How To Get Hired Online (Applying And Pitching)

In the last article about freelance writing you identified topic areas you can write in, wrote at least one sample article, created your writer’s bio, and worked to expand your social networks. Now you’re going to use these to get hired to write online content.

Sources of Writing Work

writing work

There are tons of writing jobs available online. Some are short-term projects, while others are ongoing. Some allow you to write as much or as little as you want, while others want a set number of articles per week. Here are some common sources of writing work found online.

How To Write For Content Mills

how to write content

There are differing opinions about whether or not you should write for content mills. Part of the issue is their history. Most content mills started out needing keyword-rich (SEO) articles to fill sites, get good search engine ranking, drive lots of traffic, and ultimately make money. At the time, most of the mills weren’t too picky about the quality of writing. As a result, most of the content was poorly written and not viewed as quality or real writing. Although many content mills have more stringent writing quality controls now, they are still perceived negatively. In fact, you might be better off to say you have no clips than to offer clips written for a content mill.

The other issue is that pay is low. Many writing experts say that if you want to be a professional writer, you should command a professional-level fee. Professional writers usually try to earn at least a $1 per word, although some breaking into the field may write for 10, 15 or 20 cents a word to get clips and build to higher fees. Most content mills offer a flat rate, usually only $5 – $15 per article, with a few like Demand Media paying $20 to $35 or more for specialty articles. That comes down to as low as 1 cent a word or less. Some mills pay through ad revenue, which is essentially working for free and hoping people will read your article and click on an ad. I don’t recommend that option.

Finally, the biggest reason to not write for content mills is that once you’re in and counting on it for income, it can be hard to get out. If you wanted to move on to higher paying markets, you’d have to cut back on your content mill writing, which can reduce your income. Plus, since many media sources don’t consider clips from content mills, you have to start from scratch if you want to expand to higher profile publications. While you can make money from content mills, you may find it’s difficult to expand and build a freelance writing career.

With that said, there are reasons that a content mill might work for you. If you’ve never made a living writing, they can be a great place to get your feet wet and decide if writing is for you. Because it requires a lot of writing to make a living, you get practice, and when it comes to writing, the more you do it, the better you get. Many content sites require references and resources, so you’ll also be able to create a library of resources that you can use to expand your writing. Finally, the content mills that pay a flat fee often pay weekly or even twice a week, so it can be a quick source of income.

Ultimately, whether you write for a content mill comes down to whether you’re writing for money or prestige. If you want the prestige, don’t write for content mills, or at least don’t use content mill writing on your resume. But if you want to make several hundred dollars a week cranking out articles, then a content mill might be for you.

Here are some tips to writing for a content mill:

  1. Choose mills that pay at least $15 to $30 or more per 400 word article (that’s 3.75 cents to 7.5 cents per word). Because articles for content mills can be written quickly and are usually 400 words, you can crank out several a day. There are people writing 5 articles (usually in five or less hours) and earning $100 to $150 or more per day. Some are writing ten articles a day, making $150 to $300 per day. Never go with ad revenue as a source of payment.
  2. Make your submission the best it can be the first time around. Many content mills have editors that will kick back an article if they don’t think it’s ready to publish. You maximize your time and income by avoiding having to deal with edits. Some content mills will increase your fee based on the quality of writing, which is another reason to submit the best writing you can.
  3. Write on a variety topics to avoid getting bored. The highest paying content mills have a database of articles from which to choose. While writing on the same topics means faster writing (but don’t plagiarize yourself), it also means tedium and boredom.
  4. Plan an out. If you’re writing for content mills just to get practice, make sure you plan a way to move on. That might mean spending part of your day writing for a mill and another part of the day pitching online resources so you can expand your career.

How To Write For Businesses (Websites/Blogs)

Blog notes on Laptop

Content is king when it comes to marketing, so many businesses are hiring writers to create compelling articles to draw in consumers. The amount of work, pay, and prestige varies depending on who you work for. For example, you can get hired by a Realtor to post 5 blog posts a week at $20 per post. I once worked for Internet Brands on a shortterm project writing articles related to anxiety. I was paid $40 to $45 per article until the project was over. Later, I wrote one article a week for WAHM.com, also a part of Internet Brands, for which I was paid $25 per piece.

Writing for businesses can offer a little more pay than content mills, especially if you write in a market that requires specific knowledge, such as law, medicine, or real estate. Plus, writing content for businesses offers more prestige and a source of clips to use for future writing jobs or pitching ideas to publications.

