Being a Web-first freelance writer is a great way for many to supplement their incomes. After all, all you need is a laptop, an Internet connection and time to get the job done. And you could be just as productive at Starbucks or the airport or on the couch in your pajamas.

Hirers Are Spoilt for Choice

Having hired many writers over the years, I’ve learned what characteristics the best writers tend to have. If you are interested in trying your luck as a freelance writer, the first thing you’ve got to keep in mind is that there are many, many, many other people who believe that they are just as talented and capable of doing the same.

In fact, in my experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that almost everybody who has a computer thinks that they are a writer. But it’s the same kind of thing as everyone who owns a guitar thinking that they’re a virtuoso musician—it’s simply not the case.

Making It Work

In order to be a successful freelance writer and ensure you are on the receiving end of a steady stream of assignments, you’ve got to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Here are five ways to do that:

  1. Specialize in a unique niche. Not every writer can write masterfully on any topic, so the more advanced your knowledge and skill, the more likely you’ll be able to land high-paying writing jobs.

Focus on becoming an expert in more technical topics like construction, manufacturing and medicine. That way, you’re putting yourself in a position to pick up more work simply due to the fact that the demand for those who can write with authority on such topics outpaces the supply.

  1. Learn how to write for the Web. Even the most seasoned print journalist can’t expect that his or her craft will easily translate to the digital world. After all, the way people interact with text on the Internet is considerably different than how they’d read a book or a newspaper.

In the age of the smartphone and tablet, readers have shorter attention spans than ever before. As such, they prefer to skim, scan and scroll through content, attempting to glean as much meaning as they can from an article in as short a period of time in order to determine whether the piece is worth reading in totality.

On top of that, you’ll have to learn how to do keyword research and write with SEO in mind. The ability to write killer headlines won’t hurt, either. Just think: The closer your stories are to being complete when you submit them, the less work the editor will have to do before posting it.

  1. Become an influencer. Chances are there are writers you follow earnestly, or at least blogs that you regularly visit. So as you pursue your niche and develop your craft, strive for excellence with every word you write. The end goal, here, is to get people hooked on your work so that they start following you or subscribing to your RSS feed, for example.

As you begin posting content regularly and build up a following of those who are truly interested in what you have to say, editors will begin to take notice. Who knows? Maybe you will even be able to auction off your services to the highest bidder.

  1. Promote your stories. At the end of the day, editors and website owners will care about one thing: Traffic. You could be the best writer in the world, but if no one is reading your pieces, it might force an editor to second guess whether you’re the right person for the job.

So take advantage of your social networks and your friends and family. When something goes live, great! While your job description as a freelance writer doesn’t include you having to promote the stories on your own, think about it like this: The more promotion you do, the better your stories will perform. And all editors are always interested in strong metrics.

By going above and beyond in promoting the content you create, you’re laying the groundwork that will pay off in the future when more assignments come your way.

  1. Be available. From time to time, most people miss deadlines. Maybe they make excuses for why they can’t submit a piece on time. Maybe they’re telling the truth.

Either way, when editors need content, excuses are hard to swallow. These folk want nothing more than writers who are good at their craft and can consistently deliver: Writers who they can depend on to provide a steady stream of engaging content.

The quicker you prove that you’re the one they can depend on, the faster you’ll find yourself getting more assignments and better pay.

This post contributed by my friend Alicia Lawrence – 

Ali Lawrence is a content specialist for an Internet marketing agency and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land about online PR, copywriting and content marketing. Her articles have been published by Muck Rack, SEMrush, and Spin Sucks.

Read more of Ali’s articles on her blog, and on Contently:

Connect with Ali on Twitter @Ali_MarCom and Google+

Over to You

How are you finding it as an online writer? What are you doing to compete with the hordes of barely qualified people who attempt to write? Please share your experiences using the comment box below.


Through and elsewhere, I asked for thoughts on mentors and proteges. A wealth of comments came in, mostly through MBU.  It seems there are numerous styles yet no universal definition of mentoring. Below is a partial list of mentoring styles, pulled from the comments. The world of mentors is fascinating, large, and, in a sense, it’s an unseen world of great significance operating within the broader, everyday world

. Organic/informal (unpaid) mentoring See comments from David Leonhardt, Phil Johnson, Gordon Diver, Brandon Schaefer


. Structured or semi-formal (unpaid, paid) See comments from Phil Johnson, Pat Weber, Maxwell Ivey, Lindsey Rainwater


. Formal (paid) coaching See comments from Jeffrey Romano, Phil Johnson, Lindsey Rainwater, David Leonhardt, Maxwell Ivey


A few unexpected viewpoints!

