10 Skills Freelance Writers Must Have if They Want to Succeed

Since there are a lot of aspiring freelance writers in the Freelance Writing Jobs community, I thought it would be a good idea to go over some of the most important skills that freelance writers must have if they want to have a chance at being successful.

In other words, if you want to get paid for your writing, you need to make sure you can do the things in the list below.

1. Spell

If you can’t spell and you choose not to use a dictionary or effective spell-checking tool, then you won’t get far as a freelance writer.

2. Follow Grammar Rules

If you don’t know where to put commas and when to capitalize, then you need to learn how — quickly!

3. Proofread

As you write, you need to be aware of spelling and grammar, but it doesn’t end there.  You also need to proofread your work.  Keep in mind, proofreading your own work is never full-proof, but you should try to catch and fix as many errors and inconsistencies as possible.

4. Write Well

If you can’t write well, you won’t get quality writing assignments that can truly grow your career and business.  Make sure you get feedback on your writing by joining a writer’s group or taking some courses.  You can also pursue self-study online or through books about writing to ensure you can actually craft clear, compelling, and well-written content.

5. Market Yourself

You can’t be modest when you’re trying to get work as a freelance writer.  Instead, you need to turn into a marketer and really sell yourself as the person for every gig!  It takes a while to learn how to market yourself, so be prepared to spend time on this part of your business.

6. Research and Fact Check

In order to write, you’ll often need to do research, double check that facts used in your writing are accurate, cite sources, and make sure you can backup your claims.  If research bores you, then freelance writing might not be right for you.

7. Learn New Things

The worlds of publishing and media are changing so fast that writers need to be prepared to write for a wider variety of media and to learn new skills applicable to new media.  For example, writing for the web often requires a knowledge of search engine optimization writing techniques.  Today’s freelance writers are constantly learning new things.

8. Think Like a Business Owner

Freelance writers who work for themselves are small business owners.  They need to manage expenses, pay taxes, invoice clients, collect payments, and more.  These are all business-related tasks that take up time but can’t be avoided.

9. Be Thick-Skinned

Freelance writers need to be able to handle rejection and criticism.  If you’re easily offended when someone tells you they don’t like something you wrote, then freelance writing is probably not the best career choice for you.

10. Be Professional and Communicative

Freelance writers have to communicate with clients, editors, and more on a daily basis.  You need to remain professional at all times.  While the worlds of publishing and media are changing, they’re still proverbially small worlds — which means your reputation is at stake with every interaction because word travels fast within both worlds.

Image: stock.xchng


17 responses
  1. Jeremy Powers Avatar

    One note on grammar: The golden, and I mean golden, exception to this is when writing sales letters. Long version sales letters often need to break grammar rules. As Dan Kennedy writes, “Schoolbook grammar is irrelevant in the sales letter.”

  2. Susan Gunelius Avatar

    You’re absolutely right. I talk about that extensively in my book, “Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps.” However, copywriting (including the much-dreaded sales letter copywriting) is in its own class of freelance writing. Writing marketing copy is unlike any other form of writing. I talk about that in my book, too. You can break just about every rule that exists in copywriting if it helps to communicate the message to the target audience and move them to action in a manner that further conveys the brand promise.

  3. Angela Avatar

    Thanks for the list, it’s a great reminder! Although… is this the part where nitpickers like me ask if you meant “foolproof” when you wrote “full-proof” in skill #3? 😀

    1. Jay Avatar
  4. LIsa Avatar

    gee, I think there are few more critical skills one needs…

    1. punctuality. if you don’t get the assignment in on time, there was no point in writing it in the first place.

    2. tenacity. if at first you don’t get the gig…

    3. attention to guidelines and rules. if you’re asked to write 300 words, even the best 3,000 word essay is not going to fit the bill.


  5. Phil Avatar

    No. 11: Sell….if you don’t sell your services, you’re not in business.

    1. Jeremy Powers Avatar

      I’ll second what Phil said also. Sell! The biggest reason for failure in any industry is the failure to consistently sell. Even a writer/freelancer with great recurring revenue should never stop spending time and money selling.

  6. Debra Stang Avatar

    Most of my business is keyword/SEO writing, and there are times when you have to place spelling and grammar on hold. Sometimes clients will ask you to deliberately misspell a word (“loose weight” instead of “lose weight”) because they know people will misspell it when they look it up in search engines. Other times, clients want a string of keywords to appear in the article exactly as specified, even if there’s no way to make it grammatically correct. On those occasions, I just wince, collect my paycheck and console myself that at least *my* name won’t be on the article.

  7. Dean Saliba Avatar

    As someone who is trying to make a career as a freelance writer I think I will get the most out of this post than anyone else. 🙂

    1. Susan Gunelius Avatar

      Dean, That’s great to hear! I’m glad you found it helpful!

  8. Susan Gunelius Avatar

    Great additions to the list, everyone!

  9. Sean Kinn Avatar

    Great list. I’d say the most important of the ten is SEO, which I’m still in the process of learning. I would also add “become a booklover,” and not in the sense of no. 7 “Learn New Things.” Yes, we should all be reading up on the latest changes in the industry, but I think the best writers are probably those who read novels and nonfiction texts outside of their work, for pleasure. I wish I had time to lie around and read all day, but I don’t, so I read myself to sleep each night and am thus the ultimate slow-motion bookworm. And, reading and noting article writing style was the method I used to publish my first feature magazine article way back when.

  10. Richard McClatchey Avatar
    Richard McClatchey

    Thank you very much for the list. I am trying to get my foot into the door as a freelance writer and know I need a little coaching.

  11. Stephen K Gakuo Avatar
    Stephen K Gakuo

    New and loving it. Thanks every body.

  12. Stephen K Gakuo Avatar
    Stephen K Gakuo

    New and loving it. Thanks everybody.

  13. Lorraine Avatar

    This is great and useful information. Everyone’s suggestions and comments are well noted and will be added to my arsenal of information but I still don’t know where or how I should start. Can someone help me with that?

    1. LIsa Avatar

      Lorraine – to start out as a freelance writer, you need to know what you want to write, and start writing. I personally recommend that you start by creating the types of materials you want to write either as a volunteer or for a low fee – but for clients that will carry some weight with other, similar clients.

      In other words, don’t just write your own blog – instead, volunteer to write a newsletter column for your local Chamber of Commerce. That way, when potential clients ask for samples, you can point to a real, respected client who has used your services. You don’t have to mention your fee!

      Only when you have clips to share will you be able to build a business.


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