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How to Become a Content Writer: Everything You Need to Know

By: Compose.ly — January 11, 2021

Plenty of people want to write for a living, but it’s hard knowing where to start. If your idea of writing is restricted to fiction and journalism, then the field might seem wildly oversaturated. Those aren’t the only types of writing careers available, though—not by a long shot! The internet has led to the rise of a whole new career: content writing.

The web runs on well-written, exciting content. Think about your favorite websites to read—the ones you visit every day or two. Someone was probably paid to produce the articles that you enjoy so much.

If you’re interested in this line of work, look no further. Below, we detail how to become a content writer, beginning with what exactly this profession does.

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What do Content Writers Do?

Most product comparisons, brand blogs, and press releases are created by content writers. The need for these types of writing is only growing, so it’s a great time to consider becoming a content writer and making it your part- or even full-time career. A content writing career offers many benefits, including the ability to:

  • Work wherever you want. Content writers are often freelance or remote workers. That means that you can do your job wherever you want—including your couch, your favorite coffee shop, or the beach.
  • Enjoy a flexible schedule. In general, content writers are paid by the word and not by the hour. As long as you meet your deadlines and provide quality content, you can work whenever you want—whether that’s at noon or midnight.
  • Learn about interesting topics on the job. There’s no need to worry about getting stuck in a rut as a content writer. You’ll always be exploring and learning new things as you’ll be required to write about different topics.

Of course, learning how to become a content writer takes some work. Let’s walk through what you need to become a content writer, how to get started, and how to produce pitches that can get you new clients.

What You Need to Become a Content Writer

Just about every job has minimum requirements to get hired. Content writing is no different. Here’s what it takes to be a content writer—including the basic tools, skills, and qualifications you need to succeed.

Equipment

Few jobs require less equipment than content writing. However, there are still some tools that you’ll need to produce quality content:

  • A computer. You can’t create online content today without a computer. However, you don’t need anything fancy. All you need is a machine that can connect to the internet and handle frequent use.
  • A comfortable keyboard. If you decide to write content for a living, you’ll probably spend a lot of time using your keyboard. While a basic keyboard is all you need, it may be worth investing in an ergonomic model to protect your wrists.
  • A reliable, secure internet connection. You need to deliver your work to your clients somehow. Coffee shop internet may work at first, but it’s worth investing in a stable connection of your own to make sure you don’t miss any critical deadlines because the neighborhood café is closed.
  • Google Docs and Microsoft Word. These word processors are two of the most commonly used in the business world. Files from Google Docs often contain problems when converted to the Microsoft Word format, so it’s best to have both—especially if you hope to work with a wider variety of clients.
  • A professional email address. Much of your communication with your clients will be over email. Make sure you have a professional email address that consists of your name and as few numbers as possible.
  • A planning and calendar system that works for you. If you make content writing your career, you’ll quickly wind up with many due dates for different projects and clients. Having a planner and calendar system ready will help you keep track of everything.

Skills

Along with your tools, you’ll need some basic skills to get started:

  • Writing. This one is obvious. Clear, understandable writing is the most fundamental part of what it takes to be a content writer.
  • Flexibility. Different projects and clients will require different writing styles The more flexible you are in your writing, the more opportunities you’ll have.
  • Research. You’ll rarely know everything you need for an article off the top of your head. Knowing how to research effectively will help you produce content worth reading.
  • WordPress. A third of the internet runs on WordPress, making it important to understand how to post to WordPress. You can practice your WordPress skills by setting up a free site, which you’ll need later.
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This is the process of creating content that ranks well in Google and other search engines’ results. Because well-optimized content drives traffic, understanding the fundamentals of SEO will make you more appealing to potential clients and help you write content that sells.

Optional Qualifications

There’s no need to get any particular qualifications to become a content writer, but these can help.

When you’re just beginning your content writing career, you won’t have a huge portfolio to show potential clients. Having some qualifications, such as a free Hubspot Content Marketing certification, can help you land more clients early in your career and help you understand how to become a content writer online.

You can also look into getting writing certifications from universities in your area if you’re interested in getting an in-depth education instead of just jumping in headfirst. This may be particularly useful if you want a permanent position somewhere instead of working as a freelancer.

Online Tools to Polish Your Writing

While not necessary to become a content writer, plenty of writing tools can help advance your career by improving your writing.

