Finding freelance work really isn’t that difficult, but finding high-paying freelance clients is a different story.
There’s a broad spectrum of rates ranging from $0 to $5,000 or more in any given freelance field, and it can feel insurmountable to make the leap to bigger and better income levels. Here’s what the trajectory of a freelance writer looks like.
1) Content mills – Writing about anything from bug spray to web hosting for $5 to $10 a pop
2) Online write for hire sites – Competing with low-wage earners for up to $15/piece
3) Online magazines – Write an article for decent exposure in exchange for a byline or maybe $50
4) Crowdsourcing – Compete to write for us and if you win, we’ll pay you for amounts a hundred bucks
5) High paying clients, agencies and businesses – $100 a blog post up to $5,000 for a white paper
Sometimes one or two lower paying freelance clients peppering your income pool isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe the payments are consistent, you’re getting steady work, the flexibility is awesome, or the exposure for your career is great. But what next? You can’t scale into a full-time freelance career by piecing together $50 projects. And if that client decides not to use your services any longer, then what?
Every freelancer needs at least one high-paying client in their income pool. As you build your confidence and portfolio, strategically add on a handful of other high-paying clients as you let go of your low-paying ones.
So where do you find these mythical unicorn of a high-paying freelance clients? Are they hiding?
The answer is… “Sort of.” Most of the high-paying freelance clients I’ve had don’t advertise. They look for writers and other freelancers by word-of-mouth, and don’t need to comb through hundreds of terrible resumes to find someone they want to work with. So the trick is going out and finding them. Here’s where to look:
Start-ups aren’t always bootstrapping their way to make the rent and pay their employees. Some are fully-funded pursuits with successful, serial entrepreneurs at the helm. And they have money to spend. Start by creating a profile on AngelList to find job opportunities. But that’s just scratching the surface.
Research what types of companies and industries are listed in the AngelList database and try to connect with them on LinkedIN. It’s also not too hard to find their emails publicly listed by Googling for a few minutes. Get in touch, introduce yourself, and ask what type of projects they have coming up that fit your expertise. Bonus points if you can show them how your past projects have impact a business’ bottom line, streamlined their project management or had a blog post go viral.
I love LinkedIN. There’s really no other social network where people are there to connect and talk business. Update your profile and take time to fill in the Summary selection with polished, compelling copy. Treat it as a marketing piece to reflect what you can offer.
But a word of warning. Your job title matters. If you’re reading this article, chances are high you’re looking for a new, flexible lifestyle with money to fund it, or are maybe a Mom (like me). Yet I’m shocked how many people on LinkedIN bother to fill out a profile and list, “Stay-at-home Mom” or “Founder of (name of your personal blog)” in their job description. Don’t do this unless that’s what you’re really going for and don’t care about attracting high-paying clients.
Of course, there are exceptions. If your personal blog talks about your adventures in travel writing, and you want to attract travel writing clients – then go for it.
Yes, being a stay-at-home Mom and pursuing your own blog is a very important pursuit, but that’s not what’s going to get you hired on LinkedIN, or what you want companies and recruiters to see when looking for talent. Instead try this in your job description:
- Freelance copywriting with a focus on high-converting blog posts
- Freelance project manager with a strength for simplifying processes and procedures to save you 20 hours a month
- Freelance graphic designer who creates in-depth infographics that go viral
Next, start researching companies in the industry and fields you’re interested in. See how you’re connected, or how you can connect through colleagues and friends. Then send them an awesome cold email or query letter that commands attention.
I wish I had attended more conferences early on in my career. These can be a goldmine for freelance work, even if you’re not that experienced. Some conferences and business talks can be found in your own local area or nearby city. Look for conferences that serve your ideal target market. So if you want to write for the travel industry, look for hospitality and tourism events in your area. Order some inexpensive business cards from a place like Vista Print with a link to your freelancer’s website to take with you.
