Remember how I mentioned on Friday the frustrations I’m having with AOL mail? Well, the situation in which AOL is randomly selecting emails to put in the Spam folder has affected you, too.
Jenn Mattern offered last week to give me one more guest post, which was to appear on May 31st. And she delivered. However, AOL did not. I scrambled to write something, thinking Jenn simply was too busy or had forgotten (which is unlike her, but it happens). Since she’d already contributed a phenomenal post, I didn’t want to hound her. Remember, this stuff is freely given. I like to keep it that way.
So imagine my bitching surprise when I remembered to check that Spam folder around 10:30 in the morning. Grrr…
But I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, so I see this as a great thing. Thanks to AOL (and Jenn), you’re about to get one more Writers Worth Month post. And man, was it worth the wait.
How to Use Your Freelance Writer Blog to Demonstrate Value (and Attract Clients)
by Jennifer Mattern
I’ve been keeping an eye on freelance writer blogs for a while, looking for good examples to help set newer writers on a better path.
The problem? Good ones are few and far between. Actually, they’ve been nearly impossible to find. I can count the great ones I’ve come across on one hand. (And I’m not innocent here. My own has been neglected as I haven’t needed to use it for marketing lately. But I’m on it.)
This is frustrating for me because I primarily work with small business owners, including a variety of freelance professionals. I help them craft content strategies. I help them use blogs to attract clients and customers of their own.
Blogging for these types of clients has long been one of my most popular services. So I know the value of blogging, and its ability to help you land gigs. And that makes it painful to see so many freelance writers struggle with this.
But that struggle could be good news for you. Your competition is probably getting their freelance writer blog wrong. That means more opportunity for you to stand out.
How? Well, let’s start with some of the mistakes you might be making, and then we’ll move on to ways you can build a better freelance writer blog that demonstrates your value to clients and helps you land more gigs.
5 Common Mistakes on Freelance Writer Blogs
Here are some of the most common mistakes I see freelance writers make on their professional blogs.
1. Writing for Other Writers
There’s a difference between a “freelance writing blog” and a “freelance writer blog.” The former talks about freelance writing. It’s written for other writers. The latter is a blog on a freelance writer’s website that’s written for their ideal clients.
This is a mistake I’ve never really understood.
Are your fellow freelance writers the people hiring you? No? Then why are you wasting your time talking to them on a site that isn’t about them? Why are you actively trying to attract your competition to a site that’s supposed to be about getting your prospects to hire you?
Why would you tell potential clients all about your day-to-day life as a freelance writer? They don’t give a rat’s furry little ass how you spend your time. They only care about what you can do for them.
Don’t do this.
2. Showing No Personality
You’re not running some faceless corporation. You’re a freelance writer. A solopreneur. You are the face of your business. Who you are matters. Your personal brand helps prospects decide if you’re the kind of person they want to work with.
Yet I see writers who don’t have their names on their blog posts. No bios below those posts. No personality infused in their content. Their professional blogs are a total snoozefest.
3. Not Giving Your Freelance Writer Blog a Fair Chance
Another frequent issue I come across is when new freelancers come to me for advice, wanting to know why their brand new baby blog isn’t bringing in loads of big budget clients.
“I don’t know Jenn. I’m starting to think blogging just doesn’t work. It’s a waste of time.”
These blogs usually look a little something like this:
- A few weeks to a few months old
- A small spattering of posts
- No obvious content strategy or plan from one post to the next
And my response is often along the lines of:
“Blogging works. Just not for you. Because you’re doing it wrong. So knock it off.”
What are they getting wrong? They’re expecting instant results.
That’s not how blogging works, especially early on. As a marketing tool, blogs have cumulative value. Yes, you can see direct results from individual posts. But you shouldn’t expect miracles. You have to put the work in, from planning to consistent posting.
4. Not Using CTAs
Humans, by our very nature, are inexplicably oblivious. So don’t expect readers to know what you want them to do. Tell them.
Buy. Contact you. Request a quote.
Nudge prospects toward what they should do next after reading each blog post.
These are calls-to-action, or CTAs.
