If you’ve been seeking a career change to something a little more flexible, learning how to become a content writer might be your next best step!
While becoming a content writer isn’t as easy as some people make it seem (queue scene of someone typing on a laptop at the beach, with a margarita in hand), it offers lots of flexibility and the choice to write about things you love.
You’ll want to do a few things before you start getting writing clients, but the most important thing is to start writing.
Writing is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more natural it feels and the easier it is to use it.
In the beginning, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. Or, you might be lost as to what to write about. We’ll cover all of that here.
Identify Your Writing Goals
The first thing you’ll want to do is reflect on your goals.
Why do you want to become a content writer?
Are you trying to make some extra cash on the side, or are you trying to quit your current job altogether? What would writing allow you to do that your current job doesn’t?
What is it that makes writing appealing for you? Maybe you’re looking for flexibility, or you want to do something you’re passionate about, regardless of flexibility. These are all questions worth asking yourself before deciding if becoming a content writer is right for you.
Write these goals down. It’s always easier to stay on track when you have a constant reminder of why you started in the first place!
Educate Yourself with Writing Resources
A lot of the big content writing agencies out there have really great content you can read. There are also many blogs and websites that have helpful tips on how to be a better writer.
Here are a few places you might want to start:
Again, one of the most important things you can do: start writing! It’s easy to get caught up in lots of reading, absorbing information, and taking course after course…and then you don’t take action.
Use these resources to help build up your portfolio. For every course you take or series of blog posts you read, you should be able to turn what you learn into great content.
Find Your Niche
As you’re going through resources and learning more about what makes good content, it’s time to find your niche.
When deciding what type of content writing you want to do, consider your strengths as a writer. Knowing what you’re good at will help you focus your skills on attracting clients later.
Once you’ve found a niche that piques your interest, start writing! The more content you produce in the beginning stages of being a freelancer, the better off you’ll be later.
Build Your Portfolio
Once you’ve found your niche and started writing, it’s time to build your portfolio!
Your portfolio is an important tool when it comes to attracting clients. When handing out your business card at networking events or posting on freelance sites, you’ll want to be able to show off your previous work so that potential clients will want to hire you.
It’s smart to start building a portfolio as early as possible. You’ll want to start building relationships with other writers in your niche to see if they’d be willing to trade guest blog posts.
Or, if you’re not comfortable working with other writers quite yet, you can just get started on your own website or a platform with an existing audience (like Medium or LinkedIn).
Regardless of what you do, you want to get something up to show what you can do. The best thing you can do is just get started.
Identify What Type of Content Writer You Are
Once you’ve identified that you want to write about a certain topic, you’ll want to take a look at what the most popular content writers in that niche are writing about.
More importantly, you’ll want to look at what type of content they’re putting out. Here are some examples:
Long-Form Content Writer
Long-form informational content is incredibly popular right now, with millions of different sites competing for some real estate on the first page of Google and other major search engines.
The content market is almost saturated with long-form content. It’s no longer enough to crank out a few 500-word posts a day (unless you’re a news/entertainment site, and that’s the norm).
To be competitive, you’ll want complete, comprehensive guides that really dive into a topic and provide a lot of value to your readers.
The trick to writing well-informed guides is not replicating articles from other sites or similar content. This will result in many articles that feel redundant and do nothing to add new value.
Instead, it’s about creating unique content and using your skills as a writer to really provide something helpful to your audience. Speak from experience and add your own angle.
Technical writers are the masterminds behind things like user manuals, quick reference guides, customer-facing support documentation, and white papers. Their work often focuses on taking complex topics and breaking them down in a way that anyone can understand.
While many writers might think that writing technical content is boring, this can be quite a fun (and profitable) niche!
Especially if you’re changing things up and writing both internal documentation for a technical audience and external content for consumers, you’ll have no shortage of work.
Technical content can be difficult to write at times (which is what makes it so valuable), but if you can find a way to get your unique angle through while keeping it both interesting and informative, you’ll be much more likely to get hired.
