It’s in vogue for companies to seek freelance writers with direct experience of working in a field, and for good reason.
There’s so much crappy content out there that marketers want to up their game and produce only content of the highest quality.
This is very much a positive thing.
Or, as superstar online marketer Brian Dean calls it, they want to publish Skyscraper content. That’s pretty much what people mean when they say the key to content marketing is ‘produce great content’.
To achieve great content, some say you must already have experience in your chosen field, and others blithely claim it doesn’t matter.
There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there about how much expertise you need to be a freelance writer in a particular niche.
It’s a bit of both. Different cases call for different approaches.
Why you need direct experience
Technical audiences are some of the most discerning, and won’t stand for any marketing fluff. In this case, you’d better have some real, hands-on experience or your content is unlikely to have much value.
You can interview experts and produce really compelling content with unique and fresh insights. The key is to always think about why you want to produce a particular piece of content.
A similar approach is having a ‘subject matter expert’ from your client’s company provide you with a reasonably detailed brief. You, as the professional writer, will turn this into compelling content.
If you run a personal blog
If you have a particularly intimate audience, like technical writer Tom Johnson, that follows you based on your personal experience in their field, then direct knowledge is even more important.
His audiences are interested in his personal insights of working in the technical writing field, and employing a freelance writer wouldn’t help his blog (unless they were also a passionate technical writer).
Even companies can publish relatively personal blogs about their experiences running a business, as Groove does. To generate new content, they interview their own audiences or customers to find out in detail the content they would find compelling.
Here’s an email they sent me about it:
If companies mine content ideas from their own audiences, these are still genuine, but they can be outsourced.
In these cases, a freelance writer can step in to help these companies produce quite specialized content, after being given adequate direction.
My approach to the experience question
That being said, I don’t have fine-grain experience in all aspects of technology, because that would be impossible. In the past, when I’ve negotiated with some prospective clients, I’ve sometimes faced harsh criticism about whether I’m qualified to write in a particular field. I think it’s partly because I’m female and people tend to doubt your abilities more.
When I take on a new job, I always evaluate if it would be within my realm of knowledge and understanding, plus ability to research. I also work with some very long-term clients, which has now given me deep experience in their respective fields. I’ve even been sent abroad to a technical conference on behalf of one of my clients, because I work so closely with them.
Plus, there are many people out there who don’t necessarily want to read a personal technical blog like Tom Johnson’s. They’d rather be kept informed of industry news, or find content that teaches them more about a product they’re interested in buying. In these instances, you really don’t need that much direct experience of a field to write about it.
The answer to any evaluation question like how much experience a writer needs is “it depends”, and requires understanding context. The key is having a solid brief, and making sure content ideas are genuinely relevant to a company’s audience.
The challenge of great content
Great content is content people actually want to read, watch or listen to. But why is it so hard to produce?
Well, a lot of it is produced by third parties, such as freelance writers and bloggers like myself. Companies tend to outsource their content production in order to streamline their operations, and sometimes to cut costs.
In the early days of online marketing, producing a high volume of content (of not necessarily high quality) earned companies a lot of traffic for their websites. This practice has persisted, and resulted in a proliferation of online content that really adds no value to anyone.
Even now, many companies mistakenly believe that it’s quantity over quality when it comes to content marketing. As a freelance writer, I constantly worry whether the content I’m producing is of value.
Freelance writers are really content marketers
Freelance writers are not really selling themselves per word. They are actually content marketers, which means their job is to understand the mechanics of the internet and know how to drive traffic to their client’s website.
If you just love writing and can’t abide marketing, I would say becoming a freelance writer isn’t for you. Also, you need to know a hell of a lot about business. Writing is actually a fairly minimal part of my work life.
I spent years trying to understand content marketing, and its relationship to other aspects of online marketing such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This put me in good stead to become a freelance writer. I also find it really, really interesting.
I also find it really, really interesting.
A content marketer, or freelance writer, can’t always be expected to have a high degree of expertise in technical fields. Otherwise, they could be earning a hell of a lot more money as a professional in that field: as a software engineer, for example.
Content marketers use their own judgment and expertise in marketing to decide what content their target audiences will gain value from. They conduct thorough research on a topic to produce new and unique content. They may or may not have direct experience in a particular field they’re writing about.
It’s pointless to debate whether writers should have experience. The focus should be on producing content that always has some value. Content that delights audiences, improves their lives or helps them solve a problem.
I’m a freelance writer specialising in tech and marketing. Contact me at email@example.com to find out how we can work together.