When I first started my career as a freelance writer, the first thing that became obvious was the wealth of opportunities available. I remember reading an article on Econsultancy which detailed the rise of the independent contractor, and was surprised to note that from the top 10 skills supplied by UK freelancers during 2013 a total of seven required content creation or management.
While I may have initially underestimated the level of demand for freelance writers, however, I also failed to recognise the challenges facing this demographic during my first two years working independently.
In fact, there are a number of mistakes that can undermine a freelance writers’ career, many of which are made one you begin to achieve success and build your network of potential clients. As you receive a greater demand for your services and take on higher volumes of work, you can quickly find that the quality of your content suffers and clients may become dissatisfied with your output.
How to maintain quality as a freelance writer in 5 simple steps
My own issues were exacerbated by the fact that I initially worked as a freelancer while also having a full-time job, meaning that I had a small window to complete my work. So as the volume increased the quality declined, until I realised that my long-term success depending on my ability to reverse trend.
Fortunately, you can learn from my mistakes and take steps to maintain the quality of your content even as your freelance workload builds: –
1. Think like an entrepreneur
Before you attempt anything else, it is important to change your mindset as a freelancer. Anyone who controls their own financial destiny should be considered as an entrepreneur, whether they employ a team of staff or operate as a sole trader. Such individuals can only succeed if they adopt a strategic approach to managing their efforts, focusing on efficiency and quality as a way of driving long-term gains.
This is the first thing that I changed when reinventing my freelance career, as I approached my work as a solo entrepreneur with a desire to achieve consistent and long-term success.
One of the key elements of this was thinking in terms of profit rather than income, as I began to estimate the cost of all work-related tasks and how these impacted on returns and quality. High quality content requires research, for example, which in term takes time and must be factored in your workload. I subsequently began to charge by the hour rather than word count, as this provided greater reward for my output and enabled me to set a more realistic schedule.
I also began to think of my freelance career and name as a brand, which would rely on the cultivation of quality content if it was to benefit from a consistent supply of clients. This helped to reinforce the importance of maintaining quality even during busy period and discouraged my from taking short-cuts!
2. Outsource non-strategic elements of your freelance career
On a similar note, it is also important to outsource non-strategic elements of your freelance career. This is the ultimate example of thinking like an entrepreneur, while it enables you to focus on strategic and specialist components such as content creation, networking and career growth.
There are a number of non-strategic elements that can consume your time as a freelance writer, with payments and invoicing one of the most prominent. This is not only a task that requires a certifiable skill, but it is also time consuming and can distract you from the everyday demands of content creation. It is also easy to become preoccupied with chasing invoices when you are the formative stages of your career and struggling to scale your earnings, and this can become a habit over time.
Success and regular work should drive you to scale your career, however, as you look to outsource work and use a percentage of your profits to invest in skilled service providers. Even if you only issue tax statements within a single country, it is important that you hire an accountant to accurately estimate your liability and make prompt repayments. This will save you time and help you to focus on the art of content creation, while it will also help you to comply with national (and international tax laws).
You can also make your life easier (and that of your accountants’) by creating an invoice template and setting fixed repayment terms for clients. Whether you create a remittance period of 30, 60 or 90 days, this allows you to schedule payments and optimise your cash flow as a freelancer.
3. Never forget the basic principles of writing
This may sound obvious, but trust me this is a necessary piece of advice.
Even if you choose to outsource certain, non-strategic elements of your freelance career, it can be difficult to focus on the single-minded task of content creation. While the bigger picture is always important, you must set time aside to focus solely on your writing and ensure that every piece of content is optimised in terms of quality.
Above all else, you must pledge never to forget the fundamental aspects of writing and creating engaging copy. There is no excuse for creating content that is littered with grammatical and spelling errors, for example, while intricate details such as formatting and avoiding extended paragraphs should also be adhered to at all times. Your content must always be tailored in line with the clients’ demands, so proof-reading every piece of work is integral to your success.
Also, never forget to bear in mind your target audience. This is an often-overlooked basic of content writing, but it is crucial to determine the nature of your audience, the expectations and the goals of the client before generating ideas and copy.
4. Structure everything from individual pieces of content to your schedule
We have already touched on the importance of organising your time and formatting content, but the fact remains that these considerations should be part of your overall strategy as a freelance writer. I find that unless you have a structured and holistic approach to your work, it is almost impossible to succeed and satisfy the needs of multiple clients.
Structure is the key word here, particularly as you look to create a working schedule that is efficient and capable of helping you to get the most out of your day.
This is relatively easy when creating content, as you can develop a step-by-step process that is repeatable and helps you to develop progressive writing habits. This should cover the entire process of crafting content, from idea generation to the formatting and submission. There are a number of simple, modern and underrated apps that help you to streamline the content creation post too, with the iA Writer tool serving as a virtual word processor that enables you to work on the move.
In terms of your schedule, you will need to work a little harder and strive to structure every single moment of your time. This should be applied to both personal and professional projects, as otherwise the former can bleed into your working day and impact on your productivity. Creating such a detailed and rigid schedule can also help you to make time for beneficial activities such as keeping fit, as this has the potential to ease stress and negate the threat of burnout.
This was arguably the making of my career, particularly has it helped me to maintain perspective and avoid becoming too immersed in my work.
5. Focus on networking and building your personal brand
I earlier described networking as a strategic element of freelance writing, and this is something that I live by in my profession. Networking is the lifeblood of any personal brand, which in turn enables professionals to take on new clients, scale their careers and scale their wealth.
Unfortunately, I ignored the merits of networking early in my career and struggled to build a viable stream of both clients and income. Instead I relied heavily on referrals, which are extremely inconsistent and tend to be outside of our control.
It was only after a year that I decided to be proactive and take charge of my destiny, networking aggressively through LinkedIn and interacting regularly with agency representatives in my local region. This enabled to me to build a rapport with specialist employers and recruiters, creating a prominent presence that established my personal brand and secured numerous, recurring job opportunities.
Another key aspect of this was occasionally working for free, which something that I was diametrically opposed to during the formative months of my career. I quickly realised the offering ad-hoc pieces of insightful content helped employers to appreciate the quality of my work, while also expanding my network and potential audience.
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