Copywriters are specifically responsible for the actual sales copy on your website, marketing pages, and emails. If you can write compelling, persuasive sales copy that sells a product or service without being too pushy or annoying, you’ll be in high demand.
For many companies, this is their last line of defense before implementing more forward sales tactics.
There are many different types of copywriting, but the type you often hear about the most is direct response copywriting, which we’ll cover below.
Other forms of copywriting can be super short, like taglines and slogans. Or, you might write short copy for chatbots that are designed to answer to be a “front-line” answer service for customers on social media.
Alternatively, you might write copy designed for print. Think flyers, ads that go out in the mail, invitations, and company letters.
Direct Response Copywriter
Direct response copywriters create sales copy designed specifically to convince a customer to click a button or buy something immediately. The best copy can be like a siren song, making it seem like you’re the only option for your audience to go after.
For this reason, direct response copywriting is an exciting industry that is ready and waiting for your work. And it’s not just reserved for freelance writers. Lots of companies, including many freelance copywriters, hire full-time employees to fill permanent positions just like this.
Direct response copywriting can be very lucrative because it’s both creative and measurable. You have to create a sales page that converts visitors into customers, so you’ll know immediately whether or not you’re hitting your mark.
You know those really long pages (for this example, landing pages designed to sell courses) that are packed full of information on the course, testimonials, and usually a story about how the creator got to where they are today?
Those are the most common type of direct response copywriting companies hire freelancers for. Good direct response copy—the kind that gets the right kind of buyers buying—can be among a company’s most valuable marketing collateral.
And if you’re a freelancer, these types of projects can pay royalties in addition to the base project rate, paid out for years to come.
These types of projects are rare for writers just starting out, but as you get more established, you’ll find more and more clients willing to pay out royalties.
Social Media Writer
Social media has become a staple of almost every marketing plan. Unfortunately, many companies don’t have the staff to keep their social media pages fresh and engaging.
If you’re good with words and familiar with social media platforms, you can help businesses develop a social media strategy and then post updates to boost their engagement.
In some instances, you might be able to find freelance work for just writing social media posts, working with the content team to plan around their scheduled emails and blog posts.
However, more and more companies are looking for all-around social media managers that can work with both video and written content, especially smaller companies that need writers that can wear a few other hats as well.
Find Your First Few Clients
Once you have a few pieces of content up and some relevant work to showcase your knowledge of your chosen niche, you’re ready to find clients.
Sign Up for Freelancer Networks
The first thing you’ll want to do is get familiar with some of the freelance networks out there. There are plenty of freelancing sites and networks where you can post projects, find new clients, and manage your work.
You might not be ready to take on every client just yet, but getting started building a relationship with these platforms is key to your success as a writer.
Sites like Upwork and Flexjobs allow you to apply to different positions. Flexjobs is a little heavier on W2 positions, but they still have tons of freelance opportunities for writers. Upwork is a little more flexible and has some built-in project management features.
Fiverr is another option but tends to target lower-paying opportunities and requires a bit more marketing on your end.
Ethical Digital (that’s us!) has a platform for freelancers that allows you to onboard your own clients and find people in our network of vetted freelancers to work with.
The Ethical Digital platform is a sort of “hybrid” approach, somewhere between a freelance network like Upwork and a traditional marketing agency.
Utilize Email Outreach
Outreach can be a little scary, especially for new writers.
But it’s necessary to grow your business in a reasonable amount of time. Even with the help of social media, growth can slow to a crawl if you expect people to show up at your door.
Make a spreadsheet full of your ideal clients and companies, and make it a point to reach out to them.
Ideally, you’ll want to start with businesses that have jobs posted or have otherwise indicated a need for your services—while there will be more competition, they’ll also be more receptive and open to working with you.
You’ll also want to make a list of your “dream” clients, the businesses you really want to work with down the line. Save these in a separate part of your spreadsheet for when you’ve developed your skills and are a little more comfortable with outreach.
