Are you keen to be a freelance health writer but have no idea how to start or where to find your first freelance writing job?
Or, are you stuck in a freelance marketplace battleground and getting nowhere?
The good news is that there’s plenty of work available for freelance health & medical writers. And, here’s a little secret: Freelance work isn’t always advertised online.
I’m talking about the ‘hidden job market’ – a term referring to jobs that exist but aren’t advertised.
In the freelance industry, you can find hidden jobs through any of the following:
- Friends, and friends of friends
- Past employers
- Referrals from current and past clients
- Referrals from other freelancers
- Chance encounters
The hidden job market is a key theme that emerged when I spoke to ten successful freelance health writers about how they found their first clients.
The first client stories of these diverse freelancers clearly demonstrate that there are many pathways to freelance success. No two journeys are the same, and I hope you find these anecdotes as interesting and inspiring as I did!
“My very first client was the agency I had previously been employed by.”
Dr Sarah McKay is a Sydney-based writer, neuroscientist, ABC Catalyst TV presenter, author of ‘The Women’s Brain Book’, founder of the Neuroscience Academy, and a TEDx-er.
Sarah says: “My very first client was the agency I had previously been employed by before I went on maternity leave. They asked me to complete a few projects I’d worked on previously, and I took on new work from them over time.
“My second client was my manager and the agency who moved to a new job. My third client was an old colleague who went to work for a health communications agency.
“As you can see, my first few clients all came from my pre-existing networks.”
“It happened by accident … I saw an interesting job posting for a healthcare content editor and decided to apply.”
Lisa Buffington is an experienced healthcare ghost blogger and web writer based in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. As the owner of Buffington Editorial Services, Lisa specialises in blogging and writing web content for hospitals and health systems.
Lisa admits she found her first health writing client by accident. “I was working at a full-time, non-healthcare-related job and was looking for a way to transition to being a work-from-home mom so I could spend more time with my kids,” she said.
“A journalist by trade, I subscribed to a freelance job board and started looking for writing jobs. I saw an interesting job posting for a healthcare content editor and decided to apply. The client gave me a couple of editing assignments and asked if I wanted to try writing some web pages and blogs.
“I gave it a try and both the client and I were very happy with the arrangement. I quit my full-time job about six months later and continued freelancing.
“After a few years of working with this client, I felt that I learned enough about healthcare to focus my business on providing consumer-facing health writing services. It’s been five years since I stumbled into this line of work, and I am still working with this client on a consistent basis.
“I was bending the ear of my best friend backwards again about my frustration with agency life … two days later, I had two retainers.”
Rebekah found her first client shortly after bobbing in the waters off some calm place in North Sydney, bending the ear of her best friend backwards again about her frustration with agency life.
Rebekah recalls: “He looked at me as his dogs bobbed around and simply said “what are you prepared to do about it, Bex?” That was his way of saying my whining was making his tolerance thin. I thought about it for a moment and said, “Give it a shot, I reckon”.
“Two days later, I had two retainers. One was admittedly from my bestie who was running a kid’s educational start-up at the time. The other, from a food and wine group. 6 weeks after I quit my job and began, my bestie’s funding ran short and I was first in, first to leave.
“From here, I got nimble. I got two clients from writing them love letters on how I could help them. I setup a barter product and began a community Twitter, both of which got me future paying clients for their difference and community involvement.
“I hung out at networking events on collaborative consumption and social justice and got more clients. I loved up the clients I had and got even more through referral. Once I got a website, I blogged my arse off.
“The moral to the story? It doesn’t have to be expensive or involved. You need to leverage your connections and your talents wisely. It’s also about making people remember what you can give to them. Do the odd weird thing to stand out from the crowd. But also answer the damn brief too because no matter how many bells and whistles you want to wow them with, if they want coffee and eggs, you gotta give it to them.”
“I got the contact from the health communications officer at Emory University where I was attending grad school.”
Based in the Greater Atlanta area, Emma Hitt Nichols, PhD, ELS, is the founder of Nascent Medical, LLC and teaches a popular 6-week course in freelance medical writing.
One of Emma’s first clients was Reuters Health, for which she wrote news pieces, especially on CDC issues.
Emma says: “I got that contact from the health communications officer at Emory University where I was attending grad school.
“I recommend that people getting into the field have a website, create some samples, and make as many in-person connections as possible in addition to sending out emails.
“Also, if you have contacts in academia or in healthcare that might need some writing assistance, that would be the very first place to start.”
“I met the HR director of a biotech startup at a networking event … a few weeks later, we had a coffee together to discuss the details, and I was given a chance.”
Based in the Netherlands, Jackie Johnson is an American freelance medical writer supporting biotech, healthcare, and pharmaceutical industries with premium medical communication services.
