How to become a freelance web content writer

Google’s insatiable appetite for quality, informative content means that web content writers are more in-demand than ever before. The cream of the crop can, with the right determination, contacts and skills, make a decent living and enjoy a great work/life balance, but it’s a tough gig to begin with. If you want to get into this industry, whether you’re changing profession, or graduating from university, how do you get started?

Ensure your basic writing skills are up to scratch

Contrary to popular belief, freelance web content writers don’t necessarily need to have a degree; however, as the career guide points out, they “often have a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism or communications.” These study paths will inevitably give you an excellent grounding in the skills seen as indispensable for any budding freelancer to hold.

Being able to spell correctly and write in a comprehensible and engaging manner is obviously a pre-requisite, although, as highlighted by Victoria Delano these are basic traits desired in any writer. To really set yourself apart as a freelance web copywriter, you should also be able to “critically analyse content… and find inconsistencies in your writing” and “conduct thorough research and analyse the facts you learn”, determining which are most salient to the piece you’re writing. If you’re confident in your ability to do all of this, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Learn to market yourself

As a content writer, you’re going to be “creating… valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action [for the client]”, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s official definition of content marketing. It is vital then, that to attract business, you practise what you preach.

Establish a web presence, so potential clients can find you. Your site should list the writing services you offer (clients will be looking for varying forms of content, so be sure you know the difference between blog posts and articles, for example, and communicate this effectively) but, most importantly, it should also include a blog. For Mariah Coz of Femtrepeneur, “Having a blog is like having a collection of writing samples (a portfolio) that can attract potential gigs and clients.” Try to find a niche subject to write about, rather than covering as much ground as possible; it is easier for you to come across as knowledgeable and informative on one or two smaller topics, and gain work through this, than it is to blag your way through an issue you don’t fully understand.

Finally, adopt the tried and tested tactics of content marketers by guest-posting for bigger blogs in your niche. As Coz points out, this is “mutually beneficial” for you and the site: they get good quality content, for free, or for a small fee, while “you (potentially) get paid to write… get lots more exposure for your own blog and experience working with others and sticking to a schedule.”

Develop a wider understanding and skillset

While you may be confident in your abilities as a writer, and have a strong website and blog to back your skills up, there are thousands upon thousands of people out there who feel the same. In order to differentiate yourself in a competitive market, you need what Sherry Gray of Entrepreneuer refers to as “a full toolkit of marketable skills.”

This could include:

Technical knowledge – including the ability to design and code your own website, or simply being able to upload and optimise posts in a client’s Content Management System.

Familiarity with a range of social media platforms – on which you could build both your own and your clients’ following.

A wider insight into the marketing industry and the broad goals of the business you’re writing for – Gray suggests showing evidence of your ability to research keywords and buyer personas, for example.

The best content writers are polymaths: they’re marketers, SEO specialists, accomplished coders and social media masters all rolled into one package, so ensure that you can offer potential clients more than just the clichéd “carefully crafted copy” hawked by everyone else.

Keep yourself busy – and don’t give up!

By its very nature, copywriting is an inconsistent line of work, especially when you’re first starting out, seeking regular clients. Carol Tice underlines how important it is not to give up, saying “you can’t be a writer unless you are willing to put it out there and face rejection. You have to be willing to hear “no” and not crumple up in a ball and cry yourself to sleep.” Literature is littered with examples of writers, including J.K Rowling and Booker Prize winner Marlon James, who only became famous after years of persistence.

Fortunately, the internet is full of freelancing websites, which allow freelance web content writers to pick up work as and when they need it and build relationships with clients. Contently allows writers to easily assemble a portfolio and then use this to pitch for work.

When you work for yourself, time is money, so spend it wisely. Bear in mind the following advice of Laura Kay, writing for the Guardian’s Careers section: “If you don’t go looking for work, spending your days shooting off emails and writing pitches, then it is very unlikely the work will come to you.”


Becoming a successful web content writer is about much more than being able to write. You need to be able to communicate to a range of audiences in a succinct and effective manner and, of course, you have to find a unique way to market your own services and skills in order to attract business in the first place. You also need a number of personal qualities, including self-motivation, initiative and the ability to interpret clients’ instructions. If you can nail all of the above, congratulations: you’ll benefit from being your own boss, working your own hours and never having to negotiate the rush hour traffic or pull a sickie again!

Image courtesy of Fiona Palmer

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6 awesome content writing tools you should be using

When it comes down to it, writing content can be painstaking. Even the most accomplished writers and those buzzing with fresh and exciting ideas struggle. They’ll find themselves staring at that poster on the wall, twiddling their thumbs and wondering where their next 400 words are coming from. The good news is this: there are lots of helpful and creative people out there, and they’ve come up with many handy content writing tools.

Here are 6 tools that we found particularly useful for all stages of the content writing process.


