Freelance writing can feel like this elusive dream for many writers.
After all, you may have some writing chops, but that’s not all there is to building a successful freelance writing empire.
As a freelance writer, your core business skills must include strong work ethic and excellent writing skills. You also need to be great at juggling multiple projects and clients, marketing, and learning new skills to grow your business. If you’re considering going into freelance writing, it’s a great time to learn how to build and run a business.
But not everyone succeeds.
Because the competition can be fierce, it’s important to have an idea of the skills it takes to run and scale your freelancing business. Hint: It takes more than having aced all your English classes in high school.
Here’s a look at the skills every successful freelance writer needs:
1. A Don’t Quit Mindset
This is number one on the list for a reason. Freelance writers who plan to make a good living don’t get to quit easily. You’ll get rejected and your work will be criticized, sure. But it’s a part of the growing process you have to tackle in order to succeed in this industry.
Writing is a creative process. But you also have clients to satisfy, too.
Not every client will think your work is perfect. You will get crickets for your job applications and your pitches.
But if your response is “so what?” and you move on to the next gold mine of client work, you’ve got one of the best skills a freelancer could ask for in this line of work.
2. A Set of Strong Writing Skills
This may seem like a given. But what does it mean to be a fantastic writer? It’s more than just putting words on a page. It includes some technical skill, creativity, and a willingness to learn.
Most freelance writers need to be have:
- An understanding of punctuation
- An excellent command of grammar
- The ability to write clean copy
- Strong research skills
Bring these skills to the table, and you’ll find yourself with plenty of happy customers. Even if grammar and punctuation isn’t your strong suit, there are plenty of tools out there to help you tighten your content up.
3. Zero Fear of Marketing
Clients don’t come knocking on your door, unfortunately. That would be really nice, but it’s not reality. The best of freelancers learn to market regularly — even when fully booked.
Marketing for freelancers may include:
- Cold pitching
- Making LinkedIn connections
- Blogging on your own site
- Applying to job board daily
- Creating customized content to attract your ideal client
In order to thrive in the current freelance climate, you have to be willing to get a bit uncomfortable. That may mean sending multiple cold pitches (and getting rejected). Or it may mean hopping on calls with CEOs of multi-million dollar companies. You get past it once you do it more. So keep doing it! The strongest freelancers — and the ones who survive — are the ones who market continuously.
4. The Ability to Juggle Well
As a freelancer, you also get to do other business activities that aren’t necessarily writing related. Only part of your writing work is actual writing.
Much of a successful writing business comes in the other tasks:
- Administrative work
- Chatting with clients
- Setting up automation processes
It can feel a little overwhelming at first, but you eventually find the systems, tools, and programs that work best for you. You can also connect with support groups to find out what other successful freelancers are doing to keep their day-to-day operations running smoothly.
5. Be a Deadline Slayer
As a freelancer, you will live and breathe deadlines. Staying organized is key to managing multiple client deadlines. Whether it’s a paper planner, a digital planner, sticky notes, or an app, find whatever works for you. Setting up a personal deadline before the actual client deadline can help you stay ahead
6. Understand Criticism Will Happen
At some point in life, we all deal with rejection. As a writer, you’ll probably get criticized more than the average person. This may come in the form of an outright rejection — like a magazine story pitch — or as a series of edits or revisions to your work.
A few techniques for dealing with criticism:
- Wait to respond – If you’ve received unwelcome edits via a doc or email, wait until you’ve had a chance to think about working on the piece or responding to your client.
- Be neutral – When you do respond, try to remain neutral and not too worked up over the changes requested or made. Assume that it was an oversight or there was a miscommunication on your behalf.
- Get solid feedback – Sometimes clients aren’t great at conveying why they want something changed. A response of, “I just don’t like this” is not helpful at all. Don’t let them get away with that, either. Ask for examples of the way they would prefer it written.
- Leave room for learning curves – If it’s a new client, chances are good you may need time to learn their preferences and editing style. After working together for a bit, recommend setting up a style guide to keep track of preferred styles.
As they say in the writing world, you have to learn to kill your darlings. Sometimes it’s for the betterment of your writing. Often it’s just to please the client and their quirky editing process.
7. A Willingness to Learn
Perhaps one of the most critical skills a freelancer can have is a love of learning. You will need to stay on your toes in the ever-changing business industry — hello, COVID-19 pandemic.
Develop an acceptance that you always need to improve upon your skills and that it’s an ongoing process. Try and make it fun and enjoyable. Consider taking a course with another freelancer, enrolling in a free course to explore new skill set options, and learning a new skill at least once a quarter.
A willingness to learn means there will always be work for you as a writer. You may need to shift industries or writing services at some point in your career. Taking it as a learning challenge makes it more exciting.
8. Successful Freelance Writers Seize Opportunities
It sounds lame, but it’s true: The best freelance writers don’t sit around and wait for work to come to them.
You create your own writing success by pitching, meeting your deadlines, and yearning for learning. Freelance writing isn’t for the faint of heart. You must be persistent, curious, determined, and hard working to make it to the six-figure freelancer range.
One of the most important aspects to remember is that it’s not an easy field to break into. Some people take years to build success. Others have a knack for writing and business and seemingly skyrocket to the top of the industry in months.
But behind all that success is a lot of hard work, swearing at the computer, and working past mindset blocks.
With a little patience and a lot of persistence, you can find your ideal freelance writing opportunities day in and day out.
What are some of the traits you’ve noticed top-notch freelancers have? Share in the comments below!