I started my career as a content operations associate, and I’ve worked with, and learned from hundreds of writers. I owe this community a lot. So, here I’m sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired all these years.
I have had the opportunity to work with some really amazing writers on this journey and some not so amazing ones. Of course, the skillset, experience, and attention to detail are some easily identifiable characteristics, but there are some other factors that could very easily be fixed and optimized.
So, here I am trying to share my two bits with all the content writers in my network.
I hope it helps writers looking for writing opportunities on LinkedIn and other freelancing platforms. It should, even if you’re an in-house content writer (for the most part).
This is a series of 21 chapters. Each post addresses specific issues you face (or would face) in your content writing career.
Like it, leave your comments, make notes, save it to read over the weekend, and share it with someone who needs it.
Most of these tips can be used in long-form content pieces, but they can also be used in shorter formats.
So, let’s just get started and hear the story from the other side.
Chapter 1 – Pilot
Find your niche.
It might sound cliche, but find your niche.
Find it, produce content around it, and keep it organized. It is helpful when you’re asked to provide a work sample.
And here comes the part that you need to change – you may be a diverse writer, and you may write about so many things, from fashion to the environment to quantum mechanics and what not, but you share only those work samples that align with the industry/domain of your client.
You’re a wonderful writer, and you write in multiple niches; congrats, but share only those that work for your client.
When you share samples from other niches/industry, you sort of diminish the quality of samples that should matter.
Sit down tonight and ask yourself, – How many niches do I want to write about? Do I have samples for each of them?
Map these samples for these niches and keep them somewhere. Next time you’re asked for samples, just pick one block and share it with the client that matches perfectly.
Also, if you could, don’t even mention how many different domains you write in. I mean, you can, but it’s not going to do any good to you. In fact, you’re sharing one piece of information with your prospect, which doesn’t make their job easier.
So stick to your domain, share samples and all the related information, particularly from that domain.
That’s the beauty (and curse) of being a freelancer; no one cares more about getting their work done and releasing the payment. Not about your working hours, not about your vacations, not if you play online games on your computer the whole day.
For more tips on content writing follow @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/pankaj-tripathi/
Chapter 2 – Genesis
In the previous chapter, we talked about niche-specific written samples and their importance. Let’s take this one step further in this chapter.
Have you worked in print (i.e., published on a website), and use them as samples. What it does is give your prospect confidence that your work could be published, and someone already has done so.
Often, I receive samples in word/pdf. In order to go through these samples, I first have to save them somewhere, either on the local drive or Google-drive. If I don’t like a sample, I can forget about it. But when you like a particular sample, I still have to arrange it in a folder, and when it’s time to refer, it’s the WHOLE file I’m referring to. Whereas a link is too easy to store – over a to-do list or on any note-taking software
The person who is going to make the decision to work with you is already making too many decisions; you don’t want to add a few more for them to make. It’s better that you get that person thinking about whether they like you as a writer or not and not where they need to store your samples.
That being said, I understand that most freelance writing is ghost-writing. But if you have good relations with the client, you can always request that they allow you to use the work published on their website as a sample. It’s like doing a case-study by a company about the work done for a particular client in a B2B environment.
Chapter 3 – Underdog
So far, we’ve established that samples are important. But what if you’ve just started?
Even if you’re just starting out as a content writer, you’d still be expected to show some of the work you’ve done. Writers who have been working for years have published work to show, but what do freshers have?
You can solve this problem in 3 steps:-
- Develop your writing skills; no short-cuts here. Quora is a wonderful platform to practice your skills. Pick a question, read about it, and write an answer. Don’t think of upvotes and followers as the benchmark of your success.
- There are some very good blogging websites that allow you to write for free. Medium is one of the best. Blogger and WordPress are others. Decide on the blog topics and get started. Again, don’t think about traffic on your blog right away. It probably won’t come, but it shouldn’t stop you from writing.
- There are plenty of websites that allow you to ‘write for them’. Search for these websites in your niche and request that they let you write for free. Just to give you a heads-up, response rate in this scenario and the chances of actually getting published are relatively low.
Once you’re through these steps, you have a list of samples to show from step-2 and step-3.
Finally, believe in yourself.
Remember, When you’ll be older, you’ll be stronger.
Chapter 4 – Treasure
You don’t need to perform fresh research every time you write a new blog. If you’re just starting out and don’t know much about your niche, that’s fine. But if you are doing extensive research for each content piece even after having a decent experience, either you’ve chosen the wrong niche for yourself or you don’t read and collect enough.
If you don’t do it already, start doing it now:-
- Save your research for every piece you do.
