Don’t Wait for the Job You Want – Create It!

Please join me in welcoming guest author Devon Ellington to the site, for some interesting insight on a great way to find freelance writing jobs…

As freelance writers, we have a special gift: we listen to our clients and transform their needs into engaging copy to enchant a wider audience and profit all of us.  Hunting down these jobs takes time and attention to detail. Pinar Tarhan has a great post up on finding legit, paying web markets on this very blog, titled, “9 Simple Ways Writers Can Find Paying Web Markets.”

But there’s an alternative to hunting down vacancies posted by someone else.

Create your own job.

Convince the company to whom you’re pitching that they can’t live without you.  A striking web presence is a must for successful business, and it needs regular, exciting content.  Often, a company isn’t quite sure what it wants and needs, but you can present them with well-thought out, creative ideas and convince them that you are the perfect person to implement them. You’ve given them more than they knew they needed, it gets them beyond their original goals, and you wind up with a more interesting job than anything they could think up internally.  Because you understand them and think beyond their usual parameters.

How do you do that?  It takes more initial legwork, the process of landing the job can take longer, but it pays off in the end, both financially and creatively.

What Interests and/or Intrigues You?

Know your own interests and passions.  What gives you a thrill?  If you’re writing about something that genuinely interests you, your writing will be more connected and stronger, which makes you a better hiring choice.

You Don’t Need to Be An Expert

One of my favorite things to do is get interested in something I don’t know much about, research, pitch an idea, and learn on the job.  I have a quick learning curve and can assimilate information quickly.  That adrenalin also make the writing more engaging. By the time the piece is turned in, I’m well versed in it, but I’ve been paid to learn. I am upfront about my experience (or lack thereof) when I pitch.  I don’t lie to a potential client.  I let my enthusiasm, research, and ideas carry me from pitch to assignment.

Hunt Down Companies That Do Interesting Things

That means you need to pay attention.  That small, quirky article on page 15 of the local paper?  An inspiration.  A tiny feel-good news story tucked away on a bigger broadcast?  Do some research.  If it interests you, it will interest others.  News feeds, Google searches, passing mentions in favorite blogs or articles — all of those may contain an inspirational spark.

One of the best places to research companies that need web content is through Chamber of Commerce listings.  Businesses are often listed by category (and often on the Chamber’s website).  Go through the categories that are the best match, and visit the website of the company.  I’ve landed jobs where a company parked a blog site, but there wasn’t any content.  They weren’t advertising for a blogger, but I was interested in the company and came up with ideas, posting frequency, and a rate that made us all happy.  A regular gig.

As you scan news feeds, do you notice a business or civic organization putting on an event in a few months?  Pitch yourself for event scripting or speechwriting or writing their press releases or program copy.  My background in theatre allows me to pick up someone’s cadence in a ten minute phone conversation and write a speech that sounds natural.  I ghost write speeches for speakers based all over the world (and most of them want confidentiality agreements — be prepared).  You don’t have to be in the same town.  You do have to understand the company, be enthusiastic about its mission, and understand how a particular individual speaks and projects himself.

Is something exciting planned for an area you know well?  Again, you don’t have to live there.  A sports event, an arts festival?  The event itself needs web content, every presenter/participant within the event needs web content, and every business in the area who hopes to draw in extra crowds during the event needs web content.  Start with the firm managing the event’s PR, research the firm, research the event, and create your paid position generating content for them.

Research Thoroughly

Hunt down the company and do extensive research on it.  Don’t just glance over the website.  Look for independent articles in a variety of trade and consumer publications (many of them are online).  Look up the individuals who run the organization and learn more about them, both as professionals and as people. Social media is a great resource to research such backgrounds.  Linked In is a great resource — you’ll also see if those individuals are on philanthropic boards anywhere, and those are leads on other organizations to which to pitch, especially if you build a solid relationship with that individual.  If the company is local and attends an event, such as the Chamber of Commerce, attend and meet some of the people involved.

Creating Your Position in the Company

You’ve done your background research.  The organization’s mission intrigues you.  It fits in with ideas and policies that excite you.

How do you fit in?  This is the creative part.  What do you do that sets you apart from the pack?  How are the services, skills, perspectives, and interests you offer different from what else is out there, and, most importantly, how does hiring you to use those skills in the service of the organization make that organization’s life easier and better?  Crafting this type of pitch is an engaging challenge.  It takes more time than a typical LOI, but it’s worth it.

