Practical Freelance Writing Skills Only the Smartest Writers Know About
Want to know what skills you need to be a six-figure freelance writer? While freelance writing is one of the easiest work-from-home jobs for beginners, technology and more competition means that you need some other freelance writing skills to become a top earner in the freelance writing world.
Plus, as a freelance writer, you’re running a business. Congratulations! So, you need skills beyond being able to write well centered around communication, running a business, as well as other smart entrepreneurial skills.
But don’t worry, once you know the skills that are most coveted by clients looking for top-quality freelance writers, they’re easy to learn and prepare, so when you pitch to clients and interview with them, you’ve brushed up on the skills you need to be a superstar content writer.
I know 24 sounds like a significant number, but you don’t have to have every single one nailed down perfectly. These are just the most common skills that the best writers all have in common.
Let’s dive into the list of skills now!
What Skills Do Freelance Writers Need?
When I first started looking for remote jobs, I was once asked what tools and software I was familiar with. And, of course, I was panicked. Ummmm, I know Microsoft Word and Excel, Evernote, Trello, and not much else. I had never heard of most of the things on the list, so I knew I was screwed!
This is where experience comes in because the more clients you work for, the more tools and systems you learn to use.
As a freelance writer, you need to know how to run a business, manage client content, market your services, interview people, be your own graphic designer, and much more.
Freelancers need a website, too, so you need to know how to build a WordPress website, plus people you write for may want you to upload it into WordPress and format it.
My point is there is so much more to writing in 2021. So, here are some handy skills successful freelance writers have or develop.
Self-motivation is an essential skill for freelancer writers because there is no boss reminding you of due dates and the tasks you need to complete. Many new freelancers love the idea of working from home, but when it comes down to it, they struggle.
I’ve had friends ask how I keep myself motivated, and the simple answer is deadlines and goals. But even I have days where it isn’t easy to get started. Get a planner because it will be your best friend. Just make sure it’s one you’ll use like this planner from Ruth Soukup, the Living Well Planner, or even a digital planner.
Keep all your important dates in it, and refer to your planner regularly. You can also use task managers such as ClickUp, Asana, Trello, and more.
2. Be Able to Accept Constructive Criticism
No one likes to have their work criticized. It’s hard to hear somebody pick apart your writing. But most criticism is constructive and therefore teaches you something.
No one is perfect, so take the feedback and adjust your writing as needed. Some people are jerks for sure, but you can choose not to work with them because you’re in charge of your business.
3. Edit and Proofread Well
As a freelance writer, you need to learn how to proofread and edit well. These are critical freelance writing skills. No first draft is going to be perfect. Editing takes time and patience, and you must have a good eye for detail.
Don’t worry if editing isn’t your strong suit; editing tools like ProWritingAid and Grammarly can save the day. It’s worth it for me to pay for Grammarly because it catches spelling and grammar errors that I would miss. A writing editor is an excellent tool for your arsenal.
*Pro Tip: Write your first draft without pausing to edit a single thing. It’s tough to do, but you’ll save a lot of time if you just get it on paper and proofread and edit later.
4. Business Management
Managing a freelance business is a skill not many of us know. Many things go into running a freelance writing business, and some of them I’ve listed as separate skills. But in general, you need to know marketing, bookkeeping, how to systemize and scale your business, and much more.
Running the day-to-day operations of a business can get tricky, and you have to juggle it all or outsource.
5. Digital Marketing
Digital marketing is where it’s at these days. And that means all types of marketing like ads, social media, and email marketing, and everything else related to selling your services and even products if you make them.
The better you promote your writing services, the more clients you’ll have. You may get so many that you have to turn clients away!
6. Web Design
I’m a firm believer that writers need a freelance writing website where they can showcase their can writing portfolio and services. Self-hosted WordPress sites are the best ones to use, but there can be a bit of a learning curve for sure, and when you first start, you’re already overwhelmed enough.
You should learn your way around a WordPress website because clients could ask you to upload and format the articles you write.
So, I’ve found a couple of shortcuts to help new writers overwhelmed. Autumn Lane has beautiful pre-made websites where you literally just fill in your information. Outstanding Setup and Writer’s Residence are also options for writers who want things to be less complicated but still want a nice, professional website.
7. Learn How to Handle Rejection
Unfortunetley, when you’re looking for clients, especially when you’re cold pitching, you’ll be rejected often. Whether that’s an email back or no response at all, rejection just sucks.
But learning how to deal with rejection the right way makes you a stronger and better person, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.
