I have been writing my entire life.  When I was a kid I wrote poems and short stories; one of my poems even won a local poetry contest.  When I was in my teens and twenties I kept a journal chronicling the ups and downs of my life, problems with my family and friends and all my hopes and dreams.  As a young adult, I continued to journal and sat down on several occasions to try and start a novel, which usually ended up with me writing an outline and first chapter and then getting distracted by life.

But through all that writing it never occurred to me that I could be a writer for a living.  I never envisioned myself making any money for what I considered to be a hobby.  Then one late November day I found myself laid off from a job that I loved, a victim of the downturn in the economy.  As I sat at home in the first few weeks of my unemployment I boned up my resume, sent out hundreds of copies, had one less-than-stellar interview and grew really downhearted about my future prospects.

I was on the computer one day, checking job sites, when I saw an ad for a freelance writer on Craigslist.  I sent in a very poorly constructed letter of interest (or LOI) and waited.  I ended up landing the job after sending a couple of clips that I'd written for a friends' blog and having a great Skype interview with the client.  While I no longer write for that client, that one communication led to a whole new career, one I never could have envisioned from the four walls of my small office in a mom-and-pop business. 

Is my career perfect?  Far from it.  I am still fine-tuning my marketing skills (an entire area that I never considered important when I first started but now appreciate for it's importance) and I am still attempting to grow my client roster, though that is beginning to happen; I've gotten a handful of steady clients amid the one-off jobs.  I continue to network through social media and conferences and I have been sending LOI's to several local businesses.  Writing every day is something that I love doing.  Getting paid to do so is just the icing on the cake.
I belong to many different LinkedIn groups for writers.  There has been a lot of discussion recently in the forums regarding content mills and the definition of a fair price for services rendered.  Fair price is another post for another day, but let's discuss several postings on job sites such as Elance, oDesk and Freelancer.

If you're not aware of how these job sites work, let me break it down for you.  Writers (or other types of freelancers, such as designers, administrative professionals, etc) will post a profile on these sites, listing their experience, background and how much per hour you prefer to earn.  You receive a certain amount of "connections" per month for free; the number varies per website.  You use these connections to submit proposals for jobs that you select from a job board.  If you want additional connections you must pay a fee (starting at $10 per month and up, depending on the site) and you can receive as many as you're willing to pay for.  Most jobs require one to three connections depending on how much the pay for the project is.  The higher the pay, the more connections required.  Sometimes clients will invite you to submit a proposal; when this happens, you aren't charged any of your connections for your submission.

There are legitimately good opportunities available on some of these sites; you just have to learn how to read between the lines.  For the most part however the projects available on these sites are extremely low paying.  You will see entries such as "50 articles for $20" or even worse.  These project posters are not looking for real writing; they are looking for anyone with a computer who can string a few words together and stuff them with keywords.  Real honest high quality clients understand and appreciate the job that we do.  They are willing to pay accordingly for quality writing.

The other issue that I have with content mills is that, as long as there are writers who are willing to write for pennies, the more clients will assume that is the norm and prices will stay low.  This affects all freelancers.  If you are a hobby writer -- someone doing this for fun and a few extra bucks -- then by all means, accept that kind of work if you so choose.  But if you are truly trying to market yourself as a business, steer clear of content mills.  Your bottom line will thank you!
Many times the only thing keeping a freelancer from getting a project for which they are qualified is the proposal they’ve submitted.  You can have the skills and the expertise; it matters not a bit if your proposal is vague, sloppy or just completely off the mark.  The following are some of the most commonly made proposal mistakes.

Misspelled words or poor grammar

As a writer, I find it offensive to see other writers’ profiles or proposals that are full of misspellings or grammatical errors.  You’re selling your ability to write in your proposal, yet you don’t care enough to make sure it’s constructed according to the correct rules of grammar.  If this isn’t your strong suit or you are a freelancer in another area besides writing, there are some great English grammar guides that will help you construct your proposal properly.  My favorite as a writer is Merriam-Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style.  This guide is easy-to-read and understand and is available at any bookstore or on Amazon.

Undefined proposals

When submitting a proposal to a prospective client it is important for you to show that you fully comprehend the scope of the project.  Writing a proposal that is vague, generic and not tailored to the client’s specific needs is a surefire way to get a rejection.  While it is okay to keep a “proposal template” that states your qualifications, that template should never be submitted as-is to the client.  You need to ensure the client knows you understand the project and that you are able to concisely state in your proposal why you are the right contractor for the project.

“Pointless” proposals

Submitting a proposal for a project in which you have no experience or background is what I call a “pointless” proposal.  I write; I don’t design websites or write programming code.  Therefore, I’m going to submit proposals to clients who are looking for a writer.  I would never write a proposal for something that I’m completely ill-suited.  What happens if for some reason your complete lack of experience is overlooked by the client and you land the project?  You will end up looking foolish and the client will be unhappy at the least; at worst, you’ll get a reputation as being a contractor who bites off more than you can chew and you may find the offers are coming fewer and farther between.