However, writing for businesses usually requires writing for more than one company to meet your income goals. This is a good thing, because the other disadvantage is that the work can dry up in an instant. The more places you write for, the less impact there will be on your income if one writing job goes away. Here are some tips to writing for businesses:

  1. Know the business and the market it caters to. Each business will operate differently in terms of what you write. Some will give you a list of article titles, and others will want you to come up ideas. Regardless of how work is assigned, to make the client happy, research the business. What does it market? What is its brand (value to the consumer)? What is the style and tone of the website? Who makes up the market, such as demographics?
  2. Deliver well-written articles on time. Businesses outsource writing to save time and money. If they’re unable to publish because you haven’t delivered the material or if your work needs a great deal of editing (not all businesses have editors), you risk getting fired.
  3. Keep a calendar and develop good time management. In order to meet the requirements of #2, you have be organized. Working for multiple clients can be a little like plate spinning, in which you have many projects in the works at once. I have a calendar on which I use color coding to mark days and titles I need to deliver. For example, my long articles for About.com are in red. Further, if you’re the one who develops the article ideas, keep an ongoing list and schedule them in advance. Writing is hard enough, but it’s nearly impossible if you have an article due, but don’t know what to write about.
  4. Monitor payments. Each business will pay on a different schedule and method. Some pay weekly, while others pay every 30 days. Some will direct deposit, others will pay by PayPal, and still others will send a check. Keep track of the articles you’ve submitted, when payment is due, and when payment was received. I’ve never not been paid, but that doesn’t it mean it can’t ever happen.

How To Write For Information Portals

Information portals are one-stop websites with tons of information, such as About.com or HowStuffWorks.com. Each information portal operates differently. About.com hires experts who focus on a single topic area. HowStuffWorks.com takes on generalist or specialist writers, assigning work when available on a project-by-project basis.

Because information portals are built around delivering information, a strong background either through education or experience is required. What’s most fun about information portals is the vast and interesting number of topic areas. About.com has topic areas in soap operas, board games, crafts, travel, and more.

Information portals vary in requirements. While some simply want articles, others are looking for someone to write and maintain a portal topic. For example, the portal may want blog posts, newsletters, and discussion board moderation, as well as articles.

Information portals vary on how they pay, as well. About.com has base requirements that if met can garner several hundred dollars a month, with bonuses that can earn even more. Other portals will pay per published piece. Here are some tips for working for an information portal:

  1. Know the topic inside and out. These writing jobs tend to be competitive, so the more you know, the better your chances.
  2. Be a good writer and self-editor. Not all portals have editors to check your work.
  3. Be able to make a commitment. Portals that ask you to be the resident expert will have expectations that need to be met.
  4. Study the style and tone of the site to get an idea of what is expected from writers. Some portals have a training program to help with this, but the better your application fits the needs of the site, the better chance you have to get hired.
  5. Get a basic knowledge of Internet content platforms. Most portals will ask that you publish the article in its system, which means you need to add the bullets, bolds, and hyperlinks. Most have easy-to-use interfaces that don’t require knowledge of HTML. But you should be comfortable using online publishing systems.

How To Write For Online Publications

Online publications are like online magazines. In some cases, they are online versions of print magazines, such as Entrepreneur.com. But there are many online media sources that are Internet only, such as Salon.com. Online publishers often pay more than other online media, anywhere from $25 to $300 per article. However, the writing work is assigned based on an idea you pitch, just like with print magazines. If the publication likes your idea, you’ll be assigned the article, and that will be it, unless you pitch another idea. While writing for freelance markets can pay better per piece, the work isn’t necessarily as steady unless you’re a master idea pitcher.

Writing for online freelance markets is a great way to build clips, improve your prestige, and expand into print, if that’s of interest to you. Here are tips to breaking into online publications:

  1. Study the publication to learn its tone, style, and recently published articles. Don’t send the same or too similar article idea that’s just been published. If you like a similar idea, pitch it to another publication.
  2. Pitch newsworthy or trending ideas. While magazines tend to use evergreen articles because the lead time is so long, online outlets usually like trending, topical articles that are relevant now.
  3. Pitch a fresh or unique slant to your idea. For example, writing an article about job seekers using social media to find work is ho-hum. Writing an article about how job seekers can use Pinterest to find work is fresh and unique.
  4. Read the submission requirements. Editors fuss about receiving articles that don’t follow the submission requirements. If you can’t read directions, your pitch won’t be read.
  5. Try to address the submission to the correct editor by name. I say try, because while editors complain that they get the wrong article idea or their name isn’t included, they don’t always post their names or topic areas online.
  6. Track your pitches. Have a spreadsheet or other method to note the title and date a pitch was sent. If you don’t hear back in a month (or whatever time frame the submission guidelines indicated), follow up. If you don’t hear back within 2 to 4 weeks from the follow-up, send the pitch to someone else.

How To Get Get Hired Online

There are two basic ways to get hired to write. One is applying to writing jobs, and the other is pitching online publications. We’ll start with applying to writing jobs.

Applying to Writing Jobs

There is no one way that businesses request you apply, but here is a list of some things (beyond your contact info) you might be asked for when applying for writing work:

  1. Published clips: In most cases, you can include the URL to the site your clip is posted. Another option is to have a list of links posted on your LinkedIn or Google+ page and give that to the publisher.
  2. Sample article: This was discussed in the previously. Sometimes you’ll be given a title or topic to write about, and other times you can submit whatever you want. In that case, I recommend submitting a sample on the topic you want write about.
  3. Topic interests: Some places allow you to write about several topics. In this case, the site will ask what topics you are knowledgeable in and want to write about. Some will even ask you to submit title ideas as part of the application.
  4. Grammar test: Odesk (http://www.odesk.com) offers a variety of tests that some employers ask you to take before being considered for a job. The ones I’ve taken have been multiple choice and cover grammar and writing related issues.
  5. Resume: Not all writing jobs ask for a resume, but many do. Below is a quick tutorial on writing a resume for writing jobs.