8. Graphic Design
Whether it’s creating social media graphics or graphics for your website, you need to learn how to use a design tool like Canva or PicMonkey. Beautiful images make you look professional and encourage people to click and interact with your social media posts. With Canva and PicMonkey, you can design eBooks, checklists, Pinterest pins, Instagram stories, and much more.
9. Good Communication
Good communication is essential as a business owner. You need to have good verbal and written communication skills. You’ll do a lot of emailing with current and potential clients as well as people you outsource work to.
Professional communication skills will get you a long way in your career as a freelance writer, even if you never see anyone face to face.
You may be a solopreneur working on your own island, but networking with other freelancers is key to your success. Getting to know other writers in your niche and other business owners who may need your services and vice versa is essential.
Collaborating with other business owners that offer complementary services and products lets you refer customers to each other. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
11. Learn How to Multi-Task
As you can tell already, freelance writers wear many hats, which can get chaotic at times. You may be trying to do research when a client emails you with an emergency project, and another potential client has emailed you. You may also need to invoice some other clients and catch up on administrative tasks.
You’re the CEO, CFO, President, and EVERYTHING. There is always something to learn, but you’ll get better over time and learn some freelancing hacks to help you be more efficient.
These freelance writing skills go well with being able to multi-task. At the same time, you’re juggling everything you need to be able to adapt and pivot if you need to.
For example, you may be in the process of research for your next project due when a client calls with an emergency writing project. You must be able to switch gears fast.
Another example was the Coronavirus pandemic. Even though I worked from home, I still lost clients who freaked out and laid off people.
There’s another side to adaptability too. You must be able to adjust to different writing projects and clients. I focus on writing long content for bloggers now, and they all have a different tone and target. Adaptability is a valuable skill for freelance writers.
This skill connects with self-motivation, and it’s more than having a neat desk and tidy workspace. You need to make sure you organize your time too.
I’m deadline-driven and remember most due dates in my head, but as I get older (and more forgetful), my planner is an essential part of my organization strategy. It lets me set a primary goal for the year and then step that out into monthly goals that help me achieve my main one.
You also need a system to deal with your paperwork, whether that’s using an old-fashioned filing cabinet or scanning your stuff into Evernote like I do.
14. Learn How to Pitch
Cold pitching scares everyone at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, and if you learn how to deal with rejection the right way, then you’re set. It’s a great way to get more clients, and the more you pitch, the more likely you are to get clients.
That cold pitching article I linked to gives you some helpful tips for pitching to new clients the right way.
15. Understand SEO
SEO is really where it’s at. It’s the best long-term strategy to get regular organic traffic to your website, and that’s what your customers want too. You should know what to put in meta descriptions, how to find keywords, format articles, and stay updated on the best SEO practices.
You also need to understand user intent. This is HUGE. For instance, what is a person looking for when they see the keyword phrase KeySearch review?
The person is probably looking for a keyword research tool and wants to see some reviews before buying one. So, you have to pick the right keyword to target, and the content helps satisfy the user intent.
If you find a keyword that you want to target but then Google it and see the user intent is different from what you wanted to target, you may need a different keyword. For instance, take the phrase “freelance writing website.” Say I want to talk about creating a freelance writing website.
What returns is a bunch of articles about where to find freelance writing jobs and some that talk about great freelance writing websites. So, search intent is really important. What is the user expecting to get when they search that keyword.
I suggest you take a good SEO course like Stupid Simple SEO by Mike Pearson and/or read Debbie Gartner’s SEO books:
- Easy On-Page SEO
- Easy Backlinks
- Easy SEO Revamp
- Bundle with Easy On-Page SEO and Easy Backlinks
- Bundle with Easy On-Page SEO, Easy Backlinks, and Easy SEO Revamp
If you can offer SEO-optimized articles, you can command higher prices since they require more work and keyword research. There are plenty of free SEO tools out there, but I use Keysearch because it’s an inexpensive tool that provides all the data I need.
Bottom line, today’s freelance writers should probably learn all they can learn about SEO.
16. Remain Focused
Working from home the last year and a half has been challenging to say the least. To work efficiently, you need to remain focused.
Turn off your social media and app notifications so that nothing breaks your concentration.
Also, set a specific time to check your email, maybe once in the morning and once in the evening. If you can turn your email notifications off, too, or they will constantly break your concentration if your email inbox is anything like mine.
17. Solid Writing Skills
You can improve your writing over time. The more your write for clients, the better you’ll get, and the same goes for your niche. Over time you’ll hone your craft and improve writing skills like being concise, tone, flow, voice, and more.
