Building a successful freelance writing career requires a mix of strategy, commitment, and, sometimes, loads of cold coffee.
As a freelance writer, you’ll do more than just write. There are unseen wheels you need to set in motion to provide consistent, reliable results every time you engage with a client.
To this end, I’ll share 13 freelance writing skills you need to take your content writing skills—and career—from “OK” to “Exceptional.”
Let’s dig in.
Foundational Writing and Technical Skills For Freelance Writers
It might sound a bit obvious, but behind every successful freelance writer is a set of strong writing skills. From basic punctuation mastery to digital literacy, here are four basic skills prospective clients expect you to have before taking up a gig.
1. Professional Grammar and Punctuation
It sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how often spelling and grammatical errors make their way to new clients. As such, it’s important you take some simple steps to produce error-free copy all the time:
- Set your writing tools to detect spelling errors when you type automatically. Google Docs has an auto-correct system that underlines misspelled words and grammatical errors. You can access this setting in “Tools > Preferences.”
- Take a short break before your final proofreading and editing session. You may catch some previous errors you missed.
- Take short online courses to improve your grammar and punctuation.
- Use AI writing tools like Grammarly as another line of defense. The premium version of Grammarly, allows you to proofread, format, edit, and run plagiarism checks.
You can also use the Hemingway app, to make your content more readable.
By taking these steps, you increase your chances of submitting excellent pieces and becoming a better writer.
2. Writing Content For The Web
As specified by Forbes in a 2023 survey, users spend an average of 54 seconds on a webpage. This means that you’ll need to engage your audience as quickly as possible to keep them on the page. How? Let’s consider these action points:
- Avoid walls of text that may bore or overwhelm your audience.
- Use small sentences and paragraphs with excellent whitespace.
- Add relevant infographics, videos, and multimedia that make reading more interactive.
3. Digital Literacy
Sometimes, multiple clients will pay you to write, edit, and publish website content. As a freelance writer, knowing how to use different writing tools can be an added advantage.
For example, potential clients expect you’re already familiar with word processing software like Google Docs and MS Word. Furthermore, you may also need some experience with content management systems like WordPress.
To take your freelance writing career further, basic knowledge about additional content marketing tools like Surfer SEO and Yoast SEO can be useful. Freelance writers use these tools to analyze, optimize, and improve the SEO profile of web content.
For example, I’ve personally used these tools for valuable insight regarding keyword choice and the usage of infographics to make my content more engaging.
The cornerstone of any great body of content is strong research. And although this might seem pretty basic—or dismissable—high flyers like Peter Bowerman beg to differ. In his words, “In the realm of writing, mastering the basics is not an option—it’s the foundation.”
To master the basics of research, you need to:
- Run polls and make social media posts to drive engagement and obtain first-hand data.
- Consult other free or paid research tools like AnswerThePublic.com and AlsoAsked.com.
- Explore additional research formats like papers, videos, and podcasts.
- Dive into queries and discussions from niche communities on Reddit, Quora, Telegram, and Discord.
To a large extent, the quality of your research process determines the quality of your work. So, I recommend you spend considerable time researching and familiarizing yourself with core concepts.
Skills Around The Business of Freelancing
As a self-employed writer, you’ll have to wear multiple hats when running a freelance business. This means building an administrative structure that guarantees steady clients, income, and profit.
With a decade’s worth of experience in freelance writing, here are some crucial freelance business skills I’ve had to pick up.
5. Lead Generation
Picture this: you’ve got writing samples on lock, and you are eager to earn cash. All you need is a client who’s interested in the services you’re offering.
Not to worry. Below, I’ve listed four lead-generation tactics to help you land your next client.
Social Media Marketing
60% of freelance writers land their gigs from social media channels like LinkedIn and Instagram. Why? Social media offers high exposure to potential clients who rely on these platforms as a part of their hiring strategy.
To set yourself up for success, start by building a professional social media bio with your name, contact details, and a short work description.
Furthermore, you can also search for clients who are actively recruiting and send them a personalized pitch.
Guest Blog Posts
Here, you’ll make paid or unpaid blog contributions to an established website. Let’s explore some of its benefits.
- You get exposed to a wider audience, as you’re piggybacking off of the already-existing reputation of the client.