How To Write A a Cover Letter and Resume for Writing Work

One of the biggest complaints of online employers is applicants’ failure to follow directions. With the delete button one click away, employers don’t waste time on applications that don’t adhere to the specifications outlined in the announcement.

Following directions seems like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you follow the directions the company provides for applying to a job? Too often in an attempt to be clever or stand out from the crowd, people break the rules and send a resume with fancy font or other materials the company didn’t request. The problem is that sending something other than what is requested indicates that you don’t know how to follow directions. The result? No job.

Companies vary on how they want to receive your application or resume. Some have forms online that you can paste your resume into. Others supply an e-mail address. The one rule that is consistent across the board is to never send your resume as an attachment unless asked to do so.

Some companies will also want samples of your work. Others will want you to take a test. Always do what is asked. Send no more and no less.

The Cover Letter

When emailing your resume, include a cover note or introduction. This is the first thing an employer will read and the key to whether or not your resume will be read. That’s a lot of work for a few lines of text. The cover letter or introduction requires a delicate balance of selling yourself without sounding overly conceited. You need to choose your wording and content wisely. In essence, you want to let the employer know, in just a few sentences, that you are the best candidate for the job. And since it’s being used to get a writing job, it needs to be grammatically correct and free of errors. There are four parts to the cover letter:

  1. Contact information and salutation: At the top of the page, include your name, address, and date. The salutation should be addressed to a person. Include a title such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. Don’t refer to the person by their first name.
  2. Opening paragraph: Let the hiring person know to which position you are applying and where you saw the job announcement. Give a sentence that lets the employer know you have included a resume either in the letter or as an attachment (only if the job announcement called for the resume to be sent as an attachment).
  3. Brief overview of skills and experience: Highlight the skills and experience you have that meet the job requirements. If you have any skills or experience that exceed the job requirements or have earned any special honors, be sure to indicate that as well.
  4. Closing: Your closing should be simple and undemanding. Thank the personnel person for considering your application. Add your closing (e.g., Sincerely) and your name. If you are sending the letter in an e-mail, your name can be directly or one line space below the closing.
  5. The important thing to remember is to tailor your cover letter and resume to the job. When I apply to writing jobs that involve parenting, I focus on my social work career and writing jobs on that topic. But when I apply to fitness writing jobs, I focus on my AFAA certification and fitness writing.

How To Create Your Resume

You’ve made it past the delete button, and the employer is ready to read your resume. This is another area in which job seekers can easily gain a few extra points by taking the additional time to tailor it to the job. The resume is your best chance for showing a potential editor that you have what it takes to do the job, and it can take you to the next step.

Just like I suggested you create a text version of your sample article, you’ll want to do the same with your resume and cover letter. As a reminder, you can create your resume and cover in a word processing program, but you’ll want to paste it in Notepad or other text editor to remove hidden formatting. Justify everything left, add spaces between lines when needed, and save. These are the versions you’ll paste into an email. Some jobs will ask you to upload your resume—not paste—to its site. In that case, you can use the word processed version.

If you’re ready to write, here are six steps to creating a winning resume:

  1. In your text editor or word processing program, write your name, address, phone number, and email address at the top of the page. You may want to use a P.O. box, voicemail number, and secondary email address to help protect your privacy if you plan to post your resume online. Whatever contact information you provide, be sure that you check it regularly.
  2. Indicate the job title or objective. Next, list your work experience. You don’t need to list all your work experience, but you should include work experience over the last five years, starting with your most recent job and working your way back. Include the company, job title, years of work, and an outline of your duties and responsibilities. Remember to describe your work experience with details that fit the writing job you want.
  3. List your education, including any courses you have taken after high school, whether you graduated from the college or not. Don’t forget continuing education courses and other classes you have taken, particularly if they will help you meet the requirements of the writing job.
  4. List your most recent courses first. If you don’t have very much work experience, you may want to list your education first.
  5. Provide other experience you have that might be relevant to the writing topic, such as previous jobs not included above, volunteer experience, internships, licenses or certifications, and association memberships. Again, you may not want to list everything. Choose the experiences that match the requirements for the job.
  6. Finally, if you have skills, hobbies, interests, or other information that will help you qualify for the writing job or topic, list those as well.

Many people add a line about references such as References are available on request. While you should have a list of references prepared, you don’t have to make any mention of it on your resume. An employer will ask you for references if he wants them.

Most employers will ask you to send your information within an email (no attachments) or through an online form. Copying and pasting your cover letter and resume from a word-processing document into email or online form can cause issues. MS Word in particular has hidden code that can make formatting and text go wonky. To avoid having your resume show up in a mess, paste your cover letter and resume into a text editor (i.e., Notepad or Text Edit). All the Word formatting will be removed. Justify everything left and add spaces between lines where needed. Copy and paste this new text version into email or online application forms.