So you’ve decided to work for yourself and become a content writer? Sounds easy, right? You sit down, write some words and get paid… Easy!
Well, although content writing and copywriting are definitely booming industries, and people around the world are turning to freelance writing for a living, the truth is that it isn’t as easy as you might think.
And there are skills that you might not realise you need to become a successful content writer.
Yes, a mastery of language is useful. And of course an eye for detail and being able to communicate clearly in text.
But to actually go from hobby writer for full time (and well paid) content writer is actually hard work.
So, from someone who has done it… Here are my tips for aspiring freelance writers.
Step one: Start writing
Sounds obvious? Obviously you start writing, right? But what do you write? And who for? And who is gonna pay you?
Well, for step one, you shouldn’t actually focus on getting paid. You should focus on improving your skills. So when I say ‘start writing’, I mean find a platform where you can start to practice getting your content out there in the real world.
You can get free blogs with Blogger, Tumblr, Medium and SubStack. All of these are good places to practice writing and maybe even build a following.
What do you write about? Well, whatever you like… Talk about whats going on in the world, tell stories, write blogs about the things you want to write about. But be critical of your own work, understand where you could improve and aim to make your content better every time.
Step two: Study and research
There are a lot of courses out there about how to become a content writer or copywriter. Some of them are free, some of them cost money. What I would say is, get yourself a copy of “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, and sign up for a cheap Udemy course.
Those two things should help you no end.
The thing is, even if you’re a university graduate, the actual style of modern writing for online is different to what you might be familiar with. Content nowadays is short form, punchy and designed for short attention spans.
Read up on modern writing styles so you know how to write for a modern audience.
Other things to study:
Search engine optimisation – It’s a very good idea to have at least some understanding of this
How power words work – The concept of power words is very interesting and is something every content writer should be aware of
NLP – Neuro-linguistic programming is another clever style of language use that should be understood by every content writer
Step three: Where to find work
When I started out as a content writer, I was writing small and cheap articles and trying to build my portfolio. I had a crappy job at the time which paid my bills, so I wasn’t under pressure to find good clients. However, when I took the plunge into full time content writing, it quickly became obvious that knowing how to find clients is a full time job in itself.
So, to save you the hassle that I had, here is what a struggling content writer should do to find work.
Sign up for Fiverr and have at least three gigs offering content writing services. Have one ‘general’ for example, “Content writer for hire”. Be aware that this will get very few likes or engagements.
Have another gig that is much more niche. For example, “I will write about healthcare for you” or, “I will write about pets and dogs for you”. The reason you should have a niche in this gig is it will be much easier to stand out. My niche was writing about London, and this got me far more gigs than my general content writing gig.
The trick to success on Fiverr is to over deliver. Give excellent service, give more words than they asked for, ask them for the blog post they’re trying to beat. Oh, and be responsive. Be online regularly and try to respond to enquiries within minutes.
Understanding how to make the most of Upwork is tricky. You need to have a well optimised profile for a start, and to be quite consistent with how you pitch for work.
I did get several very well paid gigs on Upwork, as well as a number of long term and consistent clients. But this came after some struggles and even getting scammed by one client. Look for jobs from western countries such as UK, USA, Canada, Europe and Israel. Avoid any gigs from India (sorry Indian people) as these will be very low paid.
Tailor each pitch, include your links to your content (for example your Linkedin or your Medium page) and only pitch for jobs you really want. Be patient. It can take time to build a good Upwork profile, but it is worth the wait. For me, it took around 6 months before I got a decent paid gig on Upwork.
There are a lot of jobs posted online for freelancers, and many of these are on social media. There is a lot of advice out there about social media job hunting.
To put it very simply:
Optimise your profile
Understand the keywords and hashtags to search for on a regular basis
Engage with companies and people you want to work for (without begging – NEVER BEG or ask for work)
Yes, normal job boards. Monster.com, Indeed… whatever job boards you have in your country, make your profile all about content writing.
Put your content writing focused CV up online. Keep it focused and cut out temp jobs in restaurants or whatever. And then, apply for jobs and be consistent again.
Personally, I have been headhunted numerous times for writing assignments through job boards. I actually get about five approaches a week (no joke) from recruiters who found my CV online. OK, yes I am an experienced content writer with a number of high profile clients under my belt.
But even without that experience, I used to get regular approaches through job sites. They don’t all come to fruition (most of them don’t in fact). But it takes one good hook and you’re in.
Step four: Don’t give up
Let’s be honest. Freelancing is hard. Building an online business is really hard. You have to hustle, try to get paid on time, avoid getting scammed and give top quality service… The buck stops with you.
It is hard work. And you won’t be making big bucks tomorrow. Yes, you’ll see success stories on Linkedin of people who somehow won a client paying them $5000 a month or something. While you’re making a measly $200 for working your ass off.
The truth is, they worked to get there. If you work hard, you could be that guy (or gal).
So, best of luck to you and I hope these tips about how to become a successful content writer help you on your journey!