Traditional print and even broadcast journalism is under unprecedented pressure to survive. Advertising revenues are becoming scarce, and content consumers are turning to the internet for their:
- Lifestyle content
- Educational media
There are many "citizen journalists" who have their own blogs, or who contribute their insights on forums, social media or Reddit. On the other end of the spectrum, there are former traditional journalists who have made the jump to digital marketing.
Writing for a Living? Or Living to Write?
If you are trying to make a living as a full-time, or part-time freelance writer, you need to establish the authority, character and reputation of delivering the "good stuff" consistently.
Web content writers can succeed with knowledge of traditional writing formats like Chicago or AP style. Blog or web page content also needs to be written in a format which:
- Can be read easily on a mobile device, and consumed in a reasonable amount of time
- Is focused on the reader, with a light conversational tone (if it fits your audience)
- Provides enough keyword phrases, at appropriate density, in articles of sufficient length to educate, deliver your call-to-action and keep your readers coming back for more
One of the biggest decisions a freelance writer needs to make is whether they will seek out opportunities to write under their own byline, be a ghostwriter, or play both sides of the fence.
Traditional journalists who already have a reputation in journalism, and the "gravitas" to demand a byline can hit the ground running in digital news circles. For a rookie, they may have to spend some time in the ghostwriting trenches and build a quality portfolio before commanding author promotion.
Don't Just Spray and Pray
Once you've secured some client contracts, or staked your claim on your blog real estate, you have to write for the audience you want to speak to. If your expertise is in health and fitness, writing serious B2B business blogs aren't going to be much fun to write, and much less for your readers to take in. Write in your readers' lingo, share your content on social media where your readers are having conversations. We're talking about Reddit, Quora and Triberr for example.
If you get feedback from readers, positive or negative - make sure you respond to them with class and humility. Even a difference of opinion can be a catalyst for a great business relationship. If your content is well written, credible and unique, you can survive and defend your viewpoint.
You Gotta Get Paid
Writing for a livable salary, and getting enough return on investment for your time and talent is challenging for a new writer. There are many veteran freelance writers who offer courses to other scribes to help them become a six-figure writer or generally successful. Yet investing in online courses before you are making money yourself can be risky.
In most cases, writing on a per project basis, as opposed to a "per word rate" or hourly is a good way to set yourself apart from lower quality writers. Consider not only your time investment when you are setting your prices, but also:
- Operational costs of freelancing, like web hosting for your blog and internet access
- Costs for office space or coworking hot desk access
- Your addiction to double shot venti
lattes and biscotti
- Expenses like paying for child care, your rent and Costco membership
- A good bookkeeper to take care of your assets, liabilities and expenses
Regardless of your expenses, or what drives you to write, don't short change your talent or your livelihood just to get writing gigs. There are a lot of content mills out there who will squeeze work out of your for very little money, and burn your valuable time.
Tools of the Trade
Though your creativity and industry/niche expertise can't be replicated by software, there are a number of tools which can make sure your work product is top quality, suited for your target market, and published at peak engagement times.
Once your content is published, tracking how your content is converting, ranking and being viewed on different device platforms is a wise choice. Whether you are writing for a digital agency, a news site or a brand website, publishing your written content is only the beginning. Socializing it, repurposing it, and tracking its performance is equally as important.
Outside of news sites, innovative companies and brands are realizing the value of owned content like whitepapers, ebooks and other long-form pieces. If you are finding that short blogs and articles aren't driving your career to the trajectory you want, contracting with brands to write long-form content is a way to chase larger ticket projects.
Succeeding as a freelance writer is challenging, though by being open-minded enough to take the advice of successful writers, finding your own "voice" and telling great stories, you can be successful. Having some natural talent for the trade is necessary, but there are people, processes and technology which can help you compete in the growing freelance community of writers.
As a final note, you'll often find strategic client relationships which may not be as lucrative on a per-article basis as they can in the long term. They could be strategic to build your authority in your industry, get great references or for consistent, predictable writing projects. Before turning down a job because of the sticker price, consider the strategic value.
How do you see freelance writing evolving over the next several years? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
About the Author:
Mark Burdon is a technology professional based in Barrie, Ontario. He has worked in sales and marketing for companies including IBM, Open Text and most recently The Portal Connector for Microsoft Dynamics CRM .Mark has provided B2B content marketing services to companies including Intuit, HireVue, and gShift . He is a freelance writer with Cloudworker Solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @mark_burdon