Finding the Needle: A Freelance Guide to Finding and Landing the Job

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So you’ve decided to take the plunge, huh?

Well then, welcome to freelancing!  It’s a wild, sometimes frustrating, always competitive, and occasionally nerve-wracking, but if you’re anything like me, the idea of going back to the 9-5 job won’t be considered.  This life isn’t for everyone, but if it’s for you, you’ll know pretty quickly- say in about six months or so.

As a freelancer, you’ll no longer have the luxury of a regular paycheck, of having your employer deal with taxes, the employee provided insurance, or even paid time off.  Gone are the days of two-week paid vacations, regular hours, and camaraderie around the water cooler.  Say hello to 10 to 12 hour days at a time, multiple demanding bosses also known as clients, sometimes laughably low wages, and most of all the looming uncertainty of how to pay the next bill.

Still with me?  Stil want to be a part of this game?  If so, good — the world needs more people like you.

Finding the Needle: A Freelance Guide to Finding and Landing the JobSo now that we’ve talked a little bit about what’s wrong with freelancing, let’s talk about what is right about it.  That paid vacation you’re losing?  If you play your cards right, you can take that vacation anytime you want, and how often you want.  It just takes a bit of planning.  Those 10 to 12 hour days?  They can become few and far between and can provide you with three to four days off the following week.  Those demanding bosses?  Well, they’ll not only help you achieve the dream of self-determination, but you’ll have plenty of stories to tell your kids and grandkids about how you helped to shape someone’s world.

As you can guess, successful freelancing begins and ends with finding the right projects at the right time and making sure you land them.  So how do you do that?


There are probably hundreds of freelance gurus out there- and most of them have some pretty good advice about working in the freelance world.  Some I agree with wholeheartedly — others not so much.  But that’s just the nature of the beast.  Over the years, I’ve hammered out a system that works for me, and perhaps with a bit of modification, it can work for you as well.

Preparation is Key

The first step in searching for freelance work is to prepare yourself.  Figure out what exactly you want to do, and how much you will do it for.  Determine for yourself both a flat rate (per project, per word, etc.) and an hourly rate as well.  Take a look at the rates of other professionals in your chosen area — not places like the content mills, or countries where the cost of living and the wages are much, much lower.  Look at professional freelancing organizations, editing organizations, and people who have been successful working full time as a freelancer.  For example, I have been ghostwriting — and getting paid for it– since 2003.  I routinely charge between  $0.10 and $2.50 per word and get it without a hassle.  That means for a 500-word article, I can get anywhere between $50 and $1250.  Sounds pretty nice, huh?

But before you start running out there and charging fees, remember that preparation is key.  In order to demand such rates, and get them, you’ll need to show that you can deliver the quality and the quantity that a potential client demands.  Many beginners believe this means working for pennies per word or dealing with shady clients that don’t always pay.  I did when I first started out- and I sincerely believed that I was “paying my dues.”

God, what a relief to find out how wrong I was!

The truth is, most clients aren’t concerned about who you’ve worked for in the past — they want to know what you can do for them now.  They want examples of your work — either stuff you’ve done for others or stuff you’ve done for yourself.  So something like a blog, a few articles in the church newsletter, or heck even a logo design that you just made up last week can all serve as examples of what you can do.  The important thing is to make sure that you are presenting the best quality work that you can.  And of course, if you have examples from previous clients– and they don’t have a problem with you using their material for your portfolio- I say go for it.

So before you even start to look for freelancing projects, make sure you understand what you’re willing to do, how much you’re willing to do it for, and have a few solid examples for your portfolio — either from clients or ones you’ve done for yourself.

Be Picky About Your Sources

The truth is that there are probably hundreds, if not thousands of sources for freelance work out there.  Not all of them are worth your time though.  If you want to find the projects that fit the criteria you’ve set in the first part, you’ll need to be a bit choosy on where you go to find the projects.  Personally, for me to consider a particular source, they need to meet a few criteria:

  • The source must be updated regularly — either daily, weekly or monthly
  • The source must list paying jobs
  • They must be available in a language I can understand
  • The source must have available the contact information for the client, or at least a way to contact them through a third party.

In most cases, the sources for jobs are going to fall into four categories — raw classified listings, aggregate sites, calls for pitches or proposals, and referrals.  Of these types, the most lucrative are the calls for pitches and proposals and referrals.  However, when you’re first starting out, the best bet is to look at the aggregate sites or raw classifieds.  Why?  Numbers, really.  In the beginning, the more jobs you consider, the more chance you have of finding a good one to apply for.

Please don’t misunderstand — if you come across a referral situation or a magazine or publication calling for pitches, and you feel you can do the work properly- go for it.  There is absolutely nothing that says you can’t.  That’s one of the things I love about freelancing.

Here are a few of my favorite “raw classified” and aggregate sources that I routinely look at for new work:

  • Craig’s List
  • Local Newspaper
  • Online newspaper (regional).

In the next blog post I’ll share how I actually use these sources, so be sure to check that out.

Be Picky About Your Jobs

I cannot stress this enough.  There is a school of thought out there that basically says that in the beginning, you have to apply to pretty much every job you come across and hope that a few pan out.  I do not agree with this advice, although I did follow it in the beginning.  Applying for every job that passes over your computer screen is a prescription for exhaustion at best and a nervous breakdown at worse.  Remember, there is only one of you, and you can’t be everything to everyone.  Nor should you be.

Remember in the beginning how I said that preparation was key?  Well, this is where is comes in big time.  By understanding what you’re willing to do, what you’re able to do, you can start to eliminate about 2/3 of the jobs that would be pointless for you to apply to.  Add to that your knowledge of what you’re going rate will be, you’ll be able to narrow down the jobs even further.

Why is this important?  Simple — the fewer jobs you apply for, the more targeted and specialized your response can be.  That means there is a greater chance of you landing the job.

In the next blog post, I’ll be talking about how I actually use the classified adds and aggregate sites to find work, including what to look for to spot the scams and clients that aren’t worth your time.

Until then– happy hunting!


© 2017, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.

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