. Two-way mentoring  See comments from Gordon Diver, Liudas Butkus


. Unspoken, organic mentoring See comments from Beth Bugdaycay, Lindsey Rainwater

The Interviews

Gordon Diver says

I have had the opportunity to mentor younger business people and high school students that have run their own companies for the summer, and it was a highly rewarding experience. As I have gotten busier, I have adopted a couple of ideas that I learned from Simon Sinek and Adam Grant.

In Sinek’s case, he noted that now he will only mentor someone who agrees to mentor him as well. The essence being that the mentee should look for opportunities to share and provide mentorship to him. Last summer, I had the occasion to do so. The young woman I was mentoring on business was able to teach me some things as well. It made for a much more meaningful exchange of ideas and dialogues.

From Adam Grant, I learned from his book Give and Take   that one of the case studies built a staggering network on the concept that he would do anything for anybody if he could do it within 5 minutes. An example would be to help arrange a meeting for mutual connections that possibly could help each other. Or, in another instance, provide a quick tip on how to do something.  It is really quite astounding what can happen.

Phil Johnson says

There are two scenarios here.  The first being that someone asks to be mentored.  That’s often a way of asking, “Can you give me all your information for free?”

The other is that someone has set themselves up in business as a “mentor”, whether that be as a consultant, coach, or angel investor.  That’s a formal arrangement that benefits both parties.

A better way of approaching it, if you have nothing to offer that mentor back, is to keep it casual.  I’m happy to answer questions every so often from people that reach out to me.  That only takes a few minutes.  But unless you’re in the business of being a mentor or derive some other benefit from it, it’s tougher to be formal with it.

Jeffrey  Romano says

At the moment, I have two mentors.  I am friendly with both, but ultimately, their mentorship is a service that I am paying for, as both of them are world-class thought leaders. If someone wanted me to mentor them, I would probably direct them to a more established mentor. The reason is that I’m not focused on mentoring at the moment. I’m focused on building my business and in helping people in other ways, such as through my blogging, information products and consulting work. Being a mentor is a significant responsibility, so I think one needs to be very well-prepared before taking that role. Having a mentor is also very important and one should make sure that the mentor is the right match for him/herself.

Patricia Weber says

When I was an employee, not many managers were into mentoring. They were either managers or supervisors and what would be considered today, old school. Too bad for all of us who were in those kind of business situations.

When I started my first business in 1990 I discovered the US SBA (Small Business Administration) offered a mentoring program. After formal introductions at a meeting, we were all on our own. My mentor was wonderful She had a successful floral shop in a city about an hour away. We would meet half way, we would telephone as email wasn’t all that big in our area then. She was encouraging, we got to know each other personally within the year of the program. It was a highly valuable experience.

You asked about immediately saying yes or no if I were asked to be a mentor. I’m an introvert so there is rarely an immediate yes (or no) from me. I think everything through. Having said that, what would make me give a speedy yes, is if the person asking me to mentor them could demonstrate certain behaviors to me in our conversation. We’d likely have a couple of meetings before I would commit either way. The speedy no would be a response if those behaviors that I know, and are generally known for a successful mentoree, weren’t evident.

David Leonhardt says

Over the years, I have mentored many people, especially my direct reports on various jobs. I have always liked to get the best out of the people on my team.  The downside is that those people usually end up growing and are soon ready to take on bigger things than I can offer.

I have never formally mentored someone, other than as supervisor.  I don’t think I would accept a request to “be a mentor”.  For me, a mentor relationship is something that grows organically.  To do it formally makes a person a consultant or an advisor, which is not quite the same thing as a mentor.

