Do you want to break into content writing?
While there are plenty of high paying opportunities in the world of professional writing, there are also a lot of bad, low-paying gigs.
If you want to get a job as a copywriter or start your own writing business, you need to follow the right approach. Only then you’ll be able to earn a real income writing about topics you enjoy.
So in this post, I’ll show you step by step the best way to become a content writer.
Why Be A Content Writer
The content writing profession is very different from the traditional idea of a job. As a result, not everyone will understand what you do and why you do it.
Apart from an odd glance from some people when you tell them that you are a professional writer, there are several benefits of choosing a career in content writing. And they all boil down to these top two reasons:
Massive Demand For Content
Content writing started as a way for brands to set themselves apart from the competition. But it has now become a part and parcel of how any business operates.
Behind every successful company is a ton of useful and relevant content which resonates with their audience.
Having more content on different topics gives the brand the chance to rank in search engines for more keywords. It also increases the likelihood of visitors sticking around longer on their website.
As a result, brands are increasingly taking content writing more seriously, and they are willing to pay handsomely.
- The 2018 B2B content marketing statistics from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) show that 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing to reach customers.
- CMI’s 2018 B2C content marketing stats reveal that 86% of B2C marketers think content marketing is a key strategy.
As companies increase their spending on quality content year after year, good content writers are more in demand than ever. There is no better time to start a writing business.
Freedom To Work From Anywhere
For most people, one of the biggest turn-offs of a traditional office job is the lack of life-control it offers.
And if they live in a place with a big population, a lot of time is wasted stuck in traffic when they go to and come back from work everyday.
So if you crave freedom, breaking into content writing is the solution. Most content writing jobs don’t have any strict rules around working from the employers’ office space.
As long as you’re doing good work and meeting target deadlines, you can work from anywhere you like. In fact, there are content writers who keep on travelling and staying at different places as they work on different assignments.
Assess Your Skill Set
There are more aspects to being a successful copywriter than simply writing words on a page.
You need to have the skill to craft compelling content in a specific niche that will engage readers and compel them to take action. For example, here are some essential skills expected from a content writer.
To be able to start a copywriting business, it’s essential to be a good writer. I am not saying you need to be the next Hemingway, but at least understand the fundamentals in terms of writing for the web clearly and concisely, and adopting a conversational and friendly content writing tone.
Adaptability To Different Tones/Voices
There are many different forms of content writing, with their unique tones, voices and styles. As a content writer, the more of them you master, the more in demand you will be.
For more information, refer to my guide to writing voice and tones.
Good SEO allows businesses to be found by their target customers online. To start as a professional writer, you need to know how to optimize content in order to help connect businesses to readers who are searching for the solutions they can provide.
You're going to have to keep track of multiple projects, client information, content schedule and pitches sent. So you need to have a system in place to organize your to-do list.
A great idea is to get a dedicated notebook to jot down your content ideas and tasks list of what needs to be achieved.
For more information, ready my guide to the top 10 content writing skills. Use the guide to understand your current strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
This will help you in the next steps when you pick a niche and type of content you’ll begin with for your content writing career.
Learn Content Writing
No surprise there. To be a professional content writer, you need to be able to write, and that too within time constraints.
In addition, you should be able to understand content funnels, help clients with content strategy, research and plan information, and draw from your own experiences.
You may not realize this but chances are you have a lot to learn. I have worked with and managed hundreds of content writers over the decade but only 1-2% have had the knowledge and skill to write good content in a short amount of time.
Content writing includes researching a topic, organizing your thoughts, forming an outline, writing, editing and much more.
Most content writing jobs pay a flat rate per article or per word, not by the hours. This means you also need to be smart about how much time you spend on each assignment. Otherwise you risk limiting your earning potential.
If the thought of writing loads of quality content on a tight schedule worries you, some formal learning might help.
Going through a good content writing course/book or hiring a content writing coach can help you a lot in learning about managing clients in a professional manner and writing good content.
This is an essential part of becoming a copywriter. For more details, check out these steps to learn and master content writing.
Pick A Niche
Before you break into content writing, look for clients, or put fingers to keyboard, you first need to pick a niche.
Your niche is the specific space and target market you intend to write content for. It’s a specific group of people and their needs that you can distinguish in some way.
But if the category that you choose is really broad, then it can’t be called a niche. For example, all the people interested in golf, all the fitness enthusiasts, or all the nerds do not form a niche.
For a category to be called a niche, it has to be more specific. Here are some examples:
- Seniors interested in improving their golf swing.
- Accounting and tax calculation for freelancers.
- College students interested in learning how to cook.
- Social skills for shy teenagers.
- Women seeking to build muscle.
Note how each of these target a much more specific subject and audience. Pick any industry and it’s filled with hundreds of such specific niches that can be targeted to initiate your content writing business.
When getting started, your best option is to pick something you already have some skill or experience in.
For instance, let’s say you know a lot about smart homes. So think about what type of person is interested in reading about smart homes.
It’s probably someone who is tech-savvy and has some expendable income. They want to be always connected to their home through their smart watch or phone.
