Ever wondered what the essential content writer’s skills are? Finding work in an ever-changing and evolving industry can be challenging for newbie freelance content writers and even veterans alike.
Before you hang out your shingle as a freelance content writer, know that success in this field depends on more than just your writing ability. Here are the essential content writer skills you need to develop if you want to make a career out of writing content online.
The 9 Essential Content Writer Skills You Need to Possess as a Freelance Writer
Content Writer Skill 1: Researching
In the words of Precious Oboidhe, “Poor research skill is a deal breaker.” Clients don’t want writers who search for keywords on Google to copy, paste, and rewrite what they find.
Your ability to conduct extensive research is important as a freelance content writer. After all, you can’t write about what you don’t know! Whether you’re writing a blog post, an article, or even a social media update, research is key to ensuring your content is accurate and informative.
Beyond getting accurate information, researching helps you gain topic mastery which is one attribute clients look out for when hiring freelance writers.
“When we provide an outline, we do it for reasons beyond SEO. First, we must convey expertise and ideas on a given topic. Either find ways as a writer to acquire deep topical knowledge independently (research) or ask questions in the content brief to ensure you can write about the topic authoritatively. This will help you reduce edits and revisions and also help you gain clients for life with trust and quality work.”
There are a few different ways to conduct extensive research.
- Consider using Google or another search engine to look up key terms related to your topic. It gives you a general overview of the subject matter.
- Look for specific articles or blog posts that delve deeper into your topic. These provide detailed information that you can use in your writing.
- Check out reliable sources like educational or government websites for facts and statistics: Google Scholar, Oxford Academic or Base for journals and reliable articles, and Bloomberg or The New York Times for credible news sources.
- Precious Oboidhe also encourages writers to include Reddit, a forum-based social news website, in their research. He encourages content writers to use the platform to uncover what people say regarding their topic.
Reddit contains several sub-communities referred to as subreddits. Each subreddit focuses on specific topics, with Redditors creating content other members can vote on. Using Reddit for research provides you with content directly from the consumers/product users.
- Interview subject matter experts or thought leaders who have experience with the topic, tool, or product you want to write about.
If you are unsure of the sources you come across during research, you can employ source evaluation methods to determine whether a source is the best for your project. A good source evaluation test to use is the CRAAP test. CRAAP stands for,
Another test model you can use is the RADAR test. RADAR means,
- Reason for writing
Evaluating your sources and using genuine information in your piece is important.
Roy Harmon, CMO at Leadpost, advises content writers to pick data and statistics directly from original sources. Having worked with numerous writers, a deal-breaker for him is discovering that the statistics some writers use in their pieces are nothing but endless trails of multiple websites linking to one another.
Rather than use fluff sources designed to rank in search engines, he encourages writers to rely on academic journals. He also advises content writers to use advanced google search operators to get to the heart of what they’re looking for.
With a little practice and consistency, conducting research will become second nature. And with well-researched content, you can truly create engaging and useful pieces for your clients and readers.
Content Writer Skill 2: Writing
Writing is a must-have content writer skill. Without your writing skills, you won’t be able to create the great content that your clients are looking for.
Writing is a complex skill that involves many different sub-skills. As part of your writing skills, you need to be able to write clearly and concisely without using too much jargon or flowery language. You also need to be able to capture your reader’s attention and keep them engaged throughout the piece.
There are two schools when it comes to writing. The first school views writing as a talent – you don’t have it; you can’t use it. The second school views writing as a skill you can constantly work on and develop to perfection. I belong to the second school, and most people looking to hire freelance content writers do too.
Part of your writing skill is paying attention to grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Grammatical errors can make your writing hard to understand and turn off readers. Jasmin Diaz, CMO at Smoky Mountains, tells freelance writers to use accurate grammar and pay attention to punctuation before sending pieces off to clients. Doing this is non-negotiable.
Luckily, plenty of resources are out there to help you brush up on your grammar skills. One is Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips. There are also tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid. These tools help you spot grammatical errors you may have missed and help you brush up on your writing overall.
