The workplace is changing. For decades, teachers and careers advisors have warned young people that they should get a good education because “robots will take all the other jobs”. Today, computing and AI are so powerful that even some knowledge workers are under threat of job losses.
To secure your future as a freelance writer, you need to have a skill so important that it can’t be done by a computer and a reputation so strong that people want you specifically, not just the work you do.
How to Get More Work at Higher Rates
1. Finding Your Niche
The way the education system is set up, young people are expected to have some idea of what career they are aiming for. This early specialization doesn’t work well for everyone. It’s hard to decide early on what you want to do with your career.
Even if you know you want to write, what subject do you want to specialize in? Someone who can write articulately and clearly about politics may struggle to explain finance or health. Good research skills are useful, but a solid foundation is even better.
Fortunately, the stigma around retraining later in your career is fading. This means you have the chance, at any age, to shift your focus and find something that you are passionate about.
Consider the following:
- What are your hobbies?
- What do you enjoy reading or learning about?
- Is there a cause that you are passionate about?
- What are you good at?
Find a subject that you’re truly enthusiastic about and that you can talk about endlessly. If you can do that, you can stay motivated, always write well, and your enthusiasm will shine through.
2. Building Your Online Profile
Whatever stage of your career you are at, you can have a strong online profile. Even someone who is just getting started has something interesting to share. Documenting your journey from the early days in your chosen industry to becoming a thought leader is valuable and can help others who are following in your footsteps. It can also show prospective clients a little about who you are and how far you have come.
Everyone should have a presence on social media, and a blog or personal website for long-form text posts. The content on the blog can be shared across social media. It’s well worth purchasing a domain name for your website. Publish your best work on your blog. If you’re looking for a variety of writing gigs, such as news, opinion pieces, and tutorials, cover all of those things on your blog so prospective clients can see how versatile you are.
Include links to several bylined pieces, if possible. If most of your work so far has been ghostwriting, spend some time writing some content of your own that you’re proud to put your name to. Ghostwriting might generate income for you today, but the lack of credits could cause issues later if you end up needing to find a new client, and don’t have a portfolio of work to show off.
Choose a timeless domain name that will reflect you and your interests not just for today, but for the future. Your own name, or a variation of it, is a good option if you’re able to purchase it. Avoid a name that is based on a hot topic or software product. In a few year’s time, that could be dated.
Use your about page to show your personality and highlight what you are trying to achieve. If you’re interested in public speaking, mention that. If you’re available for media quotes, say so. Getting quoted in the media is a good way to get noticed and establish yourself as a thought leader and expert.
A large part of earning the salary that you want and moving up the career ladder is simply presenting yourself well and asking for the salary you think you deserve. Don’t write for free, unless it’s for a charitable cause you believe in, and don’t write for a low hourly rate. Value you the work that you do, and find clients that value you too.
3. Portfolio Websites to Share Your Work
A personal or business-focused blog may be enough for some niches, but in other industries, you need to be able to show off your work more clearly. Fortunately, there are many well-known portfolio platforms that can be used to promote your work.
- WordPress.com has a free option suited to people just starting out.
- Medium is popular with many writers who are looking to make a name for themselves.
- Technical writers can create a site on GitHub Pages to show their writing and technical skills.
- Self-publishing books on Kindle allow writers to make money while building a portfolio.
Whatever platform you choose, be sure to use your portfolio to highlight your best work. This is particularly important once you have a few years of experience. A relatively inexperienced person may wish to add all of their work. However, as you become more experienced you should focus on highlighting the work that you enjoyed most and are the proudest of. After all, that’s what you want to get more bookings for.
You may find yourself writing a lot of boring “marketing copy” early in your career. If your long term goal is to break away from that, start working on more in-depth pieces that interest you in your spare time. It takes time to hone your skills, but it will pay off.
Avoid spec-work and low paying sites such as Fiverr or Upwork whenever possible. Even as someone getting started in your career, you are worth more than those websites typically pay. Create some samples for personal projects in your free time, use those for your portfolio, and price your work honestly. That will pay off in the long term and you’ll find you get better clients who respect what your work is worth. Breaking out of the “low paid gig” trap is difficult and it’s better to avoid falling into it in the first place.
Share your portfolio everywhere you can. Post new pieces on social media, try to get involved with guest blogging, public speaking, or other engagements, and make sure that you get a link to your portfolio or personal website included everywhere you can.
