A Quick Guide to Online Writing Gigs

There are good ways to search for online writing work, and there are frustrating ways to search for online writing work. You can quickly find yourself spinning your tires trying to race other bidders to the bottom instead of collecting a paycheck. Here are some quick tips to point you in the right direction.


A decent writing gig can be admittedly hard to find. It's not impossible however. Photo Courtesy of Brenna Richardson © 2013

A decent writing gig can be hard to find. Not impossible though.
Photo Courtesy of Brenna Richardson © 2013



1) Strategize and Specialize

Look into your experience to see what expertise can be mined for cash. The more demonstrable competence you have in writing about something, the higher you’ll rise on a list of potential writers for that topic. If you’ve driven a tow truck for the past twenty years, you’ll be ahead of the kid who just graduated from high school and will have to search through reams of Wikipedia pages before he knows half as much as you. Find people looking for tow-truck related content, and you’re good to go. I’ve got a whole post about this over here.


2) On Content Farms

Once was the day when you could sign up as a manual laborer on a content farm, sickle in hand, mowing down fields of freshly grown sentences, stacking them into paragraphs, and hauling the bales off to world-wide web-cities where you would be rewarded with a few cents in your PayPal account. It was long, boring, senseless work, but you were a newcomer to this land of writing, so you took the paltry wages and kept your head down.

For better or worse, those days are mostly gone. Google changed its algorithm, and what little value this writing had plummeted even further. Any site that makes money by gaming Google’s system will inevitably be hunted down by a ninja/kaiju/Panda/Penguin and annihilated. Don’t waste your time.


2) Where NOT To Look

There are some good places to look for writing gigs. And some terrible places.

Bad news first. Don’t bother with any site that brands itself for “freelancers.”

Including, but not limited to:

  • Odesk
  • Elance
  • CrowdCloud
  • Freelancer
  • iFreelance

These sites serve as enormous lint traps for the industry. They pull in every wannabe writer, and every company that only wants to pay a pittance for your work. If you are cool working for $5/1,000 word essay, I guess that’s fine, but you can do a whole lot better.


3) Where To Look

Good news next. Here are some places that you can find some quality work.

I have made decent money through gigs I found on these sites:

  • Craig’s List
  • Monster.com
  • Indeed.com
  • C. Hope Clark

Now, it’s easy to find scams and screwballs on these sites too, but if you play your cards right, you can come out with a gem. Often, people who post to these sites are looking for real employees rather than part-time temp workers.

Respond to the post, follow through with their HR department, submit your writing samples, and generally jump through whatever hoops they request. Gently inform them that you are looking for a contract position rather than an in-house position. Do this fairly early on in the hiring process to avoid confusion.

You’ll be surprised by how many companies will consider you for contract work, even if their first choice was for an in-house writer, especially if your writing samples are outstanding.


4) How to Set Your Rates

People’s expectations about money can vary wildly. It’s smart for you to come up with a figure that is reasonable, yet also meets your needs.

I’ve been writing long enough that I know how long a piece will take me. I figure X hours for research, X hours for writing, X hours for editing, and X hours for rewrites/feedback. I take this information and plug it into a system I’ve developed in Excel that figures how much I’ve been paid in the past for similar work, how much I want to average for the month, week, and year, and how much time I have to devote to this project given my current work load.

Once you have done this a couple times, you can point your prospective employer to previous rates you’ve earned. Generally, managers and business owners are congenial to this, as many of them aren’t sure what a good writer is worth in the first place. As long as you are producing quality content, people can (and should) pay you well for it.


5) Get it in Writing

I draw up a contract proposal for all the writing work that I do. This contract includes the deliverables, the estimated time of delivery, the number of rewrites, my rates, and the days I expect to be paid. This isn’t so much a legal document, as something to fall back on when someone’s memory gets hazy, or company budgets get tight.

It also helps prevent “mission creep” in which the manager you are working with wants to deploy you into content fields you aren’t getting paid for. A contract is also a nice scheduling mechanism. It keeps me on track when I would rather be wasting time on Twitter.


Joshua Rigsby is a writer, tea-drinker, and planet 9 enthusiast based in Southern California.

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