While writing ability is a major factor in landing freelance writing gigs, your way with words isn’t the only thing clients and editors look for when hiring writers.
There are several “non-writing” skills that make you more attractive to potential clients.
To uncover them, I spoke with people who work with freelancers and asked about what they look for when hiring content creators.
Here’s what they had to say.
1. Ability to work independently
Clients and editors value freelance writers who don’t need a lot of hand-holding.
“Writers need support and direction, but they should not need hand-holding after writing a few articles,” Owen Larkin, President at SnowPak.com said. “I need people who can do work without requiring a lot of my time.”
Clients and editors pay you to write, sure. But the underlying reason for them hiring you is to make their lives easier.
They want someone who can handle their content needs to free up time for them to run their business or publication. If you’re always reaching out with questions or issues, you’re doing the opposite of why they hired you.
Strive to be more independent when you’re working on an assignment.
Figure things out by doing your own research instead of asking the client or editor. Got a question about a company? Check their website, read their press releases, or look at their help page. Need more info on an employee? Visit their LinkedIn profile.
The key is to minimize unnecessary emails or phone calls.
Another way to avoid too many clarification emails is to scope out the work thoroughly at the beginning of the project. Determine the information or resources required to complete the assignment, then ask relevant questions early on.
Just be careful not to ask too many. Sending someone a long list of questions can be a turnoff. I usually stick to three to five questions when I scope out an assignment, and I phrase them in such a way makes it easier for my client to answer.
For instance, instead of asking, “What tone or style would you like me to use for this piece?” I would say, “I noticed most of your content is written in a casual tone. Would you like me to adopt the same voice or style for this post?”
This way, they can just respond with a “Yes” or “No, and here’s why…”
Keep this in mind for your next assignment. Rather than bombarding your client or editor with a ton of questions, do your research first. Or better yet, map out the project thoroughly in the beginning, and phrase your questions in such a way so they’re easier to respond to.
2. Industry knowledge
All the people I reached out to said domain knowledge or experience is a key factor in their hiring decisions.
“Between two freelancers with equally good writing skills I’d choose the one who has experience in creating texts on the topic that I need,” said Anastasia Sidko, Content Manager at SEMrush. “It is especially important when it comes to technical or very specific texts — deeper knowledge of the subject would be a significant advantage for the writer.”
You’re better off covering just a few topics instead of trying to write about anything and everything. Find your niche and own it.
When you specialize, you become an expert. And clients are willing to pay more for services rendered by an expert or thought leader, rather someone who just dabbled in their industry.
Being an expert also enables you to earn more per project (or per hour). If someone pays you, say, $400 to write an article, and you know the topic so well it only takes you an hour instead of two to finish the post, then you’re essentially making more per hour.
3. Nurturing the right connections
In addition to industry expertise, who you know can also be key to getting hired.
Poornima Apte, former Editor-in-Chief at Specialty Retail Report and GIFT SHOP Magazine, said that she often prioritized industry knowledge and connections over writing ability. “Editors can always fix poor writing but connections to sources are invaluable.”
Great content — and great client or editor relationships — can’t exist in a vacuum.
To take your writing and freelance business to the next level, you need to network and get to know other people outside your comfort zone.
Get on the radars of industry experts and influencers. Attend events. Connect with people on LinkedIn or Twitter. Take part in Twitter chats, meetups or other social programming in your industry.
If you’re working on an assignment, find ways to connect with real people instead of just doing research on your own. For example, instead of relying solely on Google, why not find and interview an expert to quote in your piece?
It takes more than writing talent to become a successful freelance writer.
If you’re struggling to land gigs, do an assessment of your own “non-writing” abilities and see if there’s anything you need to work on. Perhaps you need to communicate better. Or, maybe it’s a matter of narrowing down your niche. Be honest with yourself, identify your shortcomings, then take steps to improve.
Can you name other “non-writing” skills that can help freelance writers land gigs? Share them in the comments.