The people who come to your page after reading a quote from you in a news article are highly likely to be interested in what you have to say. Clear, consistent presentation of yourself as an authority figure can increase conversion rates by up to 23 percent, and inbound leads (those who come looking for you) have a conversion rate of 14.6 percent, as opposed to just 1.7 percent for outbound leads.
4. Make it Easy for People to Find You
No matter how good your work is, if people can’t find you then you won’t get commissions. If you are in a highly competitive niche you need to have a strong web presence and rank well in the search engines.
This means knowing how to play Google’s ranking game. Recent estimates put the number of websites online worldwide at around 1.72 billion. Google has to parse all of those, determine what they are about, and decide which to show for any given query. How many websites do you think there are relating to your niche? Of those, how many can you name?
5. How Google Ranks Websites
Google uses a huge number of ranking factors to decide which sites to show at the top of the search engines. The exact factors are something that Google will not disclose, partly because even Google themselves don’t know every single weighting given by their constantly evolving machine learning systems, and partly because Google does not want webmasters attempting to game the system.
Google has disclosed that they use something called E-A-T as a set of guidelines for certain websites. E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. Unfortunately, E-A-T is not a ‘score’, so it’s not something that can be easily measured and tested in the way that people used to estimate Page Rank and try to manipulate that factor.
E-A-T is, however, an idea that should guide how you build your website and how you interact with others on the web. Take a look at your website. If you were a stranger looking for information about the subject covered by that website, would you trust it? If you’re a writer that wants to be known for specific expertise, you need to be seen as an authority figure or thought leader.
You can evaluate your website’s EAT by asking yourself a few questions:
- Are the credentials of the author clearly displayed, and relevant to the subject matter?
- Does the author cite reputable, peer-reviewed, or authoritative sources for statistics or facts?
- Does the website or author have endorsements from third parties?
If you’re aiming to be recognized as an expert in your niche, you most likely have or are working towards some qualifications. Make this clear on your website.
Write informative articles or guides and provide citations for all statistics or facts that someone may wish to verify. Include clear disclaimers too, especially fit eh topic you are writing about falls under the banner of Your Money or Your Life (YMYL). High-risk topics where a reader should not take action without seeking expert advice first such as medicine or finance should be handled carefully.
Show off your credentials – such as a book published by a reputable publisher, or newspaper clippings from a quality news publication. Try to earn backlinks from high-quality external sources because having “approval” from sites that are already known to be reputable helps you appear reputable too.
6. The Value of Lifelong Learning
Remember that expertise is not the same as experience. Expertise is knowledge. Someone who trained as a mechanic and learned how to fix high-performance cars several decades ago may have knowledge of how to tune up a vehicle with a carburetor. Put that same person in front of an engine that relies on EFI and their knowledge would be useless.
A huge part of being recognized as an expert and reaping the financial and prestige benefits of that is keeping your skills current.
This is why some companies, especially those with the resources to train staff on the job, make the choice to hire under-qualified candidates. For them, it makes sense to bring in someone young, passionate, and enthusiastic who is willing to learn. That learning could be as simple as “learning their style guide”, or it could be subject-related training.
A wise expert knows the value of Continuing Personal Development. Most professional bodies put a lot of emphasis on CPD, but in the real world, the idea is often met with disdain. CPD is often dismissed as something that must be done to tick some boxes and keep a certification relevant, rather than to learn new skills or stay current with important trends.
7. You are Only as Good as Your Last Job
Experts are viewed as such because they do good work and people speak highly of them. The interviews you give will be of public record and if your predictions are wrong or your advice is poor that will be remembered.
Some of your clients will leave testimonials if you do good work. If you do bad work, readers could take to Twitter and other social platforms, or head to Amazon to leave negative reviews. An example of this is J.K. Rowling, a popular children’s author who is facing massive backlash due to controversial tweets, and harsh reviews for her recent crime novel published under a pen name. Shaking off the negative comments has proven difficult for her.
Positioning yourself as an expert in your niche means more than presenting yourself well in your CV and portfolio. You need to network constantly, make new connections, and share your expertise with as many people as you can.
Value the work that you do. Deliver the best possible work to each and every client, and be willing to charge what the work is worth. When you’re working in a creative niche, it’s important not to fall into the trap of undervaluing your work because there are others in your niche who are willing to work for free. The people who are working for free are hobbyists. You are a professional and an expert. Be confident in your work and charge the price that an expert would charge.