Being a freelance writer can be a rewarding career choice, but it’s not always easy when you’re just starting out! The key to landing well-paid gigs and making a living from your writing is having a clear strategy and building your foundation from the start.
There are several steps you need to take to set yourself up for success. These include positioning yourself to meet clients’ needs, creating a writer’s website that showcases your services and expertise, establishing a social media presence, and building social proof. Check out our Start Here page for more information on these topics.
But however well you plan for success, there will be times when you run into difficulties. And when this happens you only have two choices – give up or find a solution.
In today’s post I’m going to share a story of how I overcame a roadblock in my first year of freelance writing. At the time I was tempted to give up on the opportunity, but I decided to figure out a solution – and I’m very glad I did.
If you’re a regular reader of the blog you may know that I write for the pet niche. As an aspiring pet industry writer, I decided that an important part of my strategy for success should be breaking into a trade magazine.
My reason for wanting to break into writing for a pet trade magazine was simple. I needed to become an “expert” in the pet niche. And what better way to do that than to write for a publication that my ideal clients regularly read?
With this strategy in mind, I searched online for trade magazines in the pet industry and made a shortlist of several publications.
Next, I looked for editor contact details on their websites (trade magazines often have these readily available) or used tools such as Hunter to find email addresses for editors at each publication. I then sent out a batch of cold emails, and soon got a promising reply:
Hitting a Roadblock
Sounds awesome, right? But I’d run into a roadblock … I only had one sample at the time – an article about pet vacations that had been published on the Huffington Post website. Take another look at that email. The editor had asked for “two or three samples of your pet-centric writing.”
What should I do? I was stuck.
Should I say that I only had one sample and run the risk of coming across as an amateur? Maybe I should pitch another publication? But that could take weeks and I wanted to reply as soon as possible. I even considered passing up on the opportunity and reaching out to other editors once I had more samples.
But then I had an idea. The editor hadn’t asked for published samples – I could write my own sample!
So, I got down to the task and wrote a one page sample on a subject I was familiar with. I’d recently travelled by air with my dog, Bertie. And I’d done a lot of research beforehand to prepare for the journey. My sample would be a simple e-newsletter for a company that makes pet travel carriers.
Once I’d written my sample, I searched for “graphic designer” on Fiverr.com and hired a seller with good reviews to create a design for my content.
Here’s how it turned out:
Total investment: $11 and a couple of hours of my time.
What Happened Next
I now had 2 samples – the minimum number the editor had requested – so I emailed back and awaited a response.
A week or two later (after following up a couple of times) this email landed in my inbox:
Result! Although I didn’t get an assignment for the print magazine – perhaps my sample wasn’t quite convincing enough for that! – the editor agreed to let me write for the blog. At $60 a post, the pay was a little less than I would have liked, but it was a foot in the door. I knew that if I impressed the editor with my writing for the blog, I had a good chance of breaking into writing for the print magazine later on.
I started writing for the blog towards the end of 2016, and quickly came to an arrangement for a post every 2-4 weeks:
For the next couple of months I wrote several blog posts for the magazine and made sure to over-deliver each time. What exactly do I mean by over-delivering? Well, I did a few things to make sure I stood out:
- Conducted thorough research and included relevant facts and statistics in my posts (this wasn’t requested by the editor, but it made my posts far more substantial)
- Emailed topics and outlines for new blog post ideas (sometimes the editor would suggest topics, but my ideas were often accepted)
- Handed in my assignments early (just a day or two before the deadline to demonstrate my reliability)
Pitching for the Print Magazine
Early in 2017 I decided to pitch some ideas for the print magazine. Feedback from the editor had been good, and I was confident that my pitches would be well received.
Here’s the email I sent in February:
And here’s the response I got:
By the look of things the editor was crying out for good magazine articles – I should’ve pitched sooner!
Becoming a Regular Writer for the Magazine
After getting the green light to pitch for the magazine, I sent a few pitches to the editor. The first time I pitched I sent 3 different ideas. A couple of my ideas were accepted and I began to write regularly for the magazine.
I made a point of checking in with the editor every few weeks to pitch ideas and stay top-of-mind. It’s a strategy that paid off. The editor quickly realised I’m available for work, and soon began to reach out to me.
Here’s an example of an email from the editor that netted me $700 in fees:
Fast forward to today, and I still write for the magazine on a regular basis – I’ve never gone back to those $60 blog posts!
If I’d have given up too soon with this client, I’d have missed out on a lot of money … and a fantastic opportunity to build authority in my niche.
So, this post is really about two things. It’s a super simple ‘hack’ to build your freelance writing portfolio as a beginner, and a reminder to not give up too soon.
You WILL hit roadblocks on your path to freelance writing success – just like I did. But it pays to search for a solution before giving up.
Have you used any ‘hacks’ to further your freelance writing career? Let us know in the comments below!