What are their issues or pain points? They might need help in picking the right products, make sure all their devices work well with each other, or look cool in front of their friends.
From this information, you’ll know the topics and subtopics you can write about.
Then consider what kind of products they use and websites they visit. These could be smart home forums, tech blogs and QA sites. So you could start by contributing content to these websites.
Pick Type(s) of Content Writing
There are a number of different types of web content, based on their objective, format and mode of communication. As a result, there are different forms of content writing.
As such, a content writer could be a generalist - good at adapting to varying forms like blog posts, ebooks, sales copies, social media posts, emails, user documentation and more.
Or he could choose to specialize and establish expertise in only one form. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
A blog post is by far the most commonly written piece of content for the web. And for good reason, as consistent blogging is an effective and low cost way to grow a brand.
A blog is a section of a brand’s website where they publish articles on topics which their target audience would be interested in. Each such article is known as a blog post.
In other words, a blog is a collection of blog posts, usually listed in a chronological order. The latest posts show up near the top, followed by older posts at the bottom.
For example, this article that you’re reading right now is one of the many blog posts published on my company’s blog.
Web Page Copies
This type of content writing comprises most of the material written for all the standard pages of a website.
As a professional writer, your purpose is to provide all the information a prospect may want to know about the business, their products/services, and how they benefit the prospect.
These include homepage, about us page, products and services pages, and contact information page, along with terms, policies and frequently asked questions.
Social Media Posts
In this day and age, social media is a big part of our lives. It’s also a big way for businesses and customers to connect and interact with one another.
By posting interesting content regularly on social media, brands have the opportunity to influence and build a relationship with their target audience.
From Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn & Instagram, there are a number of different social media platforms, with their own formatting and visual specifications.
That’s why the ability to write engaging social media posts for each type of platform is highly sought after in a professional writer.
Social media content writing involves scribbling short paragraphs, blurbs or rants (along with attention-grabbing visuals) to show a brand’s authentic side, promote an event, share inspiring ideas or extend an offer.
When starting a content writing business, another option is to specialize in copywriting. Copywriting involves writing content intended to make people interested in a brand’s product or service.
In addition, it aims to steer people towards a certain action. This action could be:
- Clicking on an advertisement and visiting the brand’s website to learn more.
- Subscribing to a brand’s email newsletter.
- Enquiring about a service by filling in a contact form.
- Adding a product to cart and completing the checkout process.
The kind of marketing copy to be written for the web is also determined by the platform where it will be published or distributed.
These include email newsletter, social media advertising, landing pages and paid search campaigns.
In some industries, it’s impossible to produce good content if the writer doesn’t have formal education or experience.
In fact, there could be serious consequences if the content is misleading or inaccurate. These include niches like:
- Finance and banking
- Healthcare and medicine
- Legal rules and regulations
- Deep technology and science
Because of the complexity and risks involved, only content writers specialized in an area write content associated with it.
So it’s harder to break into content writing for technical purposes. However, if you can, you are likely to be paid more than generalist content writers.
The more features and complexity a product or service has, the deeper need for thorough documentation. So this could also be a very lucrative writing business.
When you buy a toothpaste, for instance, you don’t need a user manual to use it. But when buying something more sophisticated, like business software, just a quick-start manual may not be enough.
You may need detailed tutorials on using all the features. So this area of website content writing deals with documenting product features, updates, use cases, guides and tutorials.
In a way, this is similar to technical writing as a writer will need proper knowledge of the product and industry it operates in. Only then he or she will be able to write usable content.
The list of content types can go on and on. As I mentioned before, to start as a professional writer, it’s important first to pick a specific niche and type of content you’ll specialize in.
This will also help you stand out when you’re pitching your service as a copywriter, or when someone asks what you do. For example, instead of saying, “I am a tech writer,” it’s better to say, “I write emails that sell smartphone apps.”
There’s another benefit of selecting a niche and type of content to focus on. On your writing journey, it’s important to be able to figure out a good fit and to say no to the wrong opportunities.
Every wrong opportunity takes you one step backward on your journey to content writing success. The more focused you are, the more you’ll be able to minimize such mishaps in your writing business.
Build A Writing Portfolio
No one will hire you as a content writer without seeing some samples of your work first. So it’s time to begin copywriting. You’ll then publish your work online as your portfolio. This way you can easily share your writing samples with potential employers or clients.
Set Up A Blog
The first thing I’d recommend is that you start your own blog. This will help you with not just writing, but also learn the complementary skills that most employers and clients look for.
Moreover, having your own blog has a number of advantages:
- An active blog will help you promote yourself to get jobs and clients.
- Your blog content will act as a portfolio to showcase your writing skills.
- A blog can be monetized later in many ways to supplement your income.
It’s really cheap and super easy these days to create a blog and start publishing articles. You can get good quality website hosting and domain for as low as $5/month and install WordPress (the best blogging software) for free.
Even if you have zero budget, there are several free options to start as a professional writer. These include platforms like Medium, WordPress.com and LinkedIn.
