5 Skills That Make Freelance Writers More Marketable

Gone are the days when simply being a strong writer was enough to earn a living. Nowadays, many editors and clients expect freelancers to have skills beyond writing a snappy headline or a poignant turn of phrase.

Here are five skills that will help set you apart from other freelancers and make you more valuable to your clients.

1. Using a content management system. Instead of emailing a draft in Microsoft Word, many editors now want contributors to format their copy in a content management system (or CMS). I’ve seen WordPress used most often among my clients, but there are a few options out there. WordPress is fairly easy to use, but it’s helpful to learn basics like adding categories or links before you land a gig that requires it. A basic knowledge of HTML is helpful but not necessary for most freelance writers.

2. Shooting and editing photos.Online editors especially rarely have the time or budget to send a photographer, so they’ll usually pick a stock image or ask the writer to provide photos. The ability to shoot clear, high-res images will endear you to both print and online editors, and if you can crop or resize those images, even better. Some of my editors have very specific size requirements for photos, so I use the free version of Picnik.com to resize images. Understanding the various photo licenses under Creative Commons also helps you’re sourcing photos for an editor or posting your own photos online.

3. Working with video. I’m no Spielberg, but I was chatting with an editor at the ASJA conference earlier this year when she asked if I could shoot video. My brain went blank initially, but then I whipped out my iPhone and showed her a video I’d taken for fun a few weeks earlier. It was a little rough, as I told her, but it showed I’m not a Luddite. I suspect freelancers who really take the time to learn the software and hone their video skills will be high demand very, very soon.

4. Writing for search engines. I don’t do the kind of SEO (search engine optimization) writing where the copy is robotically stuffed with as many keywords as possible. But editors sometimes ask me to work certain words or phrases into the headline or first sentence, and I’ve found that there’s a real art to making the copy flow naturally while incorporating those phrases the editor wants to optimize. As more and more online publications balance the need for SEO strategies with a reader-friendly style, writers who refuse to do this may someday find themselves writing exclusively for print.

5. Understanding social media. Some editors are now interested in the number of Twitter or Facebook followers you have, because they hope you’ll share the link with your followers and bring in more traffic. Other editors ask you to turn in a suggested tweet or two with your article, and many appreciate writers who can come up with headlines and idea articles that lend themselves to sharing on social media. For instance, numbered lists (like this one) and headlines that entice viewers to click over and read the full article (as I hope you did).

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.