In anticipation of the New Year, I’ve begun looking at new goals and strategies for 2015. One exercise I did was to list all my clients for 2013 and 2014 in Excel (I already have a list of invoices in Excel so this was fairly easy to do). I added a column indicating the ones were already generating ongoing work (my regulars), which ones had the potential to generate repeat work (time to pitch a new idea, perhaps?) and which ones were likely just a one-off project. I then added another column explaining where that client came from. Here’s where it gets interesting, so I thought I’d share my findings.
First off, I should note that this is not based on revenue, so for simplicity’s sake, every client was given equal weight even though a repeat client paying me thousands of dollars per year is clearly more valuable and takes up more of my time than a one-off project. Even so, perhaps you’ll find this interesting and maybe it will inspire other freelancers to post their own findings.
UPDATE: I did this same exercise several years ago and just stumbled on the post that outlines those findings. Here’s a look back in time if you’re curious how it compares then and now.
Sources of Freelance Clients, 2013-2014
Contacted me via email – 21%
I’m fortunate to write for several high-profile websites, so new clients often read my published work and email me offering new projects. Clients who contact me through Contently or MediaBistro would also fall into this category, as would editors who move onto another publication and ask me to write for them there. It doesn’t always work out (maybe the pay is too low, the topic isn’t a fit for me or the timeline is too tight), but when it does, this is a great source of work.
Pitches – 21%
Emailing pitches is another major source of work for me. Here I didn’t differentiate between blind pitches that I send to a new-to-me editor and pitches I send to an editor I’ve already worked with, but in most cases the initial pitch was sent without a prior introduction. The key with blind pitches is finding an idea that’s really targeted to that publication (check the archives to make sure they haven’t covered it recently) and explaining why you’re the person to write it.
Referral from another writer – 19%
Again, I’m fortunate to have several writers and editors in my network who’ve referred me to new clients (and several people have referred me to multiple clients – thanks, guys!). The best referrals are often the ones where a writer refers me to an editor or client they’re currently working with, because that gives me assurance that the client treats freelancers fairly well. In some cases, when a colleague passes on a project they don’t want it’s because the client has an unreasonable timeline or budget. Thanks, but no thanks. (This was an even bigger source of work a few years ago.)
Letter of introduction – 12%
I love letters of introduction (or LOIs for short) because they’re much simpler to write than a full story pitch. However, they tend to be more effective with trade publications than consumer publications. That’s because trades often generate ideas in-house and assign them to writers, while consumer pubs expert writers to generate their own ideas.
Email listserve – 7%
I subscribe to several email listserves (including UPOD, which I highly recommend, and a local email list as well). When someone posts about a project that perfectly fits my expertise, I’ll throw my hat into the ring. This has worked several times!
FreelanceSuccess.com – 5%
FreelanceSuccess.com is a wonderful online community for freelance writers and it’s directly resulted in at least two client relationships. However, I’ve also met many wonderful colleagues through the forums and that’s led to many more indirect opportunities and lots of great advice.
Craigslist – 5%
Yes, there are tons of low-paying clients on Craigslist, but if you’re patient, you can find a few gems too (the clients I’ve landed send me checks for at least several hundred bucks each invoice). I don’t actually troll Craigslist for freelance opportunities, but when I see a link elsewhere and the opportunity sounds like a good fit, I’ll apply and see what happens.
In-person networking – 2%
In-person networking has indirectly led to several opportunities, but there’s one project in particular that was a direct result of networking. I brought a Groupon for a local hair salon and the owner asked what I do for work. I told her I’m a freelance writer and she hired me on the spot to update her website copy and create bios for her new stylists.
LinkedIn.com – 2%
Honestly, I expected this number to be higher, but I did have a new prospect send me an InMail (LinkedIn’s messaging system) that led to several assignments. I also use LinkedIn for finding hard-to-reach sources and staying in touch with past or current clients and colleagues.
Problogger – 2%
I added Problogger jobs to my RSS feeds so new opportunities show up in my Feedly account. Lots of blogging gigs are low-paying, but I responded to one ad that sounded like a good fit and landed a gig that paid several hundred bucks per piece. I only respond to ads that include enough detail for me to know that I’d be the perfect person for that project. Otherwise, I don’t bother because it could be a sign that the client doesn’t even know what they want.