The Steps I Took to Land My First Freelance Writing Job

Do you want to be a freelance writer but have no clue how to start?

Or, are trying to make some money as a freelance writer and all you’re getting are one-off content jobs for $20? Navigating the world of freelancing can be a challenge if you don’t know where to find jobs or how to have steady work.

I started freelance writing over two years ago. My twins weren’t even two years old when I landed my first client. I was new and made a lot of mistakes.

The Steps I Took to Land My First Freelance Writing Job

Looking back now I see the steps that helped me land my first freelance writing job as a writer for an automotive website. Let’s first look at what didn’t work and then what did work.

You Can’t Make a Living With Freelance Marketplaces

The very first place I found work was on iWriter. Now I know this isn’t a freelance marketplace; it’s a content mill. All I knew was that it was easy to sign up and create a profile, look for a gig and get hired.

My first – and only – writing job I had was for a toy product description. It was around 300 words, but it took me hours to write.

Why? Well, I had no idea what the toy was and had to research on Amazon and YouTube to get an idea of its features. I then had to create a small description about the toy using a conversational tone. The client didn’t want just a bullet list of the features or specifications. The client wanted a bit of a backstory to the toy.

I finished the piece and received payment – $1.62 and decided this was not for me.

I didn’t have the time to waste writing for pennies. No way.

I switched gears and signed up to Guru and Upwork (it was oDesk at the time). I created profiles and set my rate and pitched to jobs. I pitched to countless jobs and didn’t land any of them.

I’m not sure why I never landed any of those gigs. It could have been my lack of experience or the rate I bid was too high. I’m actually happy I never landed a gig with Upwork because I think I would’ve totally given up and not have pursued freelance writing.

I realized it was impossible to make a living as a writer since the work on that platform was ghostwritten and your pay is based on your rate and not the value you place in your content.

Letting Doubt Stop Me

One thing I had to battle with as a new writer was the constant doubt I had. I felt like an imposter and knew I didn’t have the credentials to back me up.

Why would anyone hire me? I’m not a journalist. I’m not a good writer. I’m an introvert.

For a while, I was paralyzed, and my doubts took over me, but with some much-needed pep talks by my husband I was able to snap out of it and get back in the game.

Here is what helped me land my first freelance writing job.

I Created an Online Presence

I learned early that to make it “out there” as a freelance writer (away from Upwork and other freelance marketplaces) I had to make a name for myself.

But how?

I decided to set up a Twitter account and LinkedIn account. I also knew I needed a  home base or a website for my services.

Screen Shot OLD Innovative Ink Landing Page

At first, my niche was generalized. I didn’t want to pigeonhole my service and felt that if I was just a “content writer” that ANYONE would hire me. I now know that that’s the wrong way to approach freelance writing, but back then I still managed to get clients, so it didn’t hold me back that much.

So, my website and my social media profiles helped me get online, but I still needed a way for prospects to find me. They weren’t going to stumble on my site anytime soon.

I had to find a way to spread the news I was a freelance writer.


I Strategically Guest Posted

Can I tell you a secret?

When I first started out as a freelance writer, I looked up to a lot of other freelance writers. I studied their website, their copy and where they were writing.

Then I researched if those places hired or accepted guests posts. If that successful writer published on Social Media Today, you bet I will try that too was my philosophy back then.

I made sure to write guest posts in my niche back then (health and parenting) and guest post on sites that I saw other freelance writers guest post on (like Social Media Today and Brazen Careerist).

During this time I started a blog but mostly blogged about the world of freelance writing since it was a new passion of mine and I wanted to write about it. So in a month or so I had several guest posts out, started a blog and was ready to start pitching.

I Pitched Hard

I learned that the more I pitched, the better chance I had at landing gigs. But, in the beginning, I just pitched to ads I liked and were in my niche. Those pitches were for a lot of health and parenting blogging gigs. The pay wasn’t the greatest ($25 a post), but I just wanted to land a gig.

I also did some cold pitching and pitched to educational companies that used Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Since my educational background is in Psychology and ABA therapy, I thought there might be a need for a content writer that understands the principles of behaviorism.

After a while though, I wasn’t getting any responses to my pitches. I had to make a change. Right then and there I decided that I had to pitch to jobs that weren’t in my niche, but were still interesting to me.

I pitched to job ads for a:

  • Canadian living writer
  • Pilates writer
  • Article writer for a refrigeration company
  • Pet writer
  • WordPress theme writer

If I was remotely interested in it, I pitched to it. And one of my pitches caught the eye of the editor for an automotive enthusiast site. Soon after I had an inquiry for social media writing and editing.

I found new confidence and started getting inquiries for eBook formatting and eBook cover design. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do all this fun stuff. I love creative work and writing. I finally found a path to getting paid for my value and making a living as a writer.

I wasn’t scrambling trying to land a gig for $25. I was making $100 a post, then $120 and I kept moving up and up and recently, I made $600 from a post under 1500 words.

My way was working, and I found a framework, or blueprint, that can work for anyone.

What Are You Waiting For?