Ideally, every blog post should have one. And they shouldn’t be the same on every post. Tailor them to the content of each page.
If you’re blogging about a certain project type you often take on, get prospects to visit your sales page for that service. If you’re blogging a case study, link to that portfolio piece where they can learn more, or ask them to contact you to get a quote on their similar project.
Too many freelance writers forget to add CTAs to their professional blogs. Visitors don’t know where to go next, so they may go elsewhere. Don’t cost yourself gigs. Add CTAs to your posts – including old ones. Start with your most popular posts first.
5. Not Promoting Your Blog Posts
You’re writing kick-ass posts for your blog. You know they’re what your target market wants to read. But you’re not attracting clients. You’re pretty sure no one’s even reading them.
That’s probably because you’re making another common blogging mistake. You’re writing content, but you aren’t promoting it. Your freelance writer blog – your entire professional website for that matter – is practically worthless if you do nothing to help the right people find it.
So get out there and toot your own horn a bit. But tactfully, please.
- Share your posts on social media sites where you network with prospects.
- Send them out via email to your subscribers.
- Make sure posts are well-optimized for search rankings so clients can find you a bit easier.
You don’t always have to do a lot. But you must do something.
Land More Gigs with the Right Blog Content Strategy
You want your freelance writer blog to be a gig-generating machine, right? So maybe you’re thinking you should get started on a few new posts now that you know what not to do.
Not so fast.
If you want your freelance writer blog to help you stand out and bring clients to your virtual door, the first thing you need is a strategy.
Coming up with a detailed blog content strategy can seem complex. But it can be as easy as asking yourself some simple questions.
- Who is your target market? (Who exactly are you trying to sell your freelance writing services to?)
- What is your brand? (What kind of image are you trying to put forth? What kind of voice, attitude, or personality do you want to convey? This needs to fit with your target market.)
- What do your ideal visitors need or want to know? (Are they there to learn something? To get industry commentary from an expert? To be entertained? – Probably one of the first two in this case. Ultimately it’s about knowing what problems they face or what opportunities they want to take advantage of, so you can help them do those things.)
- What are your goals for your freelance writer blog? (Is it all about direct sales? Is it a thought leadership thing to showcase your expertise and inspire trust – which means you have to already be an expert, not using the blog to simply look like one? Is it to convince prospects to sign up for your email list for fresh content so you can periodically try to sell them on services later? These are all valid promotional goals.)
- What motivates your target readers? (Once you know who your target market is, what their problems are, and what they want to know, think about what’s most likely to motivate them to act. This will help you tailor your CTAs.)
That gives you a starting place for your content strategy. Every post you write should fit your target market, your brand image, and your goals for the blog. This is the foundation you should build on.
Once you sort out the background details above, it’s time to convert those things into a plan. For example, you’ll want to decide on:
- A blog posting schedule;
- The average length of your posts;
- Your category structure;
- A style guide;
- How you’ll use images (such as branded post header images);
- The different types of blog posts you’ll incorporate (round-ups, commentary, how-tos… also, will each post be a standalone post, or will you have regular branded series?);
- The distribution of those types of posts (will you feature some more than others?);
- Other types of content you’ll incorporate into your blog as alternatives to traditional posts (infographics, videos, etc.);
- How you can repurpose your blog posts to get more out of them (slideshows, downloads, etc.);
- How you’ll promote each blog post.
Think of it as creating a sort of mini manual or checklist you can refer back to every time you need to write a new post.
Having a content strategy helps you build consistency. In other words, you’ll waste less time and see better results because you’ll be writing the right content for the right people every time.
Bonus: Blog Post Ideas for Freelance Writers
I know what you’re thinking:
“Okay, Jenn. I have a basic content strategy in mind now. But how do I turn all of that into actual post ideas?”
Well, wouldn’t you know? I’ve got you covered.
Here are ten blog post ideas (free download) you can adapt for any type of freelance writer blog (along with a couple of examples for each).
1. Tutorial (or How To) Posts
Teach your prospects how to do what you do.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s long been one of my most successful content and PR strategies. Let them realize how tough your job really is. You’d be surprised how many come back to you later after trying it for themselves. And for others, it gets you on their radar, and possibly in their good graces, so they’ll remember you when they need to hire someone.