- By getting your work out there, you can attract more leads—who you can turn to repeat clients.
- By leveraging the site’s reputation, you have a higher chance of producing high-ranking content.
Here’s a brief guide on how to develop guest blogging skills:
- Run a quick Google search to find companies that accept guest posts in your niche. Use a simple query structure like “Niche” + “Freelance writer” + “Guest post” to search for any open hires.
- Use a spreadsheet like this one from Someka to build a database of companies you’d like to contribute to. This spreadsheet will help you keep track of all your efforts and progress.
Early on in your career, you’ll probably cold pitch a lot.
Yes! Speaking to your first client can be terrifying. However, with a great pitch deck and a little bit of strategy, you’ll be able to bolster your chances. To this end, here are some proactive steps you can take:
- Customize all cold pitches to suit the client and their brand. Check their website to see if they have instructions on the subject.
- Conduct research on previously published content so you don’t pitch content that’s already written.
- If you believe that content needs refresh, by all means, add that to the pitch with details on how you’d make it better.
- Include two to three samples of previously published work that they can go through. If you’re just starting out, you can create sample documents or prepare a writing portfolio highlighting your additional skills.
Because your clients are busy folks, they either have a lot of work to handle on Mondays or are super excited for the weekend on Fridays. I often recommend you send in pitches on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays when they’re much calmer.
You can send a cold pitch via email or social media. Remember to respect the client’s privacy and get clarity on their preferred channel. A good rule of thumb is to find out what platform they’re most active on.
For example, if your target client is an active LinkedIn user, they’ll be more likely to respond to your pitches if you send them through LinkedIn.
You can use advanced Google search to look for online guest posting opportunities. Here are sample queries to find open writing calls in your niche.
- “Topic” + “Guest post”
- “Keyword” + “Contribute to our website”
- “Keyword phrase” + “Write for us”
6. Business Management and Operations
The bills won’t wait, so your writing has to generate income. In the spirit of setting yourself up for success, here are some operational skills that can keep your career—and finances—afloat.
- Create a breakdown of your financial goals within specific periods. For example, how much you’d like to earn monthly, quarter by quarter.
- Highlight all your freelance writing skills and separate them into pricing tiers. For example, you may charge $15/hr to write web content or 40/hr for a writing project that requires competitor research and input from subject matter experts.
- Make it a habit to work with contracts that clearly outline your responsibilities and the client’s expectations. You can take a short online course or explore other online resources that explain how to create freelance contracts.
- Use finance management software like Bonsai and QuickBooks to keep track of payments, generate invoices, and measure ROI growth periodically.
7. Project Management
You’ve sent in pitches and finally have a couple of clients who need your services. Now, how do you manage them? By using a project management system. This helps to organize tasks and workflows so you can focus on what truly matters.
From onboarding clients to finalizing contracts, here are some steps you can take to keep your virtual desk organized.
- Determine what your typical workflow is and break it down into different chunks. Think about the time you need for research, what your typical review process looks like, and the scope of work can you handle.
- Next, decide how you collaborate with clients and how often you need to communicate. Emails, Slack, or Google Meet? Find out what works best for you both.
- Lastly, consider free project management platforms like Notion, ClickUp, and Trello. Organizing your tasks in one space gives you a bird’s eye view of your deliverables.
Ultimately, the more organized your desk and the better your time management skills, the more important work you can get done and the more income you can make.
Soft Skills To Manage A Freelance Writing Business
Think of soft skills as the personal qualities that help you function and collaborate with clients.
While hard skills address the core technicalities of writing jobs, soft skills help with client retention and management. Let’s explore a few of them.
8. Client Relationship Management
As a freelance writer, you need good communication skills that make your clients feel heard and understood.
For example, you’ll need to meet deadlines, recommend new content they can explore, and consistently communicate.
If you want to take things up a notch, you can send personal congratulatory messages or schedule periodic calls to understand how their business has been faring.
These extra steps can build a strong client-employee relationship founded on trust and empathy.
Sometimes, a potential client may ask you to write video scripts or develop content for infographics. To keep up, flexibility will be one of your greatest strengths. To succeed, you should be willing to learn new skills — whether it’s graphic design, SEO writing, or digital marketing.
