How to Start Freelancing and Find Work

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, www.writerruth.com head shot of author

[Editor’s Note: Ruth Thaler-Carter will be one of three panelists in a special webinar on “First-Year Questions,” cohosted by STC and a partner organization, the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP), to be held on Thursday, January 21, from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. EST. The webinar is free and open only to STC and AIIP members. Register here.

Ruth will also present an STC webinar, “Basics of Editing and Proofreading,” on Wednesday, February 10, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST.]

Starting out in freelancing and finding work go hand in hand. Here are some of the ways that I find freelance writing, editing, proofreading, and other projects.

• Making cold queries – proposing ideas or telling prospects about my services. Use resources like Writer’s Market and Literary Market Place to identify publications and publishing houses that might use your services, and contact them to let them know about your services and availability. For publication queries, be sure to at least skim a few issues beforehand so you don’t pitch an idea that was just featured in a recent issue or one that’s irrelevant to the publication, and check the publication’s website for current information about writer’s guidelines, pay rates, whom to contact, and the editorial/content calendar.

For technical communication work, use your local business publication, the business section of the daily newspaper, the Yellow Pages, and your STC contacts to identify companies that might use your skills and services. Sometimes it’s easier to start locally and then expand your freelance work to national and international clients.

Keep in mind that your experience in technical communication may well translate to other kinds of communication work; don’t limit yourself only to that sector. One of my STC colleagues, for instance, specializes in writing and editing proposals, which could easily apply to the nonprofit and grant worlds.

• Telling people – letting family, friends, former employers and coworkers, etc., know what I do and that I’m available to do it. Especially when you’re first starting out, tell everyone you know about what you do. Have business cards with you at all times, even at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, or a party.

Never assume that anyone understands your skill set or the kinds of projects you’d like to do. You may have to explain to some people what a freelancer in general—or an editor, writer, or proofreader in particular—is, but that’s OK. It’s yet another opportunity to fine-tune how you present yourself and your business, as well as a chance to spread the word about what you do.

One of my favorite stories about finding work has to do with my mom telling the law firm she used that their newsletter was boring and unattractive, and that they should hire me to revamp it. And they did!

• Participating in professional organizations as (far) more than a checkbook member (one who just pays to join and waits for the organization to do stuff for him/her). Don’t just join; do stuff. Offer to write for or edit the organization’s newsletter or website. Serve on a committee. Organize an event. Participate regularly in any discussion lists or forums. Offer to speak or teach. It all builds your visibility and credibility—and some of it can even make money for you. Oh, and be sure to take advantage of things like membership directory listings, job services, and related member benefits.

Thanks to our current online world, you can be active and become well known electronically to association colleagues across the country and around the world, but it’s also smart to get involved locally and in person. People hire or recommend whom they know. If you attend meetings in person, you have more opportunities to let people know what you do and how your services might be useful to them. If your organization of choice doesn’t have a local chapter, consider starting one yourself. That would give you more visibility, as well as yet more contacts and the potential for more work.

• Having a website. Nowadays, the first place more clients look for freelancers is on the web. If you don’t have a website, you won’t get found. If you don’t already have a website, look for help in creating one. It needn’t be especially complicated or large, but it should present your experience, skills, and qualifications. You might be able to barter editing or other freelancing services in return for help with setting up a site. (Aim to do so in a way, or using a program, that will let you make your own updates and changes in the future.)

• Getting referrals from clients and colleagues. Ask colleagues and current clients, as well as past employers and coworkers, for recommendations and referrals. Ask satisfied clients to post recommendations for you at LinkedIn or write them for you to post at your website. You can tell current clients that you’ll always give their projects first priority; most will understand that you need more than one project, client, or other source of income to survive and thrive as a freelancer.

Some of my best and longest-lasting projects have come in through colleague or client referrals. Ironically, I currently have a great ongoing project with someone I interviewed for a magazine, although the magazine owes me money for an unpaid assignment!

• Making presentations. Giving speeches, teaching classes, holding workshops, and presenting webinars are all great opportunities to enhance your visibility and credibility, as well as earn additional money. New people will see, hear, and meet you who might have writing, editing, or proofreading needs, or know of colleagues with such needs.

Don’t wait to be asked to do presentations—speak up and offer to do them. Most organizations that host educational programs for members or the public are constantly looking for new topics and presenters to offer.

Even people who don’t actually attend your presentations will know about you, because they’ll see your name in the event program and any PR or marketing done to promote the event. When they need someone to provide the services you offer, or know someone with such needs, your name will come to mind.

If travel is an issue for some reason (your or a family member’s health; cost—not all organizations pay speakers, or both cover expenses and pay a speaking fee; convenience and scheduling), keep in mind that webinars make it easy to profit from sharing your expertise and opinions without leaving your home or office.

• Being visible in LinkedIn and Facebook. Look for groups that fit your interests, or even start your own group. Participating in these venues is especially effective if you are helpful to colleagues. Whenever you see a post from someone who might make a good client, contact them privately to tell them what you do and suggest working together. Just make sure that your posts are well crafted and error-free! Be sure to have a detailed, client-attracting profile on LinkedIn, by the way.

• Volunteering. Doing pro bono work for an organization or cause you believe in can be a good way to meet potential clients. You’ll be visible and “front of mind” with the organization you volunteer for if paid opportunities arise, and staff and board members are likely to choose you for paid projects in appreciation for your service.

Other techniques to consider include

• Joining organizations that your clientsboth current and prospectivebelong to, from a Chamber of Commerce to whatever Widget Association fits the kinds of freelance work you want to do and/or matches your previous work experience. Even if you’re feeling somewhat burnt out by your current job, you can still use it to launch your business by finding freelance projects in that field or topic area. As you find projects on topics or in fields that interest you more than the one you’re tired of, you can let those clients drop and focus on the new ones.

• Exhibiting at trade shows. They needn’t be huge, expensive events, but having a booth at an event for potential clients can mean new business for you. You can always split the expense by sharing a table or booth, or perhaps piggybacking on the space of a client or colleague.

• Having a blog of your own, and/or contributing to those of colleagues. Blogging isn’t for everyone—it can take a lot of time and energy; it can open your work up to plagiarizers; and it can work against, rather than for, you if your posts have typos or clumsy writing. And, of course, not all of us are or want to be writers. Blogging can, though, bring you greater visibility and attract clients to your voice and skills.

If the thought of your own blog is overwhelming, consider contributing to those of colleagues, clients, and resources, many of which are glad to welcome guest writers to take some of the pressure of churning out continual “content” off themselves.

For more suggestions about these and other aspects of freelancing, consider getting my booklet for the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), “Freelancing 101: Launching Your Editorial Business” (http://the-efa.org/res/resources.php), and attending this year’s annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”™ conference (www.communication-central.com), which always includes sessions on growing your freelance business. This year’s conference is Oct. 28–29 in Rochester, NY.

Let us know what has worked for you!

 

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is a long-time, award-winning freelance writer/editor, proofreader, and presenter, and owner of Communication Central, which hosts the annual “Be a Better Freelancer”™ conference (www.communication-central.com). She has been active in STC as a national and local conference speaker, Consultants and Lone Writers SIG member, “Freelance Basics” blogger, and national webinar presenter.

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