We've been talking recently about freelance writer websites and how they can help you attract prospects and convert them into clients. Today let's focus on a particular element of professional sites -- freelance writer blogs.
Now, I'm not talking about freelance writing blogs, where you write about freelance writing itself, and where your content is for other writers. The vast majority of freelancers don't need those, and they aren't an efficient tool for landing gigs.
I'm talking about professional blogs written for clients.
Freelance Writer Blogs: The Basics
Your freelance writer blog is a blog on your professional site where you help, teach, or inform your target prospects.
It's a tool that can turn prospects from one-time visitors to your business site into subscribers or at least regular visitors because you're giving them specialized content that's relevant to their business.
That, in turn, keeps your name in front of prospects on a regular basis. And when they're looking to hire someone in your specialty area, you'll be the freelancer who comes to mind.
You have a couple of options when launching a freelance writer blog:
- You can launch a standalone blog, separate from your professional site (either on its own domain or a subdomain).
- You can integrate your freelance writer blog into your larger website.
My preference leans strongly toward the latter -- making your client-facing blog a part of your professional site itself.
The only good reason I can think of for keeping it separate would be if your professional site wasn't in a content management system (like WordPress) that could accommodate a blog. But at that point, I'd sooner have the whole site redesigned on a blog-friendly CMS than host them separately and potentially create a marketing and SEO mess to clean up later.
What exactly is a blog?
If you're familiar with blogging, pardon me while I go very basic here for a moment. But occasionally I hear from freelancers who don't have blogs (or even professional sites) because they launched their careers when they were neither common nor necessary.
Now, however, if they want to compete effectively for newer types of gigs (think blogging, web copy, or even writing for digital magazines), a website and blog can be essential.
If you happen to be one of these folks, and the idea of blogging is totally new to you, don't fret. Blogs are simple, and you're well-equipped to manage one.
A blog is nothing but online content where both of the following are true:
- Content is published in reverse chronological order (so your newest posts would be the first thing people see when they visit the blog itself).
- There is a social element to the content. Your readers have the ability to interact with it, and you, as opposed to something like an article appearing in print.
That's it. Really.
"Blogs" do not indicate a certain type of content.
Any content meeting those two requirements can technically be on a blog. That could mean:
- casual or personal posts;
- more formal feature articles like you might find in print publications;
- and pretty much any kind of content you can come up with.
If you can write, you can manage a professional blog -- even if you need some technical guidance to set it up initially.
What Should a Freelance Writer Blog Include?
We'll get into the reasons you should consider having a freelance writer blog shortly. But for now let's assume you've decided to include one on your professional site.
What would that blog even include?
I already gave you some basic content types you could focus on. But let's look at a few specifics based on posts from three of the five freelance writer websites I highlighted as good examples for your own.
1. Share news about your business or services that might affect clients.
This is my least favorite way to use a professional blog simply because it revolves heavily around you rather than your prospects or clients. But this is one type of post you can include in your broader mix.
Yolander Prinzel had good reason to publish a post like this last fall when a hurricane passed through her area. This isn't a traditional blog post by any means. It's only a few sentences. It's going to do nothing for SEO. It's not trying to sell visitors on anything.
So why include it?
We sometimes get so caught up in getting blogging advice from marketers that we forget blogs have value well beyond increasing subscribers and sales. There are plenty of PR benefits. And there are also customer service oriented posts like Yolander's "Delays Due to Hurricane Irma."
In this case the post reassures existing clients (some of whom might have known she was in the storm's path, but mostly letting them know it won't affect their deadlines). More important, it's a notice to prospects who might have reached out so they didn't expect an immediate response while she was addressing bigger issues.
Other types of business-related news you might feature include:
- Announcements of breaks if you won't be checking emails for a while (such as an extended vacation or long medical leave);
- Sales and promotions that you'll offer for only a limited time;
- Announcements of new services you'll start offering.
I wouldn't make these frequent. But if it's something you want subscribed prospects to know about it, go ahead and include it in your professional blog.
2. Publish tutorials to teach clients how to do what you do.
I know how counter-intuitive it sounds to teach your clients and prospects how to do what you want them to hire you to do instead. But it works.
