I have worked with more than 30 freelance bloggers over the past three years.
My experiences have ranged from excellent to shocking, with varying levels of competence in-between. And while I didn’t have a firm idea of what I was looking for when I took on my first writer (besides evidence of technical writing ability), when I look for new writers to join my team these days, I have a very good idea of my requirements.
With that said, in this post I want to explore the key attributes I look for in each of the freelance bloggers I interview, trial and ultimately work with. Without fail, writers that grow their business to such a level that I can no longer afford their services share the attributes listed below. If you can nail all of the following (and I’ll give you tips on how to do exactly that), you should be able to establish yourself in the echelon of freelance bloggers who earn $100+ per hour.
1. Good Writing Skills
I wish I didn’t have to include this, but I do.
Why? Firstly, because freelance bloggers make mistakes. In articles, pitches and even sales copy. And on the assumption that all three of the above are intended to serve as advertisements of your ability, mistakes in spelling and grammar are an immediate turnoff.
I have a simple rule of thumb: if a prospective contractor can’t manage to get through a pitch or their sales copy without maintaining perfect spelling and grammar, their attention to detail when writing regular assignments is likely to be unacceptable.
Furthermore, good writing skills are a requirement for earning your keep as a freelance writer! That may strike you as a blindingly obvious statement, but take a moment to ask yourself how much effort you’re putting into improving your craft. Are you taking any deliberate steps to becoming a better writer? Because you’ll never be “good enough”. The better a writer you are, the greater your value to a client. So if you’re not looking to improve as a writer, you can’t expect to earn more.
2. Attention to Detail
This attribution folds into good writing skills in part, but when I talk about attention to detail, I’m also talking about following instructions.
Again, I wish I didn’t have to bring this one up, but it is truly insane how mindless some freelance bloggers can be. A great example is Elance. While I’ve found some good writers on Elance in my time, for each quality application you can expect a number of proposals that beggar belief.
My particular favorite was someone who submitted two writing samples…in Dutch. But more typically, writers will ignore the simple requests I make in each job description:
- Explain why you’re right for the role
- Give me 3 article ideas
- A link to at least one published blog post
Elance writers tend to fail in delivering the second request – vital for determining both their headline writing ability and expertise in the given topic – the vast majority of the time. And if they can’t follow simple instructions at such an early stage, their work is hardly likely to impress.
3. Bespoke Consideration
If a writer cannot demonstrate what I call “bespoke consideration” for their client – i.e. careful consideration of his or her particular needs – they’ll never get out of the earning doldrums.
One of the quickest ways for a potential contractor to impress me is to demonstrate that they’ve actually read my requirements, given them careful consideration, and gone above and beyond in making insightful suggestions. Even better, asking (pertinent and useful!) questions shows that you’ve got more to offer than the average writer.
Furthermore (and this ties in with attention to detail), if the client gives you any style guidelines to incorporate in your work, make damned sure that you pay attention to them. Remember – your job is to create a solution, not generate additional work through unnecessary revisions.
One of the best ways to boost your rate as a freelance blogger is to specialize. This works for two reasons:
- It enables you to write on your topic of expertise quickly and efficiently, thus raising your effective hourly rate (if you charge a fixed rate, which you should!).
- It raises your perceived value and opens you up to a world of clients who only work with writers that know what they’re talking about.
While you may well start out as a ‘general’ writer, it will serve you will to be continually mindful of any opportunity to specialize in what seems like a lucrative field.
This may sound intimidating, but in reality, any relative level of expertise is going to put you in good stead and enable you to grow your portfolio in the right direction. Having some experience in one thing is better than having little experience in nothing in particular. And the more you write, the more experienced you’ll get, and more you’ll be able to raise your prices.
Few things put me off more in a writer than evidence of a lack of confidence.
It’s a highly destructive thing – even a whiff of it can put potential clients off. Relatively innocuous statements such as “I’ll take a crack at it” (rather than “No problem – I’m on it”) can easily plant a seed of doubt.
