I started as a freelance writer in 2011, quit in 2014 and returned in 2017 after close to three years at a digital marketing agency. Here are 101 things I’ve learned along the way. Why 101? No idea. Blame the dalmatians.
1. Having a website makes you more credible and gets you more work.
2. Marketing yourself is a full-time job, but you have to make time for it. The more visible you are, the easier it is to make connections.
3. LinkedIn is the best social media site for finding clients, followed by Twitter.
4. Having social accounts for your business is useful, but only if you can keep them updated. Social accounts that haven’t been updated in a year don’t look good to potential clients that may stumble across them.
5. It’s pointless focusing too much on a LinkedIn business page. Concentrating on your personal profile is much more beneficial.
6. Getting out of the house to work is refreshing. Working at home, in the same place every day, can drive you nuts.
7. You must have a good chair. Mine’s shit, I constantly have back and shoulder pain.
8. You don’t need fancy equipment to get started.My main computer is second hand and cost £50.
9. Being okay in your own company is a must.
10. White noise YouTube videos are great if you need background noise but get distracted by music. Relaxing White Noise is my favourite.
11. Trello is the best tool I’ve used for keeping shit in order. It’s free and easier to use than anything else I’ve tried.
12. Post blogs to your website first, but share them on Medium and LinkedIn too. Don’t worry about duplicate content, it’s not an issue.
13. Buffer is the best social media scheduling tool I’ve used. It’s free and there’s no learning curve.
14. I’ve used WordPress and Squarespace. I prefer Squarespace. It’s simple and fuss-free with no need to worry about security. WordPress is cheaper, though. And better for long-term ad monetisation.
15. It’s much better to share and comment on other people’s social posts than to share your own. 80% sharing the links and posts of others and 20% of your own stuff seems like a good balance.
16. Joining Facebook writing groups is one of the best things I’ve done. I’ve learned plenty, made friends and helped out others, improving my own profile in the process.
17. Understanding SEO is a great help in marketing yourself and writing good content for others. See number 80.
18. Understanding content marketing is essential if you’re going to make a success of your business.
19. Copywriting and content writing are different things. Copywriting is more lucrative.
20. A one sentence ad is harder to write than a 1000 word blog post.
21. Those keyboard vacuum cleaners are next to useless. It’s much better to just avoid eating over your keyboard.
22. Writing notes down on paper is better than writing them on a phone.
23. The more you read, the better you get. The more you write, the better you get.
24. There’s no better productivity killer than Facebook. Apps like StayFocusd to block it during periods of work help.
25. Writing evergreen content makes posts more valuable in the long term.
26. Business cards are still useful.
27. A business email makes you look more professional. I use Zoho Mail, it’s free.
28. It’s possible to work on the couch with your belly out, but it’s more productive to work at a desk.
29. Gary Vee is everywhere. A LOT of people find him useful.
30. Thought leaders tend to not to be thought leaders at all.
31. Automated DMs on Twitter are a nuisance.
32. Having a vanity URL makes your LinkedIn profile easier to find. Get one by going to Me > View profile and clicking on the Edit public profile and URL on the right of the screen. One the next page, click on your URL under Edit public profile URL and change it to something that looks pretty.
33. Having a niche is the best way to scale a business quickly. That said, I’ve never had one and it’s never held me back.
34. You don’t need qualifications to make a living. I have none it’s never stopped me from getting work.
35. Getting 50% or even 100% of a total project fee upfront stops you from getting totally fleeced. Always get at least half upfront on any project over £1000.
36. A contract is a very good idea. Here’s a useful freelance writer’s contract template.
37. You’re always worth more than you think you are. Work out a rate and add 30%. Got to cover those bills, expenses and taxes.
38. CVs/resumes aren’t totally obsolete, even if you have a portfolio. Some old school types still like to browse over a CV before hiring. I spent 10 minutes making one. It’s landed me a couple of clients, so it was well worth the effort.
39. Writing like you talk is the best way to get ahead. I wrote a post about it.
40. Buzzsumo is an excellent tool for finding out which kinds of posts are popular and which kinds of topics are worth writing about.
41. Informal is better than formal in most online communications. A casual tone has worked a lot better than a formal one for me when pitching.
42. Cold pitching works if you pitch the right person. CEOs, marketing managers and content editors are the right kinds of people.
43. The 3-3-7 follow up rule works too. If you don’t get a response to an email, follow up after three days, then three days after that, and then a week after that .
44. Canva is the best design tool for bloggers there is. Every writer and blogger I know swears by it.
45. You don’t have to wake up at 4am to be successful. I wake up about 6-6:30am. I do okay.
46. Be able to talk on the phone helps you land clients. Here’s a post by Jorden Roper on how to be more confident on the blower.
