7 Core Skills That Will Help Freelance Content Writers Thrive In 2023

The Four Pillars of High Quality Content
February 10, 2023

Content writing is an industry rich with opportunities, but it comes with tough competition. Different content writers thrive at different formats and industries. Although no two paths are the same, freelance writers come from varied backgrounds and find professional success. 

Over the years, content marketing has taken many forms. From being a means to drive traffic to now enabling sales, increasing the click-through rate, answering support questions, and driving product knowledge, content marketing has come a long way. 

What this means for writers is that there are more opportunities to write, edit, build strategy, work with the sales teams, make podcasts, and so much more. Content is now a flexible term, which makes a career as a freelance content writer so attractive. 

While it is hard to pinpoint the exact skills of the best freelance writers, I’ve tried nailing down the 7 core skills content writers should level up this year.

#1. Writing 

Now, this may sound like an obvious skill. But let’s take a step back. 

Great writers are great thinkers, who use the written word to give meaning to ideas and simplify even the most complex thoughts. They’re not only persuasive but have ironclad arguments to defend their beliefs and prove their point. 

They’re experts in the art of winning attention. They can transcend across oceans and continents to build real and personal connections with the readers and customers

A person who can write well can thrive even in other professions. It is safe to say, if you can’t write well, you won’t make it very far in marketing. 

We strongly believe that writing is the single most important non-technical skill for everyone today. 

And most important of all, great writing can be taught. 

Paul Graham says

I think it’s far more important to write well than most people realize. Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.

Writers are used to creating the first ugly draft with the framework. 

The framework typically has: 

  • Intro 
  • Background 
  • Tips/ideas
  • Conclusion 

Consider this as your roadmap. It helps you visualize what elements you need to build upon. 

Then, you would fill in the examples and add an intro and conclusion. 

It accompanies editing and rewriting and the end product is cleaner than where you started. 

However, often, reading becomes an afterthought for writers. 

Echoing in the words of senior creator Deepti Nair, who writes about topics ranging from SaaS and artificial intelligence to memes and pop culture. 

“I believe reading is one of the core skills that we need as writers. I know it’s unusual to call reading a skill, but it’s true that the more we read, the better writers we become. So it’s a skill we have to keep polishing to thrive as content creators. In the past, I read books fast just to reach the end of the story quickly; I would forget what I consumed just as fast. But now I’m trying to slow down as much as I can and take my time to absorb the essence of the text.”

A strategy financial copywriter Hardik Lashkari recommends, which leads to better writing is: Recording of ideas. In his words

Maybe it sounds silly, but most writers don’t struggle with writing great content, editing it to cut the fluff, or analyzing the results once a piece of content is published.

Instead, they fail to generate new, unique, and unusual content ideas. Not that they don’t consume great content themselves, but they fail to record what they consume so they can use it later.

I have seen many writers reading 100s of books in a year, spending as much time on Reddit as elsewhere, listening to fantastic podcasts, and watching Youtube videos.

Yet, they can’t write better story leads, article introductions, or LinkedIn posts, because they haven’t recorded great information from those books, Reddit conversations, podcasts, and videos.

Hence, one skill you must and should possess in 2023 is to use Notion, Evernote, Google Keep, or even a handwritten diary to record whatever you consume.

Consume less. Record more. Implement it at a 10x speed.

Your future self will thank you for it.

Lastly, Satabdi Mukherjee, who specializes in writing and editing long-form marketing content says: 

Outlining is a critical skill that writers must have in 2023. An outline helps in multiple ways: it expedites approvals from editors/POCs, it enables SMEs to provide pointed inputs and suggestions, it helps stakeholders visualize the angle the final piece will take, and it helps writers adhere to deadlines. Writing without a detailed outline is the equivalent of setting out on a journey without a destination in mind. You waste time and effort figuring out where to go—and you may not even get there in the end.

#2. Storytelling 

Storytelling is the holy grail for content writers. Anyone (including AI writing tools and robots) can write listicles and keyword-stuffed articles. 

But stories are a work of art. They separate great writers from marketers. 

Stories have the ability to educate, engage, or convince the reader of topics they didn’t know or care for. So when given a choice, why would anyone not want to tell a story?

