Training courses might look great on paper, but are they necessary to become a successful freelance writer?
Spending money and effort on training courses can delay you from actually doing the thing you get paid for–writing. And when they’re not essential, it’s a waste of your time and can get in the way of earning.
Having said that, you’re running a business. That involves having different freelance writing skills under your belt. It’s essential to understand the whole she-bang of freelance writing, whether that’s needing to upskill some of your existing skills or not.
Whether you’re thinking about handing in your resignation letter to start a career as a freelance writer, or have been freelancing for a while and wondering why you’re not getting new clients, this article will provide the answer.
We will share some of the most important requirements you need for a thriving freelance writing business. Discover whether qualifications are a must-have for freelance writers and decide for yourself.
Do you need any qualifications to start freelance writing?
If you’re brand new to writing, you’ll want to learn as much as you can as quickly as possible. New freelancers aren’t gonna be able to charge as much as someone with more experience.
What’s more, the competition for a great freelance writer will increase. The number of freelancers in the US is predicted to reach almost 80 million by 2025.
You need the right skills to stand out from the competition and navigate the highs and lows of freelancing. You’ll experience working with some great clients, but you will also come across red-flag clients too.
So do you need freelance writing qualifications to have a slice of the market and land freelance writing jobs? The answer depends on who you’re talking to.
Shweta Choudhary, a freelance content writer, says “There is no perfect answer to this. It depends on your interest area. But most niches have low barrier entry.”
One of the reasons why you would need freelance qualifications is the requirement for specialized knowledge.
Let’s take freelance medical writing, for instance. Some freelancers start off health writing with a scientific background or some other background and academic qualifications. According to Zippia, 56.8% of freelance medical writers have a bachelor’s degree. As you would expect, established and qualified medical professionals turned freelance writers make more money.
A health-related profession is useful and adds some authority–showing potential clients you have the proper background knowledge.
Having qualifications in your niche is a huge bonus, but not required. That first-hand experience working as a nurse, accountant, or engineer, combined with an encyclopedic knowledge in your field, means you can command premium rates. Clients will rely on you as the subject matter expert, as well as the writer. Providing these two roles means the client doesn’t have to rely on their in-house experts to fact check your work; which can slow down things on their end.Melissa, Freelance CPA Writer
Plus, increasing brand awareness is a task freelance writers undertake. Google’s EAT algorithm (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) proves to Google that you’re an expert on the topic, and therefore rank higher in search engines than someone who doesn’t.
The algorithm takes into consideration how knowledgeable the site owner is on the subject matter, how credible the content is and how trustworthy the website hosting the material is. Being a subject matter expert (SME) or having a recognized qualification will support the algorithm. And when your clients have a better chance of ranking in search engines, the happier they’ll be.
That said, you don’t need to have formal qualifications to have a successful freelance writing career. There are many other important credentials that you need.
Freelance writer Astley Cervania explains, “I was able to land clients without any freelance writing experience or formal qualifications. What’s more important than a qualification is if you can actually help your clients get results.”
And that’s a similar view from Kiran Shahid, B2B SaaS content writer, who says: “I don’t necessarily think you need hard qualifications like a Master’s degree or specific certifications to start freelance writing.
“However, courses on copywriting, strategy, SEO, and other related topics can help you gain important skills and knowledge that can help you succeed as a freelance writer. Industry experience and good business sense can also help you develop a strong understanding of what clients are looking for and how to position your writing services to appeal to them.”
With the general consensus being that freelance writing qualifications aren’t essential, let’s take a look at some of the most important soft skills you need to run a successful freelance business.
Successful freelance writers need strong skills in boundary setting. Given the fact that freelancers have a higher risk of burnout than those who are in paid employment, having skills in setting your own limits is critical. Long hours, the inability to say no to work, especially during those first few months, and not switching off are just some of the common risks freelancers face.
Freelance writers with good resilience skills seize problems and obstacles by learning from them. They turn difficulties into lessons that improve their business. Resilience skills are needed for growth–adapting to challenges that may come up in any situation, now and in the future.
It takes courage to go it alone. You have to make some serious decisions that will affect your success and need faith in yourself.
It can be challenging to have a voice and speak up for yourself, especially if you’re more of an introvert. Sometimes, freelance writers need to be assertive, and if you’re not comfortable with standing your ground with something you firmly believe in, then that can be a problem.
Courage allows freelancers to be firm with their availability for client meetings or chase up unpaid invoices with tenacity and confidence.
Freelance schedules are physically and mentally draining at times.
Having high energy is essential to maintaining health, and productivity, and creating high-value pieces for your clients. Having said that, we all have times when we are unmotivated and unproductive. Freelance writers need to maintain levels of energy and enthusiasm in order to achieve deadlines.
