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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 Study.com 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.”

Conclusion

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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