Been a while since I have talked about how to find good copywriting gigs- be they for SEO or otherwise. But of late, I have been talking with writers emerging into it all – all the splendor and the glory – so thought I would do a post to be more of a conceptual overview of finding work…how to think about and approach it.
Assumptions here for proper perspective, do include that you are not pursuing writing in a part-time or full-time position in a specific place: you are approaching it from a more standard issue freelancing POV. I may do another post later, about the benefits of going in-house…because different times of your life may find different things attracting you one way or the other. Today though, we are focusing on independent freelancing.
So let’s just dive right in, shall we?
Step One: Identify the Work, and Your Own Power To It
This one, is really dependent on where you are in your career. Much more important to you when you are just starting out- but certainly something that you will consider multiple times as you march through the perpetual madness of professional copywriting. You need to target a type of writing, and see why you have power to bring it.
If there is a specific type of writing or a niche in which you are prolific, this makes the most natural and reasonable starting point. You have to be reasonable – if your passion is model airplanes, it is going to have a smaller range of professional options than if you are into women’s fashions or marketing. But passion always drives a tough bargain, in most areas…don’t discount your own power through passion.
Maybe you have a few years experience in shipping, or customer service and can write about it – or spent some time in a restaurant (much more common). In any case, you can use most any kind of experience and flip it into a more powerful position to find writing gigs. Since I spent a number of years in restaurants, we’ll use that one here as our example du jour.
Let’s say, you worked in a restaurant for 8 years- both back and front of the house. Then you went to school and started writing. Or maybe you got a degree in English, or had a knack for writing and the degree never quite panned out, so you went to restaurant work, and just stayed there. In either case you are emerging with no true experience (but talent and training) as a writer, and lots of relevant industry experience in restaurants and hospitality work.
To find reasonable work then, you are not going to focus on the weak point, being your lack of pro writing experience…you are going to build more on your strengths as a knowledgeable industry insider and ability to weave the power of professional writing under it. You offer perspective the audience will see immediately, but your voice is better trained to communicate than most. So build up the portfolio while also getting more entrenched in your niche.
Staying reasonable, means knowing the potential of your reach. The well established, leading voices in the industry are not going to listen to you (as a rookie), unless you have something truly remarkable to share. That is really, really rare- and not something you plan for or can build upon. So maybe consider it a long term goal for reaching the top dogs- and never any harm in thinking like that, but do properly count the eggs you are putting into that basket. You should not expect to jump into a field and be at the top of it simply because you have industry experiences.
Yet the restaurant industry has so many diverse parts to it and it offers a very rich and thriving community both online and offline. Sticking to the example: if you have the restaurant experience and drive/skill to write about, find the places where people are publishing about restaurant issues. Right? Simple stuff.
It might be wine service, pairing foods and beverages, managing liquor costs, handling drunk clientele, hiring wait staff, doing fun promotions, menu planning, scheduling – there are a wide range of options for you to explore, and use as search queries. It would start with your own expertise or desires, and be loose enough to follow the paths illuminated by your queries. Refine, rinse and repeat.
By the time you go through this kind of free-thinking research a couple times, you will tend to find a direction coming out in your notes if it was still murky to you. And of course, you should be writing daily – if you want to get paid for it, you’d better start doing it.
Step Two: Identify the Places and Faces Publishing Work, and Buzzing
Knowing we are looking to write about our restaurant experience, we find the publications, websites, forums, online groups and anything else where they are talking about the things that interest us and allow the expertise to shine. Keep track of it- use something online, even as simple as a text file or spread sheet, where you can keep URLs, links and other notes of the community research.
In addition to finding the specific places where restaurant experts are discussing pertinent issues, we will find certain folks who are sparking discussions in certain parts of the topics- idea leaders, typically with passionate followers. Plug in to the ones that make sense here- start becoming more active within the community in which you hope to become a writer. Follow them. Key idea here, is to go out softly…and carefully, and truly add to the discussions. Become a part of the groups where you feel comfortable and can add value.
While you are gently but affirmatively participating within your communities, you are going to be able to see and follow (through links and referrals) different folks within them. Here are the seeds of networking- and getting your work out there. If someone has a great share, go see what they do in their own world- chances are good, you will find more things you like. Not always of course, but it can open up more diverse and active thinking in your subject matter.
The important thing is to not go after the top folks and push your pieces on them and ask for review – they get that a lot, and don’t pay any attention to folks who present their work that way, believe me. I have seen it- and it is sad, because the writer always has an earnest heart: just no experience. I did the same thing to Joyce Carol Oates once- she sent me a very nice postcard, and I learned not to do that again. You can nip it sooner than I did, haha.
Better is to study them- see how they interact, how they communicate and work- and why they are leaders. Emulate them, don’t inundate them. Don’t force your art on someone. Put your work out there for sure: but let them find it, not be backed into evaluating it on-the-spot. The top folks will see anything in their niche, so you simply need to make it good enough to be better than most all of it, and the rest often handles itself. They will tend to come to you, if you write right.