Once the setup is complete, come up with a few topics to write about and start writing blog posts on them one by one. You will also benefit from setting some writing goals for yourself at this stage to help you stay on track.
Write Guest Posts
Here’s another great way to get great feedback to improve your content writing, while also building a solid portfolio for your writing business.
Pitch to contribute content to blogs and publications in your chosen niche. So you get learning and exposure and they get free content.
However, keep in mind that it’s not going to be easy. You’ll have to work hard and keep pitching to several websites.
Getting Writing Gigs
The final piece to learning to break into copywriting is working on a real world content project. This could be through a full time job, a freelance gig or a part time internship.
There are many websites to identify and apply to content writing projects you may be interested in. These include Upwork, Fiverr, Problogger job board and more.
If you need more help and resources, check out this great piece by Elna Cain on finding writing clients.
Another way is to contact agencies which provide content writing services to their clients. You’ll not be charging the clients directly, but at least you’ll have some paying work in the beginning.
Select some agencies based on some common attributes like your niche, geographic location or the type of content you write.
However, don’t just rush to contact them. For each company, go through their website/blog, about page and social media profiles, especially LinkedIn.
This will give you a general sense of who are the people behind the agency, what type of clients they work with and who’d be the best person to contact.
Typically, you want to reach out to someone who has the terms “marketing,” “editor” or “content” in their job titles.
And if they have a LinkedIn profile, your first step should be sending a connection request with a note. In your note, you can say something like this:
Hi [First Name], I’m a writer and have been working with fitness brands like X, Y and Z. I was reading your blog and came across your profile. I thought it was really interesting.
So I thought I’d reach out and say hello. Would love to connect. Have a great week ahead. - [Your Name]
Note how I did not try to pitch or ask for a job. I was genuinely interested in what this person does. You need to keep connecting with people if it won’t translate to anything at that particular time. Then you can take the conversation ahead from there.
Also note that you should have a properly filled and optimized LinkedIn profile before you approach anyone on LinkedIn.
If connecting with someone on LinkedIn first is not an option, you can shoot a straight email like this:
Hi [First Name], I am a writer and I recently moved to Chicago. So I am looking to connect with local content agencies.
I’ve written for companies mainly in the fitness industry, including Brand 1, Brand 2 and Brand 3. You can see my portfolio here [portfolio link].
If you’re interested, I’ll be glad to work on a temporary basis at $X/word [or $X/hour] so you can assess the quality of my work. Thanks for your time.
While you’re sending these emails, remember that following up is also important. If someone hasn’t replied for at least 2-3 days, make sure to send a follow up email.
Keep hustling, growing your network, and pitching to jobs at these platforms. Sooner or later, you’ll definitely find something to contribute to on your journey to be a content writer.
Tools You Will Need
Every business requires the right tools to be effective in the services it offers, and if you’re thinking about starting as a professional writer, it’s no different.
A Computer - This is the central piece of your copywriting business. However, while desktops are great, they fail in portability. If you want to be able to carry your work anywhere, pick a reliable laptop that’ll last.
Online Meeting Software - Whether your job is freelance or full-time, you’ll be working with clients, managers or others in a remote location. So being able to have a call with them is a must.
A good meeting software, like Google Meet, will also let you share your screen and record the calls. Because even if you type fast, you’re likely to miss some vital instructions or information not spoken clearly.
Quality Keyboard - You’ll never see a pro-chef with a cheap blunt knife. If you’re going pro in content writing, you’ll need a quality keyboard.
Go for a keyboard with Cherry black switches if you mistype regularly as such keyboards require a heavier press.
If you’re light fingered, then red switches would be more efficient as they require little force to press down.
There are other keyboard switch flavors like the blue switch and brown switch. So pick a writing keyboard that works with your writing style.
A Proofreading Software - A tool like Grammarly or Pro Writing Aid is a must-have when starting a content writing business, regardless of the niche you’re in.
The tool serves the purpose of fine-tuning your writing into perfection. It identifies grammatical errors in your copy and gives the replacement suggestions.
A Word Processor - MS Word is the standard but Google Docs has more advantages when multiple people are involved in writing/reviewing content. It also lets you have access to your files at any location where you have Internet service.
A Keyword Research Tool - When starting as a professional writer, you may not want to spend a lot of money right away. While there are so many keyword tools out there, the Google Keyword Planner is free and easily accessible.
It shows you the keywords in your industry that you need to target in your copy. And the search volume, pay-per-click cost of the keywords you input, and other keywords related to the one you typed in.
A Content Requirements Questionnaire - Everytime you are tasked with writing a piece of content, you need to understand aspects like exactly what you’re supposed to write, what’s the goal, who is the audience and more.
Asking the right questions will ensure you have complete information on exactly what you need to write to meet their expectations as a content writer.
That’s a wrap. Now you know how to be a copywriter, keep in mind that knowledge is only useful when you start a writing business.
No procrastination, so get started today with all you’ve seen in this piece and watch you succeed in the business of writing. With the right niche, skills, tools, and marketing approach, there’s no stopping your progress.
Did I miss anything? Did you try these steps? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.