7 Skills Every Content Writer Actually Needs
Think you have what it takes to be a freelance writer? I’m going to share 7 skills that content writers ACTUALLY need to succeed on the market today.
I’ve worked my way up the ladder in this industry. Hired writers, fired bad ones, trained good ones, hooked friends up with $1,000+/mo clients.
I know what clients are ACTUALLY paying good money for these days. Don’t listen to those articles out there that just say “learn SEO” or “Hone your writing”. They are totally useless and will probably PREVENT YOU FROM GETTING WORK.
WARNING: This article contains no “learn to edit”, “be a social media guru”, or “purchase a suite of SEO tools” bullshit tips. This stuff actually WORKS. People come to me all the time asking me if I know any good writers for hire.
I know what clients consider quality content and what they’re willing to pay for.
7 Writer Skills and Qualities (Oh, and #7 is probably the most important)
1. You Have to Sound Natural
If you can’t write natural-sounding content, you won’t make it. Period.
The first thing I look for when vetting new writers is their tone. If they sound like a robot, or worse, sound like they’re trying too hard to impress the reader, I INSTANTLY glance over them.
Put yourself in the reader’s shoes…
If you have 1,937,451 Google results, would you waste your time reading drab, personalityless articles?
Scope the difference between these two sentences:
BAD: The sheer choice of student study apps available today makes studying both practical and appealing.
Content has to sound natural to work.
Would you ever say something like this to a friend, relative, prospect, or customer?
Tell em’, Randy.
Instead, think about how you might say it naturally to someone you were discussing study apps with.
Good: There are so many study apps now, aren’t there? I can’t believe they actually make studying fun!
Feel the difference?
PRO CONTENT WRITING TIP: Try to write content like you are speaking WITH someone and not writing TO them.
If it’s a casual company, write as if you’re speaking to a friend. If it’s a more professional client (EX: a law firm), write as if you’re speaking to a potential client – “Your personal injury case could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t worry, we’ll fight for every penny” > “Personal injury cases often settle North of six figures. As the premier law firm in New York, we’ll exhaust every means to pursue the maximum settlement.
Once you’re a content writer, you can work, travel, or live anywhere you want. You can even go to Korea and wear funny old-fashioned clothes like me.
2.You Have to Understand Structure/Formatting
Formatting is almost as important as the content itself.
The best content writers know how to structure their articles EXACTLY the right way to improve readability and rankings.
There are ways to keep readers hooked, Google happy, and clients coming back over and over again.
Here’s a few tips:
BREAK IT UP! – Frequent and STRONG Headlines
Pretty much everyone knows that walls of text are terrible for content. But most writers don’t grasp the importance of frequent headlines with strong language.
I headline the hell out of all my articles (Can headline be used as a verb like this?).
A cool trick I learned is taking important sentences or segues and making them their own “paragraph”, then bolding them.
Like in this video…
Bullets and Numbers
These are the easiest way to make articles more scannabletastic.
Use Numbered Sections and Subsections for Long Articles
This is one of my specialties. For long, super dense articles, I always break things down into sections (marked by a Roman numeral) and then further down into subsections (1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc).
Clients love how professional it looks, and readers love how it makes the article more digestible. Here’s an example from a great digital marketing site with amazing content: Dreamgrow. They use this formatting well.
3. Next-Level Research Skills
I get bombarded with questions like this all the time:
“Hey, can you write a 3,000 word article on the benefits of Rhodiola?”
“Know anything about email marketing? I need a beast review article.”
“Do you like Hootie and the Blowfish? No reason, just wondering.”
That last one has NOTHING to do with this article, I’m just getting bored. I’m going to get Indian food…
OK, I’m back. Damn, that chicken tikka masala was DELICIOUS.
Where was I? Oh yeah, research skills.
Content writers need insane research and adaptability to succeed these days, especially when just getting started (Before you have a niche specialty). If you don’t, clients will find a writer that does.
Can you write a LEGIT article about Nootropic brain supplements on Monday and an in-depth guide on performing a home inspection the next day?
And what about SEO research? You absolutely MUST understand how to research the Google results page (SERP) to add info/keywords to your articles. I’m talking about analyzing the top results, questions, related searches, and all that jazz. Don’t worry if that’s overwhelming, you can 100% learn how to do it.
4. Adaptability for Different Industries
This might sound obvious but…
Writing for, say, Law firms, requires a different tone, register, vocabulary, and structure than writing for a fitness site.
Or does it?
“Do you want to finally get that settlement you’ve always wanted? It’s time to LAWSUIT. We’re gonna THROW THE BOOK AT EM’. Get you THOUSANDS. It’s time SHRED that liable party to pieces, and look GREAT!!”
OK, not working.
You need to understand both your client and their industry AND your target audience (More on that next):
- The industry: Which words are most common? How do competitors sound? Is this formal or casual/business or pleasure?
- The audience: Who are they? What are they looking for? What do they expect from the business?
- Your client: Are they chill or uptight? Are they by the book or do you think they want to play the edges?
As the content writer, you need to know when it’s OK to crack jokes, have fun, and be personable and when you have to stay straightforward and professional.
Whenever I get a client in a new niche, the first things I do are:
- Read popular industry blogs and watch YouTube vids to get a feel for tone and vocab
- Read through their blog and see what they like
- Ask the client what kind of tone they’re after on a scale 1- 10, with 10 being fun and 1 being uptight douche bag
5. Knowledge of Different “Read Modes”
Some call this the sales cycle. Some might call it reader awareness.
I just call it “read mode”, and this is my blog so that’s what it’s gonna be.
