Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of other freelancers out there? Do you worry about how you’re going to compete with all that competition?
While there are thousands of freelance writers out there, a great number of them could be classified as mediocre – which means there is plenty of opportunity for you to stand out.
In fact, one of the very first freelance gigs I had involved re-writing what the content manager’s other writers had written. Their content was jumbled up, some of it was clearly copied from other places, and it just didn’t flow together at all.
I fixed their content so well that I landed regular gigs writing my own content for this company. I grew to become their first pick for any writing jobs, and it helped to really pave the way for my freelancing business.
But, aside from writing competently – which definitely helps you stand out in most industries – what are some other ways to stand out? What else do you have to offer other than being able to write well?
Here are my top seven ways for freelancers to stand out.
#1. Have a strong online presence
The first thing a potential client is going to do is search for you online. They want to see what type of work you’ve done, what others have to say about you, and how many times you forgot it’s not the best idea to post pictures holding bottles of beer at a party.
Prospective clients want to see what sort of online reputation you hold and if you are trustworthy enough to hire. Because of this, if they don’t find anything when they search for your name, they’re probably not going to hire you.
Having a strong online presence, full of previous work, blog posts, (professional!) social media profiles, a writer’s website, and testimonials from previous clients, goes a long way toward helping prospective clients trust you.
How to do this: If you want to be treated like a business professional, you need to appear to be one. High-paying prospects won’t take you seriously if you haven’t bothered to show you are good at what you claim to do. There are numerous things you can do to create a strong writer’s website, but these are the basics:
- Have a branded domain and website for your business
- The home page of your website needs to make it clear what your target client is like, as well as what type of writing services you offer.
- Have different contact options, rather than just relying on a fill-in form. Those can malfunction, and people tend to be leery of putting their information into some random online form. It comes across as spammy if that is the only available option. Include an email address, social media links, a link to your LinkedIn profile, and (if you have one set up for business) your phone number.
- Make sure your contact information is clearly visible, and on every page.
#2. Have a solid portfolio
When a potential client is deciding whether or not they should contract with you, they want to know what sort of quality of work they can expect from you. They want to be able to gauge what type of content you are capable of before they take a business risk in hiring you.
If you want to bring in some new clients, you’re going to need to have a portfolio.
How to do this: Put together a portfolio of all of your work, and make sure it is easy for them to access. Organize your samples by category, and make sure the samples from your preferred niche are highlighted. Worried you don’t have any writing samples? Guess again.
- Professional writing of any sort completely counts. Did you do a lot of writing as part of your job as an administrative assistant, paralegal, or other type of position? That counts. Were you a staff writer of some sort? That definitely counts!
- Copywriting doesn’t carry any bylines, but that doesn’t really matter. You still wrote it, so you can (in most cases) add that to your portfolio. Get a testimonial from your client, and put that next to your samples. This is proof that you wrote those pieces of copy.
- Volunteer or non-profit writing. If you wrote it, it counts. It doesn’t matter if you did it pro bono, since the payment aspect is a totally separate issue. The words are what count, not whether or not you got paid for writing them.
- College newspaper writing. Were you part of your college newspaper? Did you write anything for your college newspaper? That counts. Put that in your portfolio.
- Blog posts. Blog posts are examples of things you have written, and they give a good feel for your writing voice. Keep your blog updated regularly, and treat each post like you would treat a paid assignment.
#3. Collect testimonials from previous clients
As I’ve explained pretty thoroughly in those last two points, a client needs to get a feel for your professionalism before they decide whether or not they want to work with you. Your online presence, including testimonials from previous clients, is a big part of building that trust and proof that you are capable of delivering what you promise.
Reading the experiences of past or current clients shows a prospective client that others have enjoyed working with you. If you don’t have any reviews or testimonials, prospective clients will see that as a red flag. Why hasn’t anyone said anything good about working with you? Why don’t you have any reviews? Even content mill sites offer feedback, ratings, and reviews.
How to do this: Just like you have worked on building your portfolio, you need to work on collecting testimonials.
- Reach out to past clients and ask them to write a bit about their experience working with you.
