Another day, another waltz with the great mystery: How does one go about finding more freelance writing clients, apart from job boards? How do you jump from here-and-there gigs to a long-term, lucrative freelance writing career?
In May, I published a list of 80+ websites that have freelance writing opportunities. The response was great on social media, in our community, and even in the comments!
But while resources like that are helpful, I want to emphasize that one shouldn’t rely entirely on them for writing job leads.
Job boards—and other misc job-aggregating websites—aren’t the only way to find reliable freelance writing work. And while those websites are a great resource, they’re actually not the best way to get consistent income flowing into your bank account, either.
I try to remind freelancers as often as possible that their career-building journey will be dynamic and ever-changing, and it’s okay to experiment with all of the different ways to earn income.
But when it’s time to get serious about growing a sustainable freelance income stream, we need to switch up the way we think of getting work. We need to trade short-term leads—like applying for work on a job board—with longer-term business-minded tactics.
Enter long-term, independent marketing strategies and indirect leads. 🎉🎉
These are the less sexy, less instantaneous strategies that expert freelancers use to ignite opportunities and keep fanning those flames for the long-haul.
Today we’re going to look at some of these strategies for finding freelance writing clients that aren’t job boards.
It’s in your best interest to get to know these and implement them now. You’ll sow the rewards later… and often sooner than you think!
⚠️ What’s wrong with freelance job boards?
First, let’s get one thing straight. I’m not putting job boards, freelance marketplace websites, and other short-term strategies down.
They’re a quick and valid way to gain momentum, build your portfolio, and discover what kind of clients you want to work with. Even after a decade of freelancing, I still use these strategies to pad my income or switch things up when I’m in a rut.
The problem is when these short-term leads are your only strategy for getting clients.
Job boards present a what-you-see-is-what-you-get scenario. The leads are there, and there are always new ones popping up, but the leads are completely random. You have no control over who posts an opportunity on any given day.
I call this the “chaos factor”.
Doesn’t it feel a little chaotic when you look for work that way? When a project gets posted, you can almost feel the invisible undulating waves of hundreds of writers clamoring to snag that position.
It feels more like a contest, a rush of adrenaline and a test of speed, than a sustainable way to make a living.
When you use websites like this, it can be fun and exciting… But the chaos factor means you might go a week or more without ever seeing an opportunity that fits into your area of expertise—especially if you’ve taken my advice and niched down.
Repeated attempts to secure work this way results in burnout pretty quickly.
When you’re in that frantic arena all week long, it’s no wonder you feel mentally exhausted and still don’t feel like you’ve accomplished much!
But what if you had long-term strategies working behind the scenes to send consistent work your way—opportunities that match your vision of your ideal target customer and working style?
Then, when short term opportunities did pop up, you’d be able to accept or reject them based on whether they were a good fit for you. Not because you “really need the money”.
This mental balance and conscious control over your work is why it’s so important to activate both long and short-term strategies.
Our goal is to have these dual lead generators going simultaneously so we can reclaim a better quality of life and actively work toward our goals.
That all said, let’s dig into each one of these strategies.
📌 Mental switch: Freelancer → Business owner
The first step to graduating from an occasional freelancer to full-time pro is to make this simple mental switch.
Up to now, you may have been thinking of yourself as someone “looking for work”—someone who “needs to find gigs” to make ends meet.
This mentality can keep you small and prevent you from reaching your potential, so it’s time to shake it off.
And we aren’t going to be lying to ourselves or declaring something that isn’t true here! As a freelancer, you’re technically a freelance business owner already. You pay self-employed taxes, meaning you are an independent entity.
From today forward, you’re going to start calling yourself a freelance business owner. Not a “freelancer”.
You are, in fact, a provider of freelance writing services. Clients can partner with you to achieve specific results based on the services you provide.
You’re in charge of your own rates, policies, workflow, invoicing, etc—the same way a business owner would call the shots and steer their own ship.
Business owners know their product. They know their target customer. And they know they need a plan to make those sales.
Can you imagine a business owner waking up one day and going on a message board or job board style website to look for individual customers? 😉 Probably not a great strategy.
Sure, they can target customers on a smaller scale with ads and outreach, but when it comes to overarching, long-term strategy, they think more broadly.
They build up their visibility, inspire word-of-mouth awareness, and find inventive ways to market themselves consistently.
They cast a wider net by having many different aspects of their marketing plan chugging along in tandem.