Beyond grammar and punctuation, creativity is also important. Robert Hoffman, Marketing Manager at CahbackHero, says,
“Writers should be able to come up with interesting angles on topics that will pique readers’ interest while remaining within the given brief. They should be adept at storytelling, bringing facts together into engaging narratives to make readers want to learn more about the subject matter.”
Good writing is engaging because it holds the reader’s attention and keeps them returning for more. You can achieve this through strong storytelling, interesting topics, and a unique voice.
As a freelance content writer, you also need to be able to write for different audiences and purposes. A client might ask you to write website content to sell a product or service; another might need blog posts that provide valuable information for their readers. To do this, you must understand who your readers are and what they’re looking for. Then, you can tailor your writing to give them the information they need.
Harry Boxhall, an SEO Consultant who works with freelance writers daily, says this is an important skill for content writers. He reiterates that “writers should be able to write in different styles and formats, such as articles, blog posts, product descriptions, social media posts, and more.”
By honing your writing skills, you’ll be able to create the great content that your clients are looking for.
Content Writer Skill 3: Editing
Editing is an essential content writer skill. Editing your work is vital for two reasons. First, it ensures that your writing is clear and concise. Second, it helps you spot any errors or typos before you submit your work to a client.
You present yourself as an unprofessional writer when you create pieces riddled with typos and grammatical errors. Clients will believe you can’t produce high-quality writing. Luke Fitzgerald, Digital Marketing Consultant at RightFitz, also agrees with this. He says, “content writers with poor grammar and spelling skills are unlikely to produce high-quality work that meets clients’ requirements.”
Identifying and correcting errors is crucial whether you’re editing your own work or someone else’s. This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many overlook this. Remember to always proofread your work before sending it off to your client.
It’s also important to edit for clarity and conciseness. It means making sure that your writing is easy to read and understand. It should also be free of any unnecessary words or phrases. Editing for clarity can be a bit tricky, but it’s something that you’ll get better at with practice.
Some clients will have editors working on your pieces, while others won’t. You should strive to make your pieces publish-ready irrespective.
There are different types of editing. They are,
- Copy editing: This focuses on correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
- Content editing: This looks at the overall structure and flow of the piece and ensures that the content is accurate and error-free.
- Line editing: This type of editing looks at each line of the piece individually, ensuring it’s grammatically correct and flows well with the rest of the text.
How can you self-edit your work? Try the following.
- Read your work out loud. This will help you catch errors you might not notice when reading silently.
- Use a spell checker and grammar checker (There are tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid). These tools can be helpful, but they’re not perfect. Don’t rely on them too much.
- Print out your work and edit it on paper. Editing on paper can help you catch mistakes you might miss on a screen.
- Get someone else to read your work and give feedback. Another set of eyes can often spot errors that you’ve missed.
- Don’t rush the editing process. It’s important to take the time to do it right. Spend some time away from your piece and come back to it.
If you have the resources and value high-quality work, you can also hire an editor to help you take care of the edits your pieces may need before sending them to your clients. Provide detailed context, so your editor knows where your content is heading.
Content Writer Skill 4: SEO Knowledge
If you want to be a successful freelance content writer, it’s not enough to have excellent writing skills. You need to have a good understanding of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and how to incorporate it into your writing.
SEO is optimizing your website or blog for Google search to earn higher search engine rankings and increased traffic. SEO Knowledge will help you write articles that are more likely to rank high in search engines, which will ultimately lead to more traffic and exposure for your clients.
Harry Boxhall considers a content writer’s lack of SEO knowledge a deal-breaker. He encourages content writers to be familiar with keywords, meta descriptions, and other elements that contribute to search engine rankings. He explains that a lack of SEO knowledge as a content writer poses more work for the client.
In the end, the writer creates content that does not rank well in SERPS (search engine results pages) or creates more work for the SEO consultant clients may be working with.
There are a few key things to keep in mind when optimizing articles for SEO:
1. Use keywords strategically.
Keywords are the words or phrases people use to search for information online. If you use relevant keywords in your content, it will be more likely to show up in SERPS.
