If you’re new to freelance writing, you may be thinking “how on earth do I find clients?” It can seem as if everyone else in the community already has an established client base, but remember – everyone starts somewhere!
I’m a professional fiction ghostwriter, so this advice may lean slightly more towards fiction writing than non-fiction, but a lot of these networking tips will also be relevant for content writers and non-fiction ghostwriters.
I would strongly recommend that all new freelance writers make sure they have taken three vital steps before starting out: firstly, setting yourself up as self-employed/freelance in your country of residence (including researching tax laws etc.), secondly, thoroughly researching rates and common practises for your niche of freelance writing (I’d highly recommend reading and keeping handy Mary C. Long’s wonderful article about this), thirdly, make sure you have a portfolio of extracts showcasing your skills and professional ability. Read my article full of advice for new ghostwriters here before continuing with this article to make sure you’re prepared to take on your first client projects.
Join our Facebook Group – Fiction Writers and Poets (International) for more writing advice and to promote your books/writing! (click on the image to join)
Now that you are ready to start, here are 10 places to find and connect with potential clients and their advantages and disadvantages.
Freelancer is the site where I found some of my very first ghostwriting clients. It has it’s pros and cons like any website (in my opinion, some significant cons), but once you understand how to navigate the site, Freelancer can be extremely useful for short term and long term jobs alike.
- A wide range of jobs available – almost any project you can imagine is available to bid on. You can find fiction, non-fiction, and content writing jobs here. Whether you prefer to write short fiction, fantasy, erotica, business guides or product descriptions, there will be a project to suit you.
- The payment system on Freelancer protects both you and the client. The client has to deposit the payment into the website before you start the work. You won’t be paid until the client is satisfied that you have completed the work to their spefications, but equally their money remains with the website until that point as well. This offers slightly more protection than a traditional invoice system.
- The bidding system means that you can make your offer stand out to potential clients. You can link to your portfolio, negotiate your rates for the amount of time or skill the job will take and generally have freedom to impress the project poster. This is a real boon to newbies as you can personalise your bids and show yourself to be professional and approachable before you’ve even been chosen.
- There is a certain amount of pressure to pay for membership, however, once you’re established the perks of membership do pay for themselves. Boosting your bids and paying a monthly price for a premium account can have a great impact on your success on this website, but it is a cost to factor into your future plans if you want to use Freelancer.
- Although your bids are personalisable, and having a great portfolio will help, your ratings, review and track record on the website will be a huge factor in how often you win bids. Having a low star rating, slow delivery time or being over budget will work against you for the rest of your time on the website. If you get off on the wrong foot (for example, underestimating how long a project will take you) or if you’re unlucky enough to receive a poor review, it could ruin your chances of gaining more clients.
- The deposit system can backfire. If you have a client determined to get some work out of you for nothing, they may continue to withold payment even after you’ve completed the work. I was ignored by a client who didn’t want to pay and eventually had to contact the website so that they could release the payment for me. Of course, if your work isn’t up to scratch you should make the required changes, but there is still the ability for the client to cheat the system if they want to.
Recommendations for this method
- When you first start on Freelancer, take on small, short term projects so that you can build up some reviews and reputation on the site.
- Make sure you understand the deposit system and the risks involved. Use small payment increments via the milestone system to avoid large amounts being kept back.
- Be aware that Freelancer takes a cut of all payments and price accordingly.
Similarly, Fiverr can be a great tool for new freelance writers. Fiverr is different to Freelancer, so here are some things you need to know if you want to utilise the website for your business.
- Just like Freelancer, the deposit system ensures protection for both sides of the arrangement. Clients have to pay the website, and the amount (minus the fee) is released on completion.
- There is no bidding system – clients will come directly to you if you’ve set up your profile correctly.
- Fiverr offers buyers the opportunity to tip you for your work. Whether they will or not depends on the client and the quality of your work, but the option is there.
- There is a 14 day waiting period for payments after completing the work. This is to ensure the clients are satisfied with your work, but it can mean an extra two weeks without any income that month. Try to spread out your jobs accordingly so that you’re not dipping into your overdraft or savings.
- Fiverr takes 20% of your earnings (compared to 10% from Freelancer). If that doesn’t sound like that much to you, think about an £1000 job – you’ve set your price to £10 an hour and the job takes you 100 hours. You’re paid £1000, but only £800 makes it to your bank account. You’ve essentially just worked 20 hours for free. That’s two or so days work. Of course, you can price your jobs to take this 20% into consideration, but you may price yourself out of the market, especially if you’re new and inexperienced.
