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  • Jo M

Content writing services: What separates great freelance writers from average ones?

It’s a great question, but one that comes with no absolute answers. One person’s great writer is another’s average writer. A great piece of content will still fall flat if it misses its intended audience. After many years of offering freelance writing services myself and also commissioning writers during my time as a marketer and business owner, here are some of the things that make a great freelance content writer:


Define your content writing services objectives and expectations


A strong brief can help ensure you get high quality results


If your brief sucks, then the chances of any writer meeting your expectations are massively reduced. ‘Just write something about our product – we need about 500 words’ is not a brief.


If your content writing work needs SEO (Search Engine Optimization) keywords adding, specify them before your writer starts working on your project. If you prefer a particular tone of voice, or you need to take a particular angle on a topic, clearly communicate those details to your content writer.


Great freelance writers are just that – great writers. They aren’t mind readers.


An effective freelance writer will ask the right questions if there are gaps in your brief, so that they truly understand their mission. They can also help you get more clarity if you’re just starting to build your brand and tone of voice.


TL; DR: A good client/writer relationship is all about information and collaboration.


Know your audience


A freelance writer may deliver what might arguably be the greatest piece of writing in the world, but if it doesn’t achieve its objectives or reach its audience, then it’s just another piece of content. Knowing what it’s meant to do, who it’s meant to appeal to and how you’re going to share it with the right people is fundamental. And that’s on you.


TL; DR: Make sure you (and your freelance writer) know who they are writing for, and how your customers are going to read what you have to say.


How do you benchmark high quality writing?


Find yourself a storyteller


Writing well is of course, about conveying facts and information. But it’s doing that in a way that engages people that is the real skill. Product descriptions need to be aspirational. Web content needs to echo brand values and ethos. Landing pages and sales funnels need to take people on a journey.


Your content needs a structure like any other story: A beginning, a middle and an end. Placing the most important content in the wrong place can mean that your message gets lost and if you lose your audience… it’s over.


TL; DR: A great writer is not just conveying facts and information. What they write is engaging and entertaining.


Good content writers make complex concepts easy to understand


If you’ve got a completely new product or approach to doing something and nothing like it currently exists, then there’s a job to do in not only educating your customers, but in educating your content writer too.


When I led the marketing at a tech startup, we were developing a product that did something completely different for a technology network that was due to launch in around two years' time. Trying to explain a pre-launch, never-before-seen technology that was to be deployed on a future technology platform was quite a challenge!


We ended up running what we called ‘the granny test.’ I’d write something (e.g., the website content) and then we’d get our grandmas to read it and ask them to explain it back to us. While we certainly didn’t expect them to understand all of it, if they could get the gist of it, I’d done my job.


While our target audience certainly wasn’t grandma, it’s important to remember that many decision-makers aren’t technology experts and irrespective of your product, it needs to be understood by experts and non-experts alike.


Even if your content writer has experience in your industry, it’s unfair to assume that they will automatically understand the specifics of your niche. Again, it goes back to having a good relationship, open conversations and a clear brief about your project.


TL; DR: Great content writers make the complex easy to understand, they don’t just rely on bamboozling you with jargon.


Structure, form and tone


A good piece of longer-form writing tells people everything they need to know. What something is, how it works, what the benefits are and gives a clear call to action for the reader to do something (a ‘buy now,’ a ‘fill in this form, for more information’ or similar).


Short-form content for social media is more about being smart, or witty and sharing brand values to build engagement. Different operational models and ways to benchmark success apply.


For more complex pieces of writing, such as press releases or white papers, there are certain, expected formats that your content should follow. Inexperienced writers who have no pedigree in say, writing press releases, will go online and search for an example of a press release and copy that format. It doesn’t matter if the example is good, bad or tailored to suit media preferences in your region. How will they know that there’s a difference or what constitutes a ‘good’ press release?


The tone of a writer is also important. Content writers all have their unique natural style. While there’s some deviation in that style (I write both B2B and B2C content and while my grammar and structure may change, my natural conversational tone doesn’t vary greatly), asking a writer to deviate too far will lead to unnatural results. So, ensure that you like the type of content that your freelance writer produces and that it aligns with how you want your brand to present to the world.


