12 min read
I love the huge variety involved in writing content. A career in content writing can span multiple sectors, interests and even languages. If you’re considering becoming a content writer, this article is for you. I’ll walk you through how to become a content writer, why it’s a role with so much demand and some best practice content writing tips. Let’s jump straight in.
What Is Content Writing?
Content writing is just that – the writing of content. It is issued by companies or all shapes and sizes to describe, promote and inspire interest in their services.
What is a content writer? It is someone whose job is to provide that content. Content writing services include the provision of blog posts, magazine articles, social media posts, brochures, white papers, press releases, website copy and more. It can be a richly varied role and I believe it is this, in part, which makes content writing such a satisfying career.
The Significance of Content Writing in Today’s Context
Are you wondering how to be a content writer? We’ll provide some practical steps below to show you how you can turn our content writing definition into the career of your dreams. But first, I just want to include a bit of context around why content is so important these days.
If you’re planning a content writing career, you’re most likely familiar with the concept of ‘content is king.’ The phrase comes from the title of Bill Gates’ 1996 essay, in which he predicted that the real money being made on the internet would be through content. Fast-forward 25 years and we can see just how write he was.
These days, if a business doesn’t have a content writing strategy, it’s already way behind its competitors. Those companies that are getting ahead are the ones being talked about in online media articles and on social media. And it’s their content that gets them that exposure. After all, a company can be doing incredible things, but if it doesn’t shout about it, who will know? This is why a marketing content writer can be such an invaluable resource.
The Content Writer
What is content writing? I mentioned briefly above some of the kinds of content that you might be expected to write in this career. At this point I think it’s worth looking at the craft of content writing, from the skills you need to some common requirements.
You’ll need a range of skills to become a content writer. Some of the most important include:
• Superb language skills
• Empathy with the reader
• An engaging, inspirational writing style
• SEO and other associated skills
• The ability to deliver various types of content
• Strong freelancing skills
First and foremost, you’ll need a superb grasp of English (and any other languages you plan to write in). But writing is about more than having an extensive vocabulary and knowing which words to sure and which to avoid – see the link below for the latter. It’s about getting into the reader’s shoes and delivering content that provides them with value.
The internet is a vast space; your content will be facing plenty of competition. As such, you’ll need to be able to write in a way that engages, inspires and excites the reader. You have to bring the content to life in a way that makes it shine.
You also need to do all of this with one eye on search engine optimisation (SEO) considerations. SEO is a huge part of many companies’ content writing strategies and we’ll look at this in further detail below. Suffice it to say here, you need to have a grasp of the basics at the very least.
Another skill you will need is the ability to deliver multiple kinds of content. What does a content writer do? Everything – you’ll need to be able to turn your hand to blog posts, magazine articles, webpages, social media posts and more. Businesses don’t have time to hire one content writer for blog posts, one for social media and one for press releases. If you can’t provide all of this and more, they’ll move on and find a someone who can.
To succeed as a content writer, you’ll also need a good dose of general freelancing skills. You’ll need to be happy marketing your services and pricing up content writing jobs. Your financial admin skills will need to be top notch to keep on top of your invoicing and chase any late payments. You’ll need to be self-motivated, organised, punctual… all of those things that the best freelancers out there excel at.
Read more: 21 Overused Words in English Translation
In order to showcase this breadth of abilities, you’ll need to provide some content writing samples online. That could be through your own website or an online clips portfolio that you can refer clients to.
Individual freelancing sites such as Upwork will also have their own requirements in terms of building a portfolio. These sites may well play an important role in the early days of your career (more on that below), so an established presence on them will likely be a requirement initially.
Another key requirement is flexibility. Clients change their minds and their strategies. They update their personas and their tone of voice documents. They hire you to write blog posts and then put you to work writing glossy brochures. You’ll need to flex and adapt to keep up.
You’ll also need to be willing to adapt to a company’s existing tone of voice rather than your own style. Yes, some companies will be happy for you to showcase your own personality, but others will have a set style that they want you to replicate. The more you can suit your writing to differing clients’ styles, the more jobs you’ll be able to complete successfully.
Best Practices in Content Writing
If your skills are suited to becoming a content writer, then you could have an exciting and fulfilling career ahead of you. As such, I want to focus next on how to write content. These next few tips should help you to become a content writer who stands out from the crowd for all the right reasons.
Understand Your Client’s Personas
Most businesses these days have a range of personas in mind when it comes to their content writing strategy. Get to know who’s going to be reading your content and you’ll be in a much better position to ensure it resonates with them.
Always Keep Your Client’s Key Messages in Mind
What is it that’s most important to your client when it comes to sharing their brand with the world? Your content needs to support and highlight their key messages in order that their content strategy can be a success, so keep those messages in mind at every point.
Adapt, Pivot and Change on Demand
I mentioned early that you will need to be flexible in order to meet your client’s changing requirements. It’s a point that’s worth emphasising. Google’s algorithm regularly changes without warning, leaving businesses scrabbling to update their content strategies. Clients often bring out new products and services. External economic and political factors can impact a huge range of industries. You will need to adapt and pivot in a heartbeat in order to respond to all of this and more. Fail to adapt and you’ll quickly be left behind.
Always Strive to be Better
There’s always room for your writing to improve, unless perhaps you’ve won the Booker Prize. Or maybe a Pulitzer. If you don’t have these or similar accolades under your belt, then strive to keep learning and improving. Writing is a craft and it’s one where you can continuously hone your skills. Personally, I think that’s part of the attraction.
If you’re including statistics and other facts in your copy, always fact check them. The client’s reputation may well ride on the content you’re writing, so don’t make any assumptions that could end up embarrassing them.
