Passive/Aggressive: Finding Work as a Freelancer


Despite all my preparations, when I finally went full-time freelance, I was clueless when it came to finding new projects. As I had always done before, I scoured the job ads, dutifully sent out cover letters and resumes, found a part-time freelance gig that gave me the feeling of stability and, otherwise, waited for the work to come to me.

And for at least a year, it worked. I eventually ended up with two regular, moneymaking gigs, and additional projects continued to come my way via friends and former colleagues. Within only six months, I had matched my previous corporate salary.

Then the publication I was copy editing for folded and, about six months later, the web magazine I was writing for decided to switch things up, leaving me with a lot less income. And it occurred to me: I had been coasting!

I know I’m not the only one. Other office workers looking to go freelance are often surprised to find out that job-finding tactics are wildly different when you’re in business for yourself.

After the jump, some passive and aggressive ways to find work, and why it’s essential that you cultivate a mixture of both:


Job Ads: Job ads should be a last resort even when searching for your typical corporate job. After all, most employers prefer to hire from within and, when they are unable to find someone within the company, they turn to people who know people who know them next. While sites like Craiglist, Ed2010, FreelanceSwitch, and ProBlogger often list freelance job ads, the pickings are slim. the competition is heavy, and the pay is usually insultingly low.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to set up job alerts or RSS feeds from these sites.

Bidding Sites: I’ve ranted about these before. Basically, I feel as if bidding sites such as Elance and Odesk are forcing freelancers to undermine themselves and others by underbidding in order to get the gig. Not only that, but many clients who search for service providers on such sites don’t have the budgets to pay fair wages. It’s a big draw for the lazy freelancer, however, because it provides a central location at which to find work. For the love of god, if you’re going to use job ads (see above), frequent the ones that don’t force you to stab the backs of your fellow freelancers.

Blog Aggregators: I reserve a similar amount of ire for blog aggregators, which pay a pittance for unedited, unfiltered work. Still, some beginning freelancers assert that it’s a decent means of building your portfolio while simultaneously building a brand.

Online Marketing: I write this blog. I tweet like a maniac. I have my tweets feed through to Facebook. In this way, I make valuable contacts, and find new readers every day. It’s important to do, but you can’t expect to have offers pouring in solely because you Twitter. While there are those who have found jobs on Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like, such efforts usually make up a very small part of a person’s entire income.


Pitching: As a writer, I get my choicest assignments my brainstorming story ideas and pinpointing the best publications and editors to send them to. After all, while a simple Letter of Interest can drum up some interest, editors love it when you make things easy for them. And when you approach them with a fantastic idea, more often than not they’ll show their appreciation by giving you a contract.

Cold Calling: This is scary. I’m not gonna lie. But when it comes to other types of freelance work, such as copywriting, copy editing, web development, and the like, nothing beats the cold call (or at least the letter of interest…or is that the wuss in me talking?). Pinpoint your dream clients and pick up the phone. How else will they know you’re out there?

Networking: Time and again, the phrase “it’s all about who you know” is proven absolutely right. Which is why you need to network like hell. With the people you work with now. With the people you worked with then. With friends and family, and their friends and family, and their friends and family. With your hair stylist and your dentist and your bygod gynecologist. With the people you meet on the street, or on line at the bank. Make sure you’ve got your elevator pitch ready, and then make sure everybody’s heard it at least once.

While passivity can sometimes pay off, showing initiative, and being active and aggressive, will lead you to success.

What’s your most successful means of drumming up new work?

Related: Writers Undermining Writers: Bidding Sites, Traffic-Based Compensation, and More, How to Find Clients Without Cold Calling


  1. You are absolutely right! Thanks for sharing this.

    I happen to be starting activity as a freelance translator, and sometimes I do find myself at a loss at where to start when it comes to marketing. My idea, as you suggest, is to start “pounding doors”, let people and companies know I am here, phone and mail contact, etc.

    Of course, networking (both on the web and physically) comes into my plans, so I am polishing my elevator speech.

  2. Steph,

    You know, I find myself using more of the passive approaches. I guess that is because I don’t really know how to be aggressive when it comes to looking for freelance work. I never really honed my skills on pitching or cold calling for that matter. It isn’t in my personality to be agressive and since that is what I have to do at my usual 9-5, by the time I get home and start freelancing, I am completely burned out on making any more phone calls or such.

    Do you find that you lean more towards the passive approach or do you generally hit both up equally?

  3. I’m waaaaay more aggressive. Lately I’ve been contacting past clients that I haven’t heard from in some time. I did this 3 times just today and ended up with a new site to build! I don’t like parting ways with past clients, so if I don’t hear from them for a few months, or even a year, I send out a friendly email letting them know I’m still alive and ready to work for them if they need me. I would say I have at least a 90% success rate with them replying to my friendly email, and a 70% chance of getting new work within the next month or 2. Sometimes you just have to nudge ’em 🙂

  4. Lordy, I’m behind on responding to comments.

    In answer to your question, Sal, I admit to taking a more passive approach. And while I have had some success due to the contacts I’ve made online and at past jobs, I still struggle with income because I’m not aggressive enough when it comes to finding new clients. So yes. This is a case of: Do as I say, not as I do. 🙂


  1. […] written in the past about the differences between passive and aggressive job search and networking tactics. And generally, I consider the use of social networking sites to […]

Speak Your Mind