This is one of the MOST COMMON issues I see with content, especially with introductions to articles.
Not everyone is as far along in the sales cycle as everyone else, and this puts them in a different “read mode”
Some people are merely aware that they have an issue and want to learn more
This includes topics like “how to lose weight”, “5 ways to start a content writing career”, or “the best cheap cities in Europe”.
Some people are further along and looking for the best solution or comparison of solutions
For example, someone wanting to lose weight might google “Keto vs Paleo: Which is better for weight loss?”
Some people aren’t even aware that they have an issue
Don Vito down at La Famiglia engulfing his 4th helping of sausage and spaghetti alla puttanesca probably has no idea he needs to drop a few. You won’t be able to sell him your Keto Cookbook without first educating him on the dangers of obesity (Or the price of a triple bypass).
If you want to write great content, you need to understand certain things about your audience:
- Who they are
- What they already know
- What they’re looking for
- And how far along in the sales cycle they are
Once you determine their “read mode”, you can better hone your voice, vocabulary, and information and really start writing awesome pieces of content.
This is content. This content is good. Content was founded in 1940-content. Do you like my content? Content my content in the content comments!
That’s how 90% of content (There it is again!) reads to me. Sure, some topics don’t allow your personality to shine, but you should try to work in jokes, wit, wordplay, memes, or other kinds of personality into your content whenever you have leeway.
Readers CRAVE a human touch. They want to
knowthink you care about and understand them.
Here’s what you have to do to create great, unique, engaging content.
Turn Declarative Headlines Into Questions
Jeopardy is my favorite TV show. And it taught me that phrasing statements as questions is kick ass.
It also happens to help with content.
Turning a declarative headline – “Engaging content improves SEO” – into a question – “So why is engaging content so good for SEO, anyway?” – proved to increase clicks and drive more traffic.
What is Freelanceaholics.com, Alex?
Share Personal Anecdotes
One time I was writing this awesome blog about skills content writers need to succeed, when it hit me. I need to tell people how important anecdotes are in writing!
Adding an anecdote humanizes you. If you’re a company, you can still say things like “we LOVE having this software around the office” or “This is only coffee we allow at our business” or something like that.
It’s your content. Do what you want.
Share Negatives or Failures
Talking about failures, negatives, or things you don’t like about a particular product increases trust and leads to hire sales.
Nothing in life is that awesome. We all know this. If you level with customers by sharing some of the drawbacks of a product or, if you’re talking about a certain subject, a personal failure or struggle, people will connect with you.
Sumo talks about using these emotions in your copy to increase sales. Taking responsibility or sharing failures works.
Jokes in parenthesis
My personal favorite.
Jokes or your inner monologue in parentheses are a great way to spice up your writing, just don’t overuse them.
Sounds cliche but business is business.
People are in business to MAKE MONEY not GIVE YOU MONEY.
Yes, it totally sucks when you write for pennies and clients badger you down, but trust me – if you’ve got the writing and negotiating skills, you will get GOOD MONEY.
If you can’t negotiate with clients, you will NEVER make it out of the low “tax bracket” if ya catch my drift..
Clients will do whatever it takes to get your price down – lie, cheat, threaten, bluff – you’ve got to stand your ground. Here’s what helped me not only keep my prices but actually raise rates and command hundreds of dollars for a blog post:
- Stay firm on your base rate
- Always overstate your price in the beginning. If your base rate is $50/1,000 words, say it’s $70 or $75. Then you can negotiate
- Explain to the client WHY you can’t go so low, even if you have to lie. “Oh, I’m too busy to take on work for that price”. “Sorry, man. It’s not worth my time”. “Jeez, that’s kinda low. I really want to help you. If you can do xyz price, I’ll make a deal”; “I’m working with a big SEO company in New York and handling most of their stuff. I can’t take on more work unless it’s worth my time”.
If you can’t handle the heat, you will burn up as a new content writer. Nothing personal, just business.
I normally hate stating blatantly obvious things, but since so many people ask me about them, I’ll include these 2:
- Self-Discipline: You’re your own boss now. If you aren’t disciplined, you will fail.
- Editing: I don’t just mean proofreading – that’s important too – I mean editing your own work. You need to step out of your mind and take an objective look at your writing. Reread what you wrote. Is it good? Did you do your best? What needs to be fleshed out and what needs to be deleted?
How many of these skills do you think you have? Do you check all the boxes? If so, you can be a high paid freelance content writer.
Don’t worry, even if you just have a few, the rest can be learned. Nothing teaches like experience. You just have to learn how to get clients, what they want, and how to close. Then it’s on to being a Freelanceaholic from there!
Freelance Writer Skills FAQ
Q: How do I become a successful content writer?
A: That’s easy, get my FREE Freelanceaholic Blueprint! Or do it the hard way by writing a lot, taking jobs for cheap to learn, starting your own personal brand, and networking with high paying clients.
Q: How do you list writing skills on a resume
A: Start by conveying the value of good writing. Say it’s necessary for driving traffic and making sales, then break it down from there: Analytical thinking, concise writing, personality, sales copy, etc.
Q: Is content writing easy?
A: IDK. Define easy…Writing a 500 word blog about cats is easy. Writing a 5,000 word ebook about conversion rate optimization is hard.
Bad content is easy. Good content is hard. Don’t believe me, look around the web and see how bad the average piece of content is.
Q: Is being a content writer a good job?
A: Work your own hours, live where you want, work anywhere you want, make really good money. You tell me.
Q: What is SEO in terms of content writing?
A: SEO is becoming less important for content writing but still matters. You have to know the right keywords, their intent, and where they belong in the article plus understand the importance of links.