- Develop the habit of using a note-taking application or do it over a spreadsheet/G-sheet but you should’ve had a pool of resources.
- Read about your niche and save any fact/data/event/statistics you like.
You may find it hard to believe the power of this, but once you make it a habit, you will rarely run out of information and creative thoughts while writing. Even if it happens, it will almost never be a dead-end – you’ll know a way out!
The process boosts your confidence, as you already have a lot of information before you start writing or researching about it.
But does that mean you can write some content pieces without doing any research? The answer is no.
A good content piece is always a mix of writing skill, the writer’s experience, good research, and empathy with the reader.
Chapter 5 – Differentia
You know your niche? – Amazing.
The overall industry? – Awesome.
Facts and figures? – Well done!
But you should also know that writing everything is not the same.
There are blogs, there is website content, there are social media posts, there are marketing emails, there are essays, and there are stories.
No matter, I repeat, no matter how skilled and talented you are, you can’t do everything. So, it’s better to realize your potential and develop skills around that. That’ll help you make easy decisions and save you time that you’d otherwise waste on writing something you shouldn’t have written in the first place.
Let’s say a prospect comes with the requirement of writing social posts and ad-copies. Back in your head, if you know you won’t be able to justify it, just don’t do it.
Again, don’t confuse it with ‘not challenging yourself‘.
Of course, challenge yourself, devote time to a new writing form, learn about it, and be more confident in it.
I’m asking you to realize the differences among all the content forms and understand that all of them cannot be treated equally. Approach all of them the way they should be, and decide whether you want to master just a couple of content forms or all of them.
Just know the path you’re taking and the obstacles you’re going to face. Be prepared!
Chapter 6 – Contract
Money may not be the most important thing in the world, but it is important (like a lot).
It’s awesome that you’re working as a content writer, as writing is your passion, but it’s also fine that you see it as a source of money-making. And because you do that, it’s perfectly fine to ask about the amount you’ll be paid, and when you’ll be paid.
Questions you need to ask:-
– If it’s not a fixed date, how many days after the work is approved are you going to be paid?
– Is it going to be a weekly or monthly payment, or is it going to be a project-to-project payment?
– Are there going to be any tax-deductions?
You should be clear about the payment policy before you start writing – You don’t want any surprises later!
But again, don’t ask about the pricing as your first question. It sends a signal that you’re only interested in the money that comes with the work and not what exactly it is about.
It’s always good to establish a base where you understand the client and their work before you ask these questions.
Chapter 7 – Pink
Saying “no” is sometimes difficult, but it’s helpful.
As a content writer, sometimes you like to be challenged. Sometimes you just want to have work, and you take something knowing that you won’t be able to give a complete justification.
From my experience, it doesn’t do any good to either party. If you’d said ‘no’, you could’ve been working on something more interesting, and the prospect might’ve found someone more suitable for the job. And I can only imagine, what harm it does to your self-confidence when you receive negative feedback that could have easily been avoided.
Same goes for pricing – if the pricing is too low for you, don’t hesitate to say no.
That being said, don’t run away from new challenges. If something new comes up and you believe you can take it on, do it.
But be ready to dedicate more than you usually do!
Chapter 8 – No Hello
I’ve seen the phenomenon of people commenting ‘interested’ on LinkedIn. I’m not sure if that works, but I’d be surprised if it does.
Think about it, what happens after you comment ‘interested’? Do you think the person is going to visit your LinkedIn profile and see if you’re the right candidate? Even if they do, LinkedIn has too little information to make a decision.
So, unless the post specifically asks you to comment ‘interested’, find a way to talk.
Here’s what you need to do:-
– Check if the person posting the job is the right person making the decision. If they are the right person, message them on LinkedIn.
– Try to get their email; people are more responsive via email.
– Share your samples and why you’re the right fit for the job. For samples, check out Chapter 2 of this series.
Don’t just comment ‘interested’, and don’t just say ‘hello’ and wait for that person to initiate a conversation.
I mean, someone was so fed-up with people’s habit of saying just ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ that they created a website dedicated to it. Check it out – https://www.nohello.com/“
Chapter 9 – Warm Up
Recently, I talked to a freelance writer. We scheduled the call for around 5pm. I had shared most of the details already; the call was about explaining the details of the work we, as a company, do and understanding if the writer could take on this challenge. I messaged him right before the call, like seconds ago.
When I called him, he was like, “Yeah, who are you? Okay, and your company is… And it does… Okay, and what kind of work do you want from me?”
I felt like he was not interested at all. It was 10 minutes wasted.
