What does freelance writing look like today
Pre-internet, a freelance writer was someone who wrote columns, articles, ad copy, scripts, and other content for newspapers, magazines, ad agencies, TV studios, and other businesses.
Unlike staff reporters or copywriters, freelance writers are self-employed. This means they usually write for several clients or publications. Depending on how much work they can find (or how much they want to write) a freelancer might work full-time or part-time.
All this is still true—but today, the number of potential clients and writing mediums has expanded dramatically thanks to the Internet.
Today, practically every company has (or needs) a website, blog, e-newsletter, and social media network to run a successful business.
This means they need to hire freelance writers to write copy for their web pages, blog posts, online articles, and social media posts.
And since these companies work in industries ranging from healthcare to computer software to entertainment, they’re very open to working with freelancers with different backgrounds and specializations.
The importance of choosing a niche
With all the writing opportunities out there today, you might be tempted to simply apply for any writing job you find regardless of its topic or format.
However, if you want to build a successful writing career, you’ll want to choose a writing niche as soon as possible.
A writing niche is the topic, industry, or type of content you focus on as a freelance writer. Depending on your background and interests, you might find yourself gravitating toward several profitable writing topic niches, including:
- Digital Marketing
- Real estate
- B2B writing
You might also build a niche around creating a specific type of content. Profitable writing content includes:
- Long-form blog posts
- White papers
- Case studies
- Marketing emails
- Sales pages and landing pages
- Video script writing
- Online courses
When you’re starting out, it’s not a bad idea to try out different writing niches to see what you’re good at. However, once you learn how your writing skills can be applied to the marketplace, focus on one or two (ideally profitable) niches and develop your skill set around them. (It goes without saying that as your writing skills improve you should raise your rates!).
Writing for the online market
Knowing your audience has always been an important part of producing excellent writing. However, when you’re writing online content, that audience can easily number in the thousands or even millions. That’s great—but you’ll want to make sure your content is easy to find and appeals to these readers.
Using Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
One of the best ways to make your writing easy to find online (aside from creating well-written, informative content), is to incorporate the keywords and key phrases people are typing into search bars into your content.
This is part of a process known as Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) and involves a number of different strategies (including regularly posting fresh content and making online content easy to read on mobile devices) to improve the appearance and positioning of your online content in organic search results.
Clients with an SEO strategy often provide their writers with keywords and phrases to include in each assignment. As a writer, you’ll be expected to use these words and phrases in strategic areas, like your title, headings, subheadings, opening paragraphs, and closing paragraphs.
It’s not required for a freelance writer to have an in-depth knowledge of SEO. That said, if you do develop some expertise in this area, you should definitely market this as an additional service and charge extra!
Writing for readers who “scan”
People who read online content “scan” web pages and scroll down articles rapidly on their mobile devices. This means you’ll need to write shorter paragraphs and sentences so your readers don’t have to wade through large blocks of text (which can be hard to see on a screen).
You’ll also want to divide your writing into multiple sections using subheadings that outline the different topics you’re covering (i.e., “What is Social Media Marketing?” or “7 Benefits of Email Marketing”). This makes it easy for your audience to find the parts of your writing they want to read. And the longer they spend reading your work, the better your content is received online.
What hasn’t changed about freelance writing
For all the changes the online market has made in the freelance writing world, some things remain constant.
As a freelance writer, you’re expected to provide well-researched content that cites reputable sources. This can include quotes and statistics from trustworthy websites like the Educational Resources Information Center, Science.gov, or Statista.
This might also mean seeking out experts in a field, interviewing them, and using quotes from your interviews in your work.
Having a good grasp of grammar, punctuation, and mechanics is essential. This might scare some folks who love writing but didn’t do so well in English class.
Don’t worry. There are plenty of online grammar courses like Coursera and edX that offer a mix of free and paid courses to sharpen your skills. You’ll be able to learn at your own pace using video lessons, practice assignments, readings, and evaluation opportunities. And since you know why you want to improve your grammar skills, you’ll be more motivated to complete each course.
Some of these courses are designed specifically for English language learners, so even if English isn’t your first language, you’ll have opportunities to improve your grammar and writing expertise.
Professional writers also use online tools like Grammarly, a cloud-based typing assistant that reviews your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word choice—and then offers suggestions to improve your writing’s clarity and engagement level. It’s like having a second set of eyes to help make your blog posts, web copy, and other writing assignments as well-written as possible to keep your clients happy.
Above all, writers need to embrace their unique voice and nurture their personal writing style. Remember: no one can write like you or approach writing topics from your perspective. This will become a big part of your brand, so emphasize your uniqueness!