There are also rules and regulations to follow that inexperienced writers (particularly those from overseas, unless they are experienced in writing for international markets) may not know they have to follow. Claims that you make and how you make them need to be correct. Because if you get into hot water over them, it’s your business that’s going to be on the hook.


TL; DR: Someone experienced in the freelance writing business will have fewer mistakes in their work and not make errors that make you look unprofessional. They understand structure conventions and the circumstances where you may consider breaking them. They will also deliver content that meets your objectives with a clear call to action, not just write content on a topic.


Grammar


Of course, all content writing should be proofread and checked for spelling and grammar errors before being shared with a client. That doesn’t mean it will be faultless every time. We’re humans who sometimes make mistakes too – spellchecks and proofreading doesn’t pick up everything, every time. (Reading my work aloud is my best spelling and grammar catch-all.)


The use of slang, acronyms and even technology can change how words are used. You may even have personal preferences that override the correct form and use. How many people use capitalised job titles? To be grammatically correct, these should always be written in lowercase, but almost everyone prefers them to be capitalised. (Poorly used random capital letters can ruin the enjoyment and visual impact of well-written content). The Oxford comma is a US convention that is becoming more frequently used here in the UK too. Whatever your house style, consistent grammar rules should apply.


TL; DR: Don’t expect perfectly formed, error-free grammar every time. All writers aspire to deliver it, but even the good ones occasionally make mistakes.


More than one draft doesn’t necessarily mean that your writer is bad


Having to rewrite content is something no writer enjoys – we want to get it right first time if we can. But if it’s a complex topic, your brief hasn’t been clear, or you’ve simply changed your mind on the angle once you’ve read the first draft, it may be necessary to revise it.


It’s not always a sign of a poor writer. It’s often the case that if a writer is new to you, they may need a second attempt at something to ensure what they deliver aligns with your expectations. Other stakeholders may also have ideas to add which deviate from the original brief. It’s simply the nature of content development.


However, if the structure lacks clarity or focus, or has completely missed the point of your brief and your writer has failed to ask for any clarification on questions they have, then that’s on them.


If you’ve asked for a redraft or even a complete rework of something, a good freelance writer isn’t going to take it personally.


TL; DR; Good freelance writers aren’t precious about their work. They see feedback as an opportunity to deliver something more aligned with your expectations next time and view writing as a collaborative process.


Choose the right person for the job


Writing witty social media straplines is a discipline more akin to copywriting than content writing. Being able to write for social media is a complex skill that demands maximum impact in minimal characters. It’s a different skillset from the one needed for longer forms of content.


Most content writers aren’t great at everything. Longer-form content (blog post writing, website content, white papers and press releases) gives me the space and the freedom to explain ideas and concepts – a five-word limit for a social media advert can’t give me that.


Similarly, you can’t just assume that your content marketers are the best people to meet all your content writing needs. Content marketers are the organisers, the make-things-happen people, the orchestra conductors. While some of us do both, because we have a natural affinity for writing and a background in content marketing, it’s unfair to assume that just because someone can write a brief, they can also write content.


TL; DR: A successful freelance writer won’t try to be all things to all clients. They will know where and how they perform at their best.


Does experience matter?


Should you put any importance on the length of time that someone has been content writing for? That’s a harder question to answer. There are great content writers out there who have been doing the job for very little time at all, and some (like me) who have been writing for decades.


What a less experienced content writer can’t bring is that wider business – and life – experience, which can help shape a project, bring their knowledge of how things might work with a different approach or offer guidance on how to optimise your content marketing to generate maximum ROI. They may also be nervous to challenge you, if they think your idea could be done better.


TL; DR: Good writers will ask the questions you may not have considered and have answers to questions that come from their experience in the freelance writing business.


Be clear on your SEO goals


Not all of my clients want the same thing from a content writing company.


Some want just a great article writing, which they will then pass to their team for search engine optimization. Others want me, the writer, to research keywords and advise them on the ones to use for their content. They may or may not require metadescriptions for the webpage, or have a target length of content in mind. Some may prefer to provide a list of keywords that I need to include in the content that I create for them.


