by Meg Dowell
Looking for new writing opportunities to boost your income, exposure and/or establish relationships with organizations you want to support? Here are some tips for finding and taking advantage of writing opportunities online – both volunteer and paid partnerships.
I’ve only been freelancing since January, but I started my writing career five years ago interning for an online magazine. I hope my tips and experience can help you advance your career and expand your online exposure.
First establish your goal – what do you want to get out of this?
With each writing opportunity you seek out, there should always be a “why.” When I decide I want to submit a proposal to a new potential client, there are two things I consider: having my name on more articles – for portfolio purposes, not because I like having my name everywhere – and being able to feed my caffeine addiction. I do this for a living, so money matters – I’m in debt and I’m trying to move out of my parents’ house. If someone approaches me about writing for free, if I have time, I’ll do it if I want to establish a relationship with that person or brand, or it’s a site or organization, niche-wise, that I want to be affiliated with for branding purposes. I don’t agree to anything that doesn’t align with my professional mission statement (because I’m a supernerd and proud of it).
Are you someone who already has a job, but wants to expand your online presence? You’re probably looking for a few free opportunities. These are easier to find – not always as easy to grab, but they’re everywhere. No one wants to pay anyone to write on the internet. Free content is a huge win for publishers and good for you, too, as long as you get a byline. If money is your main driving force – first of all, best of luck. It’s possible – but it’s hard. You can do it. It’s just going to be a rough start. We all go through it. If you have the skills and expertise and you know the proper rates to establish, you’ll be fine.
FIND PAID OPPORTUNITIES ON SITES LIKE UPWORK
I’ve found that many people stay away from freelancing sites because the kind of work they’re looking for isn’t offered, they’re nervous about payment and/or they aren’t sure if they can trust the clients they find there. From my experience, there’s a mix of good and bad jobs and people asking to have work done for them. Most if not all of these sites have security measures in place so that a client must pay you if you do work for them. I know Upwork best, and in its case, a client pays the funds before you even complete the work. Only when they approve it do the funds get transferred to your account.
As far as trusting clients – well, you’re doing work for people you don’t know. There’s going to be some risk. You learn to skip over sketchy postings and offers. You have to go in knowing what you are worth financially – I’ve had people ask me to do work for a penny per word. Unacceptable, for my niche and level of expertise (it sounds snotty, but it’s not – it’s business). I just don’t accept offers from clients who aren’t willing to pay. And I always ask too many questions – it’s better to know exactly what is expected of you before you say yes. That’s how I’ve found success there, anyway. Someone else may have a different opinion. I only work with two clients who ask for invoices externally. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but I trust them – there’s always a contract. That’s what legally binds them to paying you, always.
Reach out to people you’ve worked with before
And that’s professionals – probably not family and friends, who won’t always understand how this whole writing thing works. I’ve made the mistake of reaching out to friends and family, and they’ve flooded me with all kinds of opportunities I don’t actually want – especially free ones. A professional, such as a former boss, is much more likely to understand you might actually want to get paid for doing work you are qualified to do.
There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I just wanted to reach out and ask if you knew of any opportunities in which I might be able to contribute my writing skills in such and such way.” I’ve only done this once, but that person’s organization was just about to relaunch an updated version of its website. They were happy to add another volunteer writer to their circle. I had an “I’m in grad school and might want to work in this field” angle to work with, but you might be able to find your own spin.
Does this one seem too obvious? You’d be surprised how many people don’t know this is a thing you can do … or they’re too lazy to do it themselves, I’m not really sure. This requires a lot of digging and figuring out which potential opportunities align with your goals and preferred niche, but do you want to get published or not? You have to put in the effort if you want results. I’ve had hours’ worth of searching produce nothing of value, and in the same amount of time I’ve also applied for several different jobs all in a row. It’s time-consuming. Welcome to writing on the internet. : )
Which publications do you read regularly? Go to their websites and look at careers/other writing opportunities usually listed somewhere there. I’m always checking the “contact” and “write for us” pages just to see what’s available, even if I’m not currently looking for more work. You never know what could come of trying. You may never hear back from them – but you also might. What do you have to lose?
Don’t expect everything to work out the way you want
I’ve encountered many situations in which I attempted to establish relationships with potential clients and partners and things didn’t work out. I’ve gotten as far as submitting a final draft of a piece with no response or notice of publication after the fact (this was a free opportunity – if someone owes you money, you would obviously pursue them until they paid you). I’ve also been hesitant in starting with a new client and it has turned into an excellent partnership. You never know until you try – but you can’t expect everything to always work out the way you planned.
If we’re talking free opportunities, just because someone says they will accept a submission from you does not mean they are agreeing to publish it – unless they clearly say so. Don’t be afraid to follow up with people – especially if there’s a payment issue (which isn’t really an issue, as long as you sign a contract if you aren’t using a protected service like Upwork – never agree to do work unless payment is promised in some kind of contract). Always ask more questions than you think you need to before you agree to anything. And know that sometimes people do change their minds. You let it go and move on to the next opportunity.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.