This allows the business owner to focus on delivering excellent products and services, dream up their ~big picture~ vision, and evolve over time.
Can you begin to see where this kind of model can help you in your freelance writing career, too?
If you still feel confused, don’t worry. We’re going to dig into it together. But for now, just commit to that phrase: “I am a freelance business owner”.
Say it aloud, get comfortable with it. Embrace the more powerful feeling it gives you.
📌 Start marketing yourself independently
It’s hard to think or feel like a business owner when you’re crawling job board leads all day, so for the moment, put that hustle on hold.
You’re going to start marketing yourself independently. And if you’re already doing that, you’re going to get even better at it!
To begin marketing your freelance writing business effectively, you’ll need to clarify what you bring to the table.
How? This all originates from your niche.
Your niche encompasses who you serve and how you serve them, so it makes your target client and your writing services crystal clear. This also has a trickle-down effect, impacting virtually everything you do.
Once you have this information and can recite it in your sleep, marketing yourself becomes less daunting.
It’s possible that, in the past, you were nervous to “show up” online and talk about your writing services. Maybe you felt the sting of imposter syndrome, started second-guessing yourself and went running back to the job boards.
If this sounds familiar, ask yourself the following:
👉 Am I too general in my offerings to appeal to any one kind of client?
👉 Am I so eager for work that I don’t even filter the kind of projects I take on?
If so, it’s completely understandable! I often say that no one handed us the manual when we decided to start freelancing. Trial and error is a big part of it, and uncovering problems in your strategy means you’re further along than you were.
The first step is getting clear on your niche, refining it if necessary, and understanding how it will shape your marketing.
With a defined niche, you’ll be able to reach and work with clients you love, create an actionable marketing plan that makes sense, enjoy effortless organic search traction over time… and more.
Seriously, it all starts with the niche.
Once you have that nailed down, you can execute on some of the following strategies to market yourself:
☕️ Build a great website
☕️ Create social media pages for your writing services
☕️ Write content about your niche (on your own site or others)
☕️ Show up in industry conversations (a.k.a. networking)
☕️ Pitch services directly to businesses
☕️ Run ads that target your ideal client
☕️ Establish a strong cross-channel online presence
And plenty more.
While this list may seem overwhelming, know that it isn’t meant to be a daily, or even weekly, to-do list.
Marketing yourself independently is a long-term game. You can test strategies, add and remove marketing tactics, and adjust over time. It doesn’t happen all at once.
The biggest takeaway at this stage is recognizing how the above marketing strategies begin with YOU taking control. Coasting through job postings is one thing, but building yourself a robust online presence is another.
(I’m not saying it’s hard. It can be quite fun and you can outsource a lot of it, too! But it starts with you striking the match and taking action.)
We’ll continue getting deeper into the specifics of how to market yourself in the examples below.
For now, recognize the difference!
Hunting for random leads on job boards means you’re a rogue soldier out there clawing for opportunities. In a way, you stay hidden and anonymous—and at the mercy of the chaos factor.
Creating your own marketing, on the other hand, makes you the center of the equation with nets cast around you that are designed to attract the work you actually want.
To do this, you must stop hiding.
📌 Create an effective website
A good website can be a freelancer’s best friend. An effective one will be a 24/7 lead generation tool that puts you on the map, making it easier for your ideal client to find you.
It also makes you look legit to new clients who have never heard of you, and having that trust factor is crucial when working online.
So what makes a good website?
Your website should be more than just a portfolio. It should represent you as a business and be optimized to turn the right kind of visitor into a client.
I created an entire post about this, which includes what you should add right now and what you can add later as you grow.
I also get into why you actually do need a website, even if those “hack your freelance career” gurus swear you don’t—and even if you’ve been getting gigs without one.
(Hint: It’s always possible to get results despite breaking “the rules”, but when you’re thinking long-term, it’s smart to cover your bases and give yourself the best possible chance of success… not rely on random positive outcomes.)
Anyway, read this post. It’s your homework for today:
📌 Create social media profiles for your business
Social media can feel a bit superfluous, but it’s an effective long-term strategy with short term-benefits, too.
By creating the right kind of social profiles for your business, you’re officially showing up online as an expert in a confident and complete way (assuming you show up to those profiles after you create them). You’re also claiming additional online real estate in your niche.
When someone searches your name and/or for copywriters and content writers your niche, you are more likely to fill that first page of search results with relevant profiles.
Social media also allows you to add a social aspect to your writing business by interacting with potential clients and their customers. This is a valuable way to learn more about their pain points and needs.