Look. I come from a PR background. Persuasion is a big part of the job. It was essential in my non-profit PR days. It was essential in music PR. And it is just as essential in freelance writing.
I learned early on in the freelance game that the best clients were those willing to learn.
If you've ever seen a prospect tell a writer their gig should be "easy," or you've ever seen them describe their open job as "only X words" as if it's a justification for their low pay, you know what I mean.
When clients are ignorant about the value you bring to the table, they're a nightmare to work with.
Now that's not always the case of course. But if you're targeting relatively new and untouched markets like I was early on, you have two options: put up with their assumptions and demeaning BS, or educate them.
I chose the latter. I spent a lot of time early on making a name for myself within my narrow market by being the one who could explain PR writing beyond "you'll get some backlinks" (what most generic writers focused on at the time). I could teach them about true media relations, the reputational value of press releases, thought leadership and industry presence, and how that PR writing involved much more than one project type.
When you teach prospects, you build trust.
You also build an appreciation for the work you do, and that's reflected in how much you can earn.
Press releases were the primary service those folks were interested in at the time. So I didn't just answer questions about them. I went so far as offering a guide prospects could use to write their own DIY releases without hiring me.
- I sold the guide, so it was a way to monetize the time I was spending answering questions, and a way to monetize people who couldn't afford to hire me anyway.
- The guide cemented my reputation with those prospects even more as someone who stood out as an actual PR expert and not just another generic content writer.
- I knew that when prospects did write their own releases many would would either A) realize how hard it can be to do well and hire me before they even finished their first, or B) they'd not see the coverage they were hoping for and they'd come to a pro for help the next time.
Know what happened?
That guide (which brought in thousands of dollars in direct sales and only took me a weekend to create) ended up bringing in well into five figures worth of press release writing gigs in just the year-and-a-half I sold it. Many of those clients continued working with me for years. Some still do (one has been with me for all of their press releases since 2007).
Eventually I got tired of updating the e-book (which also touched on the distribution side a bit, which frequently changes). So I left it up but made it a free download. It still occasionally brings in clients, and I'm actually planning to condense that freebie to focus only on writing and re-release a paid, more in-depth, option later this year as part of a resource series.
When you take the time to teach your prospects, you not only demonstrate your knowledge of your subject matter (whether that's a project type or industry). You build greater respect for the value you offer when prospects have at least a basic understanding of what your work entails. And that can not only lead to more gigs... it can lead to better-paying gigs.
You don't have to go all-out with an e-book (though mine was originally about 20 pages, so they don't have to be long). You can do similar with your freelance writer blog.
Cathy Miller does a great job with this kind of content on her professional blog, Simply Stated Business. She focuses more on tips than full-fledged tutorials, but whether she's covering style or the importance of word choice in business writing, she's essentially giving prospects a glimpse into the complexities of what she does. But if you want to check out one of her project-specific guides, read "How to Bullet-Proof Your Technical Presentation."
3. Use your blog to show the value of your services.
Another kind of post you might include on your freelance writer blog is one directly designed to promote one of your services.
This doesn't mean it should be a salesy in-your-face kind of post. Take a soft sell approach (something else my PR background makes me a big fan of). Like tutorials, it comes down to educating clients. But think of these posts as more of a gentle nudge, pushing someone towards an interest in your services by exposing them to the benefits of a certain project type.
In essence, these blogs posts are almost like mini white papers.
What does a white paper do?
- You identify a problem or opportunity.
- You make a case for the importance of solving that problem or taking advantage of that opportunity -- think statistics.
- You offer a general solution for that problem.
- Then you promote your own service as a specific solution.
You can do that with blog posts too.
- Choose a project type you want to promote.
- Choose a market segment who could benefit from that project most.
- Identify their problem or opportunity (what benefit will they get out of your project?).
- Convince the reader that project type is the solution to their problem.
- End with a call-to-action (CTA) that basically says "Oh, you like that idea? Well, it just so happens I can help with that when you're ready. Let's talk."
