Article Writing Basics: How to Become an Article Writer
If you interviewed a dozen professional content writers on how they got started, you would probably hear twelve different stories.
That’s because the path to becoming an article writer is a little like a choose-your-own-adventure story. The best direction for you will depend on your goals, experience, and areas of expertise.
Are you craving the independence of freelance or the regular paycheck of employment?
Are you a technical mind good at details, a promotional artiste, or someone who eloquently distills complex ideas?
On what subjects are you an expert?
Do you have a portfolio of writing or are you starting from scratch?
The purpose of this article is to provide a map of possible routes and resources to becoming a paid article writer. Then you can decide where you fit. Once you know where you’re going… it’s easier to plot a course to get there.
Freelance or Employment
The choice between freelance and employment can be “a little of both.” You don’t have to make a hard and fast choice – take opportunities as they come! However, both working freelance and finding a job require prospecting for work. Success in prospecting requires focused effort. Read on to learn how to begin with an advantage and then pick the one that fits you best and go for it.
Advantages of Freelance
- You can begin before you quit your current job.
- You’re building your own service business.
- Variety of work.
- Over time, your rates can grow to be substantial.
- In some cases, you have more control over format, content, and tone.
- You choose your specialties and industries.
- You can work from home or anywhere.
- You can choose your hours.
Disadvantages of Freelance
- It takes months or years to build.
- Inconsistent income.
- Constant prospecting and networking for new projects.
- You may work for very low rates for a while.
- Freelance websites have fierce competition.
- You have to motivate yourself.
Advantages of Employment
- Steady paycheck.
- External accountability.
- Consistent work.
- Become an expert in that business.
Disadvantages of Employment
- Unless employed by an agency with multiple clients, limited content variety.
- You may have less choice on format, content, and voice.
- You work on their schedule.
A freelance business is a small business. Freedom comes with responsibility. For some, it’s more than worth it. Others prefer the structure and support of steady employment. If you’re ready to join the gig economy, give yourself the financial breathing room to ramp up slowly without suffering.
How to Start Writing with No Portfolio and No Experience
However, if you have no work samples ready there are several ways to develop a portfolio. The pay for these first steps is little to nothing… but you’ll gain experience and take the first important steps to become a content writer.
To develop a portfolio, you can:
- Write for a content mill or agency that accepts beginners.
- Write and submit articles for publication in online magazines.
- Submit guest blog posts in your areas of expertise.
- Offer content to friends and family to publish on their business websites.
- Take over some of the writing responsibilities for your current employer.
- Before you sign up for any article writing opportunity online, research that company. There are many legitimate opportunities for every skill and experience level, but there are also scams.
Two important things as you get started:
- Do not pay to get work! Legitimate work opportunities don’t charge membership fees.
- In article writing as in life, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you’re new to writing, developing your portfolio is a chance to get familiar with different industries, subjects, and formats. Some will be more natural and enjoyable for you. If you don’t like the first thing you try, keep going. There’s more out there.
Every Industry Needs Content Writers
What interests you? What experience do you have? What would you like to learn?
From video games to healthcare to finance… every industry needs article writers. As the web grows, so does the importance of consistent, original, quality content. Primarily because it works! Content marketing generates about three times as many leads as traditional marketing.
The demand for skilled content writers keeps growing. No matter what interests you, someone needs your expertise.
Grow Your Article Writing with a Focused Niche
As you add to your portfolio of work, you can prospect for new jobs and clients. Here’s where the advantages of a niche come into focus.
It’s easier to win a job when you’ve got relevant samples to show them. Writing new samples for every application or bid gets old… fast! On some of the popular freelance websites like Upwork or Guru, employers can get dozens of bids in minutes on their article writing projects. As a freelancer, the better you match an employer’s target criteria, the easier you stand out from the crowd.
You may be skilled enough to research and write on any subject. However, the less you know on a topic the longer it takes to complete a project. As you develop expertise in a niche, you cut down your writing time and deliver equal or better quality work. When you freelance for a living, less time per project means more money per hour.
Of course, you can have multiple niches! You don’t have to limit yourself to just one and can add more later.
How Do I Know It’s a Good Niche?
If you enjoy the topic, your writing will flow better and feel less like work. You’ll also be more apt to insights that engage and hook your audience. It’s a good niche if you enjoy the subject.
One exception to the follow your heart rule here… if you love fashion but are colorblind, perhaps pick another interest for your first focus. If you think you want to write tech articles but your natural voice is flowery and romantic, you’ll struggle to fit into tech but shine in marketing. It’s better to play to your natural strengths.
The best niche is an in-demand topic you enjoy that also aligns with your natural strengths.
Where to Find Work as an Article Writer
Once again, your path towards paid article writing presents options. Which is the best fit for you?
You can apply your skills as an article writer in any of your favorite industries. Avenues to find work in your areas of interest include:
- Job listings for content writers.
- Sites where freelancers bid on projects like Freelancer or Scripted.
- Work through web builders, digital marketing companies, or content providers.
- Find sites you want to write for and pitch the owners.
- Join a startup company in your area of interest.
- Advertise your services locally or online.
- Network with your Chamber of Commerce or other business networking groups.
- Network through Facebook and LinkedIn.
Start with one or two methods of prospecting for work. With steady effort, you’ll find the routes that work for you.
The more people who know your services are available, the better. The bottom line to steady work is to get in front of as many potential employers as possible!
Resources for Content Writers
Improve and refine your blog writing with free online tools. Many grammar checkers offer a free version of their editor. They catch tone and agreement issues missed by Word.
The Hemingway Editor aids with readability by identifying complex and hard-to-read sentences. It tells you the grade level of your writing, highlights passive voice, and offers simpler word alternatives.
To increase the appeal of your headlines, the Advanced Marketing Institute created a free headline analyzer.
If you find yourself repeating words, Thesaurus.com helps keep the word variety interesting.
The Rich World of Article Writing
Whether your dream is to work as an article writer for your current employer or to build your name in the journalism world, there is a demand for your voice and skill. What’s important is to keep writing and continue learning.
In the beginning, the road may be bumpy. Even if you have an idea of who you are as a writer and a clear picture of where you best fit, there will be challenges. It happens to all writers at first.
Or, you may have no idea what interests you or what format works with your natural strengths as a writer. Stay calm! You will continue to learn as you go. The road will become smoother once your work is published and assignments start to fill your email.
When writing is done well, it is a seamless part of the audience’s experience. Article writers shape how content is presented and can influence how people think. Even when writing someone else’s vision, your skill makes it worth reading.
The web is full of people sharing their online success stories. Hopefully reading this is one small step in yours.