A Brief Guide to Successful Freelance Writing – 7 key points to consider when you begin your freelance writing journey
Freelance writing is the stuff of many dreams. Sipping fresh coconut juice by the sea, armed with just your laptop, writing your heart away AND getting paid for it. While the gig economy has now made this a real and relatively easy possibility, freelance writing online is almost as old as the internet itself.
It doesn’t seem that long ago when About.com was the place everyone congregated to, to submit their articles and be paid for their writing. Gradually as more and more people developed technical skills to build their own websites, freelance writing has spread out with greater demand on blog posts, and other writing contributions.
That said, not all freelance writing is created equal. So while for a time, I was on the side of being a contributor, these days, we are firmly in the ’employ’ writers camp and because of that, I thought I would highlight all the key points that differentiate the Good from the Great, because with all else being equal, and if writing ability were not a factor to consider, there are a few things that simply tips one writer over to the edge of brilliance.
Here are 7 key points that we seriously think makes a Great freelance writer
1. Take ownership
When you sign up to write for someone, typically you need to think about why that person is hiring you to join the team as a writer. Is it because they are looking for someone to write with their ‘voice’, or perhaps they are looking for variety in the style of writing for the website. Maybe they need hard technical issues explained in layman’s terms or maybe they are looking for a fun perspective to balance the seriousness of their site. Either way, first find out.
Then, take ownership. No, not of the website, but of your contributions. Actually read the articles that are already published on the website. Note what is wanted, required, and preferred. Some websites have a house style, others are pretty free and easy. Find out.
Find out what makes a good article on that website and work with what you know. This means you begin by taking ownership of your contributions and submissions.
2. Add value to your work
It doesn’t really take much to add value to your work. If you find yourself coming up with linked or related ideas – write them down and suggest them. If your writing would be better supported by an image or images, hunt them down. There are loads of amazing CC0 image sharing websites out there – make use of them.
Social media is always the bane of any busy website owner. If you can help on that front – highlight key points in your article that would make for great social media, or come up with social media statements that will help garner eyes on the article or help your own writing gain traction, do it.
Adding value to your work, shows that you’re an invested team player. You are understanding the shared goals and want to help the website succeed. Because remember, if the website succeeds, you succeed too.
3. Knowledge of SEO
SEO is a term bandied around all the time, Search Engine Optimisation as its full name goes is essentially the knowledge of how to use specific keywords in your writing to make it more ‘appealing’ to the search engine bots. The reality is though, this approach has been proven to be detrimental whenever Google decides to update its code and other inner workings. Many, many people have been caught out for writing for search bots instead of real people.
So, while it is important to know what SEO is, and perhaps even understand the purpose of keywords and how they function in the overall scheme of website searches, it is even more important to always, always, always write for a real person and not a bot.
This means that in terms of doing a good job, you need to be writing for a specific audience and if you want to do a better job, or even a great job, then you need to be considering other articles that have already been published on the website, and how you can link to them and make them connect/support/link to your new article.
SEO isn’t just about keywords and thinking about one-upping Google, it really is about helping the reader find your content and to do this, simply write for a real reader.
5. Think about what you can offer, not just what you can get
When you work as a hired writer, yes, it really is just a job. And unfortunately in a competitive marketplace, there are easily 3 people ready to replace you if things aren’t working out. Yet trust me, as someone who works with and hires writers, it’s much much easier for me to continue working with someone who understands my requirements, and is willing to make things work more easily and smoothly, than to train someone new every 3 months or so.
So when you work to understand what is required, when you try and see things from the perspective of adding value to the website you work for, you inevitably make yourself an asset. Think about what you can bring to the table, offer up suggestions, thoughts, ideas. When you make yourself a detrimental part of the team and when you have proven value, that’s when you become an invaluable part of the team.
References are an important way to acknowledge that a) you didn’t dream up the facts and b) you understand and respect the value that someone else has provided in their article. It may be that there are times when there is really nothing to reference against, like when the article you write is completely an Op-Ed piece, or it’s a fun listicle of best toys for pre-schoolers. It’s understandable and completely acceptable then.
However, if you are writing on more ‘serious’ topics of health, or tech or even policies and politics, it really is important to acknowledge sources that you have referred to.
7. Plagiarism – don’t do it.
The one thing that we value above all else in our writers is original content. It is sometimes inevitable that a particular turn of phrase is already ‘out there’, published and available online. However there really are so many ways to ‘skin a cat’ that there is always some way of writing an almost 100% original piece.
We pride ourselves with websites that offer invaluable information, really good well considered discussions and honest opinions. Key to that is that all that we publish is never plagiarised from anywhere. So yes, references may be used, sources may be quoted, but straight out copying is never acceptable.
So, if all these points haven’t yet put you off the idea of freelance writing, but instead has made you even more convinced that it’s exactly what you want to do, then you’re probably very suited to the challenges and adventures of joining the gig economy as a writer. There are few things as freeing, as exciting or as interesting than freelance writing. Good luck!