Freelance life can be lonely.
If you’re used to working in a busy office or having a manager direct your workload, then it can be difficult to stay motivated as a freelance writer. Structuring your day, for example, can help prioritize tasks and prevent work from stacking up–which can be demotivating.
Freelance writers need skills in managing their energy to complete tasks when they lack motivation. Otherwise, they end up stressed, burnt out, and missing client deadlines.
Curiosity can often get overlooked, but when it comes to developing writing skills, exploring, and reflecting are vital to finding the best solution to problems.
Curious freelance writers enquire about a client’s target audience or budget. They need skills in asking open questions and getting the answers they need to create compelling content.
A lack of curiosity can result in not fully understanding a client brief. Curious freelance writers don’t assume anything. They ask. If they didn’t ask questions to confirm information such as a target audience or deadline, they risk creating content that doesn’t fit with their client’s expectations. Not asking the right questions leads to mistakes and your client not giving you more work. The knock-on effect is a blow to your confidence and zero work.
Great freelance writers use their curiosity to think outside the box and upskill. They actively seek out new learning opportunities such as:
- Listening to freelance writing podcasts. Curiosity leads to a strong desire to hear how other freelance writers overcome barriers. Qualifications certainly won’t offer the answers you need about how to onboard new clients, send an overdue invoice email, or set up your own processes.
- Developing writing skills. Freelance writers get the most out of their relationships by asking questions–building relationships with editors, developing writing skills, and ultimately, getting more work.
- Running a freelance business. Curious freelancers keep an open mind. They get the results they want to grow their businesses. The Creative Class course helps freelance writers change their mindset from freelancers to business owners with actionable tips, tools, and templates.
Staying curious is the key to sustaining a successful freelance career. Find creative solutions to problems through exploration, evaluation, and learning.
Having a passion for what you do in your personal and professional life is key to success.
Given the fact that freelancers work an average of between 20 to 30 hours per week, you want to be happy with what you’re doing, right?
If you’re not excited about the topic you’re writing about or working with a new client, you’re not going to be happy in the career you’ve chosen and it’ll show in your writing.
Plus, if you’ve ever experienced the ‘Sunday Scaries’, you’ll know how stressful it can be to feel overwhelmed and anxious about the working week ahead. A passion for writing can be the difference between enjoying what you do and getting that job done well.
Feeling positive isn’t just about being cheerful all the time or overly enthusiastic about the future. It’s about not having unrealistic expectations.
Taking a vacation, for example, can cause freelance writers a real headache. With no paid time off, nine in ten US freelancers say they must work during their “vacations.” Having the confidence that it’s OK not to continually check emails allows freelancers to rest and recharge, without overly worrying about work.
Plus, 30% of freelance writers make just under $10 per hour during their first year.
However, there are some qualifications that will stand you in good stead for commanding higher rates. According to Forbes, a freelancer can command higher rates for specialized roles, with software developers earning up to $1,000 USD/hr.
Feeling positive about the future and the fact your rates can improve will stand you in good stead.
⚡️ Check out our freelance rates data to get more insights into what writers charge.
As you can see, there are essential soft skills that freelance writers must have to excel. However, there are some qualifications or learning you can do that will help you become a top-notch writer and stand out.
Freelance writing qualifications that matter most
Clearly, the most important skill you need is writing. Why? Because freelance writing isn’t just about putting pen to paper. There are a heap of other skills you need to become successful.
Not only that, as you progress, you’ll want to be continually evaluating and planning your progress, ironing out any problems that might arise. It’s why two-thirds of full-time freelance workers update their skills regularly–making sure they stay competitive as the markets expand.
There are, however, a few other qualifications and skills that’ll set you up for success.
The nine qualifications below will help you navigate the world of content writing by increasing your confidence, and scaling up your business whilst showcasing your expertise to potential clients.
- Business management
- Time management
- Organizational skills
- Marketing skills
- Communication skills
- Research ability
- Writing skills
Planning, budgeting, and forecasting are all part of running a successful freelance writing business. Having some understanding of these things will help you make better decisions.
- Optimizing your resources so it gives you the desired outcome. Choosing to invest in a productivity tool can help you streamline processes in the long run.
- Keeping accurate records. All business transactions need to be recorded somewhere. Track income and expenditure using freelance accounting software so you know how much you’ve earned and how much you have spent.
- Filing your taxes. Have accurate and up-to-date records for year-end accounts. Don’t face hefty penalties for late submissions, let alone having sleepless nights!
