How Can I Improve My Chances of Landing Freelance Writing Gigs?

Let’s face it, landing writing gigs is the number one thing that stresses us freelancers out. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been at it for seven years or seven days, getting clients is always the number one problem.

Without clients and gigs, we don’t have a business. It’s kinda essential, you see.

How Can I Improve My Chances of Landing Freelance Writing Gigs?

But in the early stages it can be really frustrating when you apply for literally thousands of jobs and only hear back from a few. And even then the answer’s usually a resounding “no”.

As freelancer, getting clients is always the number one problem.

So how can you boost your chances of landing a freelance writing gig even if you’re just starting out?

The Key is to Listen

The great thing about freelance writing is that you don’t have to have written for literary greats or have oodles of experience behind you to land awesome gigs.

Clients aren’t necessarily looking for someone who has the best grammar on the planet, or someone who has big-name publications under their belt or a degree.

They’re looking for someone who is a good fit for their company and understands the goals, aims, and philosophy of their business. They’re looking for someone who will blend seamlessly into their brand and who will be easy to work with.

So all it really takes is some good old fashioned listening.

Really scour the job ad or the company website and get a feel for the tone of the writing already there. Look out for key words that you can draw on in your application or pitch, and think about how you can present yourself in a way that is aligned with the company’s tone and philosophy.

What you need to be looking out for:

  • Specific skillsets that the client has asked for: thorough researcher? An incredible ideas generator?
  • Key terms or phrases NOT directly related to the job: for example, do they mention they’re a laid back group of surfers? Or do they mention they’re based in a city you’ve recently visited?
  • Their tone: what words do they use? Is the language formal or informal?

Once you’ve noted down these things, you want to replicate them in your application or pitch. Highlight the specific skillsets and any successes you’ve had with them in the past, make reference to the key terms or phrases, and emanate the same tone they used.

So the first step in improving your chances at landing gigs is really keeping an eye out for details.

Storytime. I once advertised a job for a researcher on Craigslist, and I was absolutely dumbfounded at the amount of generic pitches I received that made no reference to the job ad at all.

It’s the little things like these that make you stand out from the crowd (or not), even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

To increase your chances of getting hired even further, there are a few other things you can do.

1. Create a Bespoke Portfolio

Nine times out of ten, a potential client will want to see what work you’ve produced in the past to determine a) whether you can do what you say you can do, and b) whether you’ll be a good fit for their brand.

The trouble is, if you’re just starting out or trying to break into a new niche, it’s unlikely you’ll have any portfolio pieces to hand.

This is an easy obstacle to overcome though.

The best way you can improve your chances of landing the job is writing a bespoke piece that’s aligned with the company you’re pitching.

If it’s an e-learning company, write a blog post about the benefits of e-learning, or create a landing page for a course. It doesn’t have to be anything too detailed or time-consuming – just something that says “hey, I’ve written about this before, and I can do it well!”

Clients are often looking for writers with clippings and expertise in the same industry they’re in, so creating off-the-cuff pieces that directly relate to them will instantly boost your chances of getting hired.

2. Use Your Personality

I mentioned above that I received countless generic pitches for the job I advertised on Craigslist, all of which showed no trace of personality whatsoever.

They were all immediately moved to my trash folder.

Why? Apart from the fact that they didn’t touch on anything I’d mentioned in my ad, humans like to make connections with other humans – not robots.

The pitches I received that showed a shimmer of personality, whether it was a quirky intro or a sentence or two about something unrelated to the job, instantly drew in my attention. Basically, I felt a connection with these pitches.

Think about it this way: if you meet someone in the street and reel off your qualifications and talk about how good you are at hitting deadlines, they’re likely to be a little confused and think you’re a weirdo.

However, if you speak to them like a human and talk to them like they were a friend, you’re much more likely to get a reaction (and a positive one at that).

3. Draw on Your Experiences

As writers we make the mistake of thinking that we only have expertise on topics we’ve written about.

We forget about the years of financial reporting we’ve done for a start-up, or the millions of sandwiches we made for our local café when we were at college.

In reality, we are experts in way more areas than we think we are (even if we don’t realize it). I’m betting you have a whole load of hobbies, interesting stories, and weird titbits of knowledge that you think are pretty useless, right?

Even if you have no experience writing for a client, you have other experiences you can draw from; experiences that you can include in your pitches, and that you can whip out to create connections with businesses.

Improving your chances of getting freelance writing gigs isn’t about racking up the amount of words you’ve written or getting bylines in the biggest magazines in the country. It’s about knowing what to look out for and how best to sell what you can offer (even if it doesn’t seem like much).

Do this by showing your personality, drawing on past experiences, creating pieces that resonate with the client you’re pitching and, most of all, listen to what the client is asking for.

How do you improve your chances of landing freelance writing gigs?

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I’m going to get to work on this. As a freelancer who is just starting out, I really want publications to pick me, so this bespoke is almost like doing on spec. I prefer to think of it as “pre-spec”.Reply to Layla
Great post, Lizzie! It definitely seems the case that understanding and replicating the job ad requirements puts you one step ahead of a lot of the competition. Pretty sure I’ve been guilty of most of these unfortunately, especially boring, overly formal applications and proposals. The advice about bespoke portfolio pieces is spot on. I’m trying to break into a new niche at the moment and I definitely see it as worth my while to spend some time putting some sample pieces together or guest posting rather than keep showcasing pieces that are not in this niche.Reply to Sally
We’ve all been there, Sally! We’re told that we need to be professional when applying for jobs from an early age, but we’re not always told that professional doesn’t have to mean boring and formal, right?! Good luck with breaking into your new niche – once you have a few relevant samples under your belt you’ll notice a huge difference.Reply to Lizzie
Lizzie, Sound advice! Having relevant samples is key to landing better gigs. It took me a while to build my portfolio to start pitching to digital marketing content gigs. I didn’t have any samples to show and had to wait. But, once I had enough in my portfolio I noticed more inquiries for digital marketing content! Win-win!Reply to Elna
Yes, relevant samples is key! I started building a portfolio in travel writing and then moved niches to business and digital marketing. It took a while to build up some new samples, but when I got there I noticed a huge increase in the amount of gigs I was landing.Reply to Lizzie