If you want to start a business as a freelance writer, one of the easiest ways to get started is to create your own blog. Blogs are free on many platforms and relatively easy to set up. They give you an opportunity to show off your writing skills and create a personal brand.
When You Start a Writing Business With a Blog…
There are some things to keep in mind if you want to use your blog as a launching pad for your business. Small Business Trends Publisher Anita Campbell and Editor Shawn Hessinger have both used blogs to launch businesses. They have also been in the position of hiring dozens of freelance writers. Here they share some of what they feel is most important for freelancers to know.
1. Create a Portfolio With Specific Examples
Tailor your blog content to the types of jobs you’d like to get. If you want to get jobs writing about marketing, write about marketing on your blog. If you want to get jobs writing about technology, write reviews of the latest gadgets and observations about the latest tech news. Don’t write about recipes or the marathon you ran last weekend.
Your blog should serve as a portfolio for potential clients when you start a writing business. Stay on-topic. If you want to keep a personal diary or write about your cats, fine — just keep those things on a separate blog.
Hessinger explains that this most basic point of advice often gets overlooked by writers:
“When I go to a blog, I should be able to get a very good idea of the type of writing I will end up with if I take the writer on as a freelancer. Many people trying to start a writing business will tell an editor or site owner they can write nearly anything. But their blogs just don’t demonstrate that versatility. For example, not every writer can write a how-to instructional article — and if that’s what the editor is looking for, then he or she wants to see specific examples. Have at least one example of each type of article you want to be hired to write: news announcement, feature article, fashion review, tips post, Q&A interview, product review, how-to advice, ‘best of’ list or whatever. It will save both writer and editor a lot of heartache and frustration down the road.”
2. Develop Expertise in a Particular Industry or Subject
Today it’s becoming more and more important for a writer to be an authority on a subject, industry or niche. Your blog should reflect some level of expertise. So choose something you know quite a bit about, or at least research enough about it to develop and display expertise. Hessinger says:
“In the newspaper business, they used to tell us, when you come back from researching a story, you should be a veritable expert on the subject. That’s good advice for writers trying to use their blogs to start a freelance business too. If you write well researched posts on your topic for long enough, you become an expert in your field. It’s almost like taking a course of study at a university. And best of all, your well researched articles will be something editors and website owners can look at to decide whether you are the right choice as a contributor on that particular subject.”
There’s another reason being an authority and having expertise matters so much to potential clients. Google is now basing its quality ratings for sites around expertise, in part. Jennifer Slegg, writing about the newly revised Google Quality Ratings Guidelines for websites, notes:
” … Google is stressing that sites that lack expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness should be awarded the Low rating when a page or site is being assigned a rating by one of their quality raters.”
According to Hessinger, editors are going to be paying closer attention to a writer’s areas of demonstrated expertise in the future. “Google’s emphasis means editors will be looking not only at how well you put words together, but what you’ve written about. The concept of one-size-fits-all writers doesn’t work,” he adds.
3. Craft a Bio That Makes You Sound Credible
Your bio is one of the most important parts of your blog. A good bio should list your experience and make you sound credible in your industry or the niches you cover. State any relevant jobs or education, or even list how long you’ve been blogging if you are light on other writing experience.
But in addition to your experience, potential employers also want to know that you’re genuinely interested in the topics about which you write. This tells them that you’re passionate about your industry and thus more likely to stick with a job writing about it. Include experience related to your industry. It can’t hurt to list relevant interests and hobbies, too.
4. Leverage LinkedIn The Right Way
LinkedIn is ideal for displaying your expertise to potential clients. To get the most out of it, take some time to fill out your profile — thoroughly. At a minimum fill out these three fields: summary, experience and expertise. Use words about writing and the topics you cover. The more specific you are, the more chances for your profile to come up in more searches within LinkedIn. For more on this topic see: Tips for completing your LinkedIn profile.
When you ask for a recommendation, ask the person to give it on LinkedIn. Then copy the recommendation from LinkedIn and also place it on a “Testimonials” page on your website or blog. That way, your testimonials get double exposure. Potentially two different audiences will see the testimonials: those visiting your website, and those searching through LinkedIn.
5. Post Regularly – Speed and Quantity Matter
The bane of editors is writers who procrastinate or who are chronically late on assignments. When publishers are looking for writers, they don’t just want someone who can write well, they also want someone who can write quickly. Don’t sacrifice quality, but remember that speed and quantity also matter.
If a publisher visits your blog and sees that the last post was six months ago, he or she may not trust that you can keep up with a professional workload. You don’t have to post every day, but don’t let your blog go silent for long stretches, either.
6. Don’t Complain
Don’t post a lot of negative things on your blog. Complaining about something or some person, even vaguely, can turn people off when you start a writing business.
If you post about how annoyed you were that some PR person dared to reach out to you, or you blast some former employer, editors might think you’ll create the same type of post about them someday. They’ll be less likely to contact you. You’ll lose potential clients before you get them — and you will never even know why.