Practice by replicating content in new formats and developing a formula that works for you. For example, you can convert an old blog piece into an email campaign, LinkedIn carousel, infographic, or web copy.
This way, you become familiar with the best practices for each platform and know the requirements clients may have.
10. Rejection Resilience
One thing is certain: Not every lead you pursue will become a paying client, and not every content you create will be excellent.
Here’s how you can turn rejection into an opportunity:
When a client rejects your proposal or provides constructive criticism, consider it an opportunity to gain better clarity on their requirements and improve your writing skills.
For example, you can respond to a rejection in this manner.
Learn the ropes of stress management, and find ways to pursue self-care.
Content Marketing-Related Skills
Throughout my freelance career, I’ve created lots of web-based content to boost sales. While there have been ups and downs, here are some basic skills that consistently help me create content that converts.
11. Search Engine Optimization
SEO is crucial because most people today start their research journey relying on search engines. It’s one of the best ways to ensure brand visibility, as blogs that rank higher are more likely to be viewed.
As a content writer, you can work on some basic on page SEO skills. It will give your content a better chance to rank in SERPs.
For one, you’ll need adequate knowledge of keyword ranking, inbound and outbound links, character word count for titles, and when to use headers. And while you may be tempted to go down an SEO rabbit hole, a basic understanding of SEO practices may be enough, depending on your project.
Today, many more businesses use data to determine customer behavior and intent. Consequently, a freelance writer’s ability to interpret data and turn them into actionable content is a high-value skill set.
For example, when writing web copy for some fintech companies, you may need to know which devices customers use the most or which social media channel generates the most engagements.
As a professional writer, this skill can significantly increase your chances of landing high-value writing clients. Now, you may not need this if you’re a beginner, but it would be an excellent skill to have later in your career.
13. Working With AI Tools
Think of freelance AI writing tools as the extra support you need to improve accuracy and overall customer satisfaction.
I’ve explored the intricacies of a lot of these platforms, and here are some of the top content creation AI tools I recommend new freelance writers use to scale their business:
- CoSchedule for headline analysis
- Scrivener for writing sample manuscripts
- Hemingway Editor for a readability score
- SurferSEO for SEO analysis
Many freelancers worry that the presence of AI tools can affect job security and satisfaction. While this fear is justified, I believe that there’s hope. A recent survey from IBM shows that 80% of executives expect AI to support—not replace—traditional roles.
This means that new writing opportunities like software grant editors and ChatGPT writers will come into the fray.
All you need to do is periodically upskill and consistently try out these tools so that you can adapt to the industry.
Optional But Helpful Skills
If you’re looking for additional ways to stand out in the content writing industry, I highly suggest you explore these skills:
1. Specialized Industry Knowledge
Whether you’re a pro or a new freelance writer, specializing in a particular niche gives you an edge (yes, I mean higher rates) over hundreds of generalist writers in the field. Here’s what you need to get started:
- Consult online resources and read industry-based books.
- Attend networking events with other experts and join professional organizations within your industry.
- Keep up with trending industry news. You can do this by setting up a Google alert. Simply search “Google alert” and customize your result.
Although your potential client base would be restricted to your industry, you’ll find work writing about what you love—and know!
2. Content Refresh
By updating old content, companies can improve their search rankings, extend content shelf life, and generate fresh page traffic. As such, you’ll sometimes have to work with clients to update old blogs and press releases.
This strategy allows you and the client to leverage existing page authority, refresh stale content, and add value to the audience.
3. Content Strategy and Management
With freelance writing becoming more competitive, you can offer additional content strategy and management services to set yourself apart.
For example, you can provide team training on technical writing and CRM tools like WordPress. Furthermore, you can also offer to manage content operations. Here, you’ll be responsible for creating, publishing, and managing all content-related tasks. You’ll also manage external writers and follow up with deadlines.
Consider this a one-in-all marketing package clients can buy to save time and resources. Plus, positioning your services this way gives you room to charge more than your peers.
Future Proofing Your Freelance Writing Career!
Overall, most organizations—if not all—want their freelance writers to deliver on one key aspect: creating content that actually converts. Personally, I’ve leveraged these skills to not only create content that converts but also nurture long-lasting relationships with clients.
Now, it’s your turn!