Simple, right? You're selling the type of writing you do -- not selling yourself. So if you're the type of writer who's uncomfortable with pushy direct sales, this might be the perfect kind of soft sell promotion for you.
These kinds of blog posts don't have to follow the exact structure I mentioned. They just need to convince prospects they need a certain type of writing you happen to specialize in.
Want to see an example?
Here's a post from Alex Sayers that explains the promotional benefits of guides and e-books specifically to IT suppliers.
3 Reasons Freelance Writers Should Have a Blog
Look. I'm not going to say every freelance writer should have a professional blog. You do you.
But I will say the vast majority of freelancers would likely benefit from a professional blog if they put some serious thought into content strategy, quality posts, and getting the right eyes on that content.
Let me try to make the case with some of the biggest benefits of having your own freelance writer blog that focuses on prospects.
1. A blog can make it easier to attract prospects via SEO.
A decade or two ago, you could probably get away without having a blog on your professional website. It wouldn't have affected your search engine rankings as much as now as long as the rest of your professional site featured high quality, well-targeted copy (and you built plenty of backlinks).
That isn't enough anymore.
Google factors in "freshness" these days. I'm not going to pretend to understand every little element of every ranking factor Google uses. They change all the time. But what I've seen from my own professional blog as well as those I manage for clients is that sites that are kept fresh (with more frequent updates) tend to rank better than static sites (with no, or rare, new content).
Blogs are an easy way to add fresh content to an otherwise-static business website.
In particular, I've seen my homepage perform much better for my main target keyword phrases when I include a dynamic (changing) list of the most recent blog posts right on the homepage (rather than only having them available on a separate "Blog" page). I've mentioned this here before, but with my own site I've noticed every time I stop updating the blog for a while, I drop in the rankings. And if I start posting again, my site ranks better again within a couple of weeks. It really does matter.
This is a good time for a reminder: most of the high-paying freelance writing jobs out there aren't publicly advertised. Those prospects often find their writers through referrals, through pitches they receive, and by searching for writers who would be a good fit.
When prospects search for a writer like you, are you showing up in results?
If not, you need to work on your search engine optimization. And featuring fresh content not only helps you do that for your main page, but every blog post is an opportunity to target another longtail keyword phrase (longer search queries than just a few words).
2. A blog helps you demonstrate authority in your specialty area.
Blogs aren't just about traffic. They also offer you a great deal of freedom in what you write. That means you can write about any industry issue that might affect clients, share opinions, interview industry insiders, educate your client base about something they care about -- all things that can turn you and your blog into a go-to source for authoritative information.
Why does that matter?
Authority (or expertise) matters for a few reasons:
- When you're considered an authority in your specialty area, you can command higher rates.
- When your blog shows readers that you know what you're talking about, you have a better chance of getting them to click on the sales-centric links on your site, giving you a much warmer lead.
- When you're seen as an authority in your specialty area, it opens doors to additional revenue streams such as e-courses, e-books, books, coaching, and consulting services. These can be nice add-ons to your writing services and can help tide you over if you ever have a slow period.
To be clear, yapping about a niche or industry on a blog won't make you an expert or authority. You need to build experience and expertise first. Then you blog about it because you'll have something of value to say -- something not every Joe Schmo can weigh in on in the same way.
Can you demonstrate authority in other ways?
Absolutely. But it all comes down to control and analytics (just like with your professional website).
You want to retain control over how your content promotes your business, and you need to be able to track data that can tell you what works and what needs to improve.
By all means, publish elsewhere if it will help you reach your target market. Just don't do that in lieu of having your own blog.
Own your content first. And let everything else be a supplement. You'll find you can get a lot of mileage out of your blog content (through social media posts, combining them into longer guides, or creating related multimedia content for example).
3. Blogging helps you build your professional network.
No, I'm not talking about networking with other writers. That's not what your business blog is for. Your blog tied to your professional website will instead help you build a network of prospects, clients, sources, and other industry insiders.
Blogging helps you build a community.
Your blog posts will invite discussion, and even debate. You'll meet people you otherwise might never have come across. And those connections matter.
You never know when one of your regular blog readers will need a writer like you in their corner.
