Navigating Job Posts as a Freelance Writer

With the rise of the Internet and various freelancing jobs sites like Elance and oDesk comes the need to sort through job postings and job boards to find a gig that's worth applying for. Especially if you're new to freelancing and are in desperate need of work, it can be tempting to apply to any job posting that's remotely close to something you can do or are interested in doing.But, doing that will only lead to the grief of bad clients, poor pay rates, and overall disappointment. Just like how a hiring manager is thorough and particular in the search for candidates to interview, and eventually, hire, you need to be equally thorough and particular in choosing the jobs you'd like to apply for. Essentially, there are three things that ought to be answered, and answered "correctly", in order to make a job posting worth the time and effort.

  1. Budget - This is the most obvious one. How much does this job pay? If it's not listed, or if the job poster demonstrates that he/she isn't sure about the budget, then run away as fast as you can. You're freelancing as a business and you need to make a living. Don't waste time dealing with someone who has little or no budget, especially if it's below what your willing to work for. A few examples of when to run are when the budget/compensation says things like: Yes, $$$, cash, not sure, percentage of profit, per article, to be discussed later. All of those answers are just too vague for anyone to adequately gauge if the gig is worth the time. So, don't waste time trying to gauge it.
  2. Topic - What are you going to be writing about? If it's unclear, or if it's something where you'll be writing about all kinds of things, then avoid the project. In freelancing, it's important to develop niches, or specific topics of expertise. By developing niches, it's a lot easier to make money as you are developing your knowledge base on a few select topics, positioning yourself as someone who has experience and expertise. It may seem fun at first to write about a variety of things, but it only gets easier down the road if you spend your time on a few topics. Research gets easier as well as you will spend less time on it.
  3. Workload - How much work is expected of you? This is incredibly important to consider as knowing the workload will help you to determine if you can actually take on the project and if it's worth the money offered. There are jobs out there where its expected that you do 20 articles a week, or 10 articles per day. I don't even think I could do either of those if this client was my only client, let alone with the work of my other clients. If I don't know how much work is expected of me, it's possible the job poster doesn't either. And I don't want to work with a client who isn't sure of what they want.

Here's a posting from the St. Louis Craigslist that meets all of these criteria:

I am the Sports Editor for, and manage the sports content for the 24 web sites that we have in the St. Louis area. As we prepare to cover the new high school sports season, we are looking for sports writers to help cover high school games, events and also write feature stories.

We also cover anything of relevance to the communities we cover, so not all of our sports coverage is prep sports. We cover everything from Little League sports, to features on MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL players that are from the St. Louis area. We also cover area college athletics. Patch is leading the developing news model for combining digital journalism with community-oriented news, and we are also a very fun, innovative and rapidly growing company. Please drop us a line, and we'll get you to work right away on the stories that YOU are interested in writing! 

I'm happy to answer any questions you may have. 

  • Location: St. Louis
  • Compensation: We typically pay between $50 and $75 per story.

As you can see, this posting addresses all of the questions a freelancer ought to be asking before applying. We know the compensation/budget. We know the topic(s). We have some understanding of workload, as we know the type of the publication this job is for. Since this is an online news publication, we can wager that the workload is something of one to three articles per week. If I wrote about sports professionally, then this would be something I would apply to. But, I don't, so I won't bother.

Here's an example of a bad job posting that screams "Run Away!":

I need someone to write two papers for me. Please let me know if you are interested. College grad, or college student wanted. 

  • Location: St. Louis
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
  • Compensation: Good pay with discuss if interested

This posting doesn't answer any of the questions adequately. There's no specification on budget, topic, or workload. Yes, the posting says "two papers", but how long are these two papers? What kind of papers are they? Are they personal essays or are they research papers that would require research and a bibliography? Another reason to run away is that this job posting is for someone to do this person's schoolwork. Now, I don't know about your ethics, but this person crosses the line. I will write about drawing boundaries in freelancing, determining what you do and don't do as a freelance writer, in a later post.

Is there anything that I missed, or anything that you'd like to ad about navigating want ads and determining if it's worth a shot? Then, please, comment below!