Section Three: What’s Required of a Freelance Writer?

The life and journey of a freelance writer are filled with opportunities to craft stories, share knowledge, and influence audiences. But, like anything in this world, to succeed, certain skills and responsibilities are non-negotiable. Here are what I believe are the fundamental requirements of a great freelance writer.

1. Writing (duh!)

At the core of freelance writing is the ability to produce clear, compelling, and grammatically correct content. Bottom line. Not budging on that. This critical skill involves understanding the basics of grammar and syntax and the art of storytelling and persuasion.

If this is an area that you feel you’re not strong in, I highly recommend brushing up on your spelling and grammar skills before launching a career in writing. We actually have a great course on proofreading that teaches these core fundamentals that every writer should have.

Key Points of Writing Skills

  • Mastery of language and grammar
  • Ability to engage and retain reader interest
  • Skill in adapting tone and style to match the client’s or publication’s needs

2. Research

Proper research is the backbone of creating content that’s not only interesting but also accurate and highly reliable. A freelance writer needs to know how to source information from credible places, verify facts, and present data in a way that supports their narrative.

Articles requiring in-depth exploration, content that discusses technical or niche topics, and pieces that provide advice or guidance heavily rely on robust research skills. So, if you hated that part of writing essays in school, it’s time to get past that and develop a way to make research fun for yourself!

Key Points of Research Skills

  • Ability to locate and evaluate sources
  • Skill in integrating research seamlessly into writing
  • Ensuring the accuracy and reliability of presented information

3. SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

While not necessary for all freelance writing, it’s essential for anything intended for publication online. Understanding and applying SEO principles is crucial for increasing the visibility of online content.

Freelance writers should know how to use keywords effectively, structure content for readability and search engine indexing, and stay up-to-date with the latest SEO trends and algorithm changes.

Web content, including blogs, articles, and product descriptions, benefits from SEO optimization to rank higher in popular search engine results, which drives more traffic to the site.

Key Points of SEO Skills

  • Knowledge of keyword research and usage
  • Ability to structure articles for SEO (using headings, meta descriptions, etc.)
  • Staying informed about SEO best practices and algorithm updates

4. Editing

Don’t worry. Most clients will have a designated editor to handle the hard stuff. But having the ability to self-edit and polish your work to be near publish-ready will set you apart from your competition.

Editing goes beyond correcting grammar and punctuation errors. It involves refining content for clarity, structure, and tone, ensuring the piece flows well and effectively communicates its message to the intended audience.

Key Points of Editing Skills

  • Proficiency in language and grammar rules
  • Skill in enhancing clarity and readability
  • Ability to maintain or adjust the tone to suit the content’s purpose

Tip: We have a Proofreading Light course for those who want to improve their grammar and self-editing skills. 

5. Formatting/Uploading

In the digital age, a freelance writer is sometimes tasked to do more than just write. Preparing and uploading content to websites entails formatting text, integrating multimedia elements like images and videos, and sometimes using content management systems (CMS) to publish the content.

If you can offer these extra skills to a client, you’re far more likely to land the job than someone who can only create the written content. So, while this isn’t a must-have skill, it’s definitely one you want to consider if you want to stand out.

Key Points of Formatting Skills

  • Understanding of basic HTML and CMS platforms (e.g., WordPress)
  • Skill in formatting articles for online readability (using bullet points, headings, short paragraphs, etc.)
  • Ability to incorporate multimedia elements that enhance the content

So, What’s Required of a Client?

For a freelance writing project to succeed, clients play an equally crucial role. Their responsibilities ensure that projects are completed smoothly and result in high-quality content.

1. Clear, Easy-to-Understand Briefs

A brief is a quick overview and pointed breakdown of what the client expects from you in regard to creating the piece. Providing detailed project requirements and expectations sets the foundation for successful content. A clear brief includes information on the topic, audience, tone, format, and any specific points or keywords that need to be included.

Key Points a Brief Should Have

  • Comprehensive project details like word count, title, etc.
  • Specific objectives and target audience
  • Required tone, style, and formatting guidelines

2. Communication

Clear and open communication throughout the entire life of the project is crucial. I can’t stress this enough. If a client has poor communication skills, that’s a major red flag for me.

Being available to answer questions, provide feedback, and make clarifications ensures that the project stays on track and meets the desired outcomes. But it’s a two-way street! You have to be great at communicating, too.

Key Points of Effective Communication

  • A reliable way to communicate (email, team chat, etc.)
  • Responsiveness to inquiries and updates
  • Willingness to provide necessary information or resources
  • Openness to discuss revisions or adjustments

3. Feedback

As a major introvert and overthinker, I used to love when clients would accept my submitted work and move on. But now, I hate it. It makes me overthink even more. Did they like it? Did I provide them with everything they needed? Do they need edits or changes?

Feedback from clients is how we learn and grow, becoming the best of the best.

Offering constructive criticism is essential for refining and improving the work. Feedback should be clear, specific, and focused on making the content better align with the project goals.

As freelance writers, we have to be open to this feedback and not take it to heart.

Key Points of Constructive Feedback

  • Clearly points out issues and states solutions
  • Constructiveness to foster improvement overall
  • Timeliness to keep the project moving forward

4. Prompt Payment

This should go without saying, but things are different in the freelance world. Timely compensation for completed work is an ethical responsibility and a reflection of respect for the writer’s time and effort. Prompt payment reinforces a professional relationship and encourages future collaboration.

If payment terms have been agreed upon prior to the start of the project, it’s the client’s responsibility to uphold them. Late payments, a stream of excuses, or any other issues surrounding financials are red flags. A client should not actively hire for work they can’t afford.

A green flag in new clients is when they offer to pay you for your first article or task as soon as the work is completed. Some do this to establish trust and also share their payment process. 

If you’re conversing with a potential client and they don’t offer this, don’t be afraid to ask (in a polite and professional way) if you can perform the first project on a trial basis to be paid immediately upon completion. 

Key Points Around Payments

  • Adherence to agreed payment terms
  • Prompt processing of invoices
  • Clear communication about any payment delays or issues to be agreed upon by both parties

Note: We provide templates for contracts like this at the end of the course to help you communicate payment terms with clients.