While you are studying the top, and long term planning the reach of it, you need to keep busy. Plus, you need to be building up that portfolio, so when the top dogs do turn to look at you there is something there for them to see. We’ll assume you have a bunch of written stuff, and are looking to get it placed. We’ll also assume you have a little site with some samples or ways to get work in front of clients, and booked – because a freelancer needs that.
The type of work you are submitting and trying to get published matters a good bit here. Online work is much different than offline stuff and the folks who process it are typically different in the marketing department, depending on the size of the business. Let’s say you want to start blogging about restaurant work, but get paid to do it.
The target now, narrows further and you find the blogs and forums and websites chattering away about it all. You may even already be involved in some of them as your gentle community-joining outreach continues, but now, you begin to seek out the places where a LOT of work and a LOT of writers seem to be cycling.
As an example, I went to Google and typed in “Restaurant industry” and got a few good ideas in the first page alone. The NRA is an association of restaurant professionals – thru its site, you could find paths to more, similar minded sites and writers for sure. Or, aim at the NRA – they are a huge organization, and there are many places they will be needing fresh content and ideas. It may not be a place a rookie finds an easy in, but it likely depends on where you are trying to get in there. FohBoh was up there too, and had a ton of featured blogposts about all kinds of industry topics.
Let’s say that is not turning up what you want- add “blogs” to your query to refine the results, and boom – lots more to look at, and evaluate. You now find individual blogs in addition to more organizations – so the rest should be a matter of trial and error to find great, active places to target.
Step Three: Join In the Conversations
OK- now you have a variety of industry-related places where people like you get things published. By people like you, I refer to someone with the experience and training necessary to be considered – just because you WANT to write, is not enough reason for them to ALLOW you to write for them. Not for the better targets, anyway. You are better than that; you are above the rabble.
But start paying attention to your thought leaders, and watch how they are presenting ideas. See which of them have sparks that ignite deeper discussions. Join in when appropriate, and comment- but again, be wise here and add depth and meaning to the discussions. If you have nothing to add, just read.
In many places, the commentors actually have wonderful insights, and get their own traction from being a part of it all. I can speak to that from personal experience- I have both followed folks and had folks come to me, due to comments somewhere. Very, very powerful thing if you are not abusive with it. I think most of the folks I respect today, I found thru a comment somewhere. Or rather, a bunch of comments that helped illustrate deeper things they believed.
If you have a site, which as we said for an aspiring freelancer is not really an option, you can link to it in your comments. If you are adding value, people will follow the links, and look at your site. This makes a very subtle way to bring prospective clients to you- organically, as it should be. You are not actively trying to get the clients, per se, rather, you are simply being involved, honestly, in the discussions in the industry. If you have a strong voice and solid opinions you will be noticed much in the same way you are noticing others.
Granted, a passive approach like that may not be getting you work though, at least not right away, and this is in fact the goal. So you again, just count the eggs you put here, in this one basket. It is one strategy and pretty passive, but not the only effort you are gonna do.
Dig a little deeper on the sites where you are finding the best conversations and activity. Find out more about them and their editorial policies. Many times, there is a page or some content dedicated to explaining how they handle outside submissions, sometimes there is simply a contact form- sometimes there is only an organizational chart and you have to do a little sleuthing to figure it out.
You can often reach out to the successful leaders in the niche too, and ask them for any tips. If you are not an oaf, this can be very effective, depending on the people leading your niche. Simple rules of etiquette include to respect people’s time, and be to the point. They don’t have to give you any help, so don’t act like they owe you and you will find most people respond very favorably to being asked how they did something well.
Rinse and Repeat
The idea now, is to be landing some exposure on one or more of the sites you found, so your own voice can start to ring out more. Your activity and comments should have seeded the clouds well, and if not, then a more direct approach in the content of the site (not the comments) helps it to rain.
I would not look at this task as one where you are seeking the paid part of writing as your only goal. More, this is the means to find exposure, and bring new and interested people to your work, which is actually showcased better on your own site. You simply want to be heard, and put forth your ability to write/blog well about related topics. Your site holds the page(s) with the pitch so you don’t need to worry about having it in your work, which should be standing on its own merits.
This kind of interaction then, will simply continue for you- you will be putting out pieces showing your experience and insight, and have a site of your own to present work options to new clients.
I am not going to sugar coat it: these earliest times are financially tough. But you are building up your portfolio, increasing your trust and visibility in a niche so be reasonable. If you want to get paid to blog about restaurant issues, you have to prove you can do it before anyone will offer you compensation for the efforts.
However it is not all bleak, either. If you are entering a niche for which you have a true passion, your ability to write about it is a natural extension of your passion. Putting a saddle on that, is not always easy but if you persevere, and keep on writing it can work out for you for sure. I see it happen all the time.
Writing is about communicating, so if you want to do it for a living you have to get involved in it and build up experiences. The first ones may not pay much if anything, but they have a purpose because no client likes to be the first one you have. Showing them (not telling them) how you have worked in the past, helps you show your value and helps you hammer the keys for cash more often.