Check that your content writing company offers SEO content writing services, and if you know your requirements for content creation, specify them to your writer. Some clients simply go in search of inexpensive writers whose job is to add as many keywords as often as possible to their content without it sounding like complete nonsense. It's not a strategy that I'd advise, but if you're hiring me to write content for you, I'll need to be clear on your approach to SEO, to ensure that my content creation meets your expectations.


TL; DR: Be clear on search engine optimization goals with your content writer. If you're sharing keywords, do so in advance and be clear if you have frequency or other goals they need to mee.


Quantity vs. quality


You can’t expect a great freelance writer to churn out high-quality content at a rapid rate just to meet your word targets or last-minute deadline. At least, you can’t if you want the content to be of the highest quality. Most successful freelance writers that I talk to agree – we can’t write well for a full eight hours a day, every day. We can put in a shift and pull the odd late night to meet a deadline when we need to, but we’ll need some time out to decompress in the coming days.


If you have a high amount of content and little time, don’t expect outstanding work – mostly because a good writer will decline your project if there’s not the time to do it justice. (Or they will add a premium to their rates for last-minute work.) If you’re interviewing someone for a writing job who tells you confidently that they can write for eight hours a day every day, then question it. To ensure the quality of my work, I like to write my draft, then go back to it after doing something else. Then the next day, I’ll make final edits – that time out is an important part of the process to see what’s been overlooked or could be better.


TL; DR: Successful freelance writers will be realistic about what you can achieve in the time that you have. They recognise that there aren’t finite hours where they can be at their best and they won’t take on projects they can’t deliver well on.


When you’ve got champagne tastes on a beer budget


Value for money is important. But you’re not going to get the best quality of writing if you’re unwilling to pay for it. You’re not going to get a brilliant blog post in under an hour (unless it’s very short), or a quality white paper for a fiver from Fiverr. There are of course cheap writers out there, who are just starting out, or are from a country where the cost of living means they can charge less, but you can’t expect them to deliver the same nuanced content as a seasoned content writer with life and business experience.


I’m a firm believer that there is space in the copywriting world for everyone. But in the same way that it’s useful to know where we as writers fit in that world, it’s important for clients to know that it’s unlikely you’re going to find a tier-one freelance writer working at entry-level rates. You might be fortunate to catch the occasional gem on their way up, but they aren’t going to stick around for long (at that price).


Just remember that your content is your brand and quality builds trust.


TL; DR: In content writing, as in life, while you may find an occasional bargain, you generally get what you pay for.


Successful freelance writers don’t say yes to everyone


When you’ve worked as a writer for a while, you can spot the clients who are going to be problematic. (Not you, obviously). It may be a mismatch in approach, or something else. It may simply be a misalignment of skills, or that we don’t have time to do justice to your project. When you’re serious about your freelance writing business, you want to build solid, long-term relationships, even if the work itself is ad-hoc.


Good writers are often very busy writers. When you’re a writer who’s desperate for work, you’re going to say yes to everything.


That’s what exploratory calls are for. To see if there is potentially a good fit that will suit everyone.


TL; DR: There are many reasons that a good freelance writer may not choose to work with you. Always remember that writing content is a two-way street, and it must work for both parties to succeed. Long-term relationships are universally more successful than hiring different freelance writers for every project.


To conclude:


Congratulations on making it this far! The long and short of it is simple. Nobody is perfect, but finding a freelance content writer that you like and will feel good about working with, who understands what you’re doing, and who recognises your expectations can make a huge difference. But for anyone to be a great writer, they need time and enough information (and a dash of intuition) to deliver exceptional work.



About the author:

I'm Jo, a professional content writer based in Brighton, England. I offer freelance content writing services, including blog posts, website content writing services, press release writing, white paper writing and more. Learn about all my content writing services here. I also offer a wide range of content strategy and management services, content editing and marketing support services for B2B, B2C and B2B2C customers.

I specialise in B2B writing, SaaS writing and writing about AI. I also write about health, wellness, beauty and skincare. (Yes, it's a weird mix, I know.)

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