Place your keywords in the title, in the first paragraph if possible, and infuse them in your sub-headings and content. Don’t overdo it – too many keywords will make your article sound spammy and could make Google penalize you.
2. Write for your audience first.
Don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of keywords. Write interesting and informative articles that will engage your readers, and the search engines will take notice.
Ensure your content is well-written and informative. Google and other search engines favor high-quality content that is useful to their users. So, if you can provide helpful information in your articles, you will be more likely to rank well in SERPs.
3. Promote your content.
Once you’ve published an article, promote it or encourage your clients to do so on social media, in forums, and anywhere else you can think of. The more eyes you can get on your article, the better chance it has of ranking high in search engines.
There are a number of factors that go into SEO apart from the above. These include the structure of your content, internal and external links, and the age and authority of your website. SEO can be a complex topic, but as a freelance content writer, it is crucial to have a basic understanding of how it works.
In addition to understanding SEO basics, it is also helpful to know how to use some common SEO tools and resources. These can help you research keywords, track rankings, and optimize content. Some popular SEO tools include Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, SemRush, Ahrefs, Yoast Plugin, and RankMath.
Content Writer Skill 5: Social Media Knowledge
It’s essential to have a strong understanding of social media as a freelance content writer. Social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn offer vast opportunities to connect with potential clients, promote your work, and build your personal brand.
Sreeram Sharma, Content Marketing Head at Qik-chat, encourages content writers to establish themselves as credible professionals by “maintaining a strong online presence, networking, and building relationships with clients.”
To be successful on social media,
- You need to understand how each platform works. For example, Twitter is all about short, concise messages that pack a punch. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a professional platform where you can share longer articles and connect with other business professionals.
- Learn how to use hashtags to improve your content’s discoverability, boost your brand’s awareness, target specific audiences, and take advantage of trends and hot takes.
- You should know the basics of creating engaging content. This includes knowing how to write headlines that grab attention, using hashtags effectively, and creating visuals to help your content stand out.
- You should keep up with the latest trends. This way, you’ll always know what’s new and popular on each platform, making your content fresh and relevant.
- Be professional when representing yourself. Remember that potential clients will be looking at your profile, so make sure it gives off a positive impression.
Here are a few tips on how to use social media as a freelance content writer:
- To find writing gigs. There are many job boards and forums on social media where businesses and individual clients post writing jobs. Regularly checking these job boards lets you stay up-to-date on the latest writing opportunities. On Facebook, for example, there are several groups for content writers where clients post job requests, and writers can apply.
- To promote your work. Once you land a writing gig, promote your work on social media. It helps get your work seen by a wider audience and can help you land more clients, get referrals, and grow your business.
- To build your personal brand. As a freelance content writer, your personal brand is everything. Use social media to share your work, build an audience, and create a name for yourself.
- To Network. Don’t be afraid to use social media to connect with other writers and professionals in your field. Networking is essential for any freelancer, and social media is a great way to build relationships with other writers.
Content Writer Skill 6: Networking
Networking is essential to becoming a successful freelance content writer. Building relationships with other professionals in your field can open new opportunities for you. It also helps you expand your knowledge base, stay up-to-date on industry news, and score new clients and projects.
But how do you go about networking effectively?
- Attend industry events and meetups. This is a great way to meet other writers and content creators and build relationships.
- Join online communities and forums related to your field or niche. Peak Freelance, Online Geniuses, and SuperPath are great communities for freelancers and content writers. Online communities allow you to network virtually with others in your industry, get jobs, and get advice or feedback on your work.
- Don’t forget the power of social media. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are all great platforms for connecting with other professionals and sharing your work. Getting active on social media helps you make valuable connections, grow your online following, and even land new writing gigs.
- Collaborate with other writers on projects. This can help you build relationships while also improving your skills and portfolio.
Remember to focus on networking if you want to take your freelance content writing career to the next level. By building strong relationships with others in your field, you can land new opportunities and reach new levels of success.