47. Most people think working from home means you don’t have a proper job.
48. Most people have no idea what a copywriter does. Tell them you write words for businesses instead. “Like blog posts and stuff?” “Yeah. Like that.”
49. Some people will hate everything that you write. That’s fine. You can’t please everyone.
50. Clients will edit your work and make an absolute mockery of it. It’s not worth worrying about. Get paid and get out.
51. Grammarly is a massive help when proofreading. That said, proofreading your own work isn’t ideal. Your brain sees things that aren’t there. A good editor is a big help. If you do proofread your own work, sleep on it first. Do it a day or so after writing and read it aloud as you go.
52. Pricing per project is better than pricing per word. You don’t have to worry as much about sticking to word counts.
53. Dave Trott is the best voice on creativity that I’ve found. And 1 + 1 = 3 is the best book on creativity that I’ve read.
54. Nobody likes jargon or buzzwords. Don’t bother with them.
55. Social media is a great way to meet and chat to other writers.
56. Sometimes free samples are worth doing, but don’t spend too much time on them.
57. It’s hard to make a living on freelance content mills like Freelancer, Upwork and People Per Hour. They don’t pay enough, certainly not what you’re worth.
58. Articles and blog posts that are broken up with headings, subheadings, bullet points, lists and images are more reader-friendly than long blocks of text.
59. Short sentences and paragraphs work best online. Don't overdo it on the short sentences, though. A sprinkling of medium and longer sentences helps give a nice balance.
60. An employee mindset doesn’t get you far. Thinking like a business owner — working with clients, rather than for them — is the way to go.
61. Robots aren’t taking over our jobs anytime soon.
62. Starting freelancing on the side while you still have the security of a regular paycheck is probably the best way to do it.
63. You make your own luck. Usually by working hard.
64. As much as writing is a dream job, downtime is still important. Burnout is a real thing. Take time off. Health should always come before work.
65. Writer’s block isn’t the big deal that people make it out to be. Just writing something, anything, is all it takes to get passed it.
66. The feeling of dread that a client’s going to hate your work once you’ve sent it never leaves.
67. Walking every day and doing some kind of physical activity stops you feeling like a slob for sitting in chair for most of the day.
68. Apparently, 80% of people read the headline, but only 20% read the rest. It’s old stat, but it sounds about right. Testing your headlines in a headline analyser is well worth doing.
69. The tighter the deadline, the more the work costs. Fast turnarounds = higher rates.
70. A keyword friendly job title and a properly filled out bio improves your LinkedIn search visibility.
71. Whether it’s Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C), everything is written is for people.
72. Staring at your inbox doesn’t suddenly make emails appear.
73. You really do learn something new every day.
74. Having a newsletter is a good way to build followers, but be realistic about how often you can send it.
75. Tweets with images get retweeted 150% more than tweets without images.
76. Features tell, benefits sell.
77. When you know what you’re writing about, keywords find their way into content naturally.
78. You don’t think it at the time, but most of the early stuff that you write is utter crap.
79. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. And getting a no really isn’t that bad.
80. This guide taught me all I needed to know about SEO: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo
82. More and more businesses understand the need for great content for marketing, but a hell of a lot still need convincing.
83. Feedly is the best app for keeping up with new and useful content.
84. It’s good to help people. If someone asks for advice, do your best to help.
85. Hard-boiled sweets and mints stop you visiting in the fridge in search of food every five minutes. They’re even better if they’re sugar free.
86. Writing first and editing later is the best way to get work done. Use the first draft to get ideas on the page (it’s called a brain dump, apparently). Any mistakes can be fixed later.
87. British English and U.S. English aren’t the same.
88. Being your own boss and working your own hours isn’t always glamorous, but it beats the 9-to-5.
89. Personal hygiene is still important, even if you’ve no intention of leaving the house.
90. Setting goals helps with motivation, especially if there’s a reward at the end. Show me the chocolate.
91. Client work can completely swamp any personal projects that you want to work on. Fitting in a bit of time each day/week keeps writing enjoyable.
92. Not every project is fun. Some are boring and tedious and a slog to finish.
93. Long tail keywords are the easiest to rank for because they’re not as competitive. These are phrases with three or more words —the sorts of things people type into search engines when they’re looking for something. Here’s a definition.
94. Work is a lot easier after a good night’s sleep.
95. Not all people really ‘hope you’re well’. Most don’t care.
96. It’s hard not to always say ‘yes’, but sometimes it’s better in the long run to turn work down.
97. Good clients vastly outnumber bad clients. Most people are great to work with.
98. Chasing payments can be full-time job. Some clients need several reminders to pay up.
99. Collaboration is great, but only with the right people. Choose partners wisely.
100. A solid support network helps in bad times and good.
101. Success only comes from being yourself. Their way isn’t your way. Don’t be something or someone your not. People see through it.