Four keys to getting consistent freelance work

by Erika-Marie Geiss

If your goal is to Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer (to borrow Jenna Glatzer’s title) there are four keys to getting consistent freelance work: planning, research, patience and networking

Set yourself up for success

Start with a business plan. It doesn’t need to be formal and it doesn’t have to be for anyone’s eyes but your own. In it, state your goals — whether it’s a specific number of new clips, number of new clients, certain publications, a dollar amount — that you set as goals and benchmarks. Write out how you plan to achieve those goals along with why you are a professional freelance writer, and within your niche, where your strengths and skills are.

Also, keep a running list or spreadsheet of where you submitted/applied with the following:

  • Date of submission/application
  • Name of the person, company or publication
  • Contact information for the person, company or publication
  • How you submitted/applied (snail mail or e-mail)
  • When to expect a response (if the company or publication indicates this)
  • What you sent as part of the application/submission)
  • A spot for the ultimate result of the submission/application
  • A spot for additional notes that you might want to make along the way
  • These are good ways to stay organized and keep on top of your goals.

Be ready by also having a cover letter template that you can tailor for each possible job/individual that you are applying for. Make sure that your résumé and clips are always up-to-date. And, as with any other bricks-and-mortar job, be ready to provide references in case you are asked to supply them. The employer might not mention the need for references in their job description and requirements, but if you get to the stage where you are speaking with someone either in-person, by telephone or via e-mail, it could come up.
Now that you’ve done that, you can set about the task of finding work or getting new clients.

Research your options

Of course, since you’re here at FWJ, you already know about reading daily job postings, but ask yourself, am I using them and the job boards at other locations for creative freelancers wisely? That is, to your best advantage? Even if you are up at dawn, checking the daily posts and have subscribed to all of the feeds, a bit of research can be the difference between wasting your time and finding a good fit (or two or three). In other words, don’t just submit blindly and right away. Not all job postings will give full disclosure about a company, so it might be tricky. But when the information is available, don’t hesitate to use it. Remember, just as much as they are going to be screening you as an applicant or candidate, you should be screening them as a good company or person to work with. The last thing you want is to end up with a gig where you are constantly banging your head and thinking, “why did I take this position/assignment?” (Yeah, we’ve all been there. And even if they do make great cocktail party horror stories, they’re not worth it.)

When you’ve established that four of the seven postings for which you are qualified will also be a good fit for you, apply with a cover letter and by following the requirements/guidelines to a “T.” (Don’t forget to be courteous and professional. Even in the freelance world, using proper business etiquette is still important.) If clips are requested, use the ones that best match the job. Beyond money, it’s also important to know why you want to work for that person or company or on that specific project. The employer is going to want someone who is as enthusiastic and committed to their project, venture or company as they are. (If you’re a mercenary, you can pretend.)

Sit and wait … and wait

This is where patience comes in. Remember that you are one of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people who have responded for the call for a freelance writer. It takes time to triage the applications, so while you’re waiting, continue to apply for other jobs and network. Why network? You might find that someone is looking for your skills right now and with the recommendation from a friend or colleague, that person could be you. (If that does happen, don’t forget to thank the person who recommended you.)

Hooray! You’ve landed the gig

There you are with this short-term project. The money is good. The relationship with your client is good. The project is coming to an end. But does it need to? Not necessarily. Find out if there are other projects available—after all, you’ve already established a relationship with the client, which if it has been mutually beneficial, could turn into more work. If most of your assignments are very short term (such as writing for a publication) keep submitting and establish a positive working relationship with the editor(s). Get to know the publications that you write for so that you can think like they think, speak like they speak and be a voice that their audiences want to hear repeatedly. These will not only help you land the gig, but keep you from losing potential new ones.

By doing your homework, being prepared and remembering to network well, you may find yourself in the strange and wonderful position of needing to turn down jobs. (Of course, when that happens, don’t forget to refer your fellow freelance writers.)

What are some of your best practices for finding work and achieving your goals as a freelance writer?


  1. says

    I like your list of info to keep on a spread sheet. I save a lot of time by keeping myself organized. What’s humorous, but sometimes troublesome, is when I’m more organized than my client. That situation takes patience.

  2. says

    Hi #9,
    I like the detail that you add to your spreadsheet. Mine is very simple, but after reading this post I should probably add more to it. I also like your suggestion about having a template cover letter on the ready. Though I do individualize each cover letter, I’ve never really thought of having one as a template. Thank you for your post.

  3. #7 says

    #9. Nice post. I like to keep track of how much money I’m making per hour/word/blog post, etc. That’s my baseline pay. Then I use that as another criteria for applying to other positions. My goal is to find gigs that pay more than what I’m making currently. That way I continue to improve my income.

  4. #9 says

    Thanks for your comments everyone! Glad that you all found the post helpful. @#7, that is a great idea…keeping track of your earnings, it not only gives a freelancer criteria for applying to other positions, it also gives a nice benchmark as well for getting an increase in earnings if you’ve been working with a client/publication for a while. Great point to add! Thanks!

    @Jenny, I like having a template to work from because then you’re ready and set to go if the perfect gig lands in your lap and you need to present a formal application. Even with tailoring them for every situation, it’s nice not to have to create a new one each time from whole cloth.

    @RobinMarie–that is funny when the freelancer is more organized than the client, but that also speaks to the fact that the freelancer (in this case, you) is really treating freelancing as a business. Good for you!

  5. says

    Great post. As someone who kind of jumped right into freelancing, I am a bit unorganized about the admin end. I actually don’t keep track of what I’ve applied for! But with the suggestion of a spreadsheet, I’m going to start. Thanks!

  6. #4 says

    #9, good post. I would have appreciated a more concise presentation of the information, but again, I know how difficult it is to edit.

    It’s interesting that you say “Even in the freelance world, using proper business etiquette is still important.” I would say it’s especially important in the freelance world.

  7. says

    Great tips. Being organized helps us know what we are doing without feeling confused and overwhelmed, especially when we have a lot of possible clients on our waiting list.

  8. #9 says

    Thanks Colleen, #4, and Cindy.

    Colleen, keeping track is necessary and will make doing taxes much easier.
    No. 4, I grappled with the length as well, and thanks for your input. It was longer until I edited it. But I’ve learned that the best way to handle it when you just can’t make a long story short (in a blog post), is to break it up into sections as I did. Despite the length, the content, presentation and structural organization still kept you engaged–yes?

    Regarding proper business etiquette, you are quite right, but there are those that would argue otherwise. The irony is that my original sentence did read especially important, but when I edited the piece, changed it, realizing that there are people (including employers) who are more laid back and casual, and there will be the freelancers who say “I’m never formal and I get gigs.”

    @Cindy, you make a good point about organization staving off confusion and feelings of being overwhelmed. Can you explain a bit more by what you mean by “possible clients on our waiting lists?” Do you mean open deadlines or pending responses to queries?

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