It's also possible your readers will hear from someone else who needs a referral. Guess who they're going to think of -- the freelance writers in their own network who they've come to trust and respect. You want to be one of those writers.
That's not to say blogging should be your only networking tool. But it can be a valuable one.
Other Reasons Freelancers Should Consider Blogging
Freelance writer blogs can be incredible promotional tools if you let them.
There are precious few things that will give you as much bang for your buck, and over time your blog can bring in a steady stream of client offers when you make it a part of your writer platform.
The thing is, blogs aren't only about the networking and marketing benefits mentioned above. There are other reasons you should consider adding a blog to your professional site. (Whether or not these apply to you might depend on where you currently are in your career.)
- Blog posts act like extra portfolio pieces, whether you include them in your portfolio or not -- especially helpful to newer freelancers and freelance bloggers.
- If you write for the web, your blog will teach you a lot about what your clients do (and what they expect of you). For example, you'll learn about search engine optimization, content strategy, social media marketing, and content management systems (like WordPress) -- all things you might be expected to know on your next gig.
- Fresh blog posts give you something to promote via social media to keep your network interested in your site. You can't keep tweeting about your writing services. You won't land many clients that way. But link to helpful content on your blog instead, and you might have an easier time building your readership -- which is full of prospects.
- Blogs offer a great amount of freedom, which makes them ideal tools in personal branding which is important if you as an individual are the name and face of your business.
- Blogging keeps you writing. If you're new or going through a slow time, it's easy to get discouraged. Managing your own blog gives you something to always push forward on.
- Blogging can force you to stay on top of news and issues that are important in your industry or specialty area, so you're never out of touch with what's important to your clients.
- Your blog serves as your social hub of sorts -- it's what all of your other social media profiles link back to, giving you consistency in audience and branding.
- Blogs can help you land media coverage or coverage on other industry blogs -- this goes back demonstrating authority or expertise, which makes you a prime interview source.
- Every single blog post you write gives you another opportunity to put a call to action in front of your prospects.
- A blog helps you put feelers out and better understand how your target market feels about certain issues, events, and even working with freelancers. That's a benefit of the two-way conversations blogs encourage.
- Blogs can help you push past writer's block by letting you explore something different for a short time, or by letting you explore things in a different way.
- Blogs are fairly easy to manage in the grand scheme of running a business, and they don't have to take too much of your time.
That's right. Blogs don't have to take a huge amount of time. They don't have to take any time away from client work. I've heard that argument against launching a blog so many times. But it's a myth.
Yes, You Have Time to Blog
Can blogs take a lot of time to manage? They sure can.
This blog can take a lot of time to manage for example. And it took even more time when I ran it as a group blog. But this was never a client-facing blog tied to a professional website. This was a blog run as a publication combined with a broader collection of resources -- a business model in its own right. That's a completely different animal. And I think that's where the confusion comes in -- false assumptions about business blogging because we're so used to seeing blogs run as independent publications these days.
When it comes to a professional blog, you only have to sink in as much time as you're able to. That might mean a few posts per week. It might mean just one or two posts per month. Either is okay. And you don't have to force yourself to follow any other blogger's schedule. You just need to find one that suits you.
Blogging: Putting Time in up Front
Most of that time will be put in up front to set up your blog. If you already have a website, that can be a pretty fast process (especially if you built your site on an easily adaptable content management system with a built-in blogging feature -- I always recommend self-hosted WordPress for this).
Even if you're starting a new professional site and blog from scratch, installation is a breeze. Many hosting companies have one-click installations for WordPress. It doesn't get any easier than that. Even if you install the platform manually, WordPress offers instructions for a 5-minute install. If you're already familiar with WordPress, it probably won't even take you that long.
After that, you'll get your basic settings in order (like choosing your permalink settings or setting a static page as your homepage so your blog looks like an internal feature of your professional site). I covered some of these basic settings in the first post in my WordPress for Writers series.
Choose a theme (your design template) from the WordPress repository or a premium theme provider. Choose something simple where you won't have to do any heavy customizations. Installation, again, is easy. WordPress lets you upload and automatically install a new theme in seconds.