My blog is filled with information to help you get out there and land a freelance writing job. But, don’t you want more? Don’t you want to know how to build a successful freelance writing business so that you can make a living as a writer?

Over to you – tell me what you’re doing to land your first gig.

If you’re ready to really earn a living from writing, you can get your step-by-step profitable freelance writing blueprint by joining Write Your Way to Your First $1k. It walks you through the exact action steps you need to take to land clients, tweak your website to increase conversions and get paid as a writer.

Hi I'm Elna and I'm a freelance writer and mom blogger. I help people just like you become a profitable freelance writer. Within 6 months of starting my freelance writing business from scratch I was able to earn a full-time living as a part-time freelance writer while taking care of my twin toddlers. Check out my free email course Get Paid to Write Online and learn the steps you need to take to be a freelance writer.

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Dear Elna, I’m a first time commenter and want to say “Thank You.” I am trying to get into this space of freelance writing and yours posts really make me feel like I could do this plus they are extremely informative . Freelance writing sounds perfect for me as a mom who got laid off a few months ago. I was in the biomedical research field and would love to write about science/health topics, but have other interests too like parenting, gardening, camping. You have so much great info that it’s taking me a while just to process it all and I keep having to go back and refer to things- which is all good, but I am a bit stuck on getting that very, very first gig. I am truly starting from scratch. I consider myself a decent writer, but writing for money is not something I have ever done before. I’m really that the beginning of your GPTW class barely having produced 2 complete samples. Getting that first job feels really hard and this post helped me the most. It sounds like I need to just focus on guest posting on a couple other blogs and if that doesn’t work then making up 2 more samples on whatever and making my personal writer webpage. Also update my LinkedIn once I have the samples. I would rather apply for a job and write a sample for them so even if they don’t hire me at least I get a sample out of it. Is that the better way? Or should I just cold pitch my already written samples to someone in that niche? I plan to read all the comments on here to get ideas from your readers. You’re going to say “all of the above,” aren’t you? But what first?!!Reply to Ber
Hi Ber! No, I’m not going to say all of the above, but what you are doing is laying the ground work. Kudos for taking my GTPW course. It WILL give you a mini roadmap of what to do. The steps I lay out are for people that have the time to create this online platform. If you don’t have the luxury of time, then the best way is to get some samples and pitch them. So cold pitching is a practical and fast way. I do have a fast cold pitching hack on my Youtube channel here: to Elna
Thank you for another great post, Elna! I’ve never had any luck with job boards but then I didn’t have a pitching strategy when I was trying either. Maybe the change in strategy will help me get some gigs. I’ve been focusing my marketing efforts on Facebook but have noticed a spike of traffic on both Linkedin and Twitter. It’s not much but it’s a start. I’ll be adding Linkedin to my social media marketing strategy soon enough.Reply to Lisa
Hi Lisa! Yes I totally agree.. Twitter and LI have been goldmines for me in generating leads. For me, Facebook is generating some leads, but it’s not a lot. Good luck!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, You rock! Seriously! 🙂 I really admire the way you’ve developed your business in a relatively short amount of time AND with two twin babies on top of it! I’m not new to writing (I actually have 5+ years of experience behind me both as a freelancer and a staff writer), but I’m new to professional writing for higher pay and having my own writing business. Back in the day, I signed up for Odesk because I thought it was the only way to land gigs – sad, I know. It worked for me for a while – until it sucked the life out of me and left me completely unmotivated and disappointed. I always knew I wanted to be a professional writer, but there simply had to be another way to do this without feeling overworked and underpaid. So, now that I started my own writing business, I’ve been pitching a lot in a similar way to yours because I haven’t narrowed down my niche yet. I think I want to try different things first and then decide. Your blogs have been extremely helpful, especially when I had doubts or questions about what to do next and I want to thank you for everything you do. Again, you rock! 🙂Reply to Frosina
Hi Frosina! Thanks so much!Yes, oDesk is not the platform to be on if you want to make a living as a writer. Make your own writer platform! That’s what I say and that’s what I teach in my course! Good luck on narrowing down your niche. I agree with trying a few niches out before!Reply to Elna
Very helpful articles.Reply to Colleen
Thanks Colleen!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, great site and good advice. Also testing my GravitarReply to Colleen
That’s great Colleen! Are you enjoying the course?Reply to Elna
Hi Elna! Thanks for the great article and tips! Very encouraging to me to not give up on writing. This article has given me some motivation to not give up. That’s great that your husband was there to inspire and support you along the way. Looking forward to reading more of your posts and possibly signing up to your Write your way to 1K course! Best and blessings, RachelReply to Rachel
Hey Rachel! Thanks so much for your kind words! Yes, I know how you feel. It’s hard not to compare yourself with others. That’s awesome that you want to buy my course! Just to let you know that in January I’m doing an awesome free challenge called Book Clients in 30 Days..yes it’s only in my private Facebook Group so I hope you enrol in the course (there’s even new content too!) and join us in the challenge!Reply to Elna
Great stuff, as always. No fluff, just actionable stuff. Thanks for caring about newbies.Reply to Peter