- I’ve found clients on Fiverr expect a lot for very little. The initial concept of the website was jobs for $5, and although that’s not commonplace anymore (thank goodness!) the bargain culture that was originally intended for the website still hangs over it. You will find freelancers on Fiverr pricing themselves extremely low to undercut the competition and you may feel pressured to do the same when you’re first starting out.
- Be aware of what other freelancers are charging, but don’t try to undercut them – match them. You work, reputation and portfolio will speak for itself and any serious clients will value quality more than a supposed bargain.
- Read, read, read about how to make a Fiverr profile. Start with this blog post by 8ctober Studio’s Ereen for some useful tips.
3. Networking Events/Conferences
Yes, COVID has seriously affected the amount of face to face networking you will be able to take part in at the moment, but you can still find clients through virtual networking events. Try searching social media events for local business owners, freelance writers, or even social events (although don’t go to a social event intending to sell, just to meet new people!)
- Clients trust someone they can converse with face to face (or screen to screen) more than a virtual profile. They can interact with you, get to know you and ask you questions.
- You can sow seeds that will become profitable in the long run. You may not see immediate business, but networking with other people in your area of business will be really useful in the long term. I have gotten work from someone a year or more after bumping into them at a conference/event. Read more about networking here.
- As well as meeting potential clients, you will interact with more experienced people in your field. You will gain a better understanding of good practises, rates and the market by speaking to these people.
- Networking takes time. Speaking to a client at an event may not immediately turn into a job, and when you’re new that’s your main focus. That said, don’t undervalue the experiences that networking provides or the long term influence it can have on your success.
- You may not get anything from networking or attending a virtual conference. You may not get a single client, colleague or useful piece of information. Or you might get all of the above. It’s a lottery, and often, networking events are what you make of them. You need a goal before you go and you need to be prepared to participate and put yourself out there.
- If you’re nervous, start with online networking like Instagram or forums. You may find someone else who is looking to attend virtual conferences or face to face events (COVID-permitting) and find confidence in going with someone you already know.
- Be bold, but be polite. You’re not there to walk around with your business advertised on your forehead, you’re there to meet people and hope that business springs from those interactions later. Don’t underestimate the power of making a good impression – word of mouth can lead to a lot of business.
4. Traditional Advertising
Traditional advertising such as newspapers, magazines, flyers and billboards can be more effective than you may think. My business was started with posters and leaflets and I quickly found that spending money on social media adverts wasn’t as effective as printing off a few professional looking flyers.
Remember that you can advertise your services in these ways, but clients can also place wanted adverts. Spend some time going through your local newspaper and see what you can find – I’ve found a handful of clients this way, one of which became a long term client.
- An eye-catching poster or leaflet, especially with a specific discount code included, can be an amazingly easy and effective tool. You may only have to put up one or two posters in a month to get business.
- There are countless ways to use traditional advertising and you can get creative to suit your needs. You may find that mugs with your logo on are most effective, especially if you hand them out to the right places. You could ask to offer free bookmarks with your website name on in your local bookshop. You could hire someone to hand out leaflets in the town centre. It may take some trial and error, but there are a lot of ways to find clients through traditional advertising, even for niche writers.
- Buying traditional adverts in magazines, newspapers and in public spaces can be really expensive. When I first started offering proofreading and editing I paid for my advert to be included in a student newspaper. My advert was 1/8th of a page and cost £80. I included a discount code that I didn’t use anywhere else so that I could keep track of the clients who came from that magazine and to date (years later) I’ve only had two clients from that advert, totalling around £20 of work. Read more about marketing on a budget here.
- Traditional adverts may not reach who you need them to. If you’re a fiction ghostwriter like I am, you may find that your clients just aren’t looking to posters or magazine adverts for their projects.
- Use discount codes (even if just 5%) to keep track of where your clients are coming from. Have a different code for each place e.g if you paid for an advert in a magazine called “Writing Skills Weekly” you could call the code WSWEEK10.
- Don’t invest too much in adverts or leaflets at the start if you’re not sure they will work for you. You can’t get that money back.
- Perfect your skill with a graphic design tool like Canva (it’s free!) so that your adverts look professional. A blurry or garishly coloured will look very amateur to potential customers.
- Make sure you have permission to put posters up – don’t just put them on lampposts or bus stops without asking.
Facebook, and other social media sites, can be a great way to find and secure client jobs. Whilst social media ads do have their uses, I will be focussing on how you can use Facebook Groups to find projects.
There are a lot of meme groups, local groups and hobby groups on Facebook, but there are also groups for serious business people. There are a lots of local business groups, so have a search and find one in your area. For women in the UK, try The Inspire Network, a supportive and friendly environment with a free or paid membership option.
