So you want to start a freelance writing business, and you’re interested in writing about WordPress? The good news is that anyone can write. The bad news is that not every person who writes will get published. Furthermore, not every good writer can turn writing into a profitable business.
Still, there are those who are making it happen. We interviewed nine prominent freelance writers in the tech, startup, and WordPress spaces and asked them to share insights into how they got things going. We asked about business lessons they’ve learned, as well as their best piece of advice for other writers.
As a bonus before we get started, we went a step further and asked our head of content what she looks for when considering freelancers for the Pagely blog. Here’s what Lizzie Kardon, editor of the Pagely blog, had to say about hiring freelancers.
“I’m always looking for writers that promote the content I publish as they would something on their own blog. Taking that extra step shows me you know about the content promotion side of things in addition to just the writing. Some examples would be posting the article to your followers, answering questions on places like Quora with backlinks to the piece, adding insightful comments from the piece to other blogs, etc. To me, that’s a win-win and gets my attention every time. It’s a great way to stand out in a big pool of freelance writers, and a surefire way to get hired a second time after an initial writing engagement.”
And now, here are nine tips from the pros on how to make a name for yourself as a freelance writer.
1. Nurture Your Professional Relationships
It should go without saying that you need to be on your best behavior when writing for a publication. Ask for guidelines, humbly accept requests for revisions and respect deadlines. In addition, being friendly and keeping in touch with business contacts can go a long way toward building your future.
“Make sure to ask if an organization has style guidelines you need to follow. Not all of them will, but if they do, you want to make sure you’re writing in a tone and style consistent with the organization. Even if they don’t have one, you’ll look more professional for asking,” says Carrie Dils, freelancer coach, WordPress developer, and consultant.
Maintaining contacts can lead to new introductions and new partnerships as well. Carrie says, “Build relationships and leverage your network to find gigs. Cold emails (especially ones that are obviously a template) have a low return and worse–they turn people off.”
Carrie Dils has been a guest speaker at several WordCamps and has been interviewed by some of the biggest names in the WordPress community and elsewhere. She also hosts a weekly WordPress business podcast at Officehours.fm and is a course instructor for Lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning.
2. Be a Master Interpreter
Being a successful writer is about more than mastering good sentence structure and grammar. When you’re working freelance and producing content for clients, you need to keep them in mind just as you would your end reader.
According to Joyce Grace, a professional web copywriter and WordPress website provider, “The job is not so much about the ability to write, but rather, the ability to research. That means being a good listener, with an inquisitive mind. The job is to hear a client’s [needs], get inside their head, and figure out what they want to convey.”
She goes on to say, “At the same time, it requires being attuned to the end reader’s perceptions. The thing that makes writing challenging is the need to do justice to the communication aspect of the piece. Meaning, both sides need to be clearly understood. The audience needs to understand the client, and the client needs to understand what the audience wants to read.”
Joyce Grace was named one of the Top 20 WordPress Bloggers You Need to Follow and is one of several awesome WordPress women to watch. She has also written for a number of popular WordPress and e-marketing publications.
3. Develop Your Own Style
Many times you will be writing on a topic that has already been covered extensively. This is where developing a unique voice and style will set you apart.
Tom McFarlin, a WordPress Developer, shared that “You have to play the long game and you have to make sure that your content, although hitting on the same topics as some others, has your own unique take on it. If someone else has done the same, then that’s okay. Your perspective may be the same, different, or there may be overlap. And if there’s the latter, why not quote and link back to their article for credit?”
It’s also important to write in a way that mirrors how you speak. It can come off as disingenuous if the two are totally incomparable. Tom says, “Despite what we’re often taught, writing like we speak goes a long way whenever people meet us and hear us speak at events such as WordCamps. If we write like we speak (and we speak well), then they can go back and read our previous articles in the tone, inflection, and voice that we use when we speak.”
Tom McFarlin was voted Microsoft MVP four years in a row. He has contributed to Smashing Magazine, has written and produced numerous courses for Tuts+, and was the technical editor for Smashing WordPress, 4th Edition.