Double check your work after you’ve finished writing it – and leave doing so until the next day if you can. Giving your brain a break can make it easier for you to pick up any errors. Proofreading your work is also a chance to give it a final polish and ensure that your content writing shines.
Start and End Well
Focus on your introductions and conclusions when writing content for your clients. A good content writer will hook in the reader’s interest from the outset and then deliver that final dash of extra value at the end.
Go for Short and Sharp
People tend to scan articles as often as they read them nowadays, so deliver your content in a format that allows them to do so. Short, sharp sentences and paragraphs, with a few bullet points thrown in here and there and plenty of subheadings make an article way more inviting to read than a solid wall of text.
Don’t Force It
Some of the best content that you write is likely to be that which you’ve had a chance to mull over beforehand so, if at all possible, don’t force the words out. Yes, you’ll always have clients who give you short deadlines, in which case you’ll need to write fast, but if you can, try to give yourself sufficient time to let the words flow naturally. Your writing will benefit from doing so.
Never Start Writing by Starting Writing
When you sit down to write an article, don’t start until you’ve worked on your outline. Sketching this out in advance – however briefly – will help give structure and shape to your article/brochure/website page. It will aid the flow of the writing and ensure that your content moves logically from one section to the next. Outlining your content will also ensure you include everything you need to and prevent you from going off on pointless tangents. So don’t start writing until your outline is complete.
Succeeding as a Content Writer
If you’re reading about how to become a content writer then you’re likely to be serious about succeeding. While I can’t promise it’s easy – after all, there is a LOT of competition out there – if you have the right skills and the right attitude then you have every chance of succeeding in the writing industry.
Of course, it never hurts to have a few aces up your sleeve, so these tips should help you to stand out from the crowd and find the success you’re after:
Specialise on a Niche
Your content writing career will likely see you writing about all manner of topics, especially in the early days as you take some rather random jobs to build up your experience and income. However, it can pay to specialise as your career begins to flourish.
What sort of content writing should you specialise in? That’s entirely up to you. If you like writing about handbags, pursue opportunities in that niche. If you have legal or medical knowledge that you can use in your writing, look for jobs that will benefit from your insights. And if you love languages, then where better to pursue content writing opportunities than within the translation industry? Especially if you can write content in more than one language (click the link below for more on that topic).
Building up a specialisation will allow you to tackle topics more meaningfully, which will benefit your readers and ultimately your clients.
Read more: How to turn your translation skills into a content writing career
Polish Your Technical Skills
These days, landing a long-term client often involves offering skills in relation to SEO, HTML, CSS and WordPress, as well as the ability to actually write. The more comprehensive a service you can offer, the more useful you can be to your clients, so polish those technical skills, even if they’re not your favourite part of the job. Your bank balance will thank you.
Be a Social Media Whizz
Helping businesses deliver their content strategies often involves sharing their articles on social media. Knowing which sites will work for different topics and different styles of content, plus how to best engage users on each social media site will stand you in good stead.
Find Work from Multiple Sources
The more income streams you have, the better placed you will be to weather the loss of a client. Online content writing usually involves a mix of regular, long-term clients and various shorter jobs, perhaps even one-offs. I think this variety is one of the reasons it’s such an interesting career choice. In terms of spreading your risk, the more baskets you can have your eggs in, the better.
Know Your Worth… But Be Prepared to Pay Your Dues
You may be a superb marketing content writer or a particularly skilled website content writer. However, until you’ve built up some experience to prove that, you might struggle to earn the salary you have in mind.
There’s definitely an element of paying your dues when it comes to how to become a web content writer. You might have to accept jobs at a lower rate than you would like or write about topics that don’t interest you in the slightest. Or possibly both at once.
Thankfully, if you can demonstrate that you can write content well and produce some impressive content samples to prove it to potential clients, then it shouldn’t be too long before you can start earning the rates you have in mind. It’s perfectly possible to make a decent living as an online content writer, so know your worth and ensure you’re on the path to achieving it. Just be realistic and accept you’ll have to prove your credentials when you first start out.
Getting Jobs and Gigs as a Content Writer
There are various ways that you can approach getting writing jobs (also known as gigs) when you set out to become a content writer.
Choosing a Career Path
No two content writers’ careers are exactly alike and many follow winding career paths before ending up where they want to be. You have two main choices initially:
Freelance Content Writing
If you plan to work freelance, you can choose which agencies and platforms you use to find work. I’ll detail some of these in just a moment. Freelancing allows you to be the master of your own content writing destiny in many ways.
In-house Content Writing
Your other main option is to apply for jobs with companies that are looking to hire in-house content writers. These jobs are far less prolific than freelance writing gigs and also carry more risk in some respects, as if your employer makes you redundant then you lose your entire, sole income stream all at once. Of course, these jobs do tend to come with set hours, pensions and holiday and sick pay, which freelancing definitely does not.
Content Writing Platforms
I could sit here all day writing a guide to all of the content writing platforms out there and I still wouldn’t cover them all. As such, I’ll include a few examples that make good starting points:
• Upwork – the biggest in the industry
• PeoplePerHour – a good source of creative content writing work
• Toptal – quality is key for these gigs
• SimplyHired – plenty of writing work to choose from
• Fiverr – great for picking up smaller gigs
• Aquent – an award-winning site that’s great for marketing content writers
New content writers may also wish to check out content mills. The work can be demanding and is often not hugely well paid, but if you want to build up your experience and learn the ropes, then well-established companies such as ICS Digital are worth investigating.
Wishing You Luck in Your Content Writing Career
I hope this guide to how to start content writing has given you plenty of tips that will help you to launch your dream career. If you’re serious about success, then it’s time to:
• Hone your skills, from writing to tech
• Showcase your content writing experience online
• Decide your career path
• Apply for content writing work from multiple sources
• Impress your clients with your engaging copy and professional approach