- How to Find Newsworthy Ideas for Your Next Press Release (For a press release writer)
- How to Conduct a Content Audit for Your Small Business Blog (For a freelance blogger)
2. Industry News
Stay on top of news in your specialty area and you can become a go-to source of information for your target clients.
In this case, you don’t have to talk about your services directly. You’re turning your freelance writer blog into an industry resource and building trust among people who will likely need to hire a writer like you somewhere down the line.
Don’t just share the news though. Tell prospects how it impacts their businesses.
- The 3 Biggest AP Style Guide Changes for News Writing in 2017 (For a freelance journalist showing publications they’re staying up on changes)
- How the New State Budget Cuts Will Affect the X Industry and its Customers (For writers specializing in any industry affected by new legislation or regulations, where clients may suddenly need to communicate changes to their customers)
3. Service Backgrounders
These might sound dull, but they don’t have to be. And sometimes they’re a vital step toward making a sale. Think of the various freelance writing services you offer. Are the clients who need those services even aware they exist? Would they know how to use them? If not, teach them.
I did this early on with press release writing for online entrepreneurs when no one else was specializing in helping them with serious PR writing. I had an actual background in that industry to pull from when they’d mostly gotten information from SEO people who were, frankly, clueless. I taught them what press releases were (not just articles slapped into a template). I taught them what was worthy of a news release, and what wasn’t. I taught them how to write them effectively to land real media coverage.
Because of those things, they trusted me. And they hired me. Give your prospects the information they need to make a buying decision. Don’t assume they already have it.
- An Introduction to White Papers in Enterprise Software Sales (For a white paper writer specializing in the software industry)
- What is an “Explainer Video?” (For a freelance script writer – Tip for those still looking for a specialty: I’ve seen a drastic increase in requests for explainer video scripts over the past year. It’s still a rather unsaturated market, and an especially good opportunity for creative script writers looking for small freelance projects on the side.)
4. Project Case Studies
A great source of post ideas for your professional blog is your portfolio. Think about recent freelance writing projects you’ve done that had great results for a client. Share that story.
The case study is about the past client more than you. What were their goals, and what problem did they face when they came to you? How did you solve that problem? What were the end results? What did the client think of those results?
A case study not only shows prospects you know what you’re doing, but it gives them insight into what it’s like to work with you. It’s a post that’s ultimately about getting them to hire you, but without any pushy direct sales.
- How XYZ Co. Doubled Sales with One New Web Page (For a landing page or sales page copywriter)
- How ABC Co. Saw a 287% Traffic Increase From Old Blog Posts (For a freelance blogger who helps clients with content strategy – such as revising and repurposing old posts to get better search engine traffic)
5. Industry Discussions & Commentary
This is similar to sharing industry news, but it’s more opinion-based. For example, rather than sharing a new government regulation that just passed, consider weighing in on one currently being debated and considered.
- Why Google’s Latest Update is a Step Backwards (For an SEO writer)
- Algorithmic Authority & Why It Can’t be Trusted (A post I actually wrote eight years ago when “authority” and “influence” and “top blog” rankings were taking the PR industry by storm – all of them as flawed today as they were then, only even more hyped up.)
Do prospects tend to contact you asking the same questions? Why waste your time responding individually? Answer frequently asked questions on your blog instead. Then, when you get those emails, you can just link prospects to the answers they’re looking for.
- What is Ghostwriting? (For writers whose clients might not be sure when ghostwriting is reasonable versus when a byline is more appropriate)
- The 5-Step Process of Working with a Freelance Copywriter (For a copywriter explaining their usual process to new clients, letting them know what to expect, and what’s expected of them)
Be careful about bringing others into your freelance writer blog. This isn’t a niche publication-style blog, remember? This blog is a conversation between you and your target clients. It’s about showing what you know, what you can do, and how you can help them. Sending prospects off to third party sites doesn’t make much sense here.