It’s also a great combination tool for networking (more on that in a minute) and publishing niche content that further underlines your expertise.
But one of the most important things you’ll do when you set up social profiles is that you’ll start owning the energy around your freelance writing business. In my online course, I teach my students that being “high vibe” is one of the most important aspects of freelancing.
High-vibe freelancers are a pleasure to work with. They’re value-bringers, problem-solvers, day-brighteners. And one way to emphasize this is by being that freelancer on social media, too.
Here’s why this is important: When it comes to getting hired on the internet, impressions definitely matter. It helps to be someone who shows up in a helpful, conversational, aligned way that makes sense for your niche.
For example, a pet food copywriter who does Facebook lives with her dog or a fashion content writer who posts free styling tips. Social media gives us the chance to do that in a way we can’t really do with email alone.
Going the extra mile with content that supports your expertise can put you miles ahead from the writers who are hiding in the shadows with no online presence. It’s a trust thing.
I recommend setting up a Facebook business page, an Instagram Business Profile, and a Linkedin Business Page—as well as a Linkedin personal profile that declares your writing niche in your title.
Create a posting schedule that makes sense to you. Post when you feel inspired or show up each day. Interact, connect, and develop a reliable presence. Yes, it’s an additional layer of commitment. But you’re here to commit, right?
A few final tips on social media:
☕️ Optimize your social profiles so that your niche and services are obvious within 2 seconds of someone landing on your profile.
☕️ Have a clear driver to your services page from each profile. Make sure your client knows exactly what to do if they want to take the next step.
☕️ Follow hashtags in your niche and get involved in conversations. Position yourself as an expert by being helpful and generous. Offer suggestions. Be interested in what others in your space are up to. Yes, that’s right… be social.
☕️ Follow potential clients on social media. You can engage with them in a natural way, but you should also be studying them. What do they need? What do their customers need? What’s their brand voice? What can you learn?
☕️ Be patient. This is a long-term game, slow drip, day-by-day. You’re building a body of content and a valuable footprint that amplifies the entire vibe of your online presence. The ROI isn’t immediately evident, but you will see it materialize.
Eventually, this social network you’re fostering will turn into leads, traffic to your site, and real friendships. It’s a beautiful thing, but it takes time. Be patient, be real, and use social media the way it was meant to be used.
📌 Write content in your niche
You love writing… don’t you? Good! That writing passion of yours can be leveraged to amplify your reach and target the kind of client you’d love to work with.
Writing content in your niche can help you establish yourself as an expert and get found in organic search.
There are two ways to approach this, and you can pick one or do both:
1. Set up a blog adjacent to your writing services website. Write regular strategic content. Keep it razor-focused on your niche and keep your subject matter current.
Each post should solidify your expert status by being interesting, having a unique point of view, and using vernacular that your client will relate to.
Cover topics related to their common pain points (or those of their customer) to exhibit your insider knowledge and hard-to-find value.
Keep these posts SEO-friendly by optimizing them with keywords (use the Yoast SEO plug-in if your website is on WordPress). If you need a primer on SEO optimization for blog posts, visit our friend Google. There are free tutorials everywhere.
SEO is important because if you write articles that have zero keywords or optimization, you’ll rely on a potential client finding your website and then actually clicking over to your blog (unlikely).
2. The second approach is to write content for other websites in your niche. Guest-posting for websites with far larger audiences can give you that coveted SEO traction and get in front of your target client.
Meanwhile, you can actually get PAID for these career-boosting posts by offering this as a content writing service. However, clients who are paying for content usually don’t want your website link or branded presence on the post.
If there’s a large audience and a high-traffic website involved, you may exchange a great blog post to have your name, photo, and link on their website where your ideal client is likely to find you.
📌 Leverage your network without leeching.
Your network is massively valuable and can result in some seemingly serendipitous, surprising leads sailing your way.
But if you leverage it incorrectly, you’ll come across as annoying at best (and scammy at worst).
To kick this off, let’s get a bit philosophical: We live in the era of the “connection economy”, as the brilliant Seth Godin has often reminded us.
Our future, our fortune, and our existence depend on making connections with other humans and forming lasting relationships.
There’s SO much noise out there right now that making genuine connections can feel impossible… but with a little focus, you can work on this super-important aspect of your life and career.
