Beginner’s Guide to Starting as a Freelance Content Writer

Blogging has been around since the late 90s and there are millions of bloggers earning a good living thanks to their writing efforts.

Business owners, marketers, college students and everyone else is actively publishing online. With social media prevailing, a good percentage of the population is now actively producing content online.

But what is the difference between a successful writer and a hobbyist?

Generating Revenue Through Content Writing

blogging channels

There are various ways to generate revenue through content writing.

Being a full-time writer or a journalist is the obvious choice. But engaging content writers can build the right audience for each and every business – even the ones who spend just a few hours a week on a piece of paper or within their blogging platforms.

A valuable piece of content can:

  • Generate more traffic to your website
  • Lead to successful sales for the products or services that you offer
  • Increase the brand awareness of your business
  • Position you as an authority in your industry
  • Educate and generate a followers base for your company
  • Lead to writing and speaking gigs
  • Help you craft highly converting copy for your sales pages
  • Build a story around your personal or professional brand

With that in mind, content marketing is on the rise. In fact, it’s been one of the key pillars of inbound marketing while it’s also been crucial for crafting a unique and engaging copy for your outbound efforts – PPC ads, press releases, and all sorts of different campaigns focused on your prospects.

Your blog would definitely be the first place to start.

At DevriX, we do receive 20–30 applications from guest writers on a monthly basis, together with some candidates who are looking for a full-time writing job. What we look for is obviously a content portfolio of high-quality articles that correspond with our content guidelines and expectations.

I would suggest you focus on two different areas before you get some traction as a successful freelance writer.

Building a Diverse Portfolio

Building a diverse portfolio is crucial when assessing writers. There are four specific elements that could increase your chances of onboarding new clients.

  1. Engaging and detailed writing – storytelling converts better and detailed resources rank higher than shorter 500–800 words stories. Due to the overflow of information online, Google has refined its algorithm toward more detailed and extensive guides that bring value. Therefore, being able to craft a story and elaborate on different areas would resonate with more people who will be more inclined to share or read further. Some industry experts recommend 2000+ words as the number may vary.
  2. Niche specialization – profiling in certain industries would position you as a writing expert who can deliver high-quality results in a set of areas. Instead of trying to craft mediocre content for random fields, utilize your previous experience or boost your qualifications by taking on additional courses for industries that may be looking for writers. While Internet marketing, small business, entrepreneurship are standard baselines for many freelance writers, being acquainted with more niche industries would position you higher than other candidates with generic experience.
  3. Guest submissions – some testimonials regarding your work would be valuable – reviews from clients or case studies for businesses that you’ve been involved with. Pitching your stories to blogs and magazines and writing unique articles that are applicable to their categories would increase your exposure and reputability in the writing industry.
  4. A personalized portfolio – in addition to guest posts, work on your own portfolio. Craft high-quality content and distribute it online. Participate in Quora, LinkedIn Pulse, Medium, and other networks that help out with content exposure and validating the quality of your content. The incoming traffic will be indispensable as you refine your process and find your voice. Pitch your articles to EzineArticles or other article aggregators that may increase your exposure online.

Using Outreach and Freelance Networks

You can sign up for standard freelance networks such as Upwork, PeoplePerHour or Freelancer where clients occasionally look for freelance writers. Competition there is tough and there are plenty of beginner writers who charge a few bucks per article but it may be a starting point until you generate some recurring customer base.

Same goes for more specialized networks like iWriter or Textbroker.

Reaching out to agencies that provide content to their customers is definitely one of the most viable alternatives. Contact SEO agencies, advertising companies, marketing teams. Consider content packages on a monthly basis as well – one of our freelance writers has pitched us with a reputable portfolio and packages that were of interest to us (combining blog posts, sales pages, ebooks, and content add-ons).

As with every other field, you may need to start small, work with smaller businesses (that you contact as well) and charge a lower fee over the first months. You can gradually increase your rates and adjust your process and end up with a portfolio of ongoing clients who outsource content production on a monthly basis or regularly contact you for larger projects (ebooks or sets of articles for a new project).

Identifying Viral Content

With the overwhelming amount of content online, crafting a great article takes time.

One of the popular approaches out there is a rough form of article spinning or building a compilation of stories based on existing stories.

While this still works in less populated niches, there are verticals that are crowded and thousands of articles iterate over the same list of things.

One of my go-to tools for identifying viral content is BuzzSumo. You can type in a key term for the industry you’re covering or a specific website in order to identify a copy that gets a vast amount of shares online.