Relax and start talking. Making casual conversation is a surprisingly effective way to warm people up and talk about their business. If you can think of a way to help them, let them know, even if it’s to connect them with a different freelancer. Helping others is a way to create longevity in your networking. Who do you think will be more memorable? A person who took the time to listen, offer advice and pass on helpful resources even if it didn’t result in immediate freelance work? Or the person who spent two minutes giving their elevator pitch, barely asked any questions or listened, and moved on when they realized they weren’t going to land a new client?
Piggy Back Method
This is by far my most successful means of finding high-paying work. Why reinvent the wheel as a freelancer and hunt for new clients, validate their needs, and follow-up? Not to mention managing invoicing, payments and client service issues?
Instead, find out who is already serving the clients you want to work with. For example, if you want to write for law firms and help with their SEO; go out and find the agencies already working with them. “Law firm SEO services” is just one place to start. These agencies typically work with a roster of freelancers and are usually always happy to hear from someone who can bring new skills to the table. I’ve gotten work simply by being in the right place at the right time when that agency was swamped with work and desperately needed anyone qualified to step-in.
The Piggy Back Method is also a great way to quickly build credentials. When I was a freelance commercial video editor in New York, I worked with several post-production houses. Instead of just listing those businesses, I named the actual advertising clients I served like Twix, Marriott, Milky Way, Nike, Sprint and others. And despite the fact I worked with those clients as a video editor, it opened doors for me as a freelance writer as well.
Your Own Network
One of my husband’s clients reached out to me and asked if I would do some copywriting for a new environmentally-friendly clothing line. I said, “Sure!” It didn’t matter to her that I had no similar writing experience. She trusted I could do it based on samples I provided, and was happy to work with me based on my husband’s credibility as a graphic designer.
I’ve had other clients fall into my lap through friends and acquaintances. When I was a freelance commercial video editor, a woman I had never met referred me to anyone who asked. Why? We had a good mutual friend, and when this person was booked, she wanted to pass on a qualified freelancer in her place. That helping mentality made me bend over backwards to do the same for her. When we finally met, I practically jumped in her arms to give her a big hug and thank her for all the work she swung my way. Those bookings resulted in tens of thousands of dollars.
I’m here to tell you UpWork gets a bad rap. Do some freelancers compete for a $5 project with low-paying contractors overseas? Yep. They sure do. But did you also know that agencies, businesses and start-ups also use UpWork? If a client needs a freelance copywriter, and their budget is $1,000, they’re not going to say, “Oh, right. UpWork! I’m going to see if I can find someone for $10 instead.” I’m sure this has happened, but for the most part, the budget is the budget.
These clients still want a quality freelancer, not someone inexperienced working for $5 an hour. That need hasn’t changed just because they’re on UpWork. I’ve booked several high-paying clients on UpWork and earned thousands just by creating a commanding, powerful profile and only bidding on high-paying jobs. I then created highly relevant, amazing samples to go right in my proposal/bid request designed to impress. The clients that booked me didn’t seem to care I barely had any UpWork experience, and no reviews. It does take a little time to nail down your first client, but it’s worth it.
Niche Guest Posting
Guest posting is pretty common if you’re trying to promote your blog, but you can do the same thing for industry websites and magazines. It’s possible you’ll even get paid for writing the piece. Identify publications and outlets in the field you want to work with. Make sure you’re identifying a high-paying field to begin with. For example, a parenting website may be rewarding to write for (and I enjoy it!), but probably isn’t going to pay a whole lot. Meanwhile, deciding to write about technology in healthcare, or marketing for the construction industry will yield lucrative results.
Once you’ve identified publications or outlets you can write for, pitch an idea that is helpful to that market, while showcasing what you can offer. Just about every publication allows some type of byline that can link back to your freelancer’s website. Make sure that link goes to a page where you can offer a juicy piece of content like, “How to Grow Your Revenue by 300% By (fill in the blank)” in exchange for their email so you can follow-up.