Skills that pair well with content writing run the gamut from digital marketing to client management. Just what exactly you’ll want to learn will depend on the nature of your existing qualifications and what you intend to do with your skills. For example, a lawyer seeking to start a side job as an online article writer will want to explore a different skillset than a teacher who wants to edit academic papers on the side.
Whatever you decide you want to pursue, though, there are a few skills that should serve you well regardless of the content writing path you choose. Continue reading below to find out what those are and where to develop them.
Content Writing Skill #1: Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization, or SEO for short, is the granddaddy of content writing skills. Virtually every client you find in real life is going to want you to know at least the basics of this discipline.
Basically, SEO is a relatively new discipline that seeks to optimize content for search engines so as to secure a higher organic ranking for that content and the site on which it’s hosted. For example, a blog article optimized for search engines may contain keywords that are commonly searched on Google in the hopes that Google will rank the content on the first page of its search results.
While you can obtain SEO knowledge via degree programs at traditional universities (usually in digital marketing disciplines), your best bet to get this knowledge is either to cobble it together through various free online sources or to take an online course.
I took the Search Engine Optimization Specialization offered by UC Davis on Coursera in order to develop the skills necessary to understand what my clients were talking about when they discussed SEO.
Whichever way you decide to learn about SEO, I’d strongly suggest that you not spend too much money on it. The concepts are not complex and don’t justify large tuition outlays or course fees.
Content Writing Skill #2: Content Management Systems
Content Management Systems (CMS) are software packages that make publishing to the web simpler and easier. WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace are all examples of CMS.
When you’re writing web content, many long-term clients will ask you to post content directly to their website via their CMS to make things easier for them. For example, your small business client may ask you to schedule a blog post on their site every Wednesday rather than sending the post directly to them and having them post it.
Obviously, in order to do this you’ll need some level of familiarity with the CMS they happen to use. Don’t worry about learning every single one or learning them in-depth. Knowing the basics of WordPress, the most popular CMS in the world, is sufficient for most purposes. Just Google “publish a blog post on WordPress” and you’ll find a million different tutorials on how to do it.
If, however, you choose to build your own blog, you’ll need to learn your CMS of choice in a little bit more depth. For these purposes, you might consider taking the “How To Create A Website in a Weekend” course offered by SUNY through Coursera.
Content Writing Skill #3: The Actual Writing
The actual writing skills that you’ll need when you’re content writing will depend on the kind of jobs you seek out. Generally, and especially at the beginning, your jobs will generally fall into one of a few categories:
- Blogs and web articles
- Social Media Content
- Academic writing
While there are certainly other categories, most entry-level content writing jobs take one of these forms. Each of these categories requires a different set of skills and, depending on your background, you may or may not already have them.
The sort of writing skills you’ll want to develop will depend on how you’re positioning yourself in the market and what jobs you intend to seek out. If you’re a legal professional who wants to write for law firms and consultancies, you’d be best served by learning how to develop ad copy and write social media content. If you’re a health professional who wants to write for diet blogs you might want to brush up on how to write in a conversational tone that appeals to the masses.
There are a few areas of study you might find useful regardless of what sort of material you intend to write. Digital marketing courses are goldmines of information for anyone who’s going to write sales-oriented work. Those courses are also where you can learn about writing for social media. In fact, the field of digital marketing is central enough to be studied by everyone involved in content writing.
Content Writing Skill #4: Client Management
I’ve written before about the importance of client and relationship management. This is more of a soft skill than the others mentioned on this list and is, therefore, highly situational and dependent on your good judgment. Managing clients well, tempering their expectations, and providing value-focused and client-centered service should be at the core of everything you do as a content writer.
While treating people well and behaving professionally are skills that, for most of us, are constantly being developed and honed, you can speed the development of those skills by always remembering the following:
- Your client is paying you to solve a problem they have. The more completely, quickly, and efficiently you can solve that problem, the happier they’ll be.
- Your job is to deliver value, not excuses, to the client.
- Your client is a person who has good and bad days and moods. Cut them a lot of slack.
Apart from that, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on your people skills. Take a networking class, Google “conflict management,” “relationship management,” “client management,” or something similar, or just make an effort to be more pleasant in your everyday life. For most of us, this comes relatively naturally. For some of us, however, it’s a skill that requires a lot of practice.
Content Writing Skill #5: Business Administration
As we’ve mentioned before, freelance content writing is a business. And like any other business it will need to be managed properly. This means you’ll require at least some business administration skills. At the very least, you should be comfortable with:
- Basic bookkeeping and accounting
- Simple project management
- Marketing your services
There are other necessary skills as your business expands but, at the beginning, if you can manage your books, projects, and advertising, you’ll be okay.
Keep an eye on this blog in the near future as I’ll be posting guides on simple business administration tasks that make life a lot easier for the average content writer. In the meantime, check out this Financial Accounting Fundamentals course taught by the University of Virginia on Coursera. I can’t overemphasize the importance of knowing the numbers that make up the core of your business.
Content writing skills aren’t confined to the page. And while I still think that content writing is the best side job for professionals as a general rule, that doesn’t mean that the average person won’t have to pick up some new skills as they develop this area of their career.
As I indicated in the introduction to this article, those skills really do run the gamut, from customer service to SEO. Getting a head start on just a few of these skills can make all the difference in the world when you start to take on your first few clients.