But for starters, stories are hard work. Even the most straightforward narrative for case studies or analogy can involve deep thought, SME interviews, and many many rewriters. 

Let’s take the example of this article from the user research platform Sprig on confirmation bias

What’s most striking here: 

#1. The title that evokes curiosity – The angle/topic is surprising and counter-intuitive. 

#2. The intro that hooks the reader – The first few paragraphs grab your attention. 

#3. Headers that are easy to scan – Not everyone reads an article from top to bottom. Most skim and only stop when they find something helpful. The subheadings in this article are compelling enough to stop skimming and start reading. 

#4. Add a conclusion that offers “an extra” – Why just stop at a summary? When the reader makes it all the way to the end, give them something extra. 

  • Answer what next? 
  • Link to a downloadable checklist.
  • Garner their curiosity with a “related topic” 

While writing is a catalyst for storytelling, you don’t want to just stop here. You want to create a narrative that serves as a runway for your work. 

So then, how do you create convincing narratives? 

As per Abby, our senior creator: 

No article, no great write-up will garner attention if it can’t tinker with the emotions of the readers. Any writer regardless of domain and topic must keep in mind the storytelling aspect of the write-up. It need not be always fancy, but something that goes with the flow and captures the attention of the readers. A great storyteller has direct access to readers’ hearts, minds, and souls.

But then, when to add a storytelling angle and when to stay away from it? 

This means, when the reader is already familiar with your topic and wants to know how they can do it, they don’t need a fancy story. They want to get straight to the “what and how.” 

Whereas when you want to introduce a concept or earn your reader’s trust, take them on a journey. Cold statistics and instructions would not convince someone who is uninterested or unfamiliar with your topic. Storytelling can do this for you. 

Storytelling content evokes an emotion that leaves a lasting impression. 

In her 6+ years of experience in writing SEO-optimized content, one critical aspect of storytelling that dog mom Anubha Das has learned is:

Your narrative should speak to the audience in a way they can understand it clearly. A lengthy statement filled with jargon and complex vocabulary can quickly lose the reader’s attention.

The ability to generate material that effectively targets your target audience while keeping in mind readability is, therefore, one of the most crucial skills of a content writer. This is a critical skill that gives writers an edge over AI content generators.

#3. Research

Great content delivers value and solves the queries of the target audience. To do so, you need to have strong research skills. 

Besides looking for information at the obvious places (read Google), dig in deeper. 

  • Pull out research articles from Google Scholar and analyze the data. 
  • Tap into your client’s customer success teams for insights, speak to the sales teams to understand the real problem of the users, reach out to experts in the industry, and ask your community for insights. 
  • Dig into SME interviews to know more about the customer. 

Adds Sharath Byloli, a freelance B2B SaaS writer who specializes in writing data-driven research-heavy content around eCommerce, marketing, and sales: 

In today’s digitized landscape, the ability to carry out in-depth research is more important than ever for writers. With the advancement of AI-powered content creation tools, it has become easier than ever to produce written content rapidly and with little effort. Despite this, the key to differentiating your content from others in this over saturated digital space is to ensure that your writing is informative, engaging and has an investigative angle. Proper research is crucial in achieving this.

By taking the time to research your topic thoroughly, you can gain access to the latest statistics, brand examples, and case studies that will help make your content more appealing and actionable. Additionally, research will help ensure that your content is accurate and up-to-date, which is essential in building credibility and trust with your audience.

#4. Data analysis 

Another core skill, data analysis is what some of the best content writers I know are great at. They’re data whizzes. 

The ability to crunch numbers, curate data from different sources, and create simple graphs to summarize complex data is the core skill of thriving as a content writer. 

Writing great data content requires both time and effort. Then, use your storytelling skills to weave that data into a narrative. 

The best writers use data to drive their stories. It is a mix of great writing, wrapping data in the insight and understanding of the industry.

Also, this data-driven content helps your audience. It should add value to the people you write for. It should show the reader what they can do next with this knowledge. 

#5. Ability to convert ideas into scroll-stopping visuals 

For any writer, charts and graphics are the centerpieces of content. They make the readers smarter and make you a better writer. Unfortunately, stock images can do neither. 

The truth is, you can’t describe numbers in words. Nor can stock images always communicate the valuable information you’re communicating. 