Lindsey Rainwater says

I was reading your request for opinions, and although it didn’t clearly define “mentor”, I was thinking about coaching being a type of mentorship. I’m a coach, and so I work with people all the time, and I try to make it relaxed and fun – not too formal. I also have a coach of my own, and talking to her is like talking to any friend whose opinion I value. It’s fun and productive. When I think of a mentor, I think of anyone you go to for advice. To me this could be a parent, friend you look up to, teacher, or a paid coach – but I realize others might not consider someone a mentor if they’re being paid.

Maxwell Ivey says

I’ve had several mentors. They have all been online.

I have mentored a few people, all of them other blind people. One is an aspiring travel writer who is making great progress.

For me, whether or not I am someone’s mentor, or they hire me as a coach (which is what I want to be) it all comes down to deciding if they are ready. The key question is: Have they gotten to that point where they know what they want, or at least know they want something more or better in their life? They have to have the desire to put in work; Not just the actual doing, but the soul-searching, brainstorming, and personal investment in walking their path. Some people talk about it as rock bottom. I don’t think that is a necessity, but most people do need to go through some sort of tragedy or failure before they are ready to make big changes.

If I get the feeling that someone is a it’s always someone else’s problem then I’m not interested. And if after starting they fail to follow through on the goals and deadlines we agree upon, that would make me not want to continue with them.

Brandon Schaefer said

I’ve had several mentors, and I still, to this day, have multiple mentors. I’ve also had the pleasure of being a mentor to multiple people as well. All of my mentoring activity has been natural and organic, and they’ve all been built through positive relationships. For me to say yes to mentor someone, I need to know them for a while and make sure that they’re really up for the challenge of pushing themselves… no slackers accepted. I’d say yes to mentoring someone if I saw a natural ability within them, for whatever they’re trying to achieve, but I need to know you, or have you come from a strong recommendation. If I don’t know you, or you don’t come highly recommended by someone that does know me, it’s going to be very tough for me to say yes to mentoring them.

Beth Bugdaycay of Rebecca Taylor says

I don’t recall having official mentors. I can identify some retrospectively. What I mean is to treat almost everybody around you like they’re a mentor. Ask questions, listen, and filter. Then someday you’ll notice you reflect more often on one piece of advice than another. And, if you have the opportunity to speak with that person more than once, and you notice you consistently reflect more on their advice, then that’s the person who mentored you. But as it’s happening, you might not see it. My guess is that you have a mentor, or several mentors around you right now.

Liudas Butkus says

Well, I had internet marketing coaching. Not sure if that’s the same thing. It was just a more intimate marketing training. It offered immediate responses when you needed it and extra motivation. If someone wanted to be mentored by me, I would say yes only if they provided some kind of value for me

If you talk to anyone who has achieved success they will always tell you about the mentors they have had along the way. Talk and try to connect with people who are where you want to be; most will share how they got there so you can follow in their footsteps.

As you are searching for the perfect team of mentors you need to think what to achieve from each relationship. You can find mentors everywhere. Network with many people in and around your area of interest: Use Twitter, LinkedIn and even local MeetUp groups to make high quality connections

Universal Musts

  1. Respect – You need to find a mentor who is respected in his field – This way he will be able to give you introductions you need
  2. Support – Your mentor must be there for you through thick and thin. He or she must truly believe that you have what it takes
  3. Access – Ideally you must be able to actually meet up with your mentor. Emails and phone calls will work most of the time but there are times when only a face-to-face will work.
  4. Tough Love – Your mentor must never let you ignore his advice. He will always get tough if you are skimping on the work.
  5. Discreet – You are going to be telling your mentor things you have not discussed with your spouse. There needs to be a lot of trust there.
Alex Yong

Alex Yong Intrepid reporter

This article is contributed by my good friend Alex Yong. That’s him on the right of the photo.

Alex Yong is a general assignments and events reporter for Small Business Trends ( ) and a friend to PR agencies. He reports on announcements from corporations like Facebook, Paychex, IHS, and Acer. Alex was named an influencer and PR resource in Cision North America’s list of the top 50 Twitter accounts utilizing rich media in January 2015 along with Ann Smarty, Lee Odden, Michael Stelzner and Gini Dietrich.

Alex’s “hobby blog” focuses on tech trends. He is also a LinkedIn blogger ( ) writing about issues important to PR industry mavens, agencies, solo PR practitioners, event professionals, etc. Alex can be reached on Skype at YHSmanhattan


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