that the following posts demonstrate my writing style and capabilities:
I would consider myself pretty savvy with WordPress. I also have a good understanding of CSS and HTML (I used to build websites manually back in the day), and a passing familiarity with PHP.
The above is a good example of “faking it until you make it.” In reality I had only been using WordPress for a few short months and I had never worked as a writer before. But I was able to put a positive spin on my relatively limited capabilities without misleading the prospective client. I would advise that you always seek to project yourself as confident and authoritative (while remaining truthful).
I then gave some personal background information relating to my ability to do the job:
A little bit about me – I am a 26-year-old male living in the UK. I currently have a full-time and very flexible job in property development (it is a family business). I am looking to resign from that role as soon as possible and become self-employed. The role that you are offering may be an ideal opportunity for me to do that. Initially I would be available to work say 16 hours a week, although we could work on that. Rest assured, I am an extremely efficient worker, so you get a lot of bang for your buck!
As you can see, I focused on the flexibility of my job, my future plans to resign and commit myself to freelance writing (which I did in December 2011), my willingness to work the hours that they needed from me, and my efficiency.
Finally, I closed off confidently and enthusiastically:
I’d love to become part of what is already an established and popular blog, and would be very keen to help you take it to the next level!
Thank for your time – I look forward to your response.
In the same way that your pitch (and samples) will be used by prospective clients to judge your quality as a writer, your timeliness in communication will also be keenly observed. I cannot understate how important your reliability and consistency on this front is.
If a prospect responds to your pitch and you do not get back to them promptly, they may form all sorts of snap judgments:
- You’re not that interested in the job
- You’re too busy for the work
- You’re disorganized
Your pitch is your “hook.” The manner in which you conduct yourself from that initial exchange will tell a prospective client a lot about you, so make sure that it is a positive experience for them.
Respond in a timely fashion and deliver quickly. Any prospect will assume that the way in which you behave at this point will reflect the way in which you would behave if they chose to work with you, so it is hugely important that you conduct yourself appropriately.
If you do not hear back from a prospect following a pitch, I recommend that you contact them one week after your initial pitch to remind them that you are interested in the role. Beyond that I would leave it – either they get back to you or they don’t.
Finding potential clients is easily the biggest pain point of any beginner freelance writer. Most will be at least tempted to start working for “content mills” such as Text Broker simply because it requires little effort in terms of sourcing the work.
However, the flipside to that idea is that you will get paid a pittance for your work. The simple fact is that you are worth far more, and you can find clients that are willing to pay you what you are worth. You just need to know where to look.
When it comes to finding work, your first port of call should be the people that you know. This includes friends, family, fellow bloggers, and any other people in your extended network.
If you are just getting started it pays not to be too picky – if there is non-blogging writing work available, consider it. Although I am primarily a freelance blogger I have written white papers, web copy, and designed websites in my time.
You would be amazed at what can come out of the woodwork if you make your services known. Each person in your network also knows a number of other people, so if you contact 50 people you are in reality tapping into a potential client base of thousands. And as your influence (and social media following) grows, you are likely to experience greater success in sourcing work from your network. Nurture your network and you will reap the rewards.
Job boards are something of a taboo amongst “high-end” freelance writers. They are seen by many as a denizen for low-paid, low-quality jobs.
However, that is certainly not my attitude. I found my first two freelance clients through a job board website. The first client paid me a reasonable sum for someone completely new to the game, and I still work with the second client in my capacity as the editor of the ManageWP Blog.
In my opinion, job boards are the least intimidating way of sourcing potential freelance writing work. I encourage all freelance writers in search of jobs to frequent them.
Job Boards to Keep an Eye On
I recommend the following three job boards:
- ProBlogger: my favorite, as it is where I found my first two clients with very little trouble. Completely free to use.
- Blogger Jobs: this site is a little messy but is free to browse and offers up some great starter jobs.
- Craigslist: contrary to popular belief, Craigslist is probably the biggest job listings resource available for freelance bloggers. The problem is that the good opportunities are nestled amongst a huge number of time wasters.
Alternatively, take a look at Paid to Blog Jobs. We curate all the best freelance blogging job opportunities and provide details in one place. It’s a huge time saver, and we find a lot of great opportunities that you never will.
I have received emails from readers of my blog on more than one occasion, frustrated that they cannot find jobs on any of the above boards, or that they never receive responses from those who they pitch. My response is always the same:
- It’s a process. It may take more than a few days (or a few weeks), but you will find work if you persist.