  • Grammarly. As an online grammar and optimization checker, you can use Grammarly to spot writing errors before submitting a draft.
  • Hemingway Editor. This free online app checks the reading level of your article, identifies instances of passive voice, and highlights adverbs.
  • Copyscape. Plagiarism is one of the worst things you can do as a content writer. Checking your work with Copyscape ensures that you’re not accidentally copying someone else’s work.
  • Unsplash and Pexels. These sites compile royalty-free stock images that you can use for any purpose, including adding a splash of color to written content.

Hemingway Editor allows you to edit your text from within its browser-based web application.

How to Get Started on Your Writing Career

Once you’re past learning how to become a content writer—and have the necessary tools and skills to begin—you can start looking for clients. Follow these five steps to begin securing new clients sooner rather than later.

1. Choose a Niche

“Write what you know” is a cliché for a reason. You’ll write more interesting and useful articles about a subject that you enjoy or regularly engage in.

If you have experience in technical or medical fields, for example, you can easily place yourself in one of those niches because you have knowledge that others don’t. If you don’t have a topic that immediately comes to mind, you can also consider writing product reviews, how-to articles, or product descriptions.

As you write, you’ll start to notice that you prefer specific topics or styles more than others. Lean into this and hone your offerings into something specific. Focusing on a narrow niche will help you build a name for yourself in your preferred field. Not only will you be more interested in what you write, but you’ll also improve your skills and develop a reputation in your area.

2. Build a Portfolio

Most clients prefer to hire people with experience in their field. You’re more likely to get hired to write craft articles if you have already written 30 DIY craft blog posts. Building your portfolio and getting examples of your work online is one of the most important things you can do for your writing career.

One way to start developing a portfolio is to offer free guest posts to websites in your preferred niche. Many sites will welcome free content, particularly if they’re smaller or less well-known blogs.

Having a few guest posts under your belt provides your portfolio with some concrete examples of your work. It also demonstrates to potential clients that other people have found your work worth publishing, giving you the benefit of social proof in a way that posts on your blog don’t.

3. Create a Website

Many content writers attract clients by showing up in search engine results. Having a website gives you an online home where you can explain your offerings, show off your portfolio, and provide your contact information. A good website can also demonstrate your ability to navigate WordPress and show professionalism.

4. Apply for Jobs

There are two main ways to become a content writer online:

  • job boards
  • content writing platforms

Job boards contain many unique writing opportunities, from one-off articles to long-term engagements. You will need to apply to each posting separately. You can benefit from the variety these boards offer, but it can take a lot of time to build a portfolio this way.

Meanwhile, content writing platforms allow you to apply once to receive access to many projects. For example: If you are approved as a Compose.ly writer, you’ll receive regular notifications of projects that fit your skillset that you can accept if you’re available. This saves you time and effort, helping you build a portfolio faster.

5. Network

The ultimate goal of many content writers is to have potential clients requesting to work with them. To get to that point, it’s crucial to network in your niche. Great networking strategies include:

  • Reaching out to other writers in your niche for a quick conversation
  • Pitching articles to blogs in your niche
  • Offering guest posts to websites and publications in related fields
  • Connecting with writers and editors on LinkedIn and Twitter

This kind of networking can get your name out there and introduce you to people who can help you in the future.

How to Begin Pitching

Whether you’re using job boards to find work or doing cold outreach to offer your services, you’ll need to learn how to pitch articles. An article pitch is a summary of an item you intend to write and why it’s relevant to the site that’s receiving it. A good pitch includes four elements:

  1. A catchy potential headline
  2. The topic you’re covering and the format you intend to use
  3. Why the article matters
  4. A brief explanation of who you are, with a link to your portfolio and your contact information

Email is by far the best way to pitch articles. Make sure you send your pitches to someone who has the authority to hire you, and only send any given pitch to one person at a time.

If you pitch the same article to the head editors of two different sites and they both accept, you must turn one of them down. That doesn’t give them a good impression of your professionalism! However, if you don’t hear back from a site in a few days, you can safely pitch the article to another publication.

You’ll likely receive quite a few rejections in your early career. That’s completely normal. Once you get a few accepted articles in your portfolio, you’ll start seeing better results.

Unlock Your Writing Potential

Becoming a professional content writer takes time. Learning the skills to produce successful content can take months, even years, and you’re bound to make mistakes along the way. However, as long as you keep learning and improving, you have an excellent chance of making content writing your career.

This article was written by Compose.ly writer Gabrielle Hass.


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