What skills do you need to be a freelance writer

Owning your own freelance writing business requires a specific skill set centered around strong work habits and good communication skills. Before you jump in feet first, take some time to figure out if you have the following skills:

Strong writing skills

While you don’t need to be an expert on everything to succeed in this field, the most basic tool you must have is great writing ability. You can learn the other skills to succeed with selling your freelance work, but you must be extremely confident in all aspects of writing, including:

  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • General tone and style
  • Ability to write crisp and clean copy
  • Ability to conduct research and develop it into new material

Unfortunately, not everyone has the general writing ability or grammar knowledge to excel as a freelance writer. If your clients have to spend extensive time editing your work, they’ll end up frustrated and may fire you.

Ability to meet deadlines

You should have a firm handle on how much work you can realistically crank out in a given amount of time so you can meet your clients’ deadlines. If you continuously miss deadlines, you’ll run out of clients quickly, but meeting those deadlines and turning out quality work will go a long way toward securing and retaining work.

You’ll be in control of setting most deadlines, so choose wisely. Don’t try to impress a new client by saying you can turn around a 1,000-word blog post by tomorrow if you need at least two days to gather research and write. It’s better to give the client an honest assessment of when they can expect the work than to fall short on a deadline you set yourself.

Ability to fly solo

Being self-disciplined is hard for many people. If you’re used to being in an office where you’re interacting with your coworkers all day long and you really thrive on that human interaction, the transition to being a freelance writer can feel isolating. But if you know you work best alone, you could really crush it as a freelance writer because that’s what you’ll do 90 percent of the time.

Accept and learn from criticism

As a writer, you probably have a sense of creative pride over what you’ve produced. But allowing that pride to be hurt because a client needs some tweaks translates to you taking things too personally. When responding to feedback, try to remain neutral if the comments are fair. Within reason, you should be open to making changes because most clients expect it.

Be comfortable marketing your skills

Sending pitches, jumping on phone calls, and handling negotiations with people can be difficult if you’re not naturally an outgoing person. But it’s part of the process of marketing yourself. If you don’t think you can get over the anxiety of speaking to strangers, freelance writing might not be for you.

Some practice will help you feel more confident about marketing, but ultimately, it falls to you to do the work even if you feel anxious. It can be hard to put yourself out there and get no response or even hear somebody tell you no. But outstanding freelancers, the ones who grow their businesses, aren’t afraid to market themselves.

Be a self-starter

To land clients and complete work effectively, you need to be a self-starter. As a freelance writer, you’re 100 percent in charge. This has some benefits, such as setting your rates, determining your schedule, and calling the shots about who you work with. But it also has some downsides, because if you can’t stay accountable to yourself, your business and income will take a big hit.

Most people I know who do well as freelance writers are independent people. They prefer to work alone and be self-sufficient and solely responsible for deadlines and deliverables. If you know you work better on your own and trust yourself to do the marketing and client work it takes to be successful, freelancing is a great fit.

Handle rejection well

To be successful as a freelance writer, you have to cast a wide net, because rejection is a given. If you reach out to dozens of clients, not all of them will even answer you, much less go through the process of signing up to work with you. If you don’t have time in your schedule to market to 10 or more prospects per week at a bare minimum, you won’t be able to turn enough of a profit. Furthermore, your batting average won’t be that good, because you’re not contacting enough clients to convert some of them.

Stay on the cutting edge

Are you the type of person who loves learning new things and taking on challenges? Technology and marketing methods are changing all the time. Consider social media marketing: Every year, new social media platforms come online, grow or even fizzle out. Marketers in the online world, including content writers, have to stay on top of trends and research. If you’re not willing to put in the time to enhance your skills, you won’t be competitive and your business will dwindle.

Be a good juggler

Be prepared to keep many balls in the air as a freelancer. As a freelance writer, you’re not just a creative. When you launch, you’re also CFO, CEO and VP of Marketing. In any given day, you’ll be:

  • Marketing
  • Working for clients
  • Answering questions
  • Doing research
  • Completing administrative work like submitting invoices

It can sometimes feel chaotic jumping from one project to another or hanging up a client phone call and going right into writing mode. As you go along, you’ll pick up tricks for running your business more effectively, but rest assured that if you’re growing in the right way, you’ll always be in uncharted territory to some extent.


Freelancer FAQ