Skill Sets for Freelance Writing

As part of my ongoing quest to meet my readers’ expectations (and, as an extra bonus, get content for a book based on this blog), today’s entry is, again, based on a reader suggestion. Thanks again to Nevin in Ireland, I’ll be covering “What sort of skills you should develop for working alone.” This seems like a good one, so let’s dive in!

Working on your own requires a combination of skill sets, behaviors, and attitudes. The skills are more practical items that you might or might not do as an employee for a company or organization. The behaviors and attitudes you either have to cultivate or learn to accept as part of your daily life. I was going to go in depth on each one of these, but after thinking a bit, I decided not to bury all of you in a long essay today (you’re welcome). Going to try bullet points and see how pithy I can make things.

Skill sets

  • Customer service – this amounts to meeting your customers’ business needs, which includes producing content that matches their needs, forms, vision, tone, style, and intentions, delivering content on time and as close to error-free as you can humanly manage, and establishing a sense of good feeling and trust when others work with you.
  • Technical proficiency – this one seems so obvious, I almost didn’t mention it, but you should be (and keep working at being) good at what you do, whether it’s writing, editing, researching, formatting, graphic designing, or programming.
  • Calendar management – track all of your appointments and, if necessary, due dates to avoid conflicts or missing deadlines.
  • Budgeting – know how much you need, how much you have, and how much you’re spending, and ideally keep yourself in the positive column.
  • Negotiating – have the confidence in your abilities and quality to push back against demands that you lower your rates too much, sacrifice your time unnecessarily, or submit to absurd impositions on how you do your work. Know when to accept a deal and when to walk away.
  • Invoicing – track your working hours in a timesheet, spreadsheet, time tracking system, or other mechanism carefully, account for what you’ve been doing for the customer, and bill honestly and fairly.
  • Networking – getting and staying in touch with potential customers or friends of potential customers.
  • Marketing – create a website, get/carry business cards, have an “elevator speech” ready to explain what sorts of problems you can solve, identify and research your target market.

Behaviors and attitudes

  • Love what you do – work has just become something that you’ll be doing way more than 40 hours a week, so you’d better like what you do, that’ll keep you going on days when other things are going awry.
  • Willingness to accept risk and responsibility – understand that you’re responsible for your own quality, schedule, pricing, service, and financial solvency, accept responsibility and apologize if you make an error, work expeditiously to rectify that error.
  • Self-starting and determination – you need to be able to identify what work there is to be done, do it in a sensible order without someone nagging you, and do it even when you’re tired, annoyed, or not certain how.
  • Reputation management, part 1 – do your best work, follow customer instructions/request, keep your promises, follow up on questions or contacts.
  • Reputation management, part 2 – don’t do stupid things that will cause you to lose business; examples include doing poor-quality work, insulting or otherwise being rude to people you do business with, complaining about or badmouthing customers on social media (or in person, for that matter), acting unprofessionally in public (which, again, includes social media).
  • Optimism – believe that you can learn what needs to be learned and do what needs to be done to advance your career and keep the bills paid.
  • Politeness and manners – This is related to reputation management, but really means saying things like “please” and “thank you,” not interrupting business associates, paying attention to what someone is saying, apologizing if you get a message or phone call you have to take during a conversation.
  • Proper communication etiquette – be available when you say you’re going to be available, answer the phone within three rings, have a businesslike voice mail greeting, answer the phone politely, thank your customer for the call, apologize if you are busy, provide a time when you are available to talk, and then follow up.
  • Develop a support network – While you work on your own, you shouldn’t be isolated, so be certain to have family, friends, partners, and other supporters around to whom you can turn for advice, (occasional) financial help, or the occasional shoulder to cry upon.

The world awaits. Go get ’em, tiger!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
Quote | This entry was posted in careers, clients, freelancing, personal, reader response, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Skill Sets for Freelance Writing

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    Another very informative article, Bart. In the area of technical proficiency, I’ll just add that one of the biggest challenges for a freelancer is staying current with the tools of the trade and with the technical innovations in your chosen domain. It’s tempting to prioritize billable work ahead of investing in your future; sometimes you have to resist that temptation.

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