You are ready to become a freelance writer. You quit your office job and cleared your calendar. You know how to write. You have expertise in a range of subjects. You’ve upgraded your computer, bought a new set of your favorite pens, and laid in a supply of paper and printer ink. You’re only missing one thing, but it’s the most important — your first freelance writing job.

Just five years ago, I was exactly where you are, ready to begin my freelance writing career with everything I needed, except for freelance writing jobs. After 20 years in a stale cubicle, churning out press releases, speeches, and newsletters, I had the skills and the discipline to make it in freelance writing, but where to go to find the jobs?

Five years later, freelance writing makes me twice what I earned in my 9-to-6 office job and takes half the time. I set my own hours, I write on subjects I enjoy, and I have so much work, I am able to pass some of it off to friends who have seen my success and joined the freelance writing world. Here are three simple tips for finding your first freelance writing job:

1. Start with what, and who, you know: Before I started freelance writing, my job was in public relations for an agency that dealt with aging issues. As a result, I knew many groups and service providers who catered to senior citizens. Most, if not all, had websites and newsletters. They sent out fund raising letters, issued reports, or produced sales brochures. The smaller they were, the more likely they did not have a dedicated PR department to produce all these pieces. I contacted several, asked if they needed help, provided them with samples of what I thought I could do for them. I got my first freelance writing job this way, rewriting the web page of a small business renting scooters to the mobility challenged. The companies that didn’t have work for me right away, kept me on a call list and referred me to others who could use my services.

Who do you know, from your past work history or among your friends, who might need help creating content for on- or offline purposes? No business, no matter how small, can exist today without a web presence. Over 570 new websites are created every minute; odds are, you have a business or social contacts that are trying to get online right now. The key is, don’t wait for them to come to you – approach them and show them what you can do for them. You too might find yourself with your first – and second, third, fourth, and one-hundredth – freelance writing job.

2. Look close to home: Some of the most lucrative freelance opportunities might be in your backyard, or your neighbor’s, as one of my freelancing friends found. Around the time she was starting her freelance speech writing business, her neighbor was planning a huge rehearsal dinner in his backyard for his son’s wedding. This prominent local businessman confided to my friend that he was terrified he wouldn’t be able to come up with toast that would be elegant and emotional enough for the occasion. My friend offered to write him one for free. The neighbor got so many compliments on his toast that he turned around and hired my friend to write several business speeches for him, and others at the wedding employed her to write graduation speeches, other wedding toasts, even a eulogy. She ended up with a booming business freelance writing both business and personal speeches without ever having to advertise or apply for a job.

Look around your home and neighborhood and find places you can showcase your writing in order to pick up freelance clients. Schools, rotary or other service clubs, local political campaigns, and social clubs all often need volunteer writers, and those positions, with a little networking on your part, can easily turn into paying freelance writing jobs.

3. Get online: There are a number of websites and companies online that either match writers to freelance writing jobs, facilitate the sale of freelance writing pieces for writers, or both. I supplement my freelance writing work for personal clients with writing jobs or article sales through Constant Content, a website that allows writers to either list articles (and set their own price) or accept jobs from buyers looking for online content. The benefits of this arrangement for me are that I can take only jobs for which I have time and write on any subject I wish. Constant Content handles all the business end of the transaction – presenting my articles and credentials to potential clients, editing my submissions, and collecting payments and forwarding them to me. Other similar sites (though each has its own unique business model) are Elance, iWriter, Scripted, Freelancer, and even Craigslist. Some sites, like Constant Content, require that you pass grammar tests and provide a writing sample before you are approved to bid for jobs. Other sites work more like classified ads, where freelance writing jobs are listed, and it is up to the writer to respond to them.

I know several freelance writers who make a living writing solely for online content companies. If you choose this route, however, do your research on the quality of the company or clients before you start freelancing. Some of these websites offer jobs that pay too little or unreliably. There are plenty of freelance forums available online on which other writers discuss their experiences. Make sure you check them out before signing up for a freelance writing job on the Internet.

Through freelance writing, I have been able to achieve financial independence, a flexible work schedule, and the daily enjoyment of doing what I love. Whether you find freelance writing jobs online or on your street, a freelance writing career can be your ticket to the same.