That said, an occasional round-up can still be a good idea. Just don’t make a habit of sending readers off to your competitors. Instead, use round-ups to show prospects you know who the key players are in their industry.
- 10 Accountants Tell You What You Need to Know About Small Business Tax Deductions (For a small business finance writer)
- 5 Businesses Bringing in the Big Bucks Selling Online Courses (For a freelance writer specializing in writing online course content for companies – these could be handled as mini case studies featuring past clients to make the post a bit of a double-whammy)
No matter what kind of freelance writing work you do, there’s going to be some kind of process involved in your projects. So why not create checklists (or templates or worksheets) to guide your prospects along? These can even be given away as free .pdf downloads, or you can incorporate them into larger posts such as a how-to article.
- The Small Business Website Copywriting Checklist: 12 Pages Every Small Business Needs (For a small business copywriter)
- The Only Blog Post Promotion Checklist You Need (For a freelance blogger)
9. “Did You Know?” Posts
I’m a big fan of in-depth thought leadership content because of my PR background (like conducting and reporting on original research). But I know that’s not realistic for a lot of freelance writers, especially if you’re still new and aren’t quite an industry expert yet.
Instead, you could try writing a “did you know?” post. Think of them as quick tips, but based on someone else’s research or statistics. These are tidbits of information you can share with your prospects… kind of like saying “Oh, hey. I came across this in my reading the other day, and I thought you might find it interesting for your business.”
Keep them casual. Keep them short. Keep them actionable. And focus only on one thing, so you keep third party links to a minimum. Remember, you want them on your post until you guide them to your call-to-action.
- This is When You Should Post on [Whatever Social Network] (For social media writers – this might convince some clients to post more, and therefore hire you to write more updates)
- Did You Know 63% of [Industry] Customers Want X From Your Website? (For copywriters convincing prospects to add a specific page or type of information to their websites – feature a single statistic from a single study; just make sure you fully understand the data before passing it along)
10. “Sh*t Done Right” Lists
I’ve long been outspoken against bloggers creating “top” lists – like “The Top 100 [Industry] Blogs.” Anyone with eyes knows they’re predominantly linkbait for the blog hosting them, and those bloggers are ego-baiting others into promoting them. There’s no actual merit or objectivity (and that’s coming from someone who’s had several blogs featured in these things, big and small – still hate ‘em).
But… there is a way to do this on your freelance writer blog without being a transparent attention-whore.
Use what I call “sh*t done right” lists.
In these lists, you’re not making subjective claims about the “top” this or the “best” that. You’re not pulling stunts in order to get people to share your posts just because you’ve included them. Instead, you’re giving yourself a lead-in to contacting new prospects you’d love to work with by giving them credit where it’s due. You’re simply sharing good examples that illustrate some point you want to make.
Choose at least a handful of target prospects who are doing something exceptionally well right now. Maybe their blog content is already great, but they aren’t posting often enough and you’d love to pitch them about joining their team and increasing their post frequency.
Include them in a “sh*t done right” list, show them off to others in the industry, then reach out to them to let them know.
Treat it as your letter of introduction by giving them a brief intro into what you do, and mention you’re a fan of the blog (if you honestly are) and would love to participate if they ever find they need an extra set of hands.
- 5 Print Magazines Thriving in the Digital Age (For a freelance magazine writer looking to break into digital, or vice-versa)
- 7 Video Game Companies with Killer Content Marketing (For a marketing copywriter, or even blogger, specializing in the video game industry)
There’s no reason to bother with a freelance writer blog if it’s not bringing you any clients. But if that’s a problem you’re running into, it’s likely the result of one of the common mistakes I’ve covered here. At least I hope it is, because you can fix all of those.
Hopefully, these warnings, content strategy tips, and blog post ideas help you see greater returns from your freelance writer blog. Still stuck on how these ideas can be tailored to your specialty? Tell me about it in the comments, and I’ll try to give you a few ideas you can run with.
Jenn Mattern is a freelance business writer and blogger with 18 years’ experience. Visit Jenn’s All Freelance Writing, where she’s spent 10 years offering advice, job leads, free tools, and more to help new freelance writers build successful and sustainable businesses.