- If you’re not getting responses on a regular basis, there may be an issue with the manner in which you are pitching (which we have of course already discussed).
The work is there – don’t convince yourself otherwise. Patience is key when seeking work via job boards. You may get lucky, or it may take time, but it will eventually happen if your pitches are up to scratch.
Make room in your daily schedule to scour your chosen job boards.
What to Look (Out) For
When it comes to browsing through job boards, there are things you should look for, and also things that you should look out for.
Quality offerings will typically match some of the following criteria:
- Something that interests you and/or aligns with your chosen niche.
- Reputable websites and/or businesses.
- Publishers that have worked with writers before.
- Permanent/semi-permanent roles – you’re looking for long-term deals, not one-off jobs.
- Stated budgets based upon $ per hour or per article.
There are also plenty of warning signs that should steer you away from timewasters and potential scams:
- When it seems too good to be true. While you can make great money with freelance blogging, the clients who are willing to pay a premium are very rarely (if ever) found on job boards.
- Publishers seeking free trials. If they’re serious about finding someone, they’ll offer paid trials.
- “The rates aren’t good, but…” or other similar statements.
- Incentive-based pay. I’ll take my flat fee, thank you very much.
- Anonymous sites (what do they have to hide?).
- Blog networks / content mills / mass article writing work.
When browsing through available jobs, always keep your true worth in mind. You don’t need to work for pennies, and you can work with clients who will value your services appropriately.
There are three reasons why I don’t like freelance brokers like Elance and oDesk and content mills like iWriter and TextBroker:
- They take a slice of the pie. You want the whole pie to yourself.
- They are ‘lowest price wins’ environments. Competing on price is a tough business model and certainly not one that I would advocate.
- You may end up earning less than you are worth.
I will rarely advocate working with middlemen when it comes to freelance blogging. You want to be producing quality content, at a good price, for a willing client.
Having said that, I am aware of freelance writers who have done well out of such sites, such as Sophie Lizard of Be a Freelance Blogger with People Per Hour. You may wish to dip your toe in the water to see how warm it is but I would strongly advise you to consider alternative strategies for sourcing clients.
As almost any freelance writer worth their salt will tell you, the best jobs are those that are not openly advertised. For our purposes this means one of two things:
- The prospective client doesn’t even know that they need your services and you must convince them that they do.
- The prospective client has a need, but for whatever reason does not feel compelled to openly advertise for the position.
Approaching blogs in an unsolicited fashion can result in obtaining well-paying clients and it doesn’t have to be as terrifying as it may sound.
Make room in your daily schedule to “cold email” a set number of blogs.
On the assumption that you have a particular topic in mind that you would like to write about, you will want to build a list of the biggest related blogs on the Internet. We are talking about well-trafficked blogs that produce good-quality content (i.e. blogs that will pay you what you are worth).
You may be wondering how to build such a list. There are various methods you can employ:
- Google Blog Search: enter relevant keywords and Google will spit out results from blogs only.
- Blog Rank: another blog directory.
- Simply search Google for “top [your niche] blogs.” For instance, I searched for “top recipe blogs” and found this.
- Browse through blogs you already know and look out for what related blogs they link to.
Once you have built that list, the next step is to approach each of those blogs and promote your services with an effective pitch. You should follow the template I outlined earlier – the key distinction of course is that you are applying for a role that is probably not advertised (unless the blog in question has a We’re Hiring page).
As this is essentially a type of “cold calling,” you will have to submit a lot of pitches to get a bite. However, the upside is that you will eventually find writing work in a field that you are truly passionate about.
If you want to step things up a notch there is a whole world of corporate blogging out there – a wealth of companies who either don’t understand the power of content marketing through blogging, or understand the concept but need outside help in terms of execution. That is where you come in.
There are a number of pros and cons to consider when it comes to working with corporate blogs. There are a couple of pros:
- It can pay well. Really well in fact – upwards of $150 per hour.
- It can lead to additional and varied work – white papers, web copy, and so on.
The cons however are greater in number (in my opinion):
- The work can be rather uninspiring.
- As you will typically be ghost writing, it doesn’t get your name in a byline or boost your own blog’s exposure.
- You will have to write about topics you are unfamiliar with and learn as you go (in fairness, you might consider this a pro in terms of your continued development)
- Corporate clients adhere to corporate accounts systems. Expect payment to take anywhere between 30–90 days (in my experience, ‘blogging clients’ tend to pay you on or around the date you invoice them).
