Freelancing can be difficult on the best days, and starting up a freelance side hustle from scratch is daunting at the very least. It can be hard to know where to start and how to land your first paid gig. Fortunately, we’ve got your back. Without further ado, here are four strategies to help you land your first freelance writing side hustle.
1. Honing Your Craft, Picking a Niche, and Building a Portfolio
It should go without saying, but the first thing you need to do in order to land a freelance writing gig, is write. Rocket science, right?
As with anything, frequent practice will help you improve your craft. If you are a poor writer, learning to write well is imperative to eventually selling your skills. And if you are already excellent? Practice will keep your skills from dulling and allow you to improve even more.
It doesn’t matter what you write. Just do so. Many established freelance writers recommend picking a niche — an area or topic you want to specialize in — and focusing all of your attention on it. This is a great strategy because it will help you stand out. A potential client with a website about business, for example, will likely hire someone who specializes in business over someone who claims to be a jack-of-all-trades.
That said, it is completely fine to not have a niche when you first start out — or not at all, if that is what works best for you. When you first start out, it is best to get experience writing about as many topics as you can. That way, if you do eventually decide to “niche-down,” you will have the experience you need to help you choose a niche that works well for you.
Still not sure what to write? Starting a personal blog, or submitting guest posts to other websites (even for free) is a wonderful way to both hone your skills, and establish a body of work. If you have chosen a niche, write about it on your blog, or post about it on other sites. A focused and specialized collection of samples will be a powerful asset to landing your first freelance writing side hustle.
Long story short, write frequently — daily if possible —and build up a portfolio of your best work to show potential clients. You can thank us later.
2. Leveraging your Network
Perhaps the best place to get your first client is within the network that you already have. Write down a list of friends and family members who could benefit from your writing. Do you have a friend who owns a business? A family member who has connections at a magazine or popular website? Don’t be afraid to approach these people and let them know what you are doing. This can be a great way to get new leads — or even a new client.
3. Upwork, Job Boards, and Other Websites
There are a lot of online job boards, full of companies and individuals looking for writers. Some job boards that you can check out include:
- Write Jobs
- Pro Blogger
- Blogging Pro
- Journalism Jobs
You can also check out freelancing sites like Upwork, or Freelancer. Upwork and Freelancer — and sites like them — work off of a bidding system. This means that you can make a free account and submit a certain number of bids to various job listings each month. These bids generally consist of a cover letter, a few samples, your estimated timeframe, and a quote for how much you want to be paid for the project. Due to the nature of the bidding process, jobs on Freelancer or Upwork generally pay less than similar jobs through a different market. On top of this, sites like Upwork and Freelancer take a cut of your profit — usually between 10 and 20 percent. Sites like these are a great way to get started, but don’t lose sight of your bottom line. Know how much — or how little — you are willing and able to work for.
4. Sending out Cold Pitches
Sending out cold pitches is another great way to pick up your first freelance writing side hustle. Though sending out cold pitches may be intimidating to beginners, the process itself is simple enough.
- Research, research, research. Then, pull out a pad of paper and research some more. The goal here is to create a list. Look for companies, websites, or blogs that could benefit from your services. Perhaps you find a company who doesn’t have a blog. Maybe you find a website that already has a blog, but could benefit from adding you to their stable of writers. Maybe your particular slant on a topic would be the perfect fit for an article or column in a magazine. Write these down.
- After you have tracked down a list and identified what you can contribute, you are going to want to track down contact information. Usually, this will be an email and a name. The name is particularly important (though clearly sending your pitch to the correct email address is important too) because it will help your letter feel more personal, as well as show that you cared enough to look it up.
- Once you have found an email and a name, send out a pitch letter. Keep it short and to the point. You want your letter to start with a catchy hook, describe what you are hoping to deliver, why you think it would benefit the potential client, and why you think you are the best person for the job. Double and triple check for typos — you want to prove that you are a competent writer, don’t you? — close your eyes, take a deep breath, and hit send.
- If you don’t hear back after a couple weeks, don’t be afraid to send a follow-up email. You will want to keep this one short as well. Just remind them who you are, what your idea is, and thank them for your time.
Cold pitching can take a lot of time — and courage — but it offers several benefits. For one, higher paying clients are generally found through this method. Sending cold pitches also significantly (or completely) eliminates competition, since you are contacting people and companies who haven’t put out an ad. The main thing to remember about cold pitching for clients is that the process itself is a numbers game. You might send out 100 pitches, and only get a bite on one or two. And that’s okay. Make a goal for yourself to send out a pitch a day, and over time the clients will begin to trickle in.
The most important thing to remember while you are looking for your first side job is that it is normal for this to take time. Don’t let rejection slow you down. Dogged determination and the will to never-give-up, though cheesy, is completely necessary in the freelance writing world. So send out those cold pitches, contact your friends, and go online to hunt down leads.
And no matter what, keep writing.