Where’s The Work?

March 18, 2009

The question comes up both on forums and in individual emails, from people who read the blog and want to freelance. “Where’s the Work?” People are frightened in this economy. And, too many people think that freelance writing is “easy money.”

A few harsh realities:

You need skill, dedication, and common sense. If you don’t have those, get out of the way, because the rest of us who do will flatten you as we go about our work.

Learn your craft. If you can’t spell, can’t figure out the difference between “it’s” and “its”, or “you’re” and “your”, go back and study. Read the style manuals, read Strunk & White. Yeah, you can hire in at content mills, but until you learn your craft, you won’t get any quality work for quality pay. There are thousands of other writers who bother to learn the craft, and they’ll get the work. Editors don’t have the time to teach you how to write. They need to hire people who’ve learned the craft.

If you start working for a mill that pays a percentage of a penny per hundreds of words instead of setting a decent rate in the first place and working your way up, you get a reputation as cheap labor, you don’t improve, and you don’t wind up with clips that will catapult you into the living wage category. So skip the jobs that pay crap. If you need clips for your portfolio find a non-profit about which you are passionate, take them on a pro bono client, and build LEGITIMATE clips that you can actually use to get decently paid work. Pitch ideas to your local newspapers. Yes, newspapers are struggling. They also have to cover everything in the community with one or two reporters. If you job in here and there for a few articles, even at a low rate, you gain legitimate clips that you can use in your portfolio. A low-paid clip from a community newspaper is worth more than a low-paid clip from a fly-by-night web content mill.

Build up a portfolio of clips. Set up a website, or at least a webpage. Skip the blog unless you’ve got something unique to share and are willing to post several times a week, and spend time on other people’s blogs. Print business cards. Create a brochure with information about your services. NOW you’re ready to look for work.

Work is everywhere. There are all kinds of job boards. I am vehemently opposed to paying for listings at “bidding sites.” I know there are people who swear, “I personally know someone who makes six figures from XYZ site” – you notice the person actually making the six figures never admits it, it’s always someone who KNOWS someone – yeah, right. There are writers who swear they’ve gotten some good jobs from these bidding sites. Perhaps they are the exceptions. I believe you can get better work with a little of your own effort.

The boards I prefer are:
Anne Wayman’s About Freelance Writing – she lists jobs three times a week.
Media Bistro – yes, they have free memberships
Poe War
Journalism Jobs
Writer Find
Funds for Writers
Writers’ Weekly

And for out and out inspiration, there’s nothing better than Peter Bowerman’s THE WELL-FED WRITER and his Well-Fed Writer site.

Yes, there are quite a few popular boards that aren’t on the list. That’s because I haven’t found them particularly useful, and several, who constantly talk about decent wages for writers, go ahead and post insultingly low-paid work.

I’ve found some decent stuff on Cragislist, but your B.S. detector needs to be on “high”, and don’t agree to do a free sample. If the client can’t tell from your portfolio if you’re the right fit, move on. Chances are good the “client” plans to disappear after accumulating all the “samples” that comprise the project and they’ll show up, unpaid, in another context. If a potential client asks for a sample, negotiate a rate for it, so you get paid something whether you’re hired for the full project or not.

But the best work you’ll find won’t be on any job board. You find those when you are pro-active. Look around you – everywhere are signs, flyers, brochures, letters, etc, etc. Someone has to write them. Someone gets paid to write them. Why shouldn’t it be you?

Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Bother to attend meetings, meet people, talk and LISTEN to their needs, give out cards. If you pay dues at organizations and don’t show up and participate, then don’t whine about not getting anything out of it. Get to know local business people and learn how to pitch yourself as the best writer for their business that’s come down the pike. Open up the phone book – what businesses and organizations in your area appeal to you? Send them a brochure. Follow up within two weeks. Keep them on a mailing list and drop them a postcard every three or four months.

Keep an eye out for businesses that interest you and then figure out a way to make yourself indispensable to them. Research the organization thoroughly and CREATE a place for your work. Then sell the company on your idea. It’s possible. It takes more work upfront, but, in the long run, you build a legitimate and often loyal client list, are paid a living wage, and every piece on which you work adds to your portfolio. Instead of being a hamster-on-a-web-content-treadmill who can barely pay the bills, you will write your way into picking and choosing the most interesting clients and projects. It takes awhile, but if you’re willing to put in the work and not take the seemingly easy way out, you can build a viable business.

So where’s the work? Everywhere – if you bother to track it down.

–Devon Ellington



  1. […] got an article on The Scruffy Dog Review called “Where’s the Work?” Stop by and leave a comment if you get a […]

  2. Great post! I’ve heard more and more people asking where they can find freelance writing work lately. The truth is I’m busier than ever. Freelance work is everywhere but, as you point out, are you looking for pennies or for good freelance work? The latter is definitely out there if you’re willing to look for it and work for it.

  3. Excellent post, Devon, you’ve shared a wealth of information. I plan on taking a look at the above-mentioned boards soon. I’ve also posted a link to this article in my RESOURCES section.

  4. Hi Devon, thanks for the plug, and you’re absolutely right. On all points. Good post. But I’m not surprised 😉

    Anne Wayman

  5. This will be helpful for many out there looking. Thanks Devon! ~Emily

  6. your just a word sorcerers with nothing to give except analog gibberish and yes craft that is dead typeset Typenese….
    ” Ignorance is bliss! ”

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