One of my favorite ways to work on outreach is to find an accountability partner or participate in a cold outreach challenge like the one Bamidele from Writers in Charge recently hosted. This way, you’ll also get some ideas on what’s working for others!
Ask for Referrals from Friends and Other Connections
Never underestimate your existing connections! You would be surprised at who your friends and family might know.
If you want to give them an extra “thank you” for helping you out with referrals, you can offer gift cards or payments for their referrals if that’s something you can work into your pricing early on.
Another good place to start if you’re looking to work with local businesses is your local Chamber of Commerce. They often offer affordable registration and can help with business referrals in addition to a regular schedule of networking events.
Beginner-Friendly Tools to Enhance Your Writing
These are just a few of the tools that are great to start out with. In addition to checking for spelling and grammar, tools like Grammarly can help you edit for clarity, tone, and other things that impact your writing.
I also like to give articles a run through Hemingway to see where all my long sentences are. It’s okay to have some lengthy sentences here and there, but you want to make sure they’re spread throughout your article.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a great tool to help you write awesome headlines, Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer is a good place to start. Some WordPress tools like Monster Insights also include their own headline analyzer.
Beginner Mistakes to Avoid
You’ve probably already made a few mistakes while getting started. Don’t let these get you down!
Taking On Too Much Work
There are many opportunities out there for freelancers, but that doesn’t mean that you should take on every single project that comes your way.
It’s tempting, especially when you’re just starting and need to build up your portfolio, but if you don’t have the capacity to make something stellar in the time allotted, it’s better to pass.
Once you’ve established a good reputation as a reliable writer with some experience under your belt, feel free to start taking on more requests.
Not Asking Clients the Right Questions
You want to make sure that you’re asking clients the right questions and seeing what they actually want.
When you take on new writing projects, even if it’s just a single article, make sure to get all the details. Get an idea of the style and tone of existing content. Do they use American English or British English? What grammar rules do they intentionally break?
Most importantly, before you ever write an article, you’ll want to make sure you have a detailed brief that includes things like:
- Target audience
- Target keywords
- Search intent
- A working headline
- A brief analysis of the competition (collect data on word count, number of headings, types of images used, etc.)
If any parts of your brief don’t make sense, make sure to address them and get some clarification before you start writing!
Not Being Open to Constructive Criticism
Every once in a while, you’ll come across a client who isn’t happy with anything you do. That’s okay! We’re not a fit for everyone.
However, most clients have good intentions with their feedback. You’ll find that most people you work with, if they have complaints, will also have a list of improvements they want you to make. It’s this kind of valuable feedback you can use to improve your work.
Always be open to criticism, but know when to call it quits. If it’s a negative environment and you’re just not getting the kind of constructive feedback you need to grow, it might be time to move on.
Trying to Diversify Too Much
If you’re trying to go into too many niches at once, you’ll never establish yourself in any of them.
I’d suggest picking one or two niches that you really love and can excel at, then investing your time and energy into really becoming an expert there.
Then, as you start to see a demand for other types of work in that niche (and trust me, it will happen), you can explore those opportunities within the same niche.
But especially if you try to take on projects from too many different areas at once, you’ll spread yourself thin. Not only do you have to get familiar with writing about that topic, but you’ll have to do lots of extra research.
Hone Your Writing Skills
It’s important to do a lot of writing, especially early on. Before you begin taking on clients, you’ll want to make sure your writing skills are up to snuff.
Building your portfolio will help a bit. However, you want to be consistent with your writing. Make it a habit. Keep your own blog, pitch guest posts to relevant sites, or stay active on a platform like Medium.
The more you write, the more naturally things will come. You’ll slowly be able to reduce the time you spend writing and increase your rates. Soon, you’ll be able to increase your profits and start investing back into growing your writing business even more.
Over to You
Many aspiring writers have tons of ideas for content that they never write or get around to publishing. It’s better to start working on your portfolio now and gradually start improving as you work with more and more clients.
If you take anything away from this post, let it be this one piece of advice: just get started!
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