What makes an excellent freelance writer? Being easy to work with and delivering excellent work every time.
The content lead, marketing lead, CMO, or CEO that hired you did so to remove things from their plate, not to add more to it by fixing and triple-checking everything.
By delivering a polished piece of content every time, you’ll quickly become their go-to freelance writer and a delight to work with. They’ll know they can trust you and rely on you because your work is detailed and thorough.
Here are 12 ways you can make that happen—every time.
1. Follow editorial guidelines
The main way to get things done right: asking for the company's editorial guidelines and following them.
Editorial guidelines (also called a style guide or content guidelines) will outline elements like:
- Title case vs. sentence case for titles and subheadings (H2, H3…)
- Ideal paragraph and sentence length
- How to use bullet points and numbered lists
- How to spell and capitalize specific product and feature names
- Using hyphens, en dashes, em dashes, semicolons, quotations marks, and other punctuation
- Rules on using acronyms, spelling out numbers, using Oxford comma
- How to anchor links
- Specific vocabulary to use or avoid when talking about products, job titles, benefits, competitors, etc.
Some clients will have a short, couple pages long style guide, while others may have 60 pages with detailed examples.
Make sure to spend time getting familiar with it when you first start working with that client. For longer style guides, it might be worth making a shorter version for your own reference in a separate doc with key editorial specifics.
What to do if a client doesn’t have editorial guidelines
Some companies won’t have content guidelines for freelance writers.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it often means they didn’t make an intentional effort to document their editorial preferences, rather than not having them in the first place.
My tip in this case is to go through several existing articles the client published and take notes:
- Are they capitalizing their titles and subheadings?
- Do they use the Oxford comma?
- Do they write in US English or UK English?
- How many sentences are in an average paragraph?
- Do they use original and/or third-party images? How do they caption them?
- Do they use a table of contents at the beginning of the article?
You can use these notes to emulate what the company has already done before, and it will reduce their editing time.
You can also use this as an opportunity to suggest your client to develop a style guide, letting them know it sets freelance writers up for success.
2. Learn who you’re writing for
When you get a writing assignment, don’t settle for a few keywords to target. Go deeper and understand the ideal reader you’re writing this for.
A few questions to consider about the target audience you’re writing for:
- What is their job title?
- What are their goals in that role (or in life, if you’re writing for a consumer audience)?
- What are some triggers that drive them to seek a piece of content like this?
- What pain points do they experience?
Here’s an example of why this is important. Let’s say your client is selling an email marketing solution. A single piece of content might be directed at significantly different readers:
- A person in their first email marketing role vs. a marketing manager with 10+ years in the industry
- A business owner doing everything on their own vs. a large marketing team
- A fast-growing tech startup vs. a local brick-and-mortar business
The more you know about the person on the other end, the more specific you can get with your references, examples, tips, actionable steps, and comparisons.
Writing for an undefined mass is often wordy, fluffy, and unspecific. Writing for a defined reader is strong and crispy.
If your client doesn’t specify this for you, don’t hesitate to ask. It will be worth it for everyone involved.
3. Insert internal links
Add useful internal links to your draft so your client doesn’t have to.
Internal links are a great way to keep the reader engaged and get them to dive into other relevant content.
Here’s an example from one of my articles for CoSchedule, a marketing calendar and planning software:
Each of the links is an internal CoSchedule link; the first three are blog posts, and the last one is a product page. This lets the reader easily keep on reading useful content.
The easiest way to find relevant links to include is by searching site:clientwebsite.com “relevant topic” (keep the quotation marks!). For example, if I was writing for Canva and mentioning color palettes, here’s how I’d look for a relevant internal link:
You can repeat this process for any topic or subtopic you’re mentioning in your article. Of course, you shouldn’t clutter the article with links and go overboard—just put yourself in the reader’s shoes and consider what you’d find most useful.
4. Reference fresh, trustworthy data
Data is powerful and a great way to make strong arguments with your writing.
From ecommerce, retail, customer experience, and remote work to content marketing, project management, productivity, and business communication—I can’t imagine a field or industry whose writing wouldn’t benefit from data-backed narratives.
I see more writers and companies rely on data than ever before, but I also often see data being misused. Don’t be that writer. Instead, make sure to use data that is:
- Recent. Don’t use data older than 3-4 years, unless it's a type of data that’s unlikely to change. For some industries (think crypto or ecommerce), even data from 18 months ago could be considered outdated.
- Trustworthy. Is it clear who ran the study or published the report, or is it a random PDF you found on page 10 of Google? Is the report based on a big enough dataset to be mentioned in a broader context?
- Relevant and true. Don’t take information out of context or tweak it in a way that supports your argument if the original statistic doesn’t.
Good editors will catch errors like old reports and unreliable data, but many others won’t.
