People always ask me how I get my writing and editing jobs. I bid on them, along with what sometimes seems like half the world. I am competing for jobs with people from other countries who will work for $5 an hour. I couldn't do that for long.
But many times, someone I know will contact me to ask if I can help them. I always go the extra mile in these circumstances, because that's how you get referrals. Maybe you don't get the job you bid on - but maybe the referral will result in something better.
For instance, a friend recently contacted me about members of his department who needed academic editing. I volunteered to do a free edit for him. He sent me a 23-page formal academic paper, no doubt expecting that I would do a few pages as a sample. Instead, I edited the whole paper and sent it back to him.
I'm still waiting for a response from his department. I'm pretty sure I will get this assignment, because I really did try to do a superior job on the sample edit. I even contacted the journal where this paper would be published, Springer Verlag, and asked for specific guidelines.
But that's not the exciting part. The same day, I got an e-mail from a professor emeritus on campus who asked me if I could give him information about my editing abilities. I had been recommended to him by someone in the graduate editorial office, along with other editors. I sent him the 23-page paper I had edited the night before as an example of what I could do. He hired me that day.
Now I am being paid to edit an absolutely fascinating book on public gardens for this professor, the culmination of his life's work. I didn't tell him, but I'm enjoying the book so much, I would have done it for free! :)
I also recently worked for a new organization that is looking for article writers. I wrote a number of articles for them for practically nothing. Then I told them I had to stop for a while because I had all this other work. The gentleman who coordinates the article told me I could start back with them any time I wanted - that he enjoyed working with me. So now I have an ace in the hole if no other jobs are available. I like having back-up plans. Plus, I have a really nice selection of new sample articles to show to other writing organizations.
So, be willing to put yourself out there if you want to get jobs. Sometimes you have to work for free or for a low price to get something that's worth doing. You never know what your efforts will lead to unless you try.