Funny face - Unusual skills every freelance content writer should learn

Not long ago, I wrote a lengthy post about business skills that help you land more content clients. Based on the emails I received, that article was eye-opening for a lot of content writers out there.

Once you land those content clients, however, you have a whole new opportunity to impress them and get results for them.

There are four skills in particular that you might not have ever thought about – but that can help you stand out among all the other content writers out there.

Adding these skills to your copywriting expertise creates what Scott Adams calls a “talent stack.” When you stack a few rather ordinary skills together, you get an extraordinary combination that makes you stand out.

The following 4 skills, when combined with copywriting, create that extraordinary combination. And they also help you get better results for your clients … which means more consistent work, higher pay, and glowing referrals for you.

1. Basic Design Skills

You don’t need a degree in graphic design to be a better freelance content writer – but a basic understanding of design elements will help you out a lot.

Website copywriters often create wireframes to go along with their copy, so clients can visualize how the copy is meant to lay out on the webpage. It’s clear how basic design skills come into play here.

For content writers, however, we might not be doing a lot of wireframing – but we do frequently partner with designers.

Understanding the fundamentals of design strategy will help you be a much more effective partner to these creative whiz kids. You’ll be able to write and format your content in ways that are easier for designers to work with. You’ll also be able to give the designer clearer direction should any of your content be out of the ordinary.

Most importantly, you’ll be able to communicate better with designers, taking some of the burden off of your client and/or their marketing team.

2. A/B Testing Know-how

Like with design, a content writer won’t usually be the one responsible for A/B testing – but understanding how it works will make you a more effective partner to your clients and their teams.

Where A/B testing comes in frequently for us is with paid ads and their corresponding landing pages. It’s not unusual for a content writer to be tapped to write the ads and landing pages that will promote the content they’ve written.

For example, I have a SaaS (software as a service) client who often runs paid ads on LinkedIn to promote the white papers I write for the company. This is an incredibly effective lead generation strategy for them, and to make it even more effective, we’ve recently begun A/B testing the headlines.

Once we get the results back from the split tests, we’ll be able to hone in on the right messaging to drive the most leads for her business using content, ads and landing pages. Having a decent understanding of how A/B testing works, I’m able to be a better partner to my client – and a more effective content writer.

3. Understanding of the Customer Lifecycle

An understanding of the typical customer lifecycle will always serve you well – but an understanding of the unique customer lifecycle in your chosen niche or industry will make you indispensable.

This is what a typical customer lifecycle looks like:

The Buyer's Journey wheel

But every industry, market, niche and vertical have customer lifecycles that are somewhat unique to them. While an understanding of a typical lifecycle is great, understanding the intricacies of the path your specific audience will take can make you a much more effective content writer and strategist.

Let’s take SaaS, for example. A customer lifecycle often looks a bit more like this:

Slide from Dave McClure's Startup Customer Lifecycle SlideShare

(View the rest of Dave McClure’s brilliant slide deck here.)

You can see how it differs slightly from the typical path, and how different types of marketing content would serve customers differently at the various stages, here.

Understanding the journey your audience goes on as they get to know the company, buy the product/service, and grow into brand advocates, you can help your client create a lifecycle-conscious strategy that gets them much better results.

4. Ability to Pull Valuable Messaging from Customer Insight

If you pay attention to the world of conversion copywriting (a la Copy Hackers), you’re already familiar with how to use customers’ own words to write more successful web copy, sales pages and even emails. What you might not know is that you can use this same technique with marketing content.

Customer insight is just as valuable to you as a content writer as it is to a website copywriter. We just might use it a little bit differently.

Ask your clients for access to customer survey data, interview transcripts, testimonials, case studies, and any other sources of customer insight they might have. Or consider offering to interview some of their best customers about their experience with the company and product/service. This intelligence will help you uncover valuable information like:

  • What topics and subjects will be most meaningful to the audience
  • What mediums the audience might prefer (blogs? white papers? podcasts?)
  • What new opportunities there may be to serve customers even better with content
  • How they’re using content in their buying journey

Customer insight is the key to a better relationship between a business and their customers – it’s also the key to better marketing results. And few content writers are using it!

What’s Your Content Writing Talent Stack?

Adding just one of these four new skills to your talent stack will take you far as a content writer. Adding multiple is a recipe for dramatically happier clients and swift business growth.

What does your talent stack look like?


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