18. Content Writing Skills
Content writing skills are a little different from general writing skills. The general writing skills are more like the structure of your writing, while content writing subtly tells a story for marketing purposes: but not icky marketing.
19. Time Management
Time management comes along with focus and self-motivation. You need good time management strategies to make sure you get everything done that you need to.
Remaining aware of deadlines is critical if you want to be successful. Note deadlines and other important dates in your handy planner so you don’t miss them.
20. Smart Research Skills
The ability to research is a critical skill for writers. You’ll likely write on topics sometimes that you’re not as familiar with, even if you’ve chosen a profitable niche. You need to know how to find information from reputable resources.
Part of your research might include interviewing, and that’s a vital freelance writing skill. You may interview people for feature stories or experts for sources in your writing projects.
21. Learn How to Write Long-Form Articles
You’ll likely write articles of varying lengths. I wrote for many businesses that only wanted 300 to 400-word articles, and others may like really long ones. But Google loves long-form content that thoroughly answers the question.
22. WordPress Management
I’ve mentioned WordPress management already throughout this article because it’s important. You may want to familiarize yourself with WordPress, as some clients may want you to load and format articles.
And you want to be able to manage your own. Mastering WordPress means you can expand your services.
And having a blog allows you to showcase your writing skills for clients, but there are many blogging tasks if you actually want to be a blogger like me. It’s like running two businesses essentially.
So, if that’s something you’re interested in, work on your WordPress skills. Don’t worry; it gets easier over time.
One of the things I teach my ghostwriting students is the importance of having a blog on your website. I’ve already mentioned that it helps showcase your writing skills and illustrates to your potential clients that you know the industry.
Plus, if you want to be a freelance blogger like me, having a blog helps you learn how to write for an online audience and learn all you need to know about blogging.
Getting paid to write online is much different than what we were taught in high school or college.
Copywriting is the art of writing persuasive marketing content and promotional materials that compel people to do some action like buying something, setting up a consultation, etc.
It’s probably one of the most important skills to learn because you can apply it in your writing and on your own blog or business if you’re creating sales pages for products and services, email marketing, and more.
While it will take a while to be the next Brian Clark (Copyblogger) or David Ogilvy, you can definitely use the psychology behind copywriting to make even better content.
It keeps your audience engaged and evokes emotion, whether that’s happiness, sadness, or even anger. As a freelance writer, you’ll find you use copywriting over and over again.
Now, don’t worry, you don’t have to learn all of these skills, but you may want to consider getting familiar with as many of them as possible. And you’ll find as time goes on, you’ll pick up many of these skills naturally as you write for more clients.
Freelance writing can be scary and overwhelming at first if you’re coming from an office job to running your own business. But I promise, all freelance writers go through this transformation and become more confident and successful on the other side.
Best of all, you can showcase your writing skills on your freelance writing website, and you can practice your WordPress skills working on your own blog.
And while we’re at it, I’m working on teaching you how to write the perfect freelance writer cover letter. It’s really going to help you sell your services to clients. I’m even going to give you a template and explain how to customize it for every job. It’s coming soon!
What freelance writing skills do you think you need to get better at? Let me know in the comments below.
How can I improve my freelance writing skills?
Many of these skills you can learn by doing – meaning you learn as you go. The best way to learn new skills is by taking a course or even books on freelance writing and business.
Freelance writing courses and books (or other related topics) are the quickest ways to learn, and they are a huge time saver because you can skip over the part where you continue to look for free resources to learn everything you need to.
What makes a successful freelance writer?
A successful freelance writer is hard working and not afraid to try new things. If you push past the fear and uneasiness you feel when something new presents, you’ll find fantastic opportunities on the other side.
Successful freelance writers also have a strong work ethic and are deadline-driven. They are also committed to doing the best work possible and are invested in their clients. When their clients do better, they do better.
What’s the fastest way to improve your freelance writing skills?
One of the best ways to improve your freelance writing skills is to write every day. I have been writing every day since 2017, and once you start a writing routine, it gets easier to do over time. Just start with 15-30 minutes a day or even every other day and then increase over time.
Can I do freelance writing with no experience?
Absolutely! You do need to know your niche, which may mean that you have to learn the one you pick, and you can take this course to choose a profitable freelance writing niche.
You don’t need a degree, and you don’t even have to be the best writer. These are all skills you can learn.
Can anyone be a freelance writer?
Yes, anyone can! Well, if you don’t like writing, you may not want to be a freelance writer. But anyone can learn these freelance writing skills.
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