Use this tool for: Research, generating ideas and adding bulk to content

Get inspiration for content by visiting Quora, a social networking site that operates on a question and answer discussion basis. Sign up, pose your question and have it answered by experts in your industry, or identify trends from grouped topics. The likes of Stephen Fry, Rand Fishkin and Ashton Kutcher are all present and active on the site.

Quora is particularly useful for gathering quotes to add colour to your content, although of course you should always be aware of provenance. This article by SEMRush outlines the benefits of Quora for marketers.


Use this tool for: Informing your content creation plan

How often have you and your team sat down to discuss content formulation, only to find yourselves doodling on scraps of paper and making outlandish suggestions that you know are never going to work?

Available as a web app or a WordPress plug-in, InboundWriter is invaluable when you’re forming your content creation plan. It provides marketers with an idea of how well content will perform prior to it even being written, using research data from across the web to analyse how that topic or area of interest is resonating with web users.

The tool can also recommend keywords for you to use; the only downside is that, unlike the other resources detailed in this article, it isn’t free.

We entered “6 awesome content writing tools you should be using” into the Emotional Marketing Headline Analyser. This received an EMV of 66.7%. According to the site, professional headlines have an EMV of between 30% and 40%, while gifted writers rank around 60 or 70%. In other words, it appears that ours is a great title!


Use this tool for: Cutting initial drafts and fine-tuning copy

Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, and he almost never wasted a word. His unique and tight writing style substituted lengthy, flowery prose for short, minimalist sentences. He also used plenty of repetition and relied on punctuation to convey meaning to the reader.

Nobody expects you to write like a Nobel Prize-winning novelist. Yet this handy little editing tool can give you suggestions on where to improve. Hemingway highlights sentences and words for clarity and readability and flags up use of the passive voice.

Don’t get caught up in trying to impress your readership. As content marketing whiz kid Neil Patel suggests: “you want to write as simply as possible to reach the biggest audience.” Paste your copy into the editor when finished and tweak where necessary.

Yes, we did check this paragraph in Hemingway. Here’s the original copy for an idea of how it works.


Use this tool for: Tailoring the voice of your content to your target audience

When you’re marketing a business or topic that you know like the back of your hand, it can be hard to look at it ‘from the outside’, as your readers would.

This brilliant tool, created by Toronto-based Atomic Reach and available as a WordPress plugin, is designed to help you stay on track with your blogging. It syncs with Google Analytics and your social media accounts, using this data to accurately inform how you can tailor your blog content to your target audience.

AtomicWriter is simple to use; just enter your copy into WordPress as usual and the plug-in will give you suggestions on how you can alter your post to make it clearer for the readership you had in mind. Articles are scored with a numerical Atomic Score (the higher the better) and you’ll be given an indication of Audience Match, which determines whether or not you should tweak further.

Quora - one of the best content writing tools
Quora – great for content research


Use this tool for: The final proofreading and editing stage

Not everyone is a naturally talented writer and most of us don’t have the time to be combing through finished drafts looking for errors. However, content rife with errors screams of a business that is unprofessional, so what do you do?

Grammarly is a plug-in that checks and corrects any spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes it finds in your text. Grammarly works with all major browsers, as well as Microsoft Office, and will appear in any text editors or dialog boxes you open, in the form of a small, green, clickable circle. You have to sign up to Grammarly, but it isn’t intrusive, and doesn’t take much effort to use. The alternative could include simple mistakes such as this, so using this tool is a no brainer.

Emotional Marketing Headline Analyser

Use this tool for: Finding effective headlines

Choosing an effective headline is notoriously difficult. It can often be tempting just to summarise the basics of the article or adopt a lazy, clichéd pun and move on to the next item on your to-do list. However, as Jodi Harris highlights for Content Marketing Institute, there are a number of aspects you need to conform to, all of which seemingly contradict each other.

Advanced Marketing Institute’s free, web-based tool is handy as it gives you an idea of the emotional response your headline will garner with your audience.

We entered “6 awesome content writing tools you should be using” which received an EMV of 66.7%. According to the site, professional headlines have an EMV of between 30% and 40%, while gifted writers rank around 60 or 70%. In other words, it appears that ours is a great title!

The analyser isn’t perfect and it doesn’t really give you an idea of the keywords you need to use, but it’s useful for helping you understand what your readership looks out for.

These six content writing tools alone won’t provide a magic solution, but have a play with them and see what you think. You might learn something new!

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Meet the copywriter – Huw Thomas

This week we talk to copywriter Huw Thomas about his life as a freelance copywriter and why this3b97f66ad1f95ee5e32c049c339b0c47 is not the career for those who enjoy office parties!

Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into copywriting?

I’ve been copywriting for about a year now. I studied Creative Writing at university and after a series of unrelated jobs decided to put what I’d learned to the test.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Coffee and typing, usually. Writing in the morning, editing in the afternoon. Freelancing is quite good in that there’s no fixed location, meaning I can work from a variety of places to keep things interesting. 