Content Writer Skill 7: Organization, Project, and Time Management
Time management is essential to your success as a freelance content writer. You oversee your own schedule and deadlines. Hence, you should be able to juggle multiple projects and deadlines while remaining organized and still having time for your own life.
Part of staying organized is taking charge of your content writing business. This means having defined processes for client onboarding, engagement, and project management.
Dan Gower, the owner of Buddy Gardner Advertising, looks out for project management skills in the content writers he hires. He says, “Writers who know how to manage projects will hit deadlines consistently and deliver good work with minimal guidance. This protects my time and gets me the most value for my freelance budget.”
He also highlights questions that clients seek answers to when looking for content writers to hire. Answers to these questions help clients gauge if you can manage your time, stay organized and deliver quality work.
- What is the writer’s process?
- How do they conduct their research?
- Can they conduct an SME interview?
- What do they do if they have questions about the brief?
Answers to these will reveal the processes you have set up for your content writing business and how these processes can benefit the people who hire you.
Ashley Cummings sums up the same on having processes. She says,
“One of the most essential skills a freelance writer should have besides being good at writing is being organized and having systems and processes in place. A lot of people don’t know how to work with freelancers. If a freelancer takes the lead, it’s so much easier for the client.”
Setting up processes also improves reliability. Clients want to hire content writers that meet deadlines and who they can depend on to get assigned work done. Isaac Robertson, CEO of Total Shape, emphasizes this. He says,
“We expect our freelance writers to be reliable and punctual, meeting deadlines and responding to emails or messages in a timely manner. If a writer consistently misses deadlines or fails to communicate effectively, it can disrupt our workflow and damage our reputation.”
“Freelance writers may be flexible, but with that flexibility and autonomy comes a certain amount of responsibility — a responsibility for delivering high-quality work on time and on budget. The success of a project pretty much hinges on this, which is why accountability is a skill we keep our eyes on.
You could be a gifted writer or someone extremely accomplished in your field, but it won’t amount to much if you can’t take ownership of your work and deadlines.”
When you say yes to a project, it becomes binding on you to get it done. Hence, it’s important to only take on projects you can commit to.
Below are some key things you can do to manage your time effectively and keep things organized:
1. Set realistic deadlines for yourself and your clients.
When setting deadlines for yourself, be realistic about how long it will take you to complete the task. If you’re unrealistic with your deadlines, you’ll feel stressed and overwhelmed. If you know you can’t write a quality article in two hours, don’t promise you can.
2. Make a schedule and stick to it.
Write down when you’re going to work on each project and make sure you stick to that schedule. When you know what tasks you need to complete and when they’re due, it’s easier to stay on track.
3. Prioritize your tasks.
Not all tasks have the same importance. Some tasks are more critical than others, and you should prioritize them. When prioritizing your tasks, consider the deadline, the difficulty, and the importance of the project.
4. Learn to say no.
It’s okay to turn down projects that aren’t a good fit or that would stretch you too thin. If you’re taking on too many projects or working on projects outside of your area of expertise, it will only lead to frustration and a loss of quality in your work.
By saying no, you can focus on the projects that are most important to you. If you’re already overloaded with work, don’t take on more than you can handle. It’s better to turn down a project than to deliver substandard work.
5. Take breaks.
Don’t try to work non-stop without taking any breaks. You’ll only end up burning yourself out. When you feel overwhelmed or burned out, step away from your work for a little while. Go for a walk, read a book, or take some time to relax. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your projects with new energy.
6. Delegate when possible.
If you have team members or contractors working with you, delegate tasks that can be handled by someone else. Delegating will free up your time so you can focus on other tasks begging for your attention.
By following these tips, you can improve your organization, time management, and become a more successful freelance content writer.
Content Writer Skill 8: Adaptability
The ability to adapt to change is essential in today’s ever-changing world. Things are constantly shifting and evolving, and as a content writer, you need to be able to change with them. The needs of your clients can vary widely, and you need to be able to adjust your writing style and approach to meet those needs.
