Top 11 Freelance Writing Tips for Beginners
Have you ever been told that “you can’t make a living as a writer”? That’s probably the biggest myth about freelance writing that exists in most people’s minds. Freelance writing is an excellent side gig for you to earn extra income while you hold a day job. Heck, if you’re really good at it, you could even quit your regular job and do content writing full-time.
Here’s a list of 11 of the most useful freelance writing tips that beginners need to know at the start of their creative journey.
#1. Start your own blog, preferably using WordPress
If you’re going to write for a living, it’s imperative that you have:
- A platform for you to showcase your work and skills 24/7, and
- A high-outreach, low-cost marketing channel for you to acquire new clients
A blog does both of the above things spectacularly well. So, which platform should you use? You should definitely start with WordPress. Why? With WordPress, you’re able to have full control over the look and feel of your site. You’ll be able to rank highly in search engines with SEO – much more so than with other sites like Medium. Once you’ve started your WordPress site, you can always syndicate your content to alternative sites like Medium and Tumblr. WordPress also allows you to be able to process payments, which you may want if you’re taking job bookings online.
Also, buy yourself a catchy domain name that’s easy to remember – GoDaddy has a great selection of these. Use a good hosting service, like Digital Ocean, that offers affordable and fast website hosting.
#2. Start contributing, even for free
There’s a million freelance writers out on the internet competing with you for the same writing jobs. The most important thing when you’re first starting out is to have a good portfolio of work that you can showcase to potential clients. Start writing lots of articles on your own blog to demonstrate your writing abilities. Then, start offering to contribute guest posts to other sites. These articles that you contribute could cover anything under the sun – it could be something that you’re knowledgeable about, something you’re interested in, or a writing niche that you think would pay well.
If you get paid for these articles – that’s all well and good. However, if you haven’t worked with the particular site before, or you don’t a list of previous clients you can talk about, you might not get offered any monetary compensation. That’s okay – if you’re just starting out. The credibility that you’ll be able to build with just a few articles published by someone other than yourself will be more important than the comparatively small, one-time fees you might get paid. And no, you’re not throwing yourself down some endless “do it for the exposure” rabbit hole – you’re just building a brand for yourself and getting a good head start in a very saturated, highly competitive field.
You’ll be much more likely to get signed on by clients if you can show them you’re not only capable of producing quality writing, but that other sites have trusted you enough to write for them.
#3. Network with other freelance writers
Even though freelance writing might seem like a solo adventure (and it often is), you can give your career a boost by forming great working relationships with other freelance writers just like yourself. You can ask more experienced writers questions about rates, handling clients, or even for project referrals. Having a professional network that you can tap on is never a bad thing, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to just operate in a silo as a freelance writer. Make the effort to actively connect with fellow professionals in your field, and you’ll find that it’ll pay off handsomely in the long run. Use a site like Meetup to connect with fellow freelance writers.
#4. Set aside time each day to read great content
Stephen King famously reads 80 books a year (that’s one-and-a-half books every week!). Why would one of the world’s most famous writers even bother with the writing of lesser mortals than himself? King says: “if you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” The latter is almost guaranteed if you’re a freelance writer (doh!), but the first is certainly not. Many writers make the mistake of spending all their time producing, and not enough time absorbing. Yes, I get it – you don’t get paid to consume writing. But reading other people’s writing (and great writing, at that) is so essential to furthering your craft as a writer. How can you hope to deliver better writing each new day if you don’t learn from those better than you?
If a writer like King (who’s sold 350 million books) religiously reads writing other than his own, you definitely should too. Set aside at least an hour a day to read a diverse set of content, preferably from the top publications in each niche.
Here’s a useful set of reading material that writers would do well with:
News sites: Great learning for assignments that ask you to cover world events, politics, current affairs, or the like. You won’t go wrong with storied publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, or the South China Morning Post.
Magazines: Choose wisely here. Stay away from tabloids (unless that’s what you’re writing for). Editorials from Rolling Stone Magazine and Vox tend to be particularly eloquent.
Top fashion sites hardly need introducing: Vogue, GQ, and Womens Wear Daily are renowned staples.
Consumer product/service reviews: Lots of good choices here. Sites like PCWorld, Nerdwallet, or Wirecutter produce thoroughly researched, well-written content that’s read by millions of people.
By reading a diverse set of content, you’ll quickly become comfortable writing about any topic. The next time a job comes by on a topic you’ve never written about before, you’ll be twice as confident approaching it if you’ve been reading widely and religiously.
#5. Maintain the highest standards of professionalism
The freelance writing industry is filled with lots of cowboys who pump out shoddy work, oftentimes delivered with unethical practices like plagiarising other people’s content. Your reputation as a freelancer is everything, so make sure you are completely professional 100% of the time when dealing with clients. Here’s some useful professionalism tips for freelance writers:
- Never plagiarise someone else’s work. Not only is this unethical, but you’re probably not going to achieve good results if you just copy-and-paste an existing article, and then make some minor edits. Search engines won’t rank the content well, and sharp-eyed readers/clients might even spot the similarities.
- Use a professional email domain. Nothing gives a worse first impression than seeing a “gmail” or a “hotmail” address.
- Answer emails/enquiries promptly.
- Don’t undersell your abilities, but don’t oversell either – you want to manage expectations.
- Don’t get upset at clients. If they’re demanding more revisions than necessary, or stressing you in some other way, state your position firmly but politely. A happy customer might tell a friend how good you are – an unhappy one will tell 10 about how bad you are!
