How to become a content writer

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Today’s economic landscape is in a state of flux, and while this may present challenges, it also offers opportunities for those who know where to look.

Many are finding both part- and full-time careers online, and those who enjoy crafting high quality pieces using the written word may be able to take full advantage of this emerging marketplace.

Why work online?

Let’s face it – there’s a lot of advantages to being able to work from your own home.

In many cases, you can set your own schedule and work location, and you won’t have to dress up, commute, or put up with workplace politics. Whether you’re at home or halfway around the world, if you can log in, you can submit content.

This being said, before choosing to work in the virtual world, it can be a smart move to ensure that there’s still ways for you to stay socially connected in the real world. This can include joining interest groups, making sure to take breaks and keeping up with friends and family. In other words – don’t allow yourself to become isolated.

Do some research first

Before picking up a new career, it makes sense to do some research first, to see if it’s a good fit.

Find out about the pros and cons, talk to others in the industry, and learn about what content writers can typically expect to earn. The more knowledge you have, the better prepared you will be.

What is a content writer, anyway?

Simply put, those who work in the field prepare written content for websites, printed materials, and other publications.

This may be anything from brief product descriptions to full length articles. Typical contracts often involve researching a particular topic and preparing written pieces that engage their target audience. There’s lots of both freelance and in house copy/content writer options, and they come with their own perks and drawbacks.

The art of freelancing

Many writers get their feet wet by freelancing, and some choose to stay in the pool while others move on to other platforms.

It offers the benefit of being able to choose the contracts you wish to work on and to be paid an agreed upon amount, but it’s not for everyone. Some don’t enjoy bidding on contacts or prefer an income that they can count on, and they feel that something more permanent is better for them.

Keeping it in-house

While permanent, in-house content writing may not have the flexibility of freelancing, but it does come with perks such as stability, helpful editor feedback, and other support.

Writers know ahead of time what they will be paid for the work they do, and may find it a lot easier to set up their own schedule. As with freelancing, some get started this way and transition later on, while others choose to stay.

To niche or not to niche

Next, you may want to consider whether or not you want to work in a niche field.

Simply put, a niche field is focused on a very specialized area, e.g.-growing orchids, caring for beta fish, or making maple syrup at home. This can be a great fit if you have a lot of knowledge or experience to share, and these writers may be able to command a higher rate of compensation for their work. Keep in mind that if you claim expert status, you will likely need to be able to back this up.

While niche writing may be quite lucrative, it’s not for everyone. Others prefer to cover a broad range of topics, which both keeps them interested and casts a wider net of potential readers.

Polish your craft

Now that you know what content writers do, it’s time to get started.

As with any craft, the more practice you get at writing, the better your content will be.

Pick a topic of your choice and begin your research. Write your piece, and once you’re done, have someone you trust review and edit it for you. The more you do so, the more you will improve.

You may find yourself facing that old catch-22 of needing experience to land a writing contract, but you can’t gain experience without a contract.

The good news is that you can still get in lots of practice. One idea is to do a good turn for your community by volunteering your services to not-for-profit groups. You can offer to rewrite their website, marketing material and other content for free, and they may really appreciate the opportunity to have this done.

You can also ask any friends or family who have a business if you can do the same for them. The more you put yourself out there, the more experience you start to gain.

Set up your space

An important step to complete before beginning to write is to set up a dedicated workspace.

Whether this is a room, desk or even just a corner on the couch or bed, it should be quiet and free from distractions. If you share your home with others, make sure they understand that when you’re working, it’s “do not disturb” time.

Become well-versed in SEO

As there’s a high chance you will be preparing content that will be placed online, it’s smart to become SEO (search engine optimization) savvy.

Search engines such as Google use their own proprietary algorithms to rank articles in search results. The more SEO-friendly a piece is, the higher it may score, and the greater the chance it will appear near the top of the search results. This can be vital, as searches may produce thousands, or even millions, of results.

Get clued up

You may have learned about the value of research during your high school or post-secondary days, and this also applies to content writing.

The better researched your works are, the more authority they will carry, and it can also be helpful in choosing keywords for a piece.

Outlines can make life easier

An effective article outline gives you a guide to follow while you work on an item. This will ensure your piece flows well and is easy to read.

