Leaving Work Behind

The 10 Key Attributes Top Earning Freelance Bloggers Share

Written by Tom Ewer on March 25, 2015. 26 Comments

BiroI 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:

  1. Explain why you’re right for the role
  2. Give me 3 article ideas
  3. 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.

4. Expertise

One of the best ways to boost your rate as a freelance blogger is to specialize. This works for two reasons:

  1. 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!).
  2. 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.

5. Confidence

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:

  1. they are particularly monumental or characteristic of a lack of due care and attention, or
  2. they are repeated.

I cannot bear to work with writers who repeat the same mistake multiple times. Don’t be one of those people!

7. Responsiveness

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.

8. Reliability

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. A premium fee for a quicker turnaround. I’m personally not keen on this – I think it sends the wrong message to the client.
  2. 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.

10. Friendliness

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!

Conclusion

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:

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

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26 Responses to “The 10 Key Attributes Top Earning Freelance Bloggers Share”

  1. Corina
    March 25, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    Hey Tom,

    Welcome back! I know, I know, you came back earlier. I read your “come back post”. 🙂
    I agree with all your 10 attributes and I would add one: common sense.
    Use your common sense when you´re applying for a pitch or responding to a client. Don´t let your frustrations, bad mood or anything stand between you and your client. Be professional!
    Put yourself in your clients´shoes. Would you like to receive that kind of answer/work…fill in the blanks?

    Sometimes we see things only from our perspective and fail to consider our client´s and then the problems start showing up.
    Freelancing is no different than working for someone else in a customer service department: you have to engage with your clients, you have to engage with your colleagues and boss(es).

  2. Chris
    March 25, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Some good stuff there but too many typos for my liking. I’ll let you off but I won’t be hiring you! ;]

  3. Beth
    March 25, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    It surprises me when people write, “you were really nice” or “you’re easy to work with” on my feedback forms like they were surprised to find a friendly freelancer (ack, now I sound like I’m bragging and that’s not where I’m going with this). Apparently not being a total jerk can elevate you above the masses. 🙂

  4. Lori
    March 25, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Tom,
    I enjoy that your posts are less condescending, and crass than some who dispense this sort of useful information; they are always helpful.
    However, I’m with Chris, in the comments, if for the sole reasons you started with in this post: numbers 1 and 2!
    Perhaps you’d like to hire me to edit your posts before you push publish?

    • Tom Ewer
      March 26, 2015 at 9:45 am

      Oh man, I’m getting a beating here! 😉

      To be totally honest, I’m not sure I actually proofread this piece at all. I wrote it in about 50 minutes and wanted to get it published before I switched off for the evening. Like I said, do as I say, not as I do 😉

  5. Warren is Breaking Work
    March 26, 2015 at 4:41 am

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for this. I like the straightforward forward approach and although practical, they are all very true. Freelance writers also have to realize that they have to compete with others; so they either need to perfect these points or keep practicing until they do.

    Keep inspiring,
    Warren

  6. Joe
    March 26, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Hi Tom

    Do you have any advice on what we can do to improve our writing skills? I write for clients everyday but rarely get any feedback.

    On the rare occasion that I do, they tend to point out the same thing. I then try to rectify, but after periods of no feedback, I seem to slip back into my old ways.

    I’m about 60% of the way to those $100 hours, and would love to hit that mark.

    Thanks,
    Joe

    • Tom Ewer
      March 27, 2015 at 11:47 am

      Hi Joe,

      Writing guest posts for highly popular blogs can be a great way of getting feedback. I also encourage you to try to ‘take apart’ posts you consider to be very well written, and try to have a better understanding of why they ‘feel’ so well written.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  7. Anton Roder
    March 26, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    What about communication? I’m still new as a freelance writer, but in all my previous jobs the majority of interaction problems came from inefficient communication.

    • Tom Ewer
      March 27, 2015 at 11:55 am

      Good one Anton. This ties in with just about every single one of the attributes listed above, but quality and efficiency of communication is key.

  8. Nico
    March 27, 2015 at 3:01 am

    Nice list of tips. I’d add the ability to do research to the list. There are a lot of shoddy statistics that do the rounds in articles (even well written ones).

  9. Robyn Petrik
    March 29, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    All of these tips are great Tom, but I love number 10. Adding in some friendliness, even if it’s a quick and general ‘Hope you’ve had a great week so far’ as you open an email, can go a long way. It makes for a much more pleasant working relationship, sets you apart in your client’s mind, and elevates the chance for repeat work and referrals.

  10. Alexa
    April 13, 2015 at 1:03 am

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much for this informative piece – I am currently craving all kinds of advice on improving my skills as a Freelancer. I’ve recently quit not my job but my previous live to move across the world and am finding it rather sobering to realize how hard it actually is to freelance without an active, stable network (in the new country).

    I made a few notes reading your advise but am still wondering (and this could be answered by not just you but surely any other entrepreneur in charge of hiring):

    Why would one choose to hire a non-native speaker instead, when the risk of “typos” or “grammar mistakes” are so much more present?
    Can the sole preference in characteristics and style make a difference? Do you see any other benefits in hiring non-natives?

    If not, do you have further advice other than language or communication courses to close the gaps between non-native and native speakers?

    Thanks for your constant informative posts – I really enjoy them (and I too just ignore the typos in the article, if you ignore mine. Ha!)

    • Tom Ewer
      April 14, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      Hi Alexa,

      Why would one choose to hire a non-native speaker instead, when the risk of “typos” or “grammar mistakes” are so much more present?

      I choose to hire the best person for the job. Whether they are native or non-native is irrelevant 🙂

      Can the sole preference in characteristics and style make a difference?

      I’m not sure what you mean by this…

      Do you see any other benefits in hiring non-natives?

      Not really…I suppose they might be more conscientious in their work; knowing that they’re competing with native writers.

      If not, do you have further advice other than language or communication courses to close the gaps between non-native and native speakers?

      Read a lot and write a lot! Also, get feedback on your writing. I like http://lang-8.com/ – although people won’t give you in-depth critiques on style, they will be able to highlight poor use of grammar, unnatural sentence structure, etc.

      Cheers,

      Tom

  11. Aritra
    April 16, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Thank you for this wonderful article

  12. Addevi
    April 17, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    I appreciate these tips; some of them are easy to overlook or underestimate, until you are reminded of them.

    I understand that no one wants to hire someone who seems unsure about their job. My problem though is that while I do want to appear and be confident, I do not want to appear fake. I am working on finding the middle ground but if you have any advice, that will be great! 🙂

  13. Judy
    June 22, 2017 at 12:13 am

    Thanks Tom, I’ve read you several times and enjoyed each post.

    As much as I agree with every tip, I do feel, as does Anton, another freelance writer, that the client must communicate fully. That is, he must be absolutely clear with his preferences and instructions or else it’s a failure from the get go.

    As you said, nobody enjoys revisions, and that goes for the writer.

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