7 Ways Freelancers Outside the U.S. Can Stand Out and Land More Writing Jobs

7 Ways Freelancers Outside the U.S. Can Stand Out and Land More Writing Jobs

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.

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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.?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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  • Anthony Dejolde says:

    I’ve long been wishing to see a post such as yours.

    Thanks for coming up with this one, Mridu. I’ve been freelancing for the past 3 years, but I’ve never highlighted my being based in the Philippines. Maybe because I am a bit worried (yep, even to this day) that once a client finds out I’m not based in the U.S., she’ll be turned off.

    I’m inspired by your experience and your success. Now, I’m eager to present myself as a writer from the Philippines. At last, I’ll be confident to emphasize this fact, and not be scared, for a change. I’ll be more positive, I’ll attract more attention, and perhaps even more interest, for the unique perspective and rare angle I can offer. Something that my western counterparts will not be able to do. (As you have mentioned in your post). 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    It absolutely made a deep impact in my life as a freelance writer!

  • Mridu Khullar Relph says:

    I’m thrilled to hear that, Anthony! Your location is indeed a strength and you should definitely use it to your advantage. Here’s another post I wrote that I think will really help you as you move forward with your decision to highlight your location: http://www.theinternationalfreelancer.com/biggest-strength/

    • Anthony Dejolde says:

      Glad you’re thrilled, Mridu!

      Thank you for this additional post. It’s chock full of treasures to help me follow your path. Appreciate it.

  • Liz says:

    Thanks for those posts Mridu, I have been wondering how to handle this for a while! My situation is a little different though, I am an Australian expat living in another country, but I think what you are saying still applies.

    • Mridu Khullar Relph says:

      I think it definitely still applies, Liz. In fact, most of the readers of The International Freelancer are, in fact, expats. I’m now one, too. 🙂

  • Greedy Freelancer says:

    Nice post Mridu! One point though – you’ve decided not to hide your location and you’ve benefited from it. However, your English does not sound like you are an ESL. Had you changed your name to Elizabeth or Jane, no one would ever know you are residing in India. See my point?

    • Mridu Khullar Relph says:

      Not really, because if your English is not up to par, then you’re not cut out to be a writer in the English language no matter your location.

  • Kimberly Absher says:

    Hi Mridu,

    I’m in the same boat as the Australian expat…I am a US-citizen who recently moved to France. I’m worried I won’t seem to offer the same advantages as either a US-based person or someone from France, I’m in an awkward in-between language and connections-wise. Any additional advice? I read your related article as well; thanks for the link!

  • Mridu Khullar Relph says:

    I think you actually have an advantage because most US publications will trust an American to understand their audience and publication much better than they would someone who is French. Expat journalists do very well in other countries, sometimes a lot better than local ones. You have a lot better chance of reaching editors and translating between the two cultures and you’re also more likely to spot the stories and issues that will appeal to an American audience.

    • Kimberly Absher says:

      Well that is very encouraging, thank you so much! I am reading through your 21 query letters right now to get some ideas 🙂 Cheers!

  • Sajib Mannan says:

    Hi Mridu,

    I have been also facing this difficulty since the start of my freelance writing career. I’m trying to make a shining career on online marketplaces. I’ve been writing good and attractive cover letters showcasing my skills and experience properly, but it seems that clients tend to trash me on the first look seeing my nationality. I just can’t figure out why my application is being rejected every time. If nationality is all that matters then it’s pretty sure that my expertise and experience don’t carry any value.

    • Mridu Khullar Relph says:

      Do they say they’re rejecting you because of your nationality? Because that has never, not once, happened to me in my career.

      Then again, if by “online marketplaces” you mean places like oDesk, etc, there’s your problem right there.

  • Sham N. Raheja says:

    I write poetry and lately I have started writing articles of uncertain length, namely, one on the English Detectives of the 30’s to the 60’s. I am retired from marketing jobs and the last seven months or so I have been driving myself mad finding genuine sites to write to see if they would like to publish poetry. All I found were sites who took up my sample poem and vanished.
    Also, I am afraid I would not be able to write what others would like me to write upon. I have written more than seventy poems and I feel I may not be able to write as per what the editors want. All the sites I see are sites that want you to shell out money for their writing courses.
    Please advise.
    Sham N. Raheja

    • Mridu Khullar Relph says:

      “I feel I may not be able to write as per what the editors want.”

      You can’t succeed as a professional writer until you fix this problem.

  • yvelette says:

    Great post and tips. The beauty of freelancing is that you can write from anywhere.

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