- Send professional-looking invoices (check out our Xero review, FreshBooks review, and QuickBooks review, all of which give you great-looking invoice templates).
- If you’re going to be late on a deadline, make sure you let your client know in advance. If something’s due at 11:59PM, don’t send an email at 11:50PM saying “Yeah, I’m gonna need 1 more day on that job you gave me”. If you’re really swamped, and you just need a little extra time, most clients will be understanding as long as you let them know early.
#6. Your qualifications are (mostly) irrelevant. The only thing that matters is your content.
Unless you have a specialized body of knowledge in a particular field, and your clients are looking to tap into that knowledge (e.g. you have a law degree and you’re writing law articles, or you know a particular industry in and out), your qualifications won’t mean anything. It’s really going to be irrelevant whether or not you have a university degree, or any other academic title – in freelance writing, those are (most of the time) just literally really expensive pieces of paper. So if you don’t have any of these qualifications, don’t feel like you’re less than. In this industry, the only thing clients care about is how good your writing is. The best way to move up the hierarchy of freelance writing is to write as much as you can, as best as you can, so that your writing skills and reputation become second to none.
#7. Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy
You’ll need to have a well thought-out strategy to market your services to clients. It’s not going to be enough to just dive in, thinking “I’ll just write for money”. There’s millions of other people offering the exact same service as you on the internet. How will YOU stand out?
The fundamental parts of a good marketing strategy for freelance writing are:
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): You’ll definitely want to be on the first page of Google (and preferably in the top 3 positions) for keywords like “best freelancer writers for hire”, or “find freelance writer Singapore”. You’ll need to publish lots of great content for this (see tip 1), and ensure that your content is optimised for search engines.
Pay-Per-Click Ads (PPC) / Display Ads: This basically encompasses ads on Google AdWords, social media ads on sites like Facebook, and those banner display ads that you see on websites. You might want to consider buying ads to drive traffic to your business when you’re just starting out. Your website likely won’t be on the first page of Google yet for very many search terms, so ads will be the most effective way to get yourself customers.
#8. Get really good at keyword research
To be a great freelance writer, you’re going to want to get really good at keyword search. Your clients are probably going to judge the performance of your articles by how much readership they acquire. If your articles aren’t getting in front of people, they won’t be read, and you’re unlikely to get much repeat business from the same client.
Being skilled at keyword research allows you to hone in on the best choice of topics for your clients. If your client wants to write an article on a really competitive keyword, you can certainly take on the job. However, why not first suggest some less-competitive keywords for them to write content about? Having content pieces that rank on page 1 of Google is much better than having pieces that wallow in obscurity on page 10. (When was the last time you even clicked past Google’s first page?) This helps you add value to your clients, and also boosts your own content performance. If you perform smart keyword research, your articles are likely going to rank much higher in search engine results (SERPs). This is going to result in more views for your content, more brand awareness/sales for your clients, and therefore more repeat writing jobs for you. It’s a beautiful virtuous cycle.
Good tools for keyword research are SEMRush (USD 99/month) or Long Tail Pro (USD 37/month).
#9. Understand how your content fits into your clients’ overall marketing objectives
When you get a client who’s interested in hiring you to write something, make sure you understand their business, and what their broader marketing goals are. What is your client trying to achieve specifically with this content?
Some basic questions any good content marketer should be asking:
- What are your content goals over the next 12 months?
- How much revenue do you expect to generate from this content?
- What is your targeted conversion rate?
- How many leads do you want to generate?
- What are your marketing objectives with this content?
- Brand awareness
- Lead generation
- Market education on products/services
Ask the right questions. Don’t just passively accept the writing assignment without understanding what the clients’ goals are. If you don’t try to understand your client’s goals, you’re not going to develop a deeper business relationship with them.
The most successful freelance content writers have a firm understanding of their client’s industry, what their client’s customers are looking for, and how to accomplish specific marketing goals via the content they’re publishing. These writers are the ones with the ability to charge the highest fees, the most loyal clients, and will earn the most repeat business. Remember, you’re not here to just churn out type. You’re here to intelligently analyse your client’s business/marketing needs, and then develop targeted pieces of content to address those needs. If you can do this, you’ll already be two steps ahead of the competition.
#10. Offer full-service content marketing
You’re probably not going to be able to charge very much if your only service is to passive take topics from clients, then churn out a bunch of words for them to use. You’re going to add much more value if you offer a full marketing service for your clients.
A full-stack content marketing service includes:
- Formulation of marketing goals, and how content marketing fits into the overall marketing strategy
- Keyword research
- Topic generation/ideation
- Follow-up analysis of performance, in relation to marketing goals
You can see that writing is really only one component (albeit the most important and time-consuming one) of the entire content marketing value chain. You’re going to create so much more value for your clients if you offer them services from steps A-E. Don’t just be a tool that clients use to pump out words – be the entire machine that creates ideas for them, relates the content to their business objectives, and then spins out beautiful content that helps them achieve their goals.
#11. You could start an agency, eventually
Freelance content writing is a great side gig that you can do to earn some extra income. But if you do this full-time, and do it really well, you could actually start your own content marketing agency. XXX is a great example of a content marketing agency, started by a couple that left full-time corporate jobs. They’ve just turned over $300,000 in annual revenue last year in this insightful blog post. Don’t underestimate the earning power of freelance writing. If you enjoy writing, you’ve probably been told by countless people that you “can’t make a living as a writer”. Well, actually you can. You’re probably not going to end up with millions of dollars and a private island to call your own, but you can definitely build a successful and fulfilling career out of writing.
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