At the end of the day it is a matter of taste – the money is there should you want it. But if you are focused on work that you will find rewarding and engaging, corporate blogging may not be for you. Although I have worked (and do work) with corporate clients, it is the least inspiring part of my business.
Finding Corporate Clients
Landing corporate clients typically involves a lot of groundwork. You’re probably best placed by starting close to home, contacting local businesses and offering your services. There is no magic formula – you will need to make a lot of calls and send a lot of emails.
My friend Ruth Zive (who is interviewed as part of this course) followed a “ten by ten” rule in her early days. Her aim was to contact ten potential leads before 10am every weekday. She was kind enough to offer up some additional advice for this guide:
Read industry magazines and follow up with companies that:
- Don’t have blogs
- Are scaling fast
- Don’t seem to have internal marketing resources
- Have websites riddled with errors
- Are publishing press releases regularly
Google “top ten” lists related to the corporate vertical in which you specialize. E.g.:
- Top ten fastest growing retail companies
- Top ten manufacturers in the UK
- Top ten pharmaceutical companies
It really is a numbers game – you will probably come up against some resistance, but eager corporate clients are out there. It’s just a case of finding them.
If you’re serious about landing corporate clients (or any clients for that matter), follow in Ruth’s “ten before ten” footsteps.
Writing Out of Your Comfort Zone
You will often find that corporate clients ask you to write on topics in which you have no prior experience. This likelihood is in fact one reason that puts a lot of talented freelance writers off “going corporate.”
However, you do not need to be an expert in any given field in order to write about it. They have the expert knowledge and you have the ability to convert their knowledge into digestible blog posts. Any corporate client has to understand that their content marketing efforts will only be successful if they invest time as well as money.
So when dealing with corporate clients, make your lack of expertise in any relevant field absolutely clear and inform them that you will need to collaborate with them in order to produce quality content. I have often found that a 30-minute telephone interview provides enough information with which to produce a blog post. And as you get more comfortable with the client’s subject matter, the process will only get easier.
If you position yourself correctly, in time you will find that you no longer need to prospect for clients – you will have a steady stream of prospects approaching you.
While doing so may seem like a pipe dream, it is simply a process. Consider blogging, guest posting, and social media – all three of these mediums can lead prospects to you.
Additionally, there is one other extremely powerful source of prospective clients that you should seek to utilize whenever possible – your byline.
I probably receive as many referrals from bylines as I do from my blog. Moreover, I am confident that the majority of referrals contact me because they are familiar with my work on other blogs. Having your name (and blog) published alongside your writing on other blogs cannot be undervalued as a means of generating additional business. Every single byline you have on another blog represents a reinforcement of your reputation as a qualified blogger in that niche.
Therefore, you should always push to have a byline alongside your work. Many clients will be more than happy to do so, but if they baulk I typically argue that it will benefit them to be associated with a reputable blogger.
There is one other benefit of having a byline: traffic referrals. In any typical month, bylines across the Internet account for around 5% of total traffic to my blog. A handy bonus.
If you are actively seeking new clients then you should have a system for keeping track of them. You don’t want to get clients confused, forget who you have and haven’t followed up with, and so on.
I would recommend that you create a simple spreadsheet containing the following fields:
- The blog’s/client’s name
- The blog’s/client’s URL
- The name of your contact
- Contact details (email, telephone)
- A link to the job board listing (if applicable)
- First contact date
- Second contact date
- Third contact date
- To contact (i.e. when to next contact them)
Keep this spreadsheet up to date with current information and refer back to it regularly. You can sort it by the “To contact” column in order to see which prospects you need to contact next.
There is another benefit to this spreadsheet – it can serve as an extension to your network. Today’s “No thanks” prospect may be tomorrow’s “You’re perfect for us!” client. If you’re ever short of work, you can refer back to this list and contact old prospects – they may have something for you second (or third) time around.
Create a template spreadsheet with the above field and get to filling it in with prospective client information!
Finding and pitching clients may seem like a complicated process but it really isn’t. In reality you simply need to discover people with a need relevant to your services and market yourself as the solution.
That last part is often the biggest stumbling block. If you don’t believe that you can offer something of value to the client then you are unlikely to get much work. Confidence counts for a great deal when it comes to pitching clients so put your best foot forward and have faith in your abilities.
Finally, remember this: there are people out there right now who would pay you to write for them if only they knew that you existed. I guarantee it. All you need to do is find them and demonstrate that you can deliver to their requirements.
That’s the gap that needs filling. So go out and fill it!