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A simple strategy successful freelance writers use to get work

by Rachel Smith
27 April 2018

Running a jobs board leaves you pretty much surrounded ALL THE TIME by freelancers. Those at the start of the game, right through to successful veterans with 20-30 years under their belts.

And I’ve learned a thing or two from some of the more successful freelance writers in my midst.

In particular, some of the strategies they employ to make new connections and keep the work flowing.

The one thing that many of them do is… wait for it… take jobs in-house.

I know – that goes against everything freelancing is all about. In fact, right now, you may be running screaming to your bedroom to hide under the doona, so shocked are you by the prospect of having to get dressed and be somewhere by 9am.

(I’m there with you – not under your doona, because that would be weird, but under my own.)

But actually, taking in-house gigs – short or part-time or ad-hoc or even full-time for a few months – is a very smart move.

Especially if you want to meet the types of people who desperately need you (even if they don’t realise it until they actually MEET you in person).

I often hear stories from freelances who’ve done in-house stints and scored writing commissions and retainer gigs. Or, they’ve been invited to interview for other jobs – simply by being in the right place at the right time.

John Burfitt, who regularly consults to a number of media organisations around Sydney, is one of them.

‘Sometimes I land work just by being in the elevator,” he says. “You’re bumping into old contacts you haven’t seen in ages, and often the first thing out of their mouth is, ‘Hello! Funny seeing you here – I’m actually looking for a writer! What are you up to these days?'”

He believes it all comes down to the basics of relationship marketing – something that’s begun to slip away in the social media age. “By being physically present, you’re suddenly front of mind. I’ve picked up loads of work off the back of in-house contracts. And I never regret taking on a contract job for any of my clients.”

I know many successful freelance writers who’ve done the same thing.

One person hired for some freelance editing is now in line for an amazing full-time role she might not have gotten short-listed for had she not been in the building at the right time.

And another freelance friend of mine I went walking with a few weeks ago told me about a couple of desirable retainers she’d snapped up – just by being on the ground at a major publishing house and simply chatting to people. “Being in-house is really how I’ve gotten those things,” she told me.

This isn’t something I do personally – it used to be, when I was freelancing full-time. But then I had a kid. Moved to part-time work. Started working more on Rachel’s List and trying to juggle my own clients as well. Taking in-house contracts hasn’t been feasible.

But it’s something I will definitely be looking at doing when I move back to more full-time freelancing. Because clearly, being a bum-on-a-seat for a few days or weeks, could be a golden opportunity to reconnect with old clients, find new ones – AND pick up ongoing work you might not otherwise have known about.

Do you find going in-house has helped you pick up unexpected work? Or is this something you’re thinking about doing to increase your income streams?

Photo by Jessica Sysengrath on Unsplash
Rachel Smith
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Rachel Smith

As a kid, Rachel used to carry around a little suitcase of pens and paper so she could stop and write stories whenever inspiration struck. These days, she writes for a living, in between running the show at Rachel's List. Some of you may actually believe she looks like a megaphone in real life, but it's not the case. Honest.
Rachel Smith
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4 responses on "A simple strategy successful freelance writers use to get work"

  1. Rachel Smith says:

    It’s all about being in people’s face! In the nicest possible way

  2. I’ve been doing some freelance subbing (very occasionally) in-house at a major publisher, and, like John says, just bumping into people in the hallways or kitchen is enough to remind them of you and your work. I’ve picked up a number of freelance stories and more casual work. I am pretty clear that I don’t want to come back full-time, but having the option of doing in-house freelance work is a good way to balance the cash flow.

    In another scenario, I was catching up with one department of one of my corporate clients and emailed the day before to another department (who had been promising work, but had yet to give me a brief) to see if they wanted a coffee while I was there. It was just the nudge they needed and they managed to finish the brief and give it to me in time for our coffee meeting.

  3. Kylie orr says:

    Great piece!

    I’d contacted a national organisation to ask for an expert to comment on a piece I was writing and from that landed a significant contract. It wasn’t quite bum-in-seat stuff but constant emails back and forth put me in the front of their minds when they needed someone for the big job. Now I’ve met with them and spent time working together on the project, they’ve thrown more work my way. I agree that being in their face (literally or figuratively) can up the chances of future work!

    1. Rachel Smith says:

      That’s awesome – I’ve heard of similar things happening with other freelancers. Easy way for a company to recruit a writer they already know and trust!

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