Freelance Writers Share the Surprising Keys to Their Successful Careers

certified stories - professional writers share their secrets

We talk about the lives of professional writers and content marketers a lot on these pages.

And we’ve done our fair share of interviews with well-known writers and top-notch content marketers.

But what about those writers whose names you may not know, but who have discovered the secrets to running profitable freelance writing businesses?

We thought it was time to shine the light on these folks so you could learn from their journeys. And to find them, we didn’t have to go far: our Certified Content Marketer page is full of them.

Welcome to our Certified Stories series, where we’ll share insights and tips from successful freelance writers.

Here’s who’s joined us today:


  • Terri Cruce is a copywriter and content marketer for small business owners and solopreneurs who understand the need for well-written, engaging content, but lack the desire, skill set, or time to create it themselves. Contact Terri
  • Mark Crosling offers content creation, plus content, social, and search strategy. Contact Mark
  • Sharlyn Lauby is a Master Level Certified Content Marketer who offers human resources content marketing that focuses on strategic campaigns to increase engagement and lead generation. Contact Sharlyn

Read on as Terri, Mark, and Sharlyn spill their professional secrets.

Who’s your favorite type of client to work with?

We all have clients who are secretly our favorites.

It’s probably in our best interests to hide the fact that we enjoy working with them so much, we’d almost do their work for free.

(Don’t work for free. Read our Pricing for Service Businesses series instead.)

The definition of a “perfect” client will be different for all of us. For our three featured Certified Content Marketers, their perfect clients reflect what they value most.

Terri says it’s all about flexibility:

“As long as there is give and take, a willingness to be open to new ideas and approaches, I can work with that person. Inflexibility drives me crazy and I usually will steer clear of any potential client who is unyielding and demanding.” – Terri Cruce

Mark looks for clients who want to embrace the fact that content marketing is one part of a greater whole:

“My focus is strategy, so I love working with a client who’s receptive to a holistic approach to their content marketing efforts.” – Mark Crosling

And for Sharlyn? It’s all about avoiding boredom at all costs (something I can relate to personally):

“One of the reasons I started consulting was my low tolerance for boredom. I love that my clients are different. They each have a unique personality and working style. So the variety is great. I work with terrific people on fun and challenging projects. The clients who challenge me the most are probably my favorites.” – Sharlyn Lauby

What can clients do to get a writer’s best work?

One way a client becomes a favorite is when you develop a working relationship that brings out the best in both of you. You enjoy your interactions and produce excellent work together.

For Sharlyn, this type of relationship develops when clients make the effort to educate her about their businesses. A writer who’s familiar with a client’s goals and culture can do a better job expressing their messages.

“My clients do a great job of pulling back the curtains and showing me their businesses. It might be sending me to attend an event, speaking with employees, or listening in on an analyst call. It’s essential to learn about their products/services but even better when you understand who they are and what they stand for. It makes it easy to write about them and I think the results show it.” – Sharlyn Lauby

For Terri, it comes down to the simple art of communicating clearly — and managing expectations at the beginning of the business relationship.

“Communicate! Open lines of communication about client needs and expectations, both from me as well as to me, are crucial to a successful working relationship. Also, it helps when a client understands that every working relationship must go through what I call a ‘break-in mode.’ There’s usually some adjustment on both sides when it comes to brand voice, writing style, and expectations. But patience on both ends smooths things out pretty quickly.” – Terri Cruce

Mark emphasizes the importance of open lines of communication as well:

“Talk to me and talk to me. Be totally open and transparent so I’m able to empathize with you and understand your concerns and what you’re hoping to achieve.” – Mark Crosling

What writing habit has helped you the most?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (and again). If you want to write better, write more.

The advice to write more sounds too simple to be useful, but the reason we hear it so often is that it really works.

Mark says:

“I’ve made a habit of writing every day. Whether it be random thoughts or structured articles, writing is part of my daily schedule.

At first, it was a chore and I struggled to put pen to paper (or fingers to keypad). I was unshackled once I had the attitude, ‘Stuff it; just write anything!’ This led to free-form writing about whatever came to mind.