For example, if you’re a WordPress development and want to cover relevant stories to your buyer persona, here’s a list of popular results by BuzzSumo:

BuzzSumo sample results

The key source of information here is Torque. The first couple of results have generated over 2,500 shares each with a close third approaching 2K shares as well.

The three trending topics outlined above are:

  1. Become a Better WordPress Developer with these Local Development Plugins
  2. 4 Key Misconceptions about WordPress Development Debunked
  3. 6 Reasons Why Developers Should Choose WordPress for an Enterprise Site

You can easily extract multiple trends based on the copy that ranks high:

  • WordPress developers are interested in step-by-step and list resources iterating through different approaches for solving a problem
  • WordPress development plugins are high on the priority scale of developers looking for “quick wins”
  • Improving the professional WordPress skills is a goal for many developers out there
  • WordPress is a contradictory platform (being positioned as a blogging platform for a while and utilized as a powerful platform lately)
  • WordPress for enterprises is a valuable field to talk about.

I’ve utilized this approach while writing my first article for Business 2 Community. While reverse-engineering their successful copy, I’ve found out an article listing the top programming languages for 2016.

Since I’m familiar with the industry and aware of TIOBE’s existence, I wrote a more detailed guide named “Top 20 Most Popular Programming Languages in 2017” which successfully generated 1,490 shares in just a few months (with over 800 shares in the first weeks).

I’ve tapped into B2C’s audience which is apparently interested about the popularity of programming languages, pulled the industry data, outlined not 10, but 20 popular entries and prepared a brief for each of the programming languages (which didn’t exist in the former source or the industry stats).

This managed to generate the viral effect and led to a few additional stories written for the outlet.

You can use BuzzSumo in order to reverse engineer what works in your field and for your industry peers in particular and find out how to craft something unique and even better.

An Actionable Content Marketing Process

Since content marketing is not all about writing content, you have to spend some time on research, careful planning, actual implementation, outreach and distribution.

With regards to the content production process itself, here’s a practical guide that you can implement in your writing process:

  1. Analyze your target market and the needs of your customers
  2. Figure out what’s the best type of content that your prospects need
  3. Identify the best medium for content production (long vs. short stories, reviews, how to articles, lists, YouTube videos, podcasts, infographics, a radio show)
  4. Compile a list of major industry problems and struggles that you can explain and help out with
  5. Find your main competitors and reverse engineer their strategy – what sort of content they publish, what are the major topics that they cover, what tone do they utilize when speaking to their audience
  6. Formulate a brand strategy and tone that is consistent and will be followed as you go forward
  7. Run a number of tests using SEMrush, Moz, BuzzSumo, Serpstat in order to analyze the main keywords that your competitors rank for, the content that converts the best and generates the highest number of shares
  8. Combine that with a set of queries through Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends in order to find out what are the direct and long-tail keywords that you may write about and target
  9. Create a spreadsheet or a mindmap that defines the different categories and verticals that you want to target within the realm of your audience
  10. Figure out whether you can work on content upsells (additional guides, checklists, ebooks or whitepapers included in your top resources)
  11. Start producing outstanding content that solves all of the main problems of your audience
  12. Spend a ton of time distributing all of them to your social media channels and all of the other venues where your ideal customer hangs out
  13. Refine your content, update it and continue to include additional data, stories, stats, case studies
  14. Repurpose your content and create other forms of information (infographics, ebooks, roundups) that could be leveraged in different outlets
  15. Publish valuable content on Quora, LinkedIn, Medium and refer your best entries as long as they are contextually relevant and will add value
  16. Build partnerships for fusion marketing and submit guest post entries to other industry sources that would link back to you
  17. Repeat

As long as you define your market properly and identify an industry that would be worth exploring in detail, you would start generating traffic soon. Attacking an existing niche is also doable but it would require a lot more time and effort in order to provide outstanding content that produces outstanding results and educates your market group in-depth, much further than the other educational resources on the market.

Inbound marketing could be applied in numerous ways. It’s always worth exploring the available alternatives utilized by different experts. FitSmallBusiness published Top 51 Free Advertising Ideas from the Pros on Inbound Marketing Strategy which covers unique and actionable ways to apply inbound techniques in your own process.

Being persistent in your content marketing efforts will start accumulating and generating results a bit slower, but your assets would be invaluable once you start monetizing your content through different channels.

Your thoughts?