- Better business planning. The right account information helps you forward plan. Have information at your fingertips and understand how best to grow your business with the resources available.
Accounting knowledge will help keep track of your money by tracking income and expenditure–giving a clear view of your business.
2. Business management
Understanding pricing, finding clients, getting paid, managing revisions, developing processes, and improving your workload (should we carry on?) are all business management tasks that run in the background.
Not getting paid on time can have serious consequences.
You’ve chosen a career in freelance writing to earn a living and you need to be paid for the work you have done. That said, a recent report highlighted that 72% of freelancers have unpaid invoices. And a staggering 59% are owed $50,000 or more for already completed work.
Failing to set accurate timescales and the right rate will result in you losing serious amounts of money. Business management skills give you the ability to estimate project timescales with reasonable accuracy.
Good business management skills will allow you to create watertight contracts that protect you and your work.
3. Time management
As much as freelancing gives you the freedom to choose your working hours and pattern, it does come with some consequences.
Aside from the fact that only 18% of people have a proper time management system, bad time management skills can have a damaging impact on your business. You run the risk of damaging customer relationships by missing a deadline–damaging your reputation.
Secondly, poor time management skills are unproductive. It can lead to sleep problems, and lower levels of energy and motivation, putting more pressure on you to counteract the problem and come up with better solutions.
Let’s say you have an ever-ending to-do list that continues to grow. Without focus and the right tools in place that list is likely to become even longer–ending up with feeling more stressed and overwhelmed. Freelance writers with good time management skills make a list and audit how long a particular task takes.
Get organized by reducing the amount of time it takes for those freelance administrative functions. Focus on the work you’re paid to do with a software solution from Harlow.
4. Organizational skills
Do you have bits of paper scattered around? Or lots of unread bookmarked web pages? Perhaps five different notepads on your desk?
Disorganisation hampers the ability to achieve goals, personally and professionally. It costs time and money, and can even negatively affect your mental health. What’s more, poor organizational skills make you less efficient–a skill that doesn’t bode well with clients.
Freelance writers need to have good organizational skills. They need to stay focused and attentive to manage their own time, client deadlines, and all the stuff in between!
5. Marketing skills
Marketing and advertising knowledge make it easier to run a business because freelance writers need to engage and communicate with clients, whilst promoting their brand.
That said, some 27% of small businesses still don’t have a website. It’s pretty impossible to run a successful freelance writing business without any content marketing knowledge and advertising your services.
Marketing skills can raise your profile. Clients will know what you offer and you won’t end up wasting money and effort with advertising on the wrong platform (or not advertising at all.)
Freelance writers need some marketing knowledge to be able to use their resources efficiently. For example, understanding where your target audience hangs out will prioritize efforts. Positioning your brand on LinkedIn when your audience is on Instagram isn’t going to increase brand awareness or land new clients.
Freelance writers with great marketing skills can:
- Explain their brand and demonstrate you are a business
- Promote their business in the right places to land new clients
- Analyze metrics to see what marketing campaigns do well
- Use critical thinking skills to create more writing opportunities
Great writers aren’t shy about promoting their freelance businesses. Marketing skills offer the knowledge and confidence to focus on the end result–understanding your client base and delivering an amazing service.
6. Networking skills
According to the Freelancer Loneliness Survey, 55% of freelancers said that they’ve experienced depression as a result of their job.
Building and maintaining a strong network is a surefire way to stay connected with other freelancers and make new relationships with potential clients. Being passionate about helping other people will stand you in good stead.
Successful freelancers build their networks by:
- Maintaining relationships with people they already know
- Attending networking events or meet-ups with other freelancers
- Building a social media presence by giving more value than they take
- Sending a DM to other freelancers commenting about what they like about a particular post
- Having courage and a sense of humor. Great freelancers put themselves out there, even if it feels uncomfortable, and are able to laugh (often at their own expense!)
Networking with potential clients is a key skill.
Commenting on their social media posts or sending them a quick introductory email can build relationships. When they share a post about a freelancing opportunity, your name will be recognizable when you hit send that reply.
7. Communication skills
Some 70% of freelancers say that communication skills are key. What’s more, an astonishing 86% of clients stop doing business with their customers when communication affects relationships.
Good communication skills will help prevent any misunderstandings.
Reduce the risk of failing to understand a proposal or outline by reading more information or talking to your client. When a client asks you to include information you don’t understand, good communication skills will enable you to ask for more clarity. Perhaps, there are abbreviations you don’t understand or even some technical terms.
Plus, you don’t want to submit a finished piece and get told it’s completely off the mark as to what the client was expecting.
A client may be expecting additional services or work within a particular time frame. And when that doesn’t happen (for whatever reason), open and transparent communication is a must-have to be able to agree on a way forward.
