The Blog of John Hewitt

The Skills You Need to be a Freelance Writer

Writing skills aren’t all you need

If you’re just realizing that your excellent writing skills could be put to good use on the Internet, and earn you some attractive cash, welcome! You’re about to have the time of your life as you explore being a freelance writer.

But hold on – writing skills aren’t all you need. In fact, a lack of secondary skills is what sets many freelance writers on the road to failure instead of success.

Before you launch yourself into writing your way into a fulfilling, satisfying career, take a good look at what else you’ll need for a successful venture:

Customer service skills

Interestingly enough, writers are horrible at customer service.

Wrapped in their comforting words, they can pen beautiful content that converts and resonates – but they often come off as arrogant, overly laid back or just plain blunt in communication with clients.

Convey a positive, professional attitude at all times – and especially in email communication. Emails are no place to let your guard down and show your worst. In fact, emails are the single-most important area in which you should excel at writing.

It may mean the difference between landing a gig and being passed on.

Bookkeeping skills

If you can’t do the math, then you can’t run a business.

Freelance writers are self-employed workers. They must effectively manage their books, track their income, monitor expenses and examine their profit and loss statements. (And you thought there was no math involved in writing.)

Buy a book on accounting 101. Take a course at a community college. You can even learn basic bookkeeping online.

Otherwise, you may sit down one day and wonder why you’re not making ends meet, even when you’re making good money.

Marketing skills

The Internet is saturated with competition for writers.

The good news is, many of those competing writers aren’t very good ones. You may feel like there’s a writer around every corner, but when you take a good, close look, you’ll notice that many are just fly-by-night hacks. Sad, but true.

Learn how to tell people about your services and why you’re the best choice for them. It isn’t because you’re a crack writer, though that certainly helps. The extra qualities that make you stand out are what sells people these days.

It’s also a good idea to take a marketing course or learn more about it. Web writing often involves a healthy dose of marketing and having good knowledge helps you get an edge.

Organizational skills

If you can’t plan and your memory is shot, you’re going to have a tough time online.

The Internet world moves very quickly. You might find yourself needing a calendar to manage your schedule and a way to organize your daily workload. Freelancing isn’t a huge life of abandoned freedom – in fact, quite the contrary.

A freelance writer needs to be able to organize a day efficiently and work in all the possible interruptions that might occur. Writers need to plan, schedule and maintain a production routine – just like any business in operation.

Know realistically how much time you have available and how much you can manage before saying yes to each gig that comes your way.

Plan B

If you’re about to step into freelance writing, you need a Plan B.

Earning enough income to support yourself isn’t going to happen for a while. What’s your backup plan in the meantime while you gain clients and increase your income? Do you have three months of income set aside to support yourself?

What happens if you have a really bad month and no one needs you?

Have a Plan B at hand for the worst case scenario – always and forever, no matter how established you become. Maybe you can freelance and write essays for other students, for example. You never know what tomorrow might bring, and taking a leap of faith without a good parachute to catch your fall is a huge mistake.

Sound grim?

If you find yourself feeling discouraged about your idea of becoming a freelance writer, don’t be. Freelance writing is an exciting, fulfilling career and you’ll have a great time easing into your new job.

You also have a better idea of exactly what you’re getting into. You’re more informed, can research the additional areas involved in freelancing and learn the skills that you may need.

By taking the time to learn everything you can about freelance writing, you’re giving yourself a solid fighting chance at making it as a writer. You’ll be able to think on your game plan, prepare yourself and take secure steps to ensure your success.

Because success is what you want, isn’t it?

Usability: Think in terms of scenarios

When you design a user interface, it helps to think in terms of the scenarios instead of tasks. A task is simply a major or minor event that needs to be accomplished. It’s important, but it doesn’t define the goals and circumstances that guide the user. That’s why it is important to think in terms of scenarios.

A user scenario involves more than just task that is to be accomplished. Scenarios can be general or detailed but they answer such questions as:

  • What are the overall goals of the user?
  • How will the user define success?
  • What level of skill, experience and authority does the user have?
  • Where will the user be when they access the product?
  • What time constraints might the user be under?
  • What influence will stakeholders besides the user have over the final outcome?

These are just a few of the possible considerations that can go into a scenario. The goal is to think in terms of the user instead of in terms of the product and the tasks.

Usability: Surfing for User Comments

One of the benefits of the web is that somewhere in the Internet, someone is talking about you, or at least a competitor. This makes it easy to get feedback. You won’t be able to get active comments on your developing interface, but you can read comments about existing products and competitors. Some sites, such as Amazon.com, aggregate user reviews right there with the product listings. In other cases you may need to look at forums, blogs, tweets, or anything else you can get your search engine to find.

Users will not only be commenting on your product, they’ll be pointing out the shortcomings of your competitors as well. Look for the following:

  • Feedback that discusses problems with your product or past products.
  • Feedback about your competition, especially about their weaknesses.
  • Discussion of unmet needs.
  • Descriptions of how people use your product or its competitors.

Don’t waste time getting upset by mean comments about your product. Look for concrete complaints that you can do something about. Your goal is to increase usability and customer satisfaction.

Usability: People really don’t like surprises

People don’t like surprises. They especially don’t like to be surprised when they click on a link. A click surprise occurse whenever you click on a link and get something other than what you were expecting. In the e-commerce world this happens far too often.

  • You click on an item you want to buy but instead get routed to a page full of different merchandise.
  • You click on on “more information” and get routed to a sales pitch or a form.
  • You click on on the OK button to complete a transaction, only to be asked to give additional information.
  • You click on on a story title, only to be taken to a huge selection of sponsored stories, of which your original selection is only one choice.
  • You click on a video that claims to answer an interesting question, but soon derails into a sales pitch.

Click surprise isn’t just limited to e-commerce sites. Any time you give a customer, visitor or user something other than what they expected, that’s click surprise. If the user clicks on a headline that promises more information than it delivers, that’s click surprise. If the user clicks on a link (on site or off) and gets an error, that’s click surprise. Each time it happens, you run the risk of alienating the user.

The solution is simple. Deliver what the user expects. Always be honest. If you think you have to fool the user to get a sale, then you are probably selling the wrong thing.

Fiction

Here are a few articles I’ve written about fiction writing.

  1. Plotting by Elimination
  2. What to Do Once the Crisis is Settled
  3. Maintaining your Novel’s Pace-Time Continuum
  4. Explaining the unreliable narrator
  5. Formatting a short story for submission to a potential publisher
  6. Creating a believable world
  7. Developing an idea into a novel
  8. How to Write a 50,000 Word Novel in a Month
  9. Deciding on a Narrative Voice
  10. There is no right way to write a novel
  11. Six Quick Tips For Starting Your Story
  12. Six Quick Tips for Writing Descriptions
  13. Six quick ways to jump start a stalled novel
  14. Questions you should ask yourself when you are describing things for a story
  15. How Setting Influences Story
  16. How Good is Your Bad Guy?
  17. Building Better Novels Through Conflict
  18. 10 days of character building wrap up
  19. Character Bio Sheets
  20. Mapping out your novel’s characters
  21. Twelve questions that will help you create your character
  22. Basing characters on real people
  23. Building characters through adversity
  24. Exploring characters through their possessions
  25. Creating a character biography
  26. Building Characters by Brainstorming
  27. Using interviewing to create fictional characters
  28. Using a normal day to define your character
  29. Building a character from multiple perspectives
  30. Are Your Characters Well Spoken, or is it Just You?
  31. Creating a role-playing character biography