- After you complete work with a new client, make it part of your business operations to follow up with them and request a testimonial.
- If you don’t have any clients you can ask, do some pro bono work in exchange for a testimonial. You’re not really losing money on this, since it will pay off in the end and can be considered part of your marketing budget.
#4. Don’t be a flake, and don’t be a pest
I have heard several instances of writers getting feedback from an editor, and then just never responding ever again. I’ve also heard of several instances of writers getting requests to send a pitch to an editor, but then freaking out and never sending that pitch.
In both cases, writers lost out on opportunities they will probably never get back.
On the other side of the coin, it’s pretty common for newer freelancers to make an introduction, send over a pitch, and then send email after email to the client. This is far from being a good strategy. People don’t like to feel like they are being forced into a situation, and that is what you are doing when you repeatedly call or email your clients.
How to do this: While you don’t want to let opportunities slip through your fingers, you also don’t want to push them away. Instead, it’s best to find a happy (sensible!) balance.
- Follow up with the prospect three business days after sending the pitch. Don’t push for the sale at this point, though. Simply let tell the client you wanted to make sure they received your pitch and wanted to see if they have any questions or concerns that you could help them with.
- If you do not hear back at that point, follow up in another 3 business days and ask them when they would like to start the project. This puts the ball in their court. If you still don’t hear back, then it’s time to move on.
- If you have been asked to pitch an editor, don’t get nervous and bail. Send out the best pitch you possibly can, and send that baby out.
- If you have been asked to make revisions or have been given feedback, make the changes. Take that feedback into account. Don’t just disappear.
#5. Always proof your work
I know this may seem like something that falls under the umbrella of Common Sense, but…well…you would be surprised.
There are numerous writers out there who think the first thing they type up is perfectly acceptable to turn in. They type up a hasty pitch and mail it off to the editor. In both cases, they don’t read through their writing to catch the little errors in spelling or capitalization. They also don’t catch the little things spellcheck doesn’t always catch.
How to do this: Well-proofed work makes editors feel more confident that your article will be thoroughly researched and well reported.
- If you’re not the best at proofing your work, ask a friend to read through your content and catch your typos.
- Before you send that pitch, Letter of Introduction (LOI), or other such email, double-check it. Triple check it. Read it aloud. Look for typos.
- Put your work (blog post, article, website copy, etc.) through several rounds of proofing and revising before you send it off to your client. Double-check your facts. Make sure your work is free of errors. Remember punctuation rules. Be thorough.
#6. Be easy to work with
As a freelance writer, you are writing for your client. You are working. Don’t fall in love with your words.
You are writing to please your client. Whatever they ask for is what you contract for. Whatever you contract for is what you need to deliver.
How to do this: Let’s say you spent hours on your first draft, only to find out they hate it. They want you to fix about thirty-five different things.
- When the editor requests changes, no matter how many different things they find in that one draft, you say “Sure thing.” You do it.
- Don’t push the deadline, asking them for more time to complete the work. If you contracted to complete the work by a certain deadline, stick to that deadline.
- If the scope or boundaries of your work do not include a cover byline, don’t push for it. Just do your work, do it well, and you will be rewarded for it in the end.
#7. Hone your skills and demonstrate your value
You should be selling your value, rather than just selling your services.
There are tons of writers out there who can write a blog post or put together a bit of product description. The question is: What value do you demonstrate that allows you to command higher rates?
How to do this: You should be constantly working to improve your skills, and find something that helps you stand apart from your competition.
- Learn a specialized area – case studies, press releases, annual reports, blog posts, product descriptions, etc.
- Decide on a specialized niche – People are far more likely to hire a specialist than a generalist.
- Practice, practice, practice – Update your blog, keep up with social media, add thoughtful and helpful comments to posts on social media, and write articles about topics within your niche.
Some final thoughts
Investing in your freelance writing business is the best way to set yourself apart from the competition and create a viable niche for your services.
How do you stand apart from other freelance writers? What advice do you have for new writers trying to get freelance writing clients? Leave a comment and share your tips and tricks.
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