Here are two general strategies to set into motion:
1. Show up as a high-vibe, generous person online and IRL.
Be generous! Offer things to your network instead of looking to get something back. When you go the extra mile to help someone else out, they remember it. Then they’ll remember you when the right opportunity pops up.
Here are some simple ways to be more generous:
☕️ Check in with people. Be genuinely interested in their life/success/career. It’s lonely being a writer! Wouldn’t it be nice if someone checked up on you or asked you to coffee without some hidden agenda?
☕️ Forward job opportunities to people you know when you find one that’s not right for you.
☕️ Email links to tools, resources, apps, or blog posts to people when you think they could genuinely benefit from them. Don’t go overboard or bother people with links all day, but if you’re looking at something online and a colleague or peer pops up in your head, go ahead and share.
☕️ Show others some love on social media. If you know an amazing fellow writer, why not put them on blast? Retweet them, or write a public testimonial about their services and how they’ve helped you. Go to their Facebook fan page and leave a glowing 5-star review. Make the world aware of their talent.
☕️ Follow other writers on social media. Interact with them. Retweet their requests. Help them out. If you see a job that a writer you know on social might be good for, send it to them. Offer genuine friendship and don’t ask for anything back. You’ll be amazed at the ripples you create in the universe with this kind of behavior.
2. Use your network to spread the word about your services.
Yes. Tell everyone you know that you’re a writer. Friends, colleagues, previous coworkers (and even bosses), fellow alumni, friends, and family.
(Be honest. Are you out there expecting that you’ll find freelance writing clients when nobody knows you’re a freelance writer?)
No, everyone you know WON’T become a client. Let’s get something straight: Your network isn’t a bunch of clients. It’s just a web of people that continuously shifts and expands. The further you get your name out there as an expert in your niche, the more likely you are to catch that job when it wanders into the web.
Here’s an example: I was part of an online entrepreneurs’ group for years. When introducing myself to new members, I identified myself as a copywriter. I showed up with value and general friendly vibes in that group for years. The owner of that group offered me a copywriting gig: to write emails for her launch.
I wouldn’t have thought about “looking” for a gig in my entrepreneurs’ group, but I ended up getting a sweet gig because they knew was my specialty was and I made a point of showing up with high-vibe energy.
This was a non-traditional way to find a great collaboration that I could not have predicted. I was simply there, showing up, and a door opened.
I’ve also had countless jobs come through mentors, colleagues, friends, and even new acquaintances who simply knew I was a copywriter and mentioned me to someone in their network.
So you see, the idea is not that grandma will hire you to write copy for her website (though she might if grandma is cashing in on that online biz game), but that by putting the word out there, you’ll cast a wider net for potential gigs in the future.
📌 Keep existing clients (very) happy.
Do you want to know the secret to a long-term, thriving freelance writing career? It isn’t going out to find new jobs every week. It’s all about taking extremely good care of your existing client relationships.
Long term work comes from making repeat clients extremely happy. The happier your clients are, the more they’ll want to work with you.
You shouldn’t have to scramble constantly for new work, and if you try to do this, you’ll end up exhausted, too burnt out to serve your clients from a high-vibe place, and struggling through feast-or-famine mode.
Learn all about how to get repeat work by making your clients happy here:
These are my tips for finding freelance writing clients, apart from the typical (and rather chaotic) job board hustle.
Before I release you back into the internet to put these long-term strategies in place, I want to get something across:
Not everything in freelancing is about following steps and getting instant results. Business is not mechanical, despite how unfeeling being in business sometimes seems.
While humans are still running the show, there will always be that emotional human element in all that we do. Connection economy, remember?
That means infusing each step of the process with a human touch will be beneficial to you. When you’re designing your website, setting up your profiles, or uploading photos of yourself… try to see it all through your client’s eyes.
What do they want to see?
What’s going to reassure them?
What kind of presence can you CREATE in this vast and confusing online space that will feel like a reliable, reassuring source of value and problem-solving for them?
Long-term strategy means building up word-of-mouth recommendations. It means building an online presence that’s going to make your ideal client say “Oh man, where has this person been hiding?! I need to work with them”.
And I know these concepts feel a bit abstract… but I encourage you to resist the need to have concrete answers all the time.
Think outside the “Steps 1-5” approach to building your career. You know your niche, your client, and your services best, so do some ideating and experimenting on your own. That’s the fastest way to learn, after all!
Have any of these strategies worked for you? What’s ONE strategy you’re planning to try out this month? Comment below and let us know!
Don’t forget to join the conversation in our Facebook group.