Send the company your proposal, filled with excitement and enthusiasm, about how hiring you will ease their workload and expand their mission to a wider audience.  Fact check your information, make sure the piece is error-free, and make it easy for them to contact you.  Keep a friendly, yet professional tone, not a negative or aggressive one.  Let them know their company matters enough to you so you went beyond the usual press release  or sound byte and did your homework, the homework excited you, and now you have ideas on how to partner with the organization.  Direct contact allows you to create the position you want and get a better price for it.

Follow Up

Follow up approximately two weeks after your first contact.  The company might ask for a meeting, which is your chance to wow them in person.  The company might say they don’t have anything going right now.  Check back in with them quarterly, either by email or by postcard, with a friendly, “Hi, just thinking about you and wondering if you have any projects you need help with?”  Friendly, non-aggressive, interested.  Keep an eye out for articles or press releases about them in the media.  When you see something, compliment them on it — again, friendly, non-aggressive, interested.  Let them get comfortable with the contact, and they’ll start thinking of you when a new project comes up.

I find that initial direct mails/LOI emails often have a low response, but follow-ups, and the quarterly check-ins have a high response.  As they get used to your name and what you do, it’s not just luck that lands your card on the right desk at the right moment — they’ll start thinking of you.

Avoid

Don’t tell them what they are doing “wrong”, that something is “bad” and that you are the only one who can fix it.  If there is something you think doesn’t work and you can do better, find a way to bring the conversation around to it diplomatically, along the lines of, “I saw you did x.  Have you ever tried y?  I’ve had past experience with y, and I found it a useful way to build beyond x.”  Friendly, helpful (rather than judgmental), and showing genuine interest in what they do and how they do it.

Be True to Yourself – While Earning a Living

The key is to make sure each job, each piece is a building block towards your body of work. You make each decision weighing the positives and negatives based on the individual factors in your own life.  I don’t accept assignments from companies/organizations whose missions run counter to my values.  Could I write for a company if I thought they caused harm?  I am physically capable of turning out the material requested.  But I made a decision not to work for a company or organization that I believe causes harm or is not in alignment with my values — even for a lot of money.

When I write on topics about which I’m passionate, or which intrigue me so I can’t wait to find out more, the quality of writing soars, and we all win.

Devon Ellington publishes under a half a dozen names in fiction and non-fiction.  She provides business writing and editing services for an international client base, and is an internationally produced playwright.  Visit her blog Ink in My Coffee,  and her websites www.fearlessink.com and www.devonellingtonwork.com.

Image: Flickr

Comments

Devon Ellington
Reply

Thanks for hosting me, Sarah! I hope your readers find this useful.

Sarah Russell
Reply

Thanks for the great post – glad to have you!

Pat Marinelli
Reply

Great article, Devon. Thanks for sharing.

Halina
Reply

“Create your own job opportunity”….I like it. There’s so much good writing work out there, and many companies just need to be prompted in that direction before they realize it – and take you on!

Patrick
Reply

Solid advice, Devon. I like how you make a distinction between being confident and being pushy. It’s so easy to cross the line when you don’t know what you’re doing!

jamie
Reply

Hi Devon
Very good advice here, an industrious and honest approach to your writing and clients. This method will ensure success for any writer.
I think for new writer a lack of expertise and confidence is a major hurdle to overcome. What we must remember though is that no writers are experts at everything, they just write like they are.
We fool people, take them on journeys they might never have went – because we digest complex subjects and break them down into an engaging and readable format.

The way we do this – is research, research research, and write.
We all must do our homework.
Thanks for the post:)
Jamie

Pinar Tarhan
Reply

Hi Devon,
Thanks for the reference!
I loved your tips on creating the kind of work that you want. I’m big on finding gigs that are a good fit for my skills, personality and taste; and obviously the odds grow in my favor if I create them myself. It’s one of the reasons I run several blogs:)

I’m keeping this list as a go-to guide for more “customized” jobs.

P.S. Adrenalin is a funny thing. I realized I started to enjoy writing query letters. I’ll be damned… )

Devon Ellington
Reply

Pinar,

Happy to give you a shout out — liked your article.

The more work I do, the more I enjoy the query process, too. “HERE’s how I can help you grow, and why I’m the right one” — getting more flexible and creative in business queries has made my fiction queries stronger, too.

Jamie, the best way to gain confidence for a new writer, in my opinion, is to take one ONE pro bono non-profit client in an area that you’re passionate about. The range of clips and their quality will land you a LOT of paying work, and by learning the organization inside out, you’ll get inspiration to create paying jobs at that organization and others.

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and having such great comments!

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