Themes are one of your most likely time-sucks. Try to stay away from anything requiring heavy customizations or ones with complicated custom admin areas that you have to learn how to use (I'm a fan of Divi from Elegant Themes personally, but I wouldn't recommend trying to learn it quickly if you're brand new to WordPress). Theme customizations can take anywhere from a few minutes to weeks. So make smart choices about your base theme if you don't have a lot of time, or the technical skills, to make it your own.
You might want to spend a little bit of time choosing and installing plugins -- like social media sharing buttons for your posts (like Simple Share Buttons Adder), or an SEO plugin (like Yoast SEO). But that, too, shouldn't take terribly long as long as you don't go overboard.
The most time-consuming aspect is often writing the initial copy (if you're not adding a blog to an existing site) and your first few blog posts, because you don't want to launch a blog with no content on it.
If you keep it simple with themes and plugins, you can get set up in a day. Yes, you can spend much more time (and money) for custom designs and more advanced site structures and features. When you're ready for that, I highly recommend it. But if your main issue with the idea of blogging is a lack of time, take a lesson from Cathy Miller and don't be afraid to "keep it simple."
Once your blog is live, it gets easier in many ways.
Blogging: The Ongoing Time Commitment
One common misconception is that to have a blog, you must blog every day. Not true, especially with these kinds of blogs.
Even one post per month can help. It can help keep your site ranking well in search engines. It can help you target additional terms to rank for. It's one more call-to-action you put out there every month. It's one more opportunity to convince prospects to hire you. It's one more thing to talk about within your social network. It's one more page that can attract natural links.
Every post has value. And frankly, you'll often be better off writing less often and promoting each post more to see those benefits (something many bloggers get backwards -- including myself on some of my sites).
No matter how busy you are, you can write one post per month. Remember, this time doesn't come out of your billable hours. It comes out of the time you should have already set aside for marketing your freelance business. So figure out what your least effective marketing tactic is right now, and swap in a monthly blog post (or more). At the very least you'll get some testing in. And one of the best ways to improve your marketing mix is testing tactics against each other.
Blog once per month, bi-weekly, weekly, or even daily if you want. Blogging is a very adaptable tool that can be worked into anyone's schedule. Even yours.
Taking Time to Market Your Blog
Another common complaint I hear is that writers either don't have time to market their blogs or they don't want to be bothered to market a blog.
In many cases, you won't have to do very much additional marketing for this particular kind of blog. Remember, it's tied to your existing professional website -- something you should be marketing anyway.
Here are some ways you can market your blog without investing a lot of extra time:
- Add your blog URL to your business card the next time you have some printed.
- Include a recent post list or widget on your main business site to promote fresh blog content in sidebars or on the homepage.
- Comment on other industry blogs (or blogs that your target market might frequent), and leave a link to your blog where allowed (if you're getting your name out there, you might be doing this already anyway).
- If you already use social networks to find prospects, simply share your new posts with members of your network.
- Write occasional guest posts for other sites in your specialty area and include a link back when allowed (not for "link juice," but to let that site's readers know where they can read more, and similar, content from you -- always prioritize people over links).
- Add a link to your blog to your email signature.
None of these things have to take a lot of time. And some of these are things you're doing already anyway to market your services or your professional website. And that's really all your blog posts are -- another piece of your website, and another opportunity to get in front of the right eyes.
Marketing a blog doesn't have to take nearly as much time as you might expect. Sure, you could spend hours every week promoting a piece of content. But even the little things can go a long way toward building your network and increasing your reach among your target prospects. So don't feel intimidated by blogging. Ultimately your blog will get tailored to fit your schedule, and your ability, and your target market. It doesn't need to be like any other blog out there.
Do you have a freelance writer blog on your professional website yet? Why or why not? Can you think of other reasons freelance writers should consider starting a professional blog (as opposed to a "writing blog" or standalone niche blog)? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
(Note: Parts of this post were originally published in 2013 -- hence why you'll find some older comments below. The outdated content has been updated, and I've greatly expanded upon this topic as an intro to my series on freelance writer blogs for 2018.)