4. Read, Read, Read
One of the greatest things you can do for your writing career is to read the writing of others. And not just the same type of work that you produce. You can benefit from reading a wide array of literature. Reading the work of others will not only inspire you but will help you develop your own style.
Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs, shared, “Read, read, read. BUT, read like a writer. Notice how stories begin, and how they end. Notice how sentences start. Notice structure and word choice and voice. Notice punctuation, or the lack of. Keep a pen in your hand, and make notes in the margins. I’ve learned more by reading like a writer than I ever could in a classroom.”
Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal best-selling author and publishes a bi-weekly newsletter all about leveling-up your writing and marketing skills.
5. Quantity Less Important Than Quality? Not Always.
Many people will tell you that when it comes to your writing business, focus on quality over quantity. Hillel Fuld, dubbed Israel’s top marketer, believes that actually, both are important. “Consistency is key. Volume is key. Quality is also super important but if I had to choose between a wow piece once a month or ten great pieces, I choose B.” Notice that he doesn’t say to write several average pieces, but rather to write well while writing often.
Wondering how to get your blog ranking on the first page of a Google search? The answer is time and consistency. It’s not going to happen overnight. Not only will your writing improve with practice, but your search engine ranking will too. Hillel says, “Write often. People like consistency. Google likes consistency. Just start and keep going. You won’t believe how powerful content can be on the internet.”
Hillel Fuld has worked with leading tech entrepreneurs, investors, and visionaries. His work has been published in some of the world’s top tech publications including TechCrunch, Venturebeat, Inc., Entrepreneur, The Next Web, and Business Insider. He’s also collaborated with global brands like Google, Oracle, and Huawei.
6. Develop a Plan of Action
If you want to write a New York Times bestseller, it’s important that you have a vision of how you’ll get there. Decide what kind of writer you want to be, and then find a mentor to guide you. That’s what Bob Cringely did.
Bob says, “Find someone who is already doing pretty much what you would like to do and study their work. For me, that person was a guy named Adam Smith, who founded New York magazine and Institutional Investor magazine, and wrote best-selling books about Wall Street, most notably The Money Game.”
“I wrote Adam a letter asking if I could take him to lunch. Thus began a friendship that lasted for thirty years until his death a couple of years ago. He didn’t open any doors for me professionally, but he listened to me and answered my questions. And I answered him because that’s how mentor relationships evolve.”
“There’s a fiction that freelance writers mature in a vacuum. The truth is that we’re molded by our work, by our readers, and by the people we meet and connect with along the way.”
Robert X. Cringely was a columnist for InfoWorld for eight years. He is also the author of the best-selling book Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, Forbes, Upside, Success, and Worth to name a few. He has also created documentaries for PBS and Maryland Public Television.
7. Write Consistently
If you’re waiting to try to publish something until you feel you’re at the top of your writing game, you’ll never get started. Your skill will improve over time. So write often and develop a thick skin because you’re likely to get some criticism and, yes, rejection. Take it in stride. See it as a stepping stone to becoming a better writer.
“Writing as a skill can be developed over time. We tend to think writers are born, and truth is, for some, it comes more naturally. But as long as you write, write, and write more, and also have an open mind to feedback, even sometimes criticism, you will get better,” according to Bob Dunn, a professional blogger, and podcaster.
Bob Dunn has been a designer for twenty years and in the WordPress space since its inception. Bob blogs about e-commerce and various WordPress matters over at BobWP.
8. Write with the End in Mind
It’s important to understand the end game when it comes to your writing. What is it you want the reader to feel or do after reading your piece? Keeping that question in mind will help you focus your writing and adapt your tone to suit your end goals. Mark Zahra of WPMayor, one of the oldest and most popular WordPress resources on the web, explains, “Remember that you’re writing for the reader, not yourself. Depending on where you’re writing and for what audience, you should adapt the phrasing and tone that you use.”