Surprisingly, a lot of these questions, such as deadline, payment policy, and a brief intro, were already in the job-description. I agree that we are all super-busy with our professional lives, but not giving 2 minutes to read the application is next-level busy. Another 5 minutes glance over the website and blog would’ve given a good idea of the work.
Had it already been done by the writer before the call, we could’ve directly gotten to his and mine and closed the deal.
So, here’s the lesson – a little warm-up before a call with your prospect is always good, no matter how big or small the deal is.
Chapter 10 – Sequel
Following up is not a bad thing.
The reasons for not replying could be multiple. People get busy. Sometimes, they forget.
That’s why you shouldn’t hesitate to follow up.
Also, a lot of people find it difficult to say ‘no’. To get clarity, always ask people if they want you to stop messaging them.
And if they say no to you, don’t take it personally. It’s good for both of you.
It might hurt in the short term, but it’s good for your mental health and wellness.
I like to give reasons for not working with someone. But if someone doesn’t, that’s fine too. You’ve chosen freelancing, and it comes with its costs and benefits.
Chapter 11 – Curiosity
Knowing your audience well is the foundation of content writing, and curiosity is the basis to knowing your audience.
It’s easy as just a 2-step process:-
First step – Find a way to talk and ask questions.
Second step – Ask good questions!
You might be an introvert, and you may not like to get on a call. Often, female content writers don’t find it comfortable to share their contact numbers (for obvious reasons).
If that’s the case, you need to find an alternate way. It could be a list of questions you share over email or a Google Form.
Decide what helps you keep organized. No matter whether it is a call, email, or form, you need to find a way to find information.
And yeah, don’t hesitate to ask questions. People like to talk about themselves and their work/company. The more questions you have, the better you get an idea of the requirements.
Chapter 12 – Waka-Waka
In the previous chapter, we discussed how to get in touch with the right person to ask questions.
In this chapter, let’s talk about what questions should you be asking:-
Let’s divide these questions into 2 categories. The first category is business specific and the second category is content piece specific.
Business specific questions to ask:-
- Business model – What exactly is their service or product? This helps you keep your research focused.
- Target audience – Ask about the demography and their professions. This helps you customize your writing style.
- Positioning – Ask their value proposition and what problem they’re solving for their target audience with their product/services. This helps you keep your messaging accurate and on-point.
- Competitors – Ask for some of their existing competitors. This helps you with inspiration and setting benchmarks.
- Resources – Ask for the 5 best resources to know about the company (Blogs/Case-study/White case studies, white papers). This helps you understand your client better. Plus, these resources come in handy whenever you meet a dead-end.
Writing specific questions to ask:-
- Aim of the content piece – Ask your clients if they’re trying to educate their clients or generate leads.
- Word limit – Get a range. Ask if you can go overboard. Always get clarification if you can make it a little shorter than the specified word limit. Writers sometimes fall short of information, and they fill the content with repetitive information and fluff just to meet the word limit. This hampers the overall quality of the article. You know a secret? – Often, the specified word limit is just an estimation, and it is not strictly necessary to follow it. Even if you’re getting paid by ‘number of words’ written, you shouldn’t try to fill unnecessary words to earn some extra bucks without compromising the quality.
- Outline – Is the client fine with reviewing an outline before getting started? This may not be required for short-form content, but it is really helpful for long-form content pieces.
- Writing style – Does it have to be academic, funny, serious, professional, or casual? Does it need to be written in first, second, or third person?
- Ask for examples – Always ask for some third party resources that inspire your clients.
- External links – Ask if you can include external links in the article. If not, how do I quote third-party data, quotes, and information?
- Internal links – Do you want to interlink?
- CTAs – What is the CTA they want?
- English – This one is often neglected. But please ask if your client wants to adhere to US English or British English.
Chapter 13 – Blue-Print
Here are some of the best tips and tricks to help content writers create effective outlines:
Start with your audience: Before creating your outline, think about your target audience. What are their pain points, interests, and needs? What do they want to learn from your content? Keep these factors in mind when structuring your outline, as they will guide the flow of your content.
Determine the purpose of your content: Are you trying to educate your audience on a particular topic, persuade them to take action, or simply entertain them? Knowing the purpose of your content will help you determine what information needs to be included in your outline.
Both these will come from your client as discussed in the last chapter –
- Use a template: Consider using a pre-designed template to create your outline. Templates can help you organize your thoughts more effectively and ensure that you don’t miss any important points.
- Focus on your main points: Identify the main points that you want to cover in your content and arrange them in a logical order. Each point should support your overall objective and be backed up with evidence or examples.
- Include subheadings: Use subheadings to break up your content into smaller, more manageable sections. This will make it easier for your audience to digest your content and find the information they’re looking for.