Be open to spending some time to make your graphs more appealing and create diagrams to visually represent your information. 

The right graphics make your article more compelling and individual images more shareable.  

Dhruv Pandya, a writer focused on creating engaging content for SaaS products believes in the power of storytelling and always attempts to bring a fresh outlook to every piece of content he produces. 

According to Dhruv,

“Digital storytelling is evolving. Crafting visually compelling narratives for your audience on the web requires a blend of data, words, and visuals.

Access to data will help writers be informed and improve their storytelling. The right mix of words will have to be presented with the right visuals. Presenting this with an empathetic approach toward your audience is key in 2023.

Personally, I’m drawn towards bite-sized storytelling in the form of interactive and immersive audio-visual experiences in my own writing projects, both professional as well as personal. We have experienced a greater emphasis on video content and it is only going to increase this year. Content marketers will have to heavily rely on visual content for better engagement.”

The best part is there are tools that don’t require technical design expertise: Google Sheets, Canva, Excalidraw, and Figma.

In 2023, to stand apart, use these tools to power your thoughts and help your readers understand them. 

#6. Communication skills 

You would agree that although communication is a soft skill, it is the most important skill for writers and their clients alike. 

Have you come across a client who couldn’t articulate their thoughts properly? I bet you know the woes of what happens when the brief is unclear. It is followed by several re-dos simply because the client could not convey what they wanted clearly. 

In the simplest terms, communication is your ability to concisely relay information to other people. Sure, it comes in handy when writing for your readers. But it is also extremely important when you’re crafting sales/outreach messages, following up after meetings, and firing off emails to clients. 

Some points for excellent communication with your clients and managers are: 

  • Get to the point quickly. The supporting material could follow later. 
  • Be timely. If your team is waiting for input, provide it quickly. 
  • Treat other people with kindness. 

Your ability to clearly communicate will come in handy when talking to your content manager, prospects, customers, and anyone you would interact with at work. Treat it as a skill, even when you feel it’s too trivial. 

Most freelance writers would resonate with what freelance writer Hemali Ramchandani who specializes in finance, tech, and healthcare: says about the importance of client communication. 

“Client communication is vital for a writer’s growth and success. Building a strong relationship with clients helps understand their needs, set clear expectations, and deliver quality content. Effective communication avoids misunderstandings, shows investment in the project, and helps secure long-term relationships.  It requires active listening, clear and concise communication, responsiveness, and valuing client feedback. And is key to building trust and establishing a writer as dependable and successful.”

#7. Sales and empathy 

In 2023, freelance writing is going to be an increasingly dense marketplace. In the era of the Great Resignation, more and more people are leaving full-time corporate jobs and starting freelance businesses. While it’s going to become more competitive to be a good freelance writer, the good news is that by marketing yourself, you can get a steady stream of clients.

It might not be in your DNA to pick up the phone and talk to your customers. But the ability to understand what your prospect really wants happens only with direct conversations. Speak to your current and prospective clients. Understand what motivates them. 

Get to know your audience. Learn what the prospect really wants. Develop empathy to learn more about their lives and jobs. When you understand the whole person and how complex their lives are, you’ll be a lot better at sales (and your job). 

Some of the ways to showcase your writing experience are: 

#1. Get bylines in industry publications – Writing for publications your prospective clients read builds your credibility and authority. Think of it as an opportunity to demonstrate your talent and skill. Having a byline in a well-known trusted website can increase your chances of landing high-paying clients.

#2. Network with CMOs, heads of content, and marketing managers on LinkedIn – If there is one thing you should do apart from writing, it is building your network. 

Connect with marketing managers at the companies in your industry: whom you’re planning to pitch. Interact with them by commenting on their posts. Build relations with them over time before pitching your freelance writing services. Have a portfolio ready: to be shared with the prospects when they show interest.

Consider working on soft skills such as empathy, communication, and storytelling as over time, your technical skills will matter less. Learn to turn chaos into calm. 

What next…. 

Great content writing involves using stories and data to engage the readers and drive action. 

The best part? You don’t need a degree to become a freelance content writer. 

For a thriving freelance business, craft a compelling narrative about the value you bring to the table. The competition for freelance jobs is getting stronger and the best freelance writers will stand out. 

And most important of all, figure out the industries that interest you and make you happy. 

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