4 Essential Skills All Freelance Writers Must Master

Have you ever looked at a freelance writer’s website or LinkedIn profile and wondered, “How did they know which skills to work on to succeed?” or “How did they figure out which skills helped with making money and growing their business?”

If you’ve ever grappled with these questions or thought about the types of skills freelance writers need to master to write better, have higher-quality clients and relationships, make more money, and achieve their goals, here’s a list of the top four skills and traits freelance writers need in order to succeed:

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1) Ask for Feedback and Accept Edits as Good-Natured Critiques

If you want to be a freelance writer who editors and clients love working with, ask for feedback on how to make your writing better. And when you get that avalanche of edits, instead of feeling bad about it, stockpile the advice, use it, and refer back to it in order to craft better content in the future.

“Editors don't mind paying a great per-word rate if every word is worth publishing,” says Kathy Kristof, editor of SideHusl.com, “Absolutely pay attention to edits and go through them carefully so you know what your editors are changing.” Make sure you take an editor's feedback to heart, understand why they’re asking for specific edits, and how these changes impact the final published piece. It will ultimately affect everything you write going forward.

Kristof also had a few more editing points not to miss:

  • Rid your copy of filler, vague adjectives, repetitions, and SEO “fluffery.”

  • Empathize with your editor in order to work well together.

  • Pick your battles and don’t argue over edits…unless the changes impact accuracy.

“Being precious with our words can get in the way of being a successful, high-earning freelancer, because we have to work so closely with editors who then have to answer to X number of people on X number of other teams while knowing all the requirements for the project,” explains Tessa Wegert, freelance writer and crime fiction writer. “It behooves writers to take criticism, then apply that feedback they receive.”

Don’t just absorb every piece of feedback, though, Wegert says. Make recommendations to your editor or client about how they could add more value to the piece. Showing you’re a “team player” will not only get what your editor needs out of the project, but show that you’re willing to work together to make the copy better.

For copywriter and marketing strategist Karen Miller, she’s found that boldly asking for feedback from her clients is best for new skills. Becoming a better copywriter and seeing strengths she missed, like her penchant for account management, came from asking for clients to give her feedback on her work.

“You have to solicit feedback to understand your own strengths, because we can't always see the value that we're bringing,” she explains. Especially after the last year or so, Miller says empathy is a critical skill to understanding your editor, building a relationship with them, and understanding why they need help with certain edits.

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2) Choose a Niche and Specialization

Still a much-debated topic in the freelance writing world, experts agree that in order to flesh out your business and build the right relationships with high-end clients so you can stand out, you need to make a big splash with specialization and niche expertise.

“You have to show that you have specialized knowledge in your field to be able to make yourself competitive,” says Kelly Navickas, founder and CEO of Carnation Capital. “It's better to position yourself as an expert, and know you're not only selling the ability that you can write, but selling your knowledge and ability to communicate effectively.”

Kristof, who started off reporting on banks, savings, and loans, agrees that writers should find a niche and mine it so they can become a true expert. She developed critical sources because of her niche expertise as well as learned the underpinnings of her dedicated industries. With this type of specialization and growing knowledge base, Kristof differentiated her reporting, had fantastic sources to call whenever she needed, and used topic granularity to form impactful articles that gave her an edge.

“The biggest thing is learning to be authoritative in one or two topics to focus on,” says Kristof. “The more passionate you are about your topic, the more it comes through to editors, and the more they want to go back to you.” When you know your niche, you can also make more money. "Editors are willing to pay a premium price for a writer who knows what they're doing because it saves them a whole lot of time," says Kristoff.

Depending on your specialization, there can be plenty of opportunities to make good money, too. Wegert, who writes in the tech niche, hasn't found many freelancers with her level of experience in certain subjects, so because of that, she earns more on niche projects.

Niches + specialization = the big bucks and better projects.

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3) Start, and Refine, Your Cold Pitching

Whether it’s emails, LinkedIn InMails, or cold calling, reaching out to prospects who don’t know you yet is a marketing skill to master.

"The biggest thing is learning how to be a better copywriter, but the other half is learning how to sell yourself and your services," says Navickas. “It's the advice we all know we have to take, but we never want to put ourselves out there doing cold calls and cold emails and building up the sales side of our business.”

A good starting point is to understand your potential clients and why you’re calling them, not just how to pitch them, advises Wegert. She recommends reviewing the company and finding the content manager or editor on LinkedIn. From there, figure out how to differentiate yourself from other freelancers.

“Then the recipient of your pitch will know that you've put some research in upfront, that you’re familiar with them, their work, and their needs," says Wegert. "And they'll be much more likely to pay attention to what you're doing and pitching in general.”

Weave in some facts, make it as friction-free as possible, and show that it’s as easy to work with you as it is someone in-house, Wegert adds. In order to get more gigs and make more money, you have to nail down your cold pitching so you can create enough warm relationships to work more on your writing and less on the hustle and bustle of marketing.

4) Stick to Deadlines and Have Clear Communication

There’s nothing like a deadline to get you writing with the jets on, but making sure you have the skills to manage multiple deadlines and communicate with your clients quickly, especially when things aren’t going as planned, are non-negotiable skills freelance writers have to have.

Responsiveness can get tricky as you become busier and earn more money, but you still need to be available and trustworthy in terms of meeting your deadlines, according to Wegert. When clients can come to you knowing that you’ll get the work done right the first time and on deadline, that’s a huge advantage.

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“Deadlines are giant. You’re building a reputation as a freelance writer, and if you do a good job of building that reputation, you don't have to be pitching yourself all the time. People will pitch you, for you,” says Kristof. Part of that is being easy to work with and accommodating to your editors’ timelines, and turning in your work on time and as clean as possible.

“Clear communication is going to be the foundation of every other aspect of your business,” says Miller. “Be clear about your offer, your processes, and about the results you can bring, before you even get started.”

That means building the skillset of asking potential clients the right questions and figuring out how to communicate in ways that help you stand out while doing fantastic work.

Building Freelance Writer Skills Now to Earn More Tomorrow

Beyond simply having amazing writing skills, experts agree that a freelance writer's full skill set, including niche knowledge, willingness to understand and accept feedback, ability to pitch, communication skills, and ability to meet deadlines, helps differentiate them and ultimately make more money.

Have more skills you'd recommend? Let us know in the comments!