If you’re not interested in joining a business group, I would still highly recommend joining a group specifically for freelance writing or ghostwriting. For the latter, I suggest Ghostwriting for Profit. This is an intelligent group of professional writers and ghostwriters looking for work or promoting their services. This group is, in my opinion, superior to other ghostwriting groups on social media because the admins encourage good practises and are quick to protect their group members from scammers and unfair rates. If you respect the rules and interact with the other members, you’ll soon find this group a useful addition to your online networking and advertising.
- A wide range of groups are available, and of course, you could set up your own group for your specific writing niche.
- Groups are often overseen by experienced admins who can help you not to fall into the pitfalls of accepting unfair work.
- These groups are often social and friendly. This can be really beneficial if you work alone as a freelancer and are looking for some support.
- Clients will often post wanted ads directly to the groups for your to reply to.
- There are no website fees to pay like on Freelancer, Fiverr or Upwork.
- Trolls and scammers are common on social media. If you’re not well-versed in online security or etiquette, this may not be the tool for you.
- Clients using social media may have a lower budget (although not always) than those who can afford to pay for the premium version of services like Freelancer.
- Carefully select your Facebook Groups so that you can dedicate time to engaging with the other members in a useful way rather than just posting links or adverts.
- Only use Facebook Groups if you are confident with social media etiquette and are aware of the risks of trolls and scammers.
LinkedIn is a more professional version of Facebook – a sort of online CV meets social media profile. You can include any and all professional skills and previous work, giving you the perfect tool to create a well put together page of your best points for clients to see.
LinkedIn is also fantastic for networking with other business people (some you may know, and others you may not) and has groups which function in a similar way to Facebook.
- LinkedIn is easy to craft to your professional needs. You can include any details that you feel are relevant to your business and services. Friends and colleagues can even endorse your skills to give your profile a boost.
- You can pay for adverts or advertise the many groups on LinkedIn.
- There are lots of clients on LinkedIn looking for freelance writers. I have found several jobs through networking on there. You can also vet clients by reading their profiles and seeing their connections.
- LinkedIn puts a lot of pressure on its users to upgrade to the paid version of the website in order to find jobs. This may or may not be necessary for you, but it can quickly get pricey from £24.98-£79.99 a month.
- LinkedIn is geared more towards permanent, full time jobs rather freelancing. A lot of the writing jobs you will see on LinkedIn are for in house content writers rather than freelancers.
- To start with, just treat LinkedIn as another social media platform to showcase your talents. Add your CV details and skills to your profile, upload links to your blogs or adverts and see what comes of it.
Upwork is similar to Freelancer and Fiverr, except that the website has an application process. Not everyone is accepted to the site.
- A variety of serious and high paying clients. You would be hard-pushed not to find work on Upwork if you are serious about making a career from writing. Jobs for any niche or genre you can imagine will be found here.
- You’re more likely to find long term clients on Upwork (if your work is up to scratch). Clients are often working in the industry and need regular writers.
- Upwork, like Fiverr, has the option for clients to give you bonuses. If you work hard and deliver high quality writing, you could land yourself a nice bonus payment.
- You have to pay to submit proposals.
- It’s difficult to get accepted. You need to have an amazing application to get accepted onto the website, especially if your niche is highly competitive. You’ll need to craft a professional cover letter-style application which details your specific skills and past work (if any). This is off-putting for first timers, but I would still encourage you to try submitting an application.
- Whilst I would encourage all new freelancers to have a go at submitting to Upwork, I would suggest you try to build your reputation and experience of some of the other sites I’ve mentioned here first.
Reedsy is a wonderful resource for writers, full of prompts, competitions and blog posts. It is also a place for publishers and other buyers to find freelancers in all areas of self-publishing. They have an area specifically for ghostwriters, but you need to show examples of your previous work on Amazon to be accepted onto the site.
There are a couple of issues with this – ghostwriters often write under NDA which means they can’t reveal that they wrote a specific book (although Reedsy does have a sort of way round this if you contact them). Secondly, of course, you need to have actually had clients complete and publish the work you did for them in order for you to use the texts as proof of your previous work.
For these reasons, Reedsy isn’t really suited to beginners, but I thought it would be best to include it in this list so that you are aware of it. It’s always good to have a goal to aim for.
- A wide variety of clients who are looking for freelancers.
- A website full of useful tips and support for writers.
- It can take time to build up a portfolio of previous work to use on Reedsy.
- Build your portfolio of previous work before applying.
- Ask your clients if you can use their work as an example – you don’t want to get into legal trouble over NDAs!
These are just some of the ways you can find clients as a freelance writer. When you’re just starting out, it can be really daunting to see a long list and feel like you have a lot of work ahead of you to build your experience. I’d suggest picking just a few to begin with (perhaps some of the free ones to build your confidence) and include the rest over time.
How did you find your first ever freelance client? Was it through one of the ways listed here?