7. Publish Articles on Other Social Platforms
Another feature LinkedIn offers that is useful for writers is its new long-form publishing. You can cross-publish entire blog posts to LinkedIn or even use it as your primary publishing platform.
LinkedIn isn’t the only social platform to offer long-form publishing. Google+ and Facebook Notes also allow for publishing longer content.
8. Respond to Comments and Engage!
Today, writing isn’t enough. Editors and publishers want writers who engage with readers. Even publishers like USA Today are requiring reporters to engage online through initiatives such as Social Media Tuesdays.
Respond to comments. Potential clients want to see that you’re comfortable with engagement, since it’s such an important part of online publishing today.
Share your blog posts on social media. Do you share your posts on sites like Twitter (along with other content so it’s not just about you all the time)? Do you share content of other writers in your niche, to places like Facebook or Google+? Also, look around for specialized sites like BizSugar, Reddit, Growth Hackers and On Startups to expose your content to a wider audience.
Engaging with others shows that you’re dedicated to your work and passionate about your niche.
9. Develop a Social Media Following
While you’re sharing your posts on social media, and engaging, work at building up a following. You don’t need to have a huge following, but take the time to start conversations with people and network.
Focus on key platforms. This varies by topic or industry, but the platforms that online publishers care about most are: Twitter; Facebook (especially for consumer-oriented topics); Google+; Pinterest and Instagram (especially good for food, fashion, retail and other visual industries); LinkedIn (mainly for B2B topics); and YouTube (for video-related content).
Publishers and website owners want to see that you bring with you followers who share your passion. A following increases your value. It means a larger audience for anyone who hires you. Just as importantly for you, the larger your following, the more chance you will attract other freelance writing jobs in your niche.
10. Be Professional About Your Use of Visuals
You may wonder why visuals are so important when you are trying to get a job as a freelance writer. It’s for the same reason you dress professionally and spend time on personal grooming before a job interview. You want to make a good first impression.
Here’s another reason. Some blog templates may undermine the impression you are trying to create. For example, any template with white font against a black background is not good for displaying written articles. A black background may be stunning if you’re a photographer showing off your image skills, but not when you’re a writer trying to impress with words. Likewise, a template of red gingham, flowers and birds may be fun. But will it add credibility if your goal is to be perceived as a serious tech writer?
Commission a clean and professional design, or choose a pleasing template. Treat your blog as a storefront for your personal brand when you start a writing business.
11. Include a “Hire Me” Link
Most people won’t pursue you for work if they don’t know you’re available or receptive to new assignments. So include a link or blurb somewhere on your blog that makes it clear you’re open for business. This sounds so obvious that it may seem like it doesn’t need to be said. But some blog writers simply don’t make it clear enough that their services are available.
Be sure to specify the kind of writing work you’re looking for, too, as you start a writing business. Feature articles, how-to blog posts, press releases, video posts, ebooks, website page copywriting — all are different.
12. Make Yourself Easy to Contact
If you are serious in your goal to start a writing business, you need to make it easy for people to reach you. Include your email address on your blog (not just a contact form), or even your phone number or Skype name. Potential employers don’t want to contact you through social media. Campbell says she is surprised by how hard it is to contact some writers, and adds:
“I can understand why people don’t want to have to wade through a lot of emails. It takes time, and that is precious for most of us. But when it comes to growing your business that is short-sighted. Our inbox here at Small Business Tends is our best sales lead generator. Naturally not all emails will turn into closed leads, but enough will to make it worthwhile.”
13. Consider Publishing Your Prices
If you want to get even more specific, consider publishing your rates on your blog. This is a hotly debated topic, but there are good reasons to do so. If a potential client doesn’t know you are completely out of his or her price range, you’ll both waste time figuring that out.
Consider publishing rates according to the type of article or writing that you do, expressed in a range (“$25 to $65 for XYZ type of article”). “Most online publications today do not pay by the word,” says Campbell. “They pay a flat rate per type of article. They may pay a higher rate for in-depth articles, versus shorter articles. But it will still be a flat rate,” she adds.
To distinguish yourself and command higher prices, focus on the quality of your work. Don’t just say it’s high quality. Specify that you do things like the following:
- thoroughly research assigned topics,
- include citations to external sources,
- double check all links, numbers and names,
- deliver copy that has been proofread for grammar and spelling, and
- respond to comments once published.
“Publishers are more likely to pay higher rates for writers who engage online and who deliver quality work that requires less editing time,” Campbell adds.
Since you’re using your blog as a portfolio for potential clients, you need to show that you care about it. Proofread all of your posts before publishing them. Make sure they are free of spelling and grammatical errors. Properly format them to avoid such things as missing paragraph breaks or bullet lists that somehow got out of alignment. Put your best possible content out there for people to see. That means it needs to be free of little mistakes.
Properly managed, a blog can be a good launch platform when you start a writing business. Just remember that your blog is an important part of your brand, and use it accordingly.
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