Jackie believes that networking online and offline played a huge role in finding projects. She said: “One of my first clients was a biotech startup in Amsterdam. I had met the HR director at a biomedical networking event, and though her company wasn’t looking for any full-time communications professionals, they were about to launch a new website that needed ad hoc strategic communications deliverables.
“A few weeks later, we had a coffee together to discuss the details, and I was given a chance. Another early client was a pharma company that found me through LinkedIn and needed some congress coverage work and press releases.
“I worked with a small team of their in house writers to do the coverage. Another client was an old colleague who had started a company and needed advice on copywriting for his web presence. He heard that I was looking for writing projects and was happy to take advantage of my ‘start-up rate’.”
“A LinkedIn connection had an immediate requirement for his client.”
Sathya Meonah, from the Bengaluru Area in India, is currently working as a freelance scientific/medical writer with a focus on planning, analyzing and publishing medical and clinical research documentation.
Sathya admitted that entering into freelance writing was an unanticipated coincidence. “I did my doctoral research in pharmaceutical microbiology and was waiting to be placed in a scientific position,” she said.”
“Soon I got an offer as a medical writer in a pharma company. I did not accept the offer as my baby was only a few months old.
“At this time one of my connections on LinkedIn came up with an immediate requirement of a medical writing assignment for his client. I finished the work in a week and got loads of appreciation from the client about the work.
“That’s where I developed an interest in freelance medical writing. As my kiddos were very young I thought this was the best option. Soon I did a PG Diploma in Medical Writing from IGMPI (Institute of Good Manufacturing Practice India) to strengthen my core skills in all types of medical and health writing.”
“My first client was a friend of a friend.”
Sarah Morton is an SEO Copywriter and Content Strategist based in Sydney, with more than 17 years’ experience working with brands in the government, healthcare, nonprofit, technology, finance, tourism and consumer lifestyle industries.
Sarah’s client was a friend of a friend, who she met when they were out for drinks.
“I had only just decided to become a copywriter and was still working full time, but I confidently told him I was a copywriter and explained how I could help small business owners like him.
“Before I knew it he was asking me to redevelop content for his whole website. I think it’s important to remember that everyone you meet (and everyone they know) is a potential client.
“Have your elevator pitch ready and above all, express confidence in your ability to help.”
“I have always been actively involved in my profession.”
Kate Marsh, also based in Sydney, is an Advanced Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Credentialled Diabetes Educator, who currently divides her time between clinical practice and health and medical writing.
Kate believes that the advice “it’s who you know that’s important” rings true.
“As a health professional, I have always been actively involved in my profession, volunteering my time on committees, working groups and chairing interest/discussion groups, as well as regularly attending continuing education events,” Kate said.
“I believe that most of my health writing work opportunities have stemmed from this as it has given me the chance to meet and become known to those who might need my services.”
“A friend contacted me to write their allied health website.”
Kylie Saunder is a Melbourne health writer and copywriter who writes engaging medical and health content for Plastic Surgeons, GP’s, Dentists, Dermatologists, Psychiatrists & Psychologists.
Kylie said: “When I started SEO copywriting I pretty much wrote for any industry including finance, law, retail, engineering, telecommunications, logistics and eCommerce.
“When a friend contacted me to write their allied health website, I jumped at the opportunity as I’d always been interested in health and wellbeing.
“During this project, I realised I was ‘in the zone’ as I was writing. I felt like the messages I wrote could help people who were searching for the right massage therapist.
“Soon after at an SEO meetup, I met a friend who was setting up an agency and needed some medical copywriting done. Through word of mouth I got more health and medical writing gigs. I then updated my LinkedIn profile and tweaked my website to show that I liked to write health and medical content.”
“I changed my marketing tactics to focus only on the niche area of medical technology.”
Anne Watkins is a UK-based freelance health writer, medical content creator and the founder of Mind Body Ink.
Anne said that she tried taking a broad brush approach to becoming a health writer at the beginning, though she found herself getting exhausted and dispirited very quickly.
“It seemed as though everyone was applying for the same few opportunities online. I then realised that I wasn’t making any use of the many years of specialist nursing and midwifery experience I had.
“I changed my tactics to focus only on the niche area of medical technology. That’s what turned things around for me and I found it much easier to get high-paying work such as creating educational materials and writing white papers.”
There you have it – 10 first client stories to inspire you to achieve your freelance goals. Heck, let’s make it 11: Allow me to share my first client story, too.
I found my first freelance health writing client through Facebook. I’d just set up a Facebook business page, and I was connecting with potential clients. My timing was impeccable because one client messaged me several hours later and asked me to quote for writing a press release. I – just like the other ten writers above – took the plunge and put myself out there.
Now, what are you waiting for? It’s time for you to write your first client story!
If you need a little help with these steps, my How To Become A Freelance Health Writer course can help. The course is available on-demand, so you can sign up and start learning today!