- Be concise: Keep your sentences short and to the point. Your outline should be easy to scan and understand at a glance.
- Don’t forget the conclusion: Remember to include a conclusion that summarizes your main points and reiterates your overall objective.
- Bonus point – Include a summary paragraph at the beginning. It works as the hook for readers and sets the path for what they can expect out of the content piece.
Here is the outline I created for one of the articles I wrote.
And here’s the final outcome after it was written and published- https://medium.com/@planeteuphoria/why-leaders-should-write-74eb06733f3
Chapter 14 – Don’t Rush
In this chapter, we’ll discuss how to edit your written content. But wait, the last chapter was about creating outlines, and this chapter is about editing, where do we talk about writing?
Actually, I won’t. It’s your thing – I’m not going to teach you that. I trust you with it.
Now coming to editing, first thing you need to understand that you can’t rush editing:-
- Take a break: After you’ve finished writing your content, step away from it for a while. Taking a break will help you come back to the content with fresh eyes, which can make it easier to spot errors and identify areas that need improvement.
- Read it out loud: When editing your content, read it out loud. This can help you identify awkward phrasing, run-on sentences, and other issues that might not be immediately apparent when reading silently.
- Cut the fluff: Look for any unnecessary words, sentences, or paragraphs that don’t add value to the content. Eliminating fluff can make your content more concise and engaging.
- Ensure accuracy: Check all facts, figures, and sources to ensure that your content is accurate and trustworthy. This is especially important for content that makes claims or provides advice.
- Check for consistency: Ensure that your content is consistent in tone, style, and formatting. This can help maintain a cohesive brand voice and enhance the readability of your content.
- Focus on one thing at a time: When editing, focus on one element at a time, such as grammar, spelling, or structure. This can make the editing process more manageable and effective. Writers often try to fix everything in one reading, and things go wrong.
Finally, remember this while editing – Don’t rush.
Chapter 15 – When it ends!
Okay, writing is a creative work, and you may not always have the inspiration to write. But that can never be an excuse to delay timelines.
And that’s why having a process in place is necessary when you’re not investing your creative energy in anything other than writing.
I’ve played a lot of cricket, and there’s an unsaid but well-known rule is that don’t trouble the bowler when he’s on his bowling mark. Get him the ball right at his spot, where he doesn’t have to move an inch. The logic behind this is simple – the bowler needs to invest all his physical and mental energy into bowling the best ball he can.
The same goes for you – save your energy for the most crucial things and have a process for other repetitive things.
This chapter is not about how you should manage deadlines, but ‘why’ it is important:-
- Content marketers often have a content calendar planned out, that involves getting artwork done for all the pieces, and a distribution strategy. Remember, you’re just a part of a bigger plan – a lot happens after you deliver. If you don’t deliver on time, the entire plan gets hampered.
- If you need more time, let them know beforehand or even while working, but don’t ever leave them hanging. That helps content marketers and managers make changes to their plans in time.
- Keep time for iterations. Don’t assume that your first draft will be accepted on your first attempt.
If you’re on time, you get more respect from the people you work with.
Remember, you don’t have to be quick – you need to adhere to the timelines you ‘committed’.
And always commit timelines that you can adhere to. – It’s as simple as that.
Chapter 16 – Lies
Plagiarism is bad.
When search engines detect duplicate content, they may penalize or even de-index the affected pages, which can significantly harm a website’s SEO performance.
When multiple pages contain identical or substantially similar content, search engines can have difficulty determining which one to display in their results.
It doesn’t go well when your post on any social media platform is stolen from someone else.
Plagiarism is a technical and ethical issue. With artificial intelligence, it is really difficult to pass off plagiarized content.
Also, don’t underestimate your audience. I don’t think they’d appreciate duplicate content either. It’s impossible for all of them to detect duplicity, but would you consider losing even one person because of it?
Chapter 17 – Second chance
Taking feedback and working on it is one of the most crucial aspects of being a professional content writer. However, you may not always get detailed and action-oriented feedback. Reasons could be multiple – the client may not be skilled enough or they may not have enough time.
But it’s your job to understand what’s going wrong before getting started with rework.
Here are some questions you should be asking your client in one way or the other:-
- Does the introduction grab the reader’s attention? Is it engaging and relevant to the topic?
- Is the main point or argument clear and well-supported? Does the content provide enough evidence or examples to support the main point?
- Is the content structured logically? Does it flow smoothly from one point to the next?
- Is the tone consistent throughout the content piece? Is it appropriate for the intended audience?
- Is the language clear and concise? Are there any overly complicated words or sentences that could be simplified?
