Freelancing offers opportunities for writers around the world, but much of the information for writers online is U.S.-focused. When I started my career as a freelance writer and journalist over a decade ago from India, I followed the advice of the U.S.-based writers that had come before me and tried to emulate their strategies.
I learned how to write great queries and pitches, I practiced brainstorming specific and targeted story ideas, and I found myself a few informal mentors who would answer questions and offer support. I downplayed the fact that I was in India.
Despite all this, my career stagnated, and I didn’t know why.
To shake things up, I started experimenting with my approach. Instead of hiding that I was based in New Delhi, India, I started positioning it as a unique advantage. Within a year, I had landed assignments from The New York Times, TIME, Global Post, Marie Claire, and Ms. Magazine.
As a writer based outside of the U.S., I needed to use slightly different strategies than my peers in those countries. Here’s how to use what I learned to advance your own career as an international freelancer.
1. Highlight who you are and what you’ve done
Let me be clear: It’s essential that you focus on your prospect’s needs, be that a corporate client or an editor at a regional magazine. Figure out exactly what your client needs so you can create the perfect pitch.
However, the problem with pitching from India, China, Costa Rica, Nigeria and other countries is that many editors won’t even look at your story ideas until you’ve convinced them of your professionalism. Perhaps they’ve been burned before, or they simply don’t trust someone they can’t easily reach should something go wrong.
As an international writer, often you’re going to need to prove your capability more than an American writer would. Your credits, portfolio and experience can go a long way in opening these doors. When you’re writing a query or a Letter of Introduction, make sure to focus on who you are and why you’re the right person for the job.
2. Ask if they’d like to chat over Skype or the phone
One of the best things I ever did for my career as an international freelancer was getting on the phone.
Living so far away from many of them, it was almost a given that I’d never meet my editors. However, being able to see someone, connect with them and have a laugh or two can help cement a relationship — and potentially lead to more work (or at least more email responses).
So I did the next best thing: I asked if we could Skype or chat over the phone. Even if an editor doesn’t take you up on your offer, asking the question can make you seem accessible and not quite as remote as travel-wary editors might think.
3. Don’t put your phone number or address on your website
This is a bit of a controversial point, but in my experience, funny or unpronounceable regional names and unfamiliar area codes can scare off people who aren’t used to working internationally.
If your clients are international editors at major magazines and newspapers and like the idea of finding people in remote places, you might not need to worry about this advice. However, if you write about health or are looking exclusively for small business clients, your specific location can be a deterrent.
If your location has no relevance to your work, leave out the specifics. This advice might even hold true for writers living in remote parts of the U.S. or U.K.; you can be just as professional a writer living on a farm in Wisconsin as you would be in New York City.
4. Have an awesome website and online presence
Until a prospective client or editor hires you or agrees to talk to you over the phone, the only thing they have to judge you by is your website.
Your website must shine. It needs to say, “Hey you, undecided over there in the corner, here are the 10 different ways in which I’m the perfect writer for you. Click that button and hire me right now.”
Whether you have a static site or a blog, an active social media presence or a small one, make sure it reflects your professionalism and skill as a writer.
5. Make sure you show up in Google searches
In 2006, quite by accident, my website started showing up as the number one search result on Google for “freelance journalist India.” At the time, I didn’t realize the significance of this accomplishment, especially since I hadn’t been trying to optimize for keywords. What happened next forever changed the way I look at my website.
Editors from high-profile media outlets, such as US Weekly, ABC News, Marie Claire, NPR, Cosmopolitan and more, found my website while searching for freelance journalists to cover stories in my region. I’ve been ed by NYC literary agents, by government departments, even by a political campaign (I politely declined).
The lesson? SEO is crucial. Make sure you show up in Google searches related to your city, country or region (and of course, that the search history is mostly positive). You never know when an overworked editor will need a writer familiar with your area.
6. Focus on building a portfolio of online work
At least initially, write for publications with online archives or clickable links.
Early in my career, I neglected to focus enough on online publications. Even though I’d been published in some impressive publications and had over 100 bylines after my first year in the business, I had no proof: Much of my work was in local publications and wasn’t available online. I’d been published in 20+ countries, but editors had no way of verifying that.
Make sure your work will be shared online, or find another way to share high-quality images of your work in your portfolio.
7. Add humor and personality to your communications
Your emails, your website, your About page: all are opportunities to showcase that despite the differences in nationalities and location, you’re pretty much a person with the same needs, wants and desires as your editor.
Your U.S.-based clients might often feel that they have nothing in common with you because you live in a place they’ve only ever seen on the news. Make yourself vulnerable, share a glimpse into your life and show them what you’re really like. Find something that helps you create a connection and a bond, like a shared hobby or interest.
What do you do differently as a freelancer based outside the U.S.?