During my time as a freelance writer, I’ve had the chance to speak to dozens of bloggers, entrepreneurs, and clients. Those conversations have often produced invaluable insights and taught me lessons that I would not have otherwise learned.
With the above in mind, I set about interviewing a number of people from different backgrounds for my freelance blogging guide, Paid to Blog. While I felt I could put together a complete guide on freelance blogging myself, I knew that including the thoughts and opinions of others would elevate the course to another level.
Besides many others, I ended up interviewing two of my clients. That’s right folks — I spoke to the very people who pay our bills to discover what they want from us. I thought their perspective would be refreshing and unique when complemented by my own experiences. I was right.
In this post, I’ve selected the most compelling and valuable points made in my interviews with them. Read on to see what I learned!
About the Interviewees
Before we get into that, I’ll quickly introduce the two chaps I interviewed, to give you an idea of who you’re dealing with.
James Farmer is the owner of WPMU DEV and (more relevant for us) WPMU.org — one of the biggest WordPress blogs on the web. He’s hired dozens of writers in his time across a range of budgets and knows more than most about the process of working with freelance bloggers.
Ruben Gamez is the founder of Bidsketch, an online client proposal tool for freelancers and agencies. While he started by producing content himself for the Bidsketch Blog, before long he turned to freelance bloggers for a solution. He operates in the upper range of what one can typically earn as a freelance blogger ($200 per post).
Now you know who’s who, let’s get onto those key lessons gleaned from my interviews with these guys!
1. Writing Skills Are Not Enough
The core things that I look for are face-up evidence of the fact that you are capable technically and that you can also write.
It sounds simple but it rings so true — in today’s world, being a good writer is not enough. You of course need to write about something and be pretty damn good at doing so, but that’s just the price of entry into the freelancing world. James needs WordPress bloggers, so he doesn’t just look for decent writers — he wants people who have stellar language skills and know their way around WordPress.
Whatever your topic, you should have or strive to develop the skills or knowledge needed to set yourself apart from the competition.
2. Working for Free Can Open Doors
If I was starting out myself, as a freelance writer, and I was looking to establish myself, what I’d be doing is I’d be going to Smashing Magazine, Web Designer Depot, and I’d probably have a go at WPMU and a few other sites. And I’d be working… to develop my profile and I’d be more or less telling people that I’d do it for free, just as a business development proposition. Then I’d be looking to turn that profile into… work down the line.
James underscores a trope that will already be abundantly familiar to freelance bloggers: you will probably have to start small and work your way up to bigger gigs. Whether that means working for free is more a matter of personal discretion, but it does have its benefits.
If you have a specific blog you wish to write for, it can’t hurt to offer your services free of charge. Building personal connections with blog gatekeepers could boost your shot at landing paying jobs in the future.
3. Get to Know Sites You Want to Write For
If you want to write for a particular site, if you’re interested in them, then you should be subscribed to pretty much everything that site works a lot on. You should be looking at their “write for us” opportunities and this and that.
Although you can always scour job boards like the one at ProBlogger (or the Job Opportunities Worth Pitching I include within my guide, natch ;-)), they can at times be frustrating. While they are a viable source of long-term work, it’s okay to set your eyes on a specific blog. The worst that they can do is say “no.”
But to increase your chances of a “yes” from the blog’s editor, you should engage with the blog and the brand. There’s no excuse for not getting email updates, you can always leave a comment or two here and there, and social media is an easy way of interacting with a brand. By doing so, you can simultaneously build rapport with the powers that be behind a given blog and gain valuable knowledge about how it conducts its operations.
4. A Solid Portfolio of Work is an Invaluable Tool
Developing your profile… It’s an enormous thing to have people noticing you.
One of the easiest ways to get the attention of people is to start being known in the space… Generate results that people are looking for and do it in the space that you’re trying to operate in… Find where your audience is. Be present there and deliver results that are visible to people.
It’s not surprising that when I interviewed them, James and Ruben both honed in on this shared aspect of freelancing. Cultivating superb results from your work can help you advance to better-paying and/or more fulfilling jobs.
Clients don’t hire freelance bloggers due to their writing skills alone. They are paying you money because they hope that the services that you provide will help them earn enough money to make more profit. A portfolio that provides a clear indication of your value can help to elevate your standing in the eyes of prospective clients.
5. Clients Sometimes Choose Based on Past Results
Get retweets, get comments, there’s something going on there. That’s the difference between the writers that I was hiring before and the writers that I have contributing to Bidsketch now. Basically, the way that I think about it is if I want those types of results, [why] would I hire a writer that has never done that before? How are they going to do that on my blog?
Paying clients want results that offer a return on their investment, so they’re looking to hire people who have achieved those results before.
That is why it’s a great idea to invest some time into your own blog (something that I’m always harping on about). If you can build a strong blog with compelling content and a complementary social media system, you will be well on your way to showing clients that you have the right skills needed for their role.
6. It’s Hard to Overestimate the Value of Hard Work
You’re going to have to have the chops at first, but then you’re going to have to put the work in after that. There’s a significant amount of work.
Freelancing might demand research, interviews, and the like. Condensing all of that information into an easily digestible and scannable format isn’t easy. Other times, a deadline can inconvenience you. James’ comment makes it clear that to succeed as a freelance blogger, you’ll have to put in the hard yards. That’s an unavoidable reality.
7. Reliability Can Make or Break a Freelancer’s Prospects
Reliability is a huge thing. One of the big differences between who I’m working with now and who I was working with before is that… I’d get the posts and I’d have to go in there and make edits myself, and then send it back. These aren’t a few minor edits… Every single post was like this.
If you’re like most freelancers, you fall into one of two categories: those who are reliable and those who are not. If you stay in the latter group, you’re unlikely to increase your rate beyond what it is now.
Ruben’s experience of trying to find good writers exemplifies the need to be reliable. It’s important to clients that they receive blog posts on time and with as few errors as possible. If you regularly hand in pieces that are riddled with mistakes, you’re not working to your full potential, and more importantly, you are letting down your client.
Instead, your focus should remain on crafting well-written content that is delivered on deadline without errors in grammar, spelling, and syntax.
Clients can offer unique insights into the world of freelance blogging that would simply be unattainable otherwise. Their perspectives can confirm our long-held assumptions or open new debates.
In this post, I detailed seven of the lessons that I’ve learned from interviewing two of my clients. With them in mind, you should be better equipped to navigate the freelance blogging market.
Have you spoken to your own clients? What did you learn from them? Let us know in the comments below!