- Are there any errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation? Are there any typos or inconsistencies?
- Is the conclusion effective? Does it summarize the main points and leave a lasting impression on the reader?
- Is the formatting consistent throughout the content piece? Are headings, subheadings, and bullet points used effectively to break up the text?
- Is the CTA correct? Is it appealing and leading the reader in the intended direction?
Chapter 18 – Instrument
It’s the age of automation. Remember, AI won’t replace you, but someone using AI will.
Here are some AI-based automation tools you can use as a content writer to improve the quality of your writing.
✔️ : Tools such as ContentBot, Articoolo, and Ideaflip can help content writers generate ideas for their articles or blog posts based on relevant keywords or topics.
✔️ : Clearscope provides great outlines, keywords, and phrases to use in a blog based on the top-10 ranking results in Google for a particular query. Jarvis is another tool that can be used for this.
✔️ : Grammarly, Quillbot, and ProWritingAid can help content writers catch grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors and provide suggestions for improving sentence structure, tone, and style.
✔️ : Use Yoast SEO and SEMrush to optimize content for search engines by providing insights on relevant keywords, readability, and content structure.
✔️ : AI-based chatbots such as ChatGPT can be used to create customized write ups for your readers and users. You can check out CopyAI for this.
✔️ : Use MidjourneyAI to generate images to add to the user experience. You can use free alternatives, such as Leonardo AI. Also, don’t ignore the free stock images available on different websites.
Chapter 19 – Fraternity
You’re in competition with other content writers in one way or another, but you’re also part of a community. Remember, when a community rises, so does everyone within it.
Talk to other writers. Learn from them. Engage with the posts of other writers.
Share tips based on what you learn. Anything you learn may seem small to you, but it could help others.
You can pass on work that comes to you, if you’re not the right fit for it. Perhaps because you’ve got too much work already, or because it is not your domain.
Being in a community is going to help you in multiple ways. Here are few more reasons you should be a part of this professional network of writers:-
- Professional networking: Engaging with other content writers can help you build a professional network of like-minded individuals who can offer advice, feedback, and potential job opportunities.
- Exposure to different writing styles: Interacting with other content writers can expose you to different writing styles and techniques, which can help you improve your own writing skills and develop a unique voice.
- Stay up-to-date with industry trends: By engaging with other content writers, you can stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends, best practices, and emerging technologies in content writing.
- Collaboration opportunities: Collaborating with other content writers can lead to new ideas and perspectives, as well as opportunities to work on larger projects that require multiple writers.
- Possible fraud detection: Writers get cheated – it’s sad, but it happens. If you’ve got a strong professional network, you can verify the clients with whom you’re working and get warned about fraudulent ones.
- Manage your finances and taxes: Managing finances while freelancing is difficult. Get financial advice from experienced freelance writers who’ve been there, and done that.
Chapter 20 – Integrity
This chapter is more about the person and professional in you and not much about skills.
First of all, respect yourself. Respect your work.
What you’re doing is one of the foundation stones for many businesses out there.
It’s safe to say that today, hardly any business can survive without content. And you help create that content. You must be proud.
One good thing about people who respect themselves and their work is that they’re honest. Be as honest as you can be with your work, and your clients. Give your 100%. Don’t deliver subpar work. If you think the compensation is not worth the effort, find good work. But don’t go for mediocrity. Because you never know when mediocrity becomes a habit. And once that happens, you start hating the thing you love most.
Chapter 21 – ‘Til we meet again
Finally, I’m going to sum everything up, and give you a working checklist:-
- Find your niche. Work on it. Create good samples. Be an expert.
- Be curious, ask questions. Get more information to get started.
- Research well, and create great outlines.
- Create a repository of your research work, so that you don’t have to research afresh every single time. That’s how your ideation to writing time reduces, you easily connect dots, and you become an expert in the domain.
- Edit properly. Get feedback.
- Be open to feedback, and develop the skills to rework. Not every writer has this skill.
- Don’t plagiarize.
- Be honest about your work.
- Say “no” often. Don’t run behind everything.
- Respect yourself.
Since you’ve made it so far, would you consider taking this survey?- https://forms.gle/kyeQHZFr9rYVJo6D8
For more tips on content writing follow@ https://www.linkedin.com/in/pankaj-tripathi/
Pankaj Tripathi is a content marketer with over 6 years of experience. With experience in the industries of B2B SAAS, e-commerce, and the hospitality sector, Pankaj brings a wealth of knowledge to his writing. In his initial role, he supported over 100 writers in creating content for diverse fields such as finance, medicine, insurance, and media and publications.