Good communication is essential for feeling confident in a project you’ve taken on as well as making a good impression.
The most important skill for a freelancer is to differentiate yourself from others in the field or your niche. Because there are no “hard qualifications” for becoming a writer (anyone can hang out their shingle and say they’re a content writer), you’ll need a unique selling proposition. You might be the best writer in the universe. But if you can’t communicate what makes you different from the other thousands of writers, it’ll be tough.Melissa, freelance CPA writer
8. Research skills
Strong research skills can differentiate you from other freelance writers. Those without research skills can produce content that is outdated, inaccurate, and misleading.
Creating a round-up article about the best productivity software, for example, needs to detail the latest tech developments. It’s pretty pointless writing about software solutions that are years old when advanced solutions are readily available.
You also need to research topics of interest and find the right sources of information that can help you craft high-quality content.Kiran Shahid, B2B SaaS content writer
Being able to find statistics, case studies, or other data sources will make your writing stand out–and not be another regurgitated article already on the internet.
Fact-checking information, such as dates, the spelling of a brand’s name, or links to a source is a skill that you can master.
9. Writing skills
Not everyone has the creative writing skills to make a living out of freelance writing.
While you don’t need to be a master of everything to succeed as a freelance writer, the most important skill you must have is great writing ability.
You can learn the other skills we mentioned earlier to become successful, but you must be competent in all aspects of the type of content you’re creating, including punctuation, grammar, and be able to follow a brand’s style guide.
All things considered, not everyone has the writing skills or grammatical knowledge to thrive as a freelance writer. If your clients have to spend extensive time editing your work because you haven’t followed their style guide or your sentence structure doesn’t make sense, they’ll end up frustrated and won’t give you any more work.
Our best-in-class crash course in writing is the perfect solution to learning how to create well-written, engaging, and impressive content.
Freelance writer responsibilities
What do freelance writers have to do day to day to run a business? That’s a great question and one that needs more detailed information that we can share in this one article!
Our step-by-step guide to becoming a freelance writer will help you build a website, find your first client, and make sure you get paid for your work.
Having said that, we’ve condensed a few of the main responsibilities next. Freelance work involves:
- Networking with other freelancers and potential clients
- Scheduling calls with clients to discuss a proposal or contract
- Sourcing and interview subject matter experts for quotes
- Researching and analyze data and statistics
- Understanding search engine optimization (SEO) and digital marketing concepts
- Making edits and revisions to their content following feedback from clients
- Sending invoices (and chasing payments)
- Maintaining accurate accounts for tax purposes
- Evaluating their own processes to become a better writer, through blogging or creating articles with or without their byline
Freelance writer requirements
The soft skills and qualifications we’ve listed here are just some of the things you need to succeed as a freelance writer. However, there are a few other things to mention too.
Firstly, freelance writers build a writing portfolio showcasing their work. We especially love Authory which is a portfolio-building tool that self-updates by finding everything you’ve ever created–saving you hours of manual work each month automating all the tasks that are important after your content has been published. View writing samples easily and efficiently.
Secondly, having an interest in some expertise in your freelance writing niche is sure to help you create quality content by finding the right clients and concentrating your marketing efforts.
Thirdly, you need a passion for learning. Freelance writers actively seek out new learning opportunities and update their skills. Not only that, you’ll have Improved self-confidence by becoming more knowledgeable or skilled, affecting your personal and professional lives.
Fourth? Freelance writers need to be able to take on board and act on feedback. Whether an editor makes some suggestions on your writing, or a client recommends some improvements to your website, you must be willing to acknowledge this and take the necessary actions.
Lastly, you must be likable. People in your industry and networks enjoy being around you. You’ll get more opportunities when you are genuine and your authentic self–let’s face it, clients prefer to give opportunities to people they like.
Prepare for a successful freelance writing career
Freelancing may be your main day job or a side hustle. Qualifications are not the only thing you need to excel at freelance writing. There are a boatload of other skills that are required to have a rewarding and profitable writing business.
Soft skills are essential for finding new clients, negotiating rates, and navigating the highs and lows of freelance writing.
Get the support you need to develop and grow your freelance writing business with Peak Freelance. Become an All Access member and get access to:
- A private Slack community to make friends and network.
- Expert interviews with content managers and successful freelancers like Fara Rosenzweig, Kat Boogaard, Kaleigh Moore, and Joel Klettke.
- Monthly Zoom calls with other freelance writers.
- A bi-weekly members podcast sharing unGoogleable tips for scaling a freelance writing business.
- Pro courses, templates, and worksheets to make your business more efficient.