You should always assume your readers are smart and don’t want to feel tricked, even if your clients don’t mind you referencing an old report or misrepresenting a statistic.
5. Include expert contributions
When you feature contributions from industry experts in your article, you’re going a step beyond what’s already written and creating a unique piece of content.
Experts can include practitioners (e.g. store owners), consultants (e.g. Facebook ads agency owners), in-house pros (e.g. product managers), speakers, authors, and more.
Some of the best ways to find these experts are:
- The Help a B2B Writer service. Fill out a form, select industries you need expertise in, and get excellent contributions from a pool of ~1,000 sources.
- Ask on Twitter and/or LinkedIn. Be specific and make it clear you’re asking for an article. Always works well for me and many other writers in my network! Here’s an example from ecommerce writer Tina Donati, who also shared a form her contributors could fill out.
- Reach out directly to relevant connections. With time, you’ll build up your own network of sources, so make sure to tap into it when you need contributions. I’ve built mine by asking “Do you want me to reach out if another similar opportunity comes up?” after someone contributed to one of my articles. This is an example of the database of sources I’ve built:
When you build these contributions into your draft, offer to your client to reach out to these experts once the article is live for extra promotion and shares. They’ll love you for it.
6. Double-check all links
This one is easy and self-explanatory: as you complete your draft, click through to all links you’ve included in your draft.
There’s always a chance you’ve linked to a wrong link or made a copy/paste error (especially if you work with lots of browser tabs at the same time). Make link-checking part of your drafting process to avoid any mishaps.
One of the best ways to wow clients is to deliver clean, error-free drafts.
This is why self-editing is key. It catches mistakes that are hard to spot while you’re in writing mode. This includes obvious ones like typos and grammar mistakes, but also the flow of information, sentence and paragraph length, wordiness, and superficial statements.
Build some time before your deadlines to create space for editing. You can:
- Read your draft multiple times. Some writers read out loud to spot sentences that are too long or don’t make sense; others read the draft starting at the end to notice typos more easily.
- Read with fresh eyes. Walk away from your draft for a few hours or a full day. This lets you read the draft from the perspective of a reader and catch any gaps in the flow or arguments that need strengthening.
- Use LanguageTool or Grammarly. Great for catching errors you may have missed in your revisions.
- Use Hemingway. Hemingway helps you get rid of too complex sentences, passive verbs, and unnecessary qualifiers. Of course, some suggestions might not be relevant, so feel free to dismiss them.
8. Add title suggestions and on-page SEO elements
Create a section at the top of your draft to add useful information and suggestions that will save your client’s time, including:
- At least three title suggestions
- Title tag (also known as meta title), for a title that will be displayed in search results
- Meta description
- URL path
Your client has to have these in order to publish the article you wrote. You’ll make their process much easier by doing these for them.
9. Share images in a Google Drive folder
Do you use images to share examples, screenshots, and graphs in your drafts? If so, make it easy for your client to use them when uploading your draft to their blog.
- Rename all the images. Instead of Screenshot 2020-01-21 14.48.51, name your images based on what they represent. For example, average-email-open-rates.
- Create an image in Google Drive. Name it Images: [blog post title] and upload all images from your draft to the Google Drive folder.
- Set the right access permissions. Open this folder’s sharing settings and select Anyone with the link and Editor.
- Link to this folder at the top of your draft (right below the suggested titles and meta information) for easy client access.
From there, your client can easily access and download images for further use.
10. List internal content that could link to this new piece of content
The final element to add to the top of your draft is a list of other internal content that can link to this new article.
Again, you can search for site:clientwebsite.com “topic” (keep the quotation marks) to find potential articles to link to this piece from.
For example, if you were writing the ultimate keyword research guide for Ahrefs, you could list these blog and help articles as potential ones to link from:
Here’s how I bring together title suggestions, on-page SEO elements, images link, and the list of internal pieces to link from. I add this section at the top of a Google Doc every time I’m about to start a draft:
11. Provide correct editing access
When you’re ready to share your draft, make sure you’re providing the right permissions to the Google Docs link. Use the Share button in your doc to see sharing settings.
One option is to enter your client’s email address(es) into the Add people and groups field:
Alternatively, you can make your doc available to anyone with the link (with either editing or commenting permissions) in case your contact needs to share the doc with other stakeholders:
Feel free to ask your clients for their preferences around document sharing and permissions.
12. Ask: “Is there anything else I can do to make your job easier?”
Easy and powerful: ask your client if you can do anything else at all to simplify their work.
That’s what they hired you for, but it’s often implied, not obvious. Be the freelancer they’ll always rely on by learning what they need most.
Of course, be sure to protect your boundaries and the project scope you’ve agreed on. This isn’t about working more for the same rate, but about transparent communication and building strong partnerships with clients.