Hey Peter, Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂Reply to Elna
These are all great tips! I’ve been so busy with school and my part-time job on top of being a parent that I’m really struggling with time. I want to pitch more and grow my business but I’m just overworked, stressed and exhausted all the time. But I love these tips and I want to be able to make enough to quit my job so during my winter break I’m going to pitch hard! Thanks!Reply to Cole
Hey Cole, Yeah, I struggle with finding time to. I want to grow my business and working building that up but I still need client work to sustain me for a while longer. It’s a tough balance for sure.Reply to Elna
So glad I stumbled across your site. I am trying to be a freelance writer so I can stay at home with my daughter who just turned 7 months. I have been getting frustrated with upworks and glad to hear your take on it. I am excited to explore your blog some more and hopefully you can get me on the right path.Reply to Ellen
Hi Ellen, Congrats on your little one! Oh, I so remember when my twins were 7 months. What a crazy time for me 🙂 I’m so happy I had help. Yes, Upwork and other freelance marketing places like that are notorious for low quality pay. I hope you find some great info on my blog and my free courses. If you need to really make this work out then I highly suggest you take my comprehensive full course on getting started as a freelance writer. Get on my list and later this week I’ll give everyone an exclusive Black Friday discount.Reply to Elna
Hi, Elna. I appreciate you sharing the story of your first gig. Landing on the first gig, that too without own popular site is a daunting task. Guest posting regularly is one of the best things a new freelancer could do, to gain some social proof. Happy to see growth-hacking your way to freelancing success.Reply to Akshay
Hi Akshay, Thanks so much. Yes, guest posting is the best way to get yourself out there and find some clients!Reply to Elna
Great information Elna! I’m curious, as a freelance blogger, are you ever able to dictate your prices, or are you at the mercy of the person/company doing the hiring? It would be nice to state your own price, but I’m not sure if that is standard practice, especially when starting out. Thank you!Reply to Susan
Hi Susan, Setting your price and showing it on your website is something that’s for each freelance writer. For me, I’m toying with the idea of having a starting rate but I don’t feel it’s necessary to display my rate to everyone. Each client is unique and not all my clients have the same rate.Reply to Elna
I want to move into freelance writing so that I can continue to work from home (I work remotely for a company creating content for online learning and professional development courses). I’m struggling now to build the right kind of portfolio. A friend of mine owns a real estate company, and I asked her if I could write some posts for her company blog (which I am doing), but so far, that’s been the extent of my online portfolio. My question: Would you recommend sites like Upwork as a way to build a portfolio? I worry that I’ll be unable to land jobs that actually pay anything until I have a better sample of work to showcase.Reply to Mary
Hi Mary, That’s great you are interested in starting a freelance writing business. I would not use Upwork to build your portfolio as most – if not all – the work you do on that platform is ghostwritten. I would recommend guest posting on sites. There are ones that even pay for guest posts. Check out this post for sites that pay I would also create posts and publish them on or the LinkedIn publishing platform the Pulse (you do need a profile on LinkedIn before you can publish). If you need more help, just email me!Reply to Elna
Thank you for your advice. I so completely relate to the feelings of self-doubt you describe, but this blog reminds me to stuff it and keep moving… (…and I’ve even already added a Gravatar!)Reply to Mary
Elna, The beginning of your story sounds about where I am right now. It does grow tiring to peruse job boards. I wish I had more inbound leads and referrals coming my way but hopefully that will come. Anyway, thanks for sharing how you got your start. It does help to know what steps successful individuals took to get where they are now, and it’s reassuring knowing that I’m following the same trajectory though in a different niche. -EdenReply to Eden
Hey Eden! So glad you aren’t giving up! Job boards can be a great way to land gigs. It’s just knowing the best ones. I’m actually updating my course to include more job boards and many many more ways to find jobs. While my course does emphasize inbound leads, you have to start somewhere!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, I have to confess that I didn’t start out online intending to be a freelance writer. But that’s where I’ve ended up – in the nicest possible way. I’ve struggled with places like Upwork too. I used to send lots of proposals and hear nothing back; it can be disheartening. I’ve found my work through my online network and, strangely, through participating in guest roundups. Seems to have been a good way of advertising with a bio link back to my blog. Impressed with your $600 gig. Any more of those going? – DavidReply to David
Hey David, You’re story is a bit similar to mine. I didn’t intend to be a freelance writer at all. I used to go on the web to check YouTube mamas and go to Amazon and Facebook. That was it. No blogs, no Twitter, nada. But, I’m glad I found freelance writing. It’s given me an outlet to be creative and meet other writers!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, I relied on content mills for so long until I realized my worth. You’re right that those are not the best places to make a living. Creating an online presence is the way to go. Thanks for sharing. Mercy.Reply to Mercy
Hey Mercy, I know a lot of writers who realized that too. It’s hard when you think that’s what content and your value as a writer is worth. I’m glad you figured it out and are on the right path!Reply to Elna
Yes, I’m now doing so well and I’m proud of myself! And by the way, did you read my email? I sent you 2 but no response yet on any of them:) Please check your inboxReply to Mercy