Content writers don’t come in templates. They are creative folks, who cannot be type-casted as this or that. Yet, for any content writer to be successful in the long run, and build a long-term relationship with any client, there are certain skills and qualities they must build, which makes them shine out in a pack. Most of the required skills can be built and acquired over a period of time and are not difficult to master. This is why content writing is a rewarding profession, full of opportunities for those who put in that little “extra” to hone their professional profile and communication. Any client will be able to tell the difference between a content writer and a great content writer. What is it that they are looking for? Here is a ready reckoner list.
Ensure You Have Impeccable Grammar
Grammar is like bread and butter for any writer, all the more so for a content writer. You get that wrong, and you are sure to slip. Too many blogs are filled with glaring grammatical errors, and any discerning client will know that they were not written by great content writers.
There are several online resources, like free courses on MOOCs, writing blogs etc, which can help you achieve the desired level of perfection in your grammar. Apart from pitching clients, make sure you set aside some time to go through some of these resources now and then.
Learn How to Write in Multiple Writing Styles
A good writer can write well. A great writer can write the same sentence in ten different ways.
Content writing has a purpose. Unlike writing for your personal blog or your next book, content writing is written with certain business goals in mind. It is important that what you write meets these business goals, and choosing an appropriate writing style is a big part of this. At the outset, writing for B2B, B2C, B2G are all different. They require a different tone and writing style. Your client will be able to help you with specific branding guidelines for your particular assignment, which detail the content style, tone, voice for their business. If they don’t, request them for it. It is good to practice writing content of different tones – from frivolous, Buzzfeed-style to research-based, professional HBR-style.
Understand Basics Of Content Marketing
If you are serious about your profession as a content writer, and envisage a long, fulfilling career for yourself, it will be worthwhile for you to understand the basics of content marketing and where content fits into it. Content is at the center of content marketing. Hence, you – the content writer – play an important role in the funnel of content marketing. Not knowing where you fit into this chain is a great disadvantage to you and your client, both. Make yourself familiar with popular “jargon” of content marketing. One good way to do that is to follow popular blogs on content marketing – Neil Patel, Jeff Bullas and Contently are a few industry leaders. If you know what content marketing involves in end-to-end execution, you can hone your content pieces all the better, and make a lasting impression on your client. Many content writers claim knowledge of content marketing, without putting in the effort to learn it. Don’t be one of them.
Learn SEO Basics
SEO is an important factor in getting eyeballs on any content piece. Though not all content is aimed at hacking SEO rankings, a lot of it is. It is a good practice to ask your clients what their SEO strategy is, and to apply the learning to your content piece. For this, you need to understand the basics of SEO keywords, know how to use popular SEO tools, understand some of the SEO jargon and weave in the SEO keywords in your writing in a natural flow, rather than plastering them over it.
Be Integrated With Timelines
Marketing managers and content strategists have content calendars, goals, deadlines and EOM/EOY reports to prepare. Their world revolves around meeting goals and timelines. If you help them in this journey, you climb up the ladder quickly. If you don’t, you will need to try harder.
Always make sure that you factor in how much time you will require to write any content piece and give a realistic timeline – and then stick to it. No one likes a late comer. Least of all a marketing chief. If you will not be able to meet a deadline, give the client a heads up. Ditching someone at the last minute is something most people don’t forget in a hurry.
Be Professional in Your Communication
Content writing, though a creative work role, requires professionalism. A common misunderstanding which many creative people have is that they are somehow exempted from the requirements of “professionalism” by virtue of their being creative. This is far from the reality. If you want to carve a niche for yourself in the professional world, you need to learn how to work as a professional – honing your communication is the first step.
It is a sign of immaturity when people in the workspace make personal attacks, or act in a presumptuous fashion. If you are working with your best friend, maybe it does not matter. But when you are networking with new people, who you don’t know, it is important to be polite and friendly, but not cheeky or frivolous. This is a small detail which is often glossed over, but is a significant factor that sets you apart from your peer when a Marketing Manager has to choose between candidate A versus candidate B.
Many content marketing projects are building the ship while sailing. This is often by design, not by accident. Content marketing involves analytics and revision of content strategy based on the analytics. This translates to discussion and revisions of content pieces. This further means, that you, as a content writer, should not switch off your phone or emails for two days without notifying your client. They might want you to make some revision or brief you on a new assignment. If you show up 2 days late, chances are, the assignment would have been given to someone else. Being responsive is a sign that you take your work seriously and are willing to do what it takes to make every assignment just right.
Choose Your Niche
If you have the capacity to learn anything and write on anything, that is great – demonstrate that. It is not impossible and can definitely be done. However, if you are not there yet, specify your topics of expertise and stick to that. Many writers try to write on “anything,” without building the muscles for it. Content writing doesn’t work that way. It is not a copy-paste job. It requires research and knowledge of the topics you write on – else it is just fluff, no substance. Writing fluff won’t earn you a name for yourself.
Maintain Your Own Blog
This has several, oft-overlooked pluses. For one, it keeps your habit of writing fresh, whether you have ongoing assignments or not. Some writers end up being “stingy” with their writing, because they think that they should monetize every word they put on the web. This is a narrow approach, which doesn’t work too well. A writer can become from average to better, and from better to great only by writing more.
Writing your own blog also helps you develop a habit of proof reading your work, removing your creative blocks, improving your grammar and vocabulary, and experimenting with your writing. You could think of it as your own playground. Another aspect of keeping a blog is creating a brand for yourself. Maintaining a blog helps you set your own brand, which goes a long way in earning a name for yourself, getting found in searches, and getting back links from other platforms. Apply all your knowledge of content marketing, content writing and SEO to build a blog which helps you get found, get better, and get work.
Write On Popular Platforms
If you know your niche, it is likely that you would know reputed platforms in your nice. If not, make the effort to find these out. Research and find good publishers and websites that publish high quality content in your niche. Sign up as a guest blogger on these platforms and create content there that proves your authority on the subject. This will help you get discovered, and give you an added advantage over your peers who have no such work to show. Build your digital reputation by writing on these platforms as often as is feasible. Another advantage is, that this will help you stay updated with what is new and upcoming in your niche. Writing for a good platform is an exercise in its own right and requires a fair amount of research. None of this will go waste. It will add up to your reliability as a professional who knows his/her subject well.
While no list of qualities and skills that would set a great content writer apart from the rest is exhaustive, this is a good overview of what is often expected of a content writer, and how a content writer can earn a strong reputation for him/ herself in their field.
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