While on the subject of readability, there’s other ways to make a piece more approachable.

Keep in mind that, in many cases, the reader may be using a mobile device. Avoid large paragraphs and “text walls”, instead keeping your sentences short and snappy. Maintain an appropriate tone throughout, and consider your target audience if you’re using any jargon.

Consider the competition

From time to time, many writers may take a sneak peek at what their competitors are doing to find out where gaps in their knowledge lie, and prepare pieces to fill them.

That being said, it can be helpful to view your competitors as colleagues, as you may be able to help and support one another. Some have even been able to set up their own content creation companies together, going on to employ other writers.

Find your voice

Writers, especially those who choose the freelancing route, often develop a style of writing that is unique to them.

Without realizing it, you may already have one, so keep in mind that you should always ensure your tone suits the topic and intent of the piece you’re working on. A “folksy” voice, for example, may not be a good fit for an article about luxury cars or a new nightclub.

Learn how to tweak your titles

One skill that may be invaluable is learning how to craft a title that hooks the reader and pair it with an opening paragraph that reels them in.
Aim to keep it simple and engaging, which will leave the reader wanting to find out more.

Prepare your portfolio

Once you feel you’re in position to start showcasing your talents to potential clients, employers or bidding on contracts, it’s time to build your portfolio.

There’s lots of companies that allow you to create a free website where you can post articles you’ve written, so that the public can see what you can do. You can also share the link with anyone who may be considering hiring you, and can also continue to update the content over time, adding new pieces and removing old ones that are out of date or no longer relevant.

The fun of freelancing

You’ve gotten in lots of practice, set up your workspace, done your research and taken onboard all the feedback and input you’ve received, so it’s now time to land your first job.

Many get started on sites such as Upwork, iWriter, Truelancer, or other gig work sites.

Before you bid, carefully read through the proposal and find out what’s expected of both you and the client. Make sure you understand the terms, and if you are satisfied, make your bid. The more satisfied customers you have, the more this will be reflected in your reviews and profile, and in many cases, you can begin to command higher rates.

Give content creation sites a try

If you’re hoping for work that is more stable, a content site may be a better fit than freelancing.

You’ll still need to put in lots of research before you submit an application, so check for online reviews and other details posted by their current writing team.

The power of social media

Social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook may be valuable tools for a content writer.

These allow you to post samples of your work in a way that doesn’t come across as “salesy”. Make sure your posts are well written and edited, as you never know when your next client or employer may be reading.

What about taking a course to improve?

There’s both benefits and drawbacks to doing this.

There’s lots of good, free or low-cost learning opportunities online, and conversely, there are others that are high-priced, but offer little value. Some are even outright scams.

This is a time to put in some research practice, especially if you are being asked to pay.

The taxman cometh

Keep in mind that as a freelancer or online employee, you may be considered self-employed, at least as far as the Canada Revenue Agency is concerned, so make sure to file the appropriate forms.

You will also be expected to take care of your own unemployment insurance and pension plan, as well as any extended health insurance and RRSP plans you wish to carry.

What to watch out for

As with most careers, there’s certain pitfalls that may go along with content writing.

At first, you may find yourself limited in the contracts you can bid on, and these tend to be short, low paying or not very interesting. You have to “pay your dues” so to speak, but if the site is worth its salt, it won’t be long before you build your reputation, and you can start to earn more.

Other sites aren’t quite so honest. They make it much harder to move up, and some of the content you may be asked to prepare may not be all that ethical.

This is why it’s smart to do some checking first. Look at what work is being offered, and if you spot contracts looking for things like writing term papers or fake reviews, it’s wise to move on. Trust your gut – if it feels off, it probably is.

This is another reason why building a support network of content writers can be really helpful. You can share best practices as well as what to avoid, and it can feel really good sometimes to “debrief”, so to speak, with others who understand and can commiserate and sympathize.

Are you hooked yet?

Now that you know a little bit more about content writing and how to get your feet wet, it may be time for you to get stared with writing from home.

If you’re a talented writer who wants to put your skills to work, why not apply to join the team at Words of Worth? We’d love to hear from you today.

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