Scheduling 20-30 minutes a day made all the difference. It was liberating and writing no longer felt like a burden. It also enabled me to develop my writing voice — and with that came confidence.” – Mark Crosling

Sharlyn stays organized by toting around a place to drop her ideas when they strike:

“I recently started carrying a journal in my bag to capture ideas when I think of them. (I used to do this with bar napkins but decided maybe it’s time to step up my game!) Later, I organize them into client folders or my editorial calendar for the blog. I have more ideas than time to write. That’s a nice place to be.” – Sharlyn Lauby

What trait makes a writer a pro?

In addition to their basic writing abilities, professional writers need to possess other characteristics:

Terri riffs on the “professional” angle:

“Oddly, I don’t believe that writing ability is at the top of this list. Professionalism, to me, is being accountable, responsible. Meeting deadlines. Going the extra mile to ensure that the client is happy. Discipline, when it comes to working with clients and meeting their deadlines and expectations, is sadly not always present in freelance culture. Reliability and responsibility are critical. Writing skills are as well, and writers should continue to hone their skills. There’s always room for improvement.” – Terri Cruce

For Sharlyn, it’s about how she approaches her craft:

“For me, it was where writing fell in my priorities. It’s important to write every day. That’s when I realized I’m a professional writer. After that, it’s all about ongoing improvement — identifying tools and development opportunities to make me a better writer.” – Sharlyn Lauby

Tips from professional content marketers to aspiring content marketers

Our careers unfold over time and eventually we look back and see the person we were at the beginning — and marvel at how we got to where we are.

We asked our Certified Content Marketers what they wish they knew when they were first starting out:

“Oh good grief. Where do I start?

It would be brevity. How to get to the message and develop a story with as few words as possible. That’s when I first started out.

Over time, it’s work in progress. I continue to learn and adapt, and in doing so become a better writer.” – Mark Crosling

Sharlyn mentions the role editors play in helping your content shine — a lesson we all have to learn in the early days.

“The role of your editor is to make you look good. It can be tempting to think of editors as critics. But really, good editors are masters at providing suggestions and feedback to make your writing and the finished piece stronger.” – Sharlyn Lauby

What was your favorite aspect of the Certification program?

Finally, we thought you might enjoy hearing about our Certified Content Marketer training program direct from three people who have benefited from taking the course and becoming certified.

For Mark, the course material itself provided a major revelation:

“The Certification program pulled it all together for me. It was truly my ‘aha moment’ — I got it!

Not wishing to be melodramatic, but all the components of content marketing aligned for me.

The pinnacle of the Certification program was understanding the buyer’s journey. That was the golden nugget.

The journey of taking your prospective customer from maybe not even knowing you, through to wanting to buy from you. That’s extremely powerful and it’s all achieved with effective content.” – Mark Crosling

Sharlyn learned an important skill and — surprisingly — learned something from the Certification application process itself.

“Two things. I loved the conversation about writing headlines and the importance of writing the headline first. Sometimes it means staring at the screen with your hands on the keyboard for a few moments, but once you figure out the headline, the rest seems to fall into place.

The second was the submission. I spent a lot of time thinking about what to submit, which was a very good exercise. In addition, the feedback I received was well-written and thoughtful. To have someone outside of my industry give me feedback was insightful.” – Sharlyn Lauby

And from Terri, we see appreciation for the exclusivity of the Certification program:

“I actually liked the fact that passing and getting the certification was not a given. I’ve done other certification programs where you just needed to complete the course to get certified. That in itself can be a huge accomplishment as it is so easy to get sidetracked and never finish. But knowing that certification was not necessarily a given meant that I had to knuckle down and do the work. And do it well. That made receiving the certification that much more valuable to me. And to my clients as well.” – Terri Cruce

The Content Marketer Certification program is for serious writers

If you’ve read all the way down here, you’re seriously interested in growing your writing business. :-)

For you, we’d like to recommend our Certified Content Marketer training program. It’s usually closed, but we’ll reopen it soon for a short time to invite a new group of students inside.

Want to be one of them? We’d love to see you there. Add your name below and we’ll let you know when we’re enrolling a new group of writers.

Find out when our Certified Content Marketer training program reopens:

The post Freelance Writers Share the Surprising Keys to Their Successful Careers appeared first on Copyblogger.


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