He says, “Always keep in mind what you’d like the end result to be. Are you looking for people to engage in the comments? Do you want them to convert and buy what you’re trying to promote? For me personally, re-reading my work from the reader’s perspective has helped me to figure out where I may have gone off course.”
Mark Zahra is also the co-host of the Mastermind.fm podcast, which is about building successful businesses on the WordPress platform.
9. Learn Efficiency Hacks
When you first start writing, the time involved may seem overwhelming. Remember that writing gets easier the more you do it. It helps if you can develop some tricks for working more efficiently. You may find that batching certain elements of your work to be the most effective method.
As Chris Lema, of ChrisLema.com, explains, “Writing gets easier and faster as you do it more–what once took six hours becomes something that takes one hour. So just keep writing. Don’t try to do two things at once. Don’t write AND research. Don’t write AND edit. Just do one thing at a time. Do a lot of research. Do a lot of writing. Do a lot of editing. But don’t mix and match. It will speed up your writing.”
10. Practice Self-Discipline
Noemi Twigg, Editor-in-Chief at Freelance Writing Gigs, believes self-discipline is a key component to success with your writing. She says, “Show up every day in spite of all the freedom to do whatever you want when you want.” She also suggests, “[Staying] focused in the midst of distractions” is a key factor as well.
As a way to help put these tips into practice, Noemi recommends you, “Set a schedule and create some sort of routine just like you work a 9-to-5. Obviously, you’ll have way more flexibility, but having designated work hours helps ensure you get work done and have the free time you want at the same time.”
Noemi is a former English teacher who now works conveniently from her bed (if she so chooses) as a full-time writer. She is also the longest-serving staff member at Splash Press and is known there for her “an uncanny knack for writing posts that are easy to read and get people fired up.”
11. Get Organized
If there is one thing I’ve learned thus far as a freelancer, it’s that you must be organized, especially once you start juggling multiple assignments from multiple clients. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Colin Newcomer, Professional Freelance Writer, told us, “Organization is key. It’s easy to keep track of tasks and due dates at the beginning. But once you start getting more clients, you need a system to keep track of everything.” Agreed!
Colin also feels it’s important to choose a focus for your writing. He says, “Don’t try to be a jack of all trades. Once you have your own niche, you can become an expert and get new clients without outbound sales.” It is a great feeling as a freelancer when the work finds you instead of having to hunt it down.
Colin began his freelancing career as a high school student managing Facebook Ad campaigns. He went on to start a graphic t-shirt blog that generated over $1 million in gross affiliate sales. These days he writes full time about WordPress and Digital Marketing. Some of his publications include the Pagely blog as well as Grammarly, Elegant Themes and Revive Social just to name a few.
12. Remember to Breathe!
It’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed as a freelance writer, particularly in the beginning. You might experience some rejection and failure. I definitely have. Eventually, you’ll make friends in the community and hopefully get a handful of repeat clients that you enjoy working with and who help build your confidence. But you’ll never reach the light at the end of the tunnel if you don’t go through it first.
Just ask our last interviewee, Dev Sharma of WPKube. He knows it can be tough getting started. He told us that when he first launched WPKube, nearly ten years ago, to cover WordPress news and theme reviews, it “failed miserably.” But he didn’t give up.
In 2013, he re-launched his site and began writing in-depth tutorials and guides that got the attention of several prominent WordPress sites and afforded him networking opportunities other influential bloggers in the community.
About rejection, he told us, “It gets easier. Your first client is the hardest client to land. After that, each new client gets easier as your portfolio grows. So – keep your head up – it gets better!”
There you have it, straight from the mouths of twelve of the best freelance writers in WordPress today.
Some of these suggestions might seem obvious to you, while others you may not have considered before. My take on it is that you’re not likely to experience a breakthrough inside your comfort zone. So make yourself a little uncomfortable by leveraging any of these nine strategies that seem like a challenge to you.
As a new writer myself, I just want to say that it has been an honor to write this post. I consider the advice shared here to be invaluable and I am very appreciative of everyone who took time out of their busy schedule to participate in this. Thank you all!