Adaptability as a content writer is being able to write in different styles, for different audiences, and on various topics. No two clients are alike, so it’s crucial that you’re able to tailor your writing to each one.
Natalia Brzezińska, Marketing and Outreach Manager at PhotoAid, says it’s important for freelance writers to understand their clients and their needs. She says, “That means knowing the topic, the industry, and the audience. Therefore, writers need to be able to adapt their writing skills to meet our audience’s needs and use our tone of voice and style.”
Some clients may prefer a formal tone, while others may want something lighthearted. Some may need a lot of help with ideas and direction, while others will be precise about what they want and just need someone to execute their vision. Adapting your writing style and tone to match the client’s needs is vital.
Luke Fitzgerald also chips in on this: “Freelance writers must be adaptable and able to work on different projects simultaneously, often with short notice and quick turnaround times.”
This can be a challenge at times, but it’s important to remember that each client is unique and has specific needs. As long as you are willing to be flexible and adaptable in your writing, you can meet those needs and deliver excellent results.
One of the best ways to develop your adaptability as a content writer is to take on different writing projects. By trying new things, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges that come with each new project. And as you become more experienced, you will become flexible in your writing style and approach, which will help you adapt easily to each client’s specific needs.
Content Writer Skill 9: Communication
You need to be able to communicate effectively with your clients to understand their needs and deliver the results they’re looking for.
Lisa Banks, Chief Content Strategist at SaaSpirin, explains communication skills as “asking questions to clarify rather than guessing what the client wants and letting the client know if you’re going to be late or can’t take an article.”
Harry Boxhall explains in detail what clients consider as effective communication when hiring content writers:
“Freelance writers must be able to communicate effectively with clients, understand their needs and requirements, and be responsive to feedback. They should also be able to work collaboratively with editors and other team members. They can listen to client feedback, incorporate it into their writing, and make revisions as necessary. They can also communicate proactively with clients, ask questions to clarify requirements, and provide regular progress updates.”
There are a few things you can do to improve your communication skills:
1. Be a good listener
Good communication starts with being a good listener. When you’re talking to your client, listen to what they’re saying so that you can understand their needs. Then, explain your ideas clearly and concisely. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if you’re unsure about something.
2. Respond Promptly to Requests
It’s important to be responsive to your client’s requests and feedback. If they ask for revisions, make them promptly and accurately. If there are any misunderstandings, clear them up as soon as possible. The sooner you can resolve issues, the better.
3. Be Clear about Project Requirements
Make sure you understand what the client wants before you start writing. The brief may contain all you need, but if anything is unclear, ask questions to ensure you are on the same page.
4. Provide Updates
Once you begin a project, keep the client updated on your progress and let them know if there are any changes or delays to the project. This way, they can know where you are, provide feedback, and let you know if they want any changes made.
5. Learn to Compromise
There will be times when your client wants something that you don’t think is a good idea. In these cases, it’s crucial to compromise and find a middle ground that both of you are happy with.
6. Embrace Clarity
It’s also important to be clear and concise in your communication. When sending emails or messages to your clients, make sure your meaning is clear. Ambiguous or confusing language will only lead to miscommunication down the line.
7. Speak Up
Remember that communication is a two-way street. If you’re unhappy with something, don’t hesitate to speak up and let your clients know. Having an open dialogue will help ensure both sides are satisfied with the results.
8. Incorporate Feedback
Part of effective communication is the ability to acknowledge constructive criticism and internalize the lessons. You’ll get feedback from your clients on some of your pieces and processes. Be objective about the comments and incorporate them to improve work quality.
In the words of Angela Nacpil, “freelance writers who are proactive, ask the right questions, and keep clients informed about the progress of their work” are content writers clients like to work with.
There are many skills that a freelance content writer needs to be successful. Among the essential skills are writing well, conducting research, and understanding SEO. If you have these skills, you have the foundation to start a successful freelance writing career. Remember, the most important thing is to never stop learning and expanding your skill set.
If you need a content writer to help you take the bulk of your writing projects off your plate, contact me right away.