How do you get over writer’s block?

I find that just writing is the main way. As long as you have a foundation to work from, most of the work is done in the editing phase. Research helps as well, finding a new angle or approach to a subject or client can fuel the fire a little. But words on the page are the biggest motivator, even if they are eventually swapped out for something else. 

Do you have a full-time job, or are you freelance?

Being self-employed means I work full time on a variety of different projects, working from wherever takes my fancy. I have clients and companies who I write for on a regular basis and others who I work with just once. It’s a full time job comprised of lots of smaller projects, which suits me well. 

What do you like about copywriting?

My commute is three feet. 

What frustrates you about copywriting?

The office parties are fairly solitary. 

What tools do you use everyday to get the job done?

The internet is a blessing and a curse, for every bit of valuable research you can end up reading through ten meaningless blogs. Finding an application to block social media and time wasting websites was a big turnaround in my productivity. 

Content mills – necessary evil or just plain evil?!

I think they can make a complicated process simple, for both content creators and those in need of content. 

How much do you know about SEO? How does it impact on how you write?

SEO was something which I have had to teach myself and it’s an ongoing learning process. The key seems to be quality content. Just like a pushy salesman can put potential customers off a product, too much emphasis on SEO can leave people frustrated with a website. It’s important to strike a balance between being easy to find and easy to understand, between being visible and engaging. 

Who would be your dream client to write copy for?

I think writing about my hobbies would be less interesting. Clients where I know very little about an industry means the research is generally more rewarding and interesting. So I’d say my dream client would be one which I know nothing about. 

Billy Burroughs
Billy Burroughs

Who are your copywriting role models?

Leo Burnett and William S. Burroughs.


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Meet the copywriter – Iain Houten

This week we talk to Iain Houten about his journey from nursing to copywriting, and why there is no place for writer’s block in the modern agency. 13801

Q) Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into copywriting?

A) I trained as a nurse (badly) before realising it wasn’t for me a decade ago. After managing betting offices for four years, I then went back to university to undertake an English Literature degree. I’ve been working as a writer in London during the 18 months since graduating.

Q) What does a typical day look like for you?

A) At the moment I don’t have typical days, which will be explained in the next question.

Q) Do you have a full-time job, or are you freelance?

A) After working as a freelancer during my first 11 months in London, generally as an untrained stenographer – or ‘logger’ – in medical fitness to practice hearings, I got a job as a full-time staff writer with a creative web agency, writing about sports betting for most of the big bookmakers’ news sites.

Unfortunately, due to some of the company’s contracts coming back and forth, I was taken off staff and brought back as a four-day freelancer after six months. I fill any free days with logger shifts and/or copywriting.

Q) How do you get over writer’s block?

A) At the creative web agency, there’s no such thing as writer’s block – you get through your work or you’re out. It wouldn’t even occur to me to stop writing, because I have to pay my rent.

When it comes to personal projects – such as my blog, the book I’m working on and Copify – escaping writer’s block is somewhat more difficult. The best way I’ve found of counteracting is to write down big questions and try to answer them, such as ‘Why is the Scottish Independence campaign in such chaos?’ or ‘What is going on at Liverpool football club?’ I find this helps.

Q) What do you like about copywriting?

A) I did some copywriting work for a communications agency in Kentish Town last year and found it was a useful way to supplement my income, as well as good practice. Now, after producing five/six 350-word articles per day for six months, turning around content is relatively straightforward.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.10.40 pm
Iain’s dream client – The Economist

Q) What frustrates you about copywriting?

A) The money’s poor, but that’s a given and I signed up to Copify with my eyes wide open. However, I do get frustrated when I log in and there’s nothing but assignments on ecommerce etc. That’s not really my bag, to be honest.

Q) What tools do you use every day to get the job done?

A) For travel articles in particular, Wikipedia is a great starting point. The BBC website is a fantastic, authoritative source of information. When writing about sport in my ‘day job’, I use sites such as Racing Post (and their Soccerbase), Planet Rugby, WhoScored? and Newsnow.

Q) Content mills – necessary evil or just plain evil?!

A) Well, they work for me. As I’ve already stated, the money is poor but I signed up to Copify with my eyes wide open and not at gunpoint.

You get through your work or you’re out. It wouldn’t even occur to me to stop writing, because I have to pay my rent.

Q) How much do you know about SEO? How does it impact on how you write?

A) From writing with a creative web agency, I know plenty about search engine optimisation and what the likes of Google picks up and passes by. I can’t say I give SEO as much attention regarding Copify pieces, as many of the searchable terms in the content are provided by the client. I just make sure they are in there.

Q) Who would be your dream client to write copy for?

A) It is a dream and you’ve got to have them. The Economist.



Q) Who are your copywriting role models?

A) Ian Write, the Write brothers and Write Said Fred.

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