I’m not saying that you must be confident, but I am saying that you must act as if you are. There’s no excuse not to do this over email, which will be the primary source of communication between you and your clients. In time, the act of faking confidence (and the positive feedback you get as a result) will breed true confidence.
6. Honesty and Humility
Having said that, you must temper your confidence with honesty and humility in appropriate moments.
Be willing to hold your hand up and say “my bad” if you cock up something. Never try to cover your tracks. I have no problem with any freelancer who makes a mistake or two, but owns up to it and shows willingness to make amends and prevent future cockups.
Making mistakes only becomes an issue if:
- they are particularly monumental or characteristic of a lack of due care and attention, or
- they are repeated.
I cannot bear to work with writers who repeat the same mistake multiple times. Don’t be one of those people!
No reasonable client will expect you to consistently get back to them within minutes or even hours, but if you can do that it’ll set you apart from the majority of writers. After all, there’s nothing worse than waiting on the responses of others to move forwards.
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to get back to any client within one business day, but ideally far sooner.
And when you do correspond with clients, don’t reply in such a way that provokes unnecessary additional emails. If you see an opportunity to go above and beyond in resolving a question or addressing an issue without having to ask the client additional questions, go ahead and do it. They’ll be singing your praises.
This is a biggie.
I mentioned above that your role as a freelance blogger is to offer a solution rather than a problem. A lack of reliability is a problem – a big one.
When it comes to deadlines, I have two main pieces of advice:
- Always overestimate the time taken to get work done. A quicker deadline might impress your client, but far more damage will be done if you fail to deliver.
- Set internal deadlines. If you tell a client that you will deliver a piece on Wednesday, set your own personal deadline for Monday. That way, if unforeseen circumstances arise (and they often do), you’ll have a ‘buffer’ to work with.
If you’re scared of giving deadlines to clients that are way overboard, you have two options:
- A premium fee for a quicker turnaround. I’m personally not keen on this – I think it sends the wrong message to the client.
- Ask the client for their intended deadline and manage it. Most good clients will be reasonable with deadlines – even if they desperately need a quick turnaround, they may be totally understand if you’re unable to deliver. If you’re working with someone who’s particularly demanding on this front, you may wish to consider whether they’re the kind of client you want to work with.
Reliability doesn’t just apply to deadlines though. In a nutshell, you should aim to respond to your client and address issues in an efficient and consistent manner. In my opinion, reliability can affect a freelancer’s perceived value as much as the quality of their work.
9. WordPress Experience
The vast majority of clients I’ve worked with have operated on the WordPress platform, and this happens to be the case for most freelance bloggers?
Why? Because while WordPress “only” powers around 25% of the web in total, it controls a 66% market share of Content Management Systems. In statistical terms, two in every three clients will use WordPress. Anecdotally speaking, the balance seems to be far more in favor of WordPress.
As such, you must be able to add content (both written and graphic) to WordPress and edit it without having to ask questions. Or if you do need to ask questions, ask someone other than the client! Never let on that your WordPress skills are below par, even if they are. Learn on the job.
It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, and it can make a big difference.
When you elevate yourself above bargain basement clients (but not so far as to hit the corporate level), you’ll find a wonderful ‘sweet spot’ of thoroughly pleasant people to work with. Me being one of them of course 😉
My point is this – friendliness attracts friendliness. And the ‘chummier’ you are with a client (within reason), the more likely they are going to want to continue to work with you in the future. Don’t be a suck up, but at the same time, make sure that your clients only ever see you at your most amiable!
Above are the most important attributes I look for in my writers. If you’d like further reading along these lines, I’d recommend the following articles:
- One Simple Way to Increase Your Freelance Blogging Earnings
- 7 Fatal Mistakes Freelancer Writers Make (That Have Nothing to Do With Writing)
- 9 Steps to Writing Blog Posts Quickly (And Making Much More Money)
- Freelancing: a Complete Guide to Setting and Negotiating Rates
However, I know that there are others that have gone unlisted. I wanted to stop at ten – otherwise I could have gone on forever – but I’d love you to add your own suggestions in the comments section below. And if you have any questions about my advice, please don’t hesitate to fire away below!
Photo Credit: Rui Moura