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  • Writer's pictureDavid Downs

Discover The Real Skills You Should Look for In a Copywriter Besides Qualifications

Updated: Jul 29, 2022

Does a freelance writer need qualifications?

Businesses understand that the written word is far more important than ever today. Content marketing is a huge thing, with online business taking a massive leap in the past couple of years, perhaps helped by the pandemic.

Freelance Bogger checking out text on their laptop

The use of websites, emails, and social media, have all become the mainstay of marketing teams. It’s all well knowing how marketing works, but the next generation of marketers is more about content. There is a phrase, ‘content is king.’ It rings true, whether in photography, graphic design, video or content writing.

Whether you are using full-time staff or relying on freelance writers to help you with your digital marketing, you know you want the best in the business.

It’s too easy to focus on the old school recruitment styles of checking CVs. The focus is on qualifications or what was their previous job description. I'm glad this mindset is changing toward modern understanding in these creative roles.

Does a freelance writer need to have a fancy degree in writing? What qualifications do they actually need?

Many years ago, I was a recruitment agent (I hear you hissing and booing). Being pretty successful at it, I’d offer clients I was working with a lot of great advice in a consultative way. Alongside this, I’d also give potential applicants plenty of advice.

I loved working with candidates fresh from university, as they’d have some pretty cool degrees but not always much idea of where they wanted to develop their careers. This might have reflected my working with youth groups at the time. I was always keen to help the younger generation find their passions and grow with them.

Nine times out of ten, I’d see these applicants go on and develop excellent careers, usually with a well-matched company. But this is what made me different to the other recruiters around me.

I stopped focusing on their actual qualifications and looked at their dreams, passions, personalities and general skills. Let’s face it; there aren’t that many people who pursue a career that reflects their degree. I don’t know many Social Science graduates working in social science.

Even I had to face qualification snobbery once. Yes, even me! Having been a successful bid writer in the cleaning and facilities management sector, I had written numerous bids for contracts worth several million. I worked with a reasonably small business with about £4 million turnover. Eighteen months later and they had increased to £7 million.

Yet here is me offering to work with a similar-sized business, and they could see my great work, skills and experience. Yet, for simply having no degree at the time, they turned me down.

I won’t go on to tell of the £68 million turnover I helped grow to £102 million in 4 years.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Education is vital. Going to university is a great way to help people learn about interacting with others. Who has been to university and NOT gained a world of experience and life skills and built a strong network? Life skills can include learning how to down an inordinate number of sambuca shots and keep them down.

Some jobs need a more specific set of qualifications. A lawyer, of course, needs to be versed in the law. Plumbers need to understand how pipes work, how water or fluids and temperature can affect the pipework, joints, seals, etc.

A writer needs to know how to write. But to what level? Do they need to know the ins and outs of Shakespeare? How vital is it that they know the names of every grammatical function?

Large swathes of the rulebook seem to have been thrown out in commercial writing!

Since that rainy day when my mum told me to write a story, I realised that being a storyteller was all I wanted to do.

I also have my big brother, Paul, to thank for getting me into being a copywriter. I laboured for years working on projects, or working in sales, always dreaming of having time to finish my writing projects.

Paul pointed out that perhaps I should think about technical or commercial writing. It turns out that I was already doing it but hadn’t given it much thought.

When I actually looked into what a commercial writer does, my eyes opened like saucers at what was available.

There is a lot of money for writing product descriptions, online catalogues, magazines, and a wide range of digital marketing. Businesses now scramble for high ranking websites, popular posts, followers and likes. These now need skilled writers to fit this market and create success.

And as the last two years have shown, working from home is far easier than before. Successful content writers can have a lifestyle that many envy—not just working from home. They can make their own schedule, work more or work less as they choose. They can even sit on a beach in the Bahamas and write up an award-winning blog for your business in Catford if they so want.

My initial business plan actually states a goal: Sitting on a beach in the Bahamas, writing for a client in London.

Within an industry worth billions, many content writers in the UK have difficulty making a comfortable income from writing alone. You might think that all a copywriter needs is a laptop, an internet connection and a PayPal account, but there is much more to it than that.

To succeed, you need to develop the right skills. You might have all the talent in the world, but a writing skill is not enough. It would be best to have a toolkit of various marketing skills and your finger on the pulse of your chosen industry or market.

Being a writer is not about putting pen to paper.

Oh, that it was that simple!

We all see films or TV shows where someone stands up and tells a story. As if they have come up with that tale right off the cuff.

I used to be like that when telling my daughters bedtime stories. But they weren’t analysing every word said. Well, maybe they would occasionally ask why knights of Bogeyland didn’t just move.

Writing for business is a different kettle of fish.

First of all, don’t put fish in your kettle unless you want your tea to taste all fishy!

There are so many skills that a writer needs. And these skills can change depending on the type of writing.

Are you writing sales copy? Is it for a series of sales emails? Is it for a landing page? Or are you writing an informative blog? An ‘About Me’ web page? Are you writing a case study or a business policy? A competitive bid for a major contract?

What does a writer need?

Apart from the obvious ability to write, successful writers are experts in different writing styles. They can pick up on your tone of voice. They can bend the style depending on the previously listed types of writing.

Successful writing requires original content. The marketplace is a noisy world. The copywriter needs to be heard. Their content needs always to be fresh. Let’s face it, finding fresh writing doesn’t just fall off a tree after five minutes.

Social media is like putty in a content writer’s hands. Understanding LinkedIn, or Twitter, knowing Pinterest, Instagram, and all the other wide range of social media takes time and patience. A decent writer can also tell if these streams are worth your while or not. Some sectors don’t track so well in Insta. Some do. It’s knowing which streams and how to use them to make a difference.

A successful Content Writer knows technology, including SEO and Web Portals. I still love to write with a fountain pen. But that is when just scribbling away. Knowing how to work with digital technology and any emerging technologies is vital in today’s marketplace.

Understanding how websites work, how the SEO works and CRO. Even getting to grips with AI is now part of writing. No, not to replace us scribes, but using tools like Grammarly, Hemmingway, Headline Analyser, and certain AI content writers all have a place in today’s armoury.

The success of a content writer isn’t about picking any old topic or subject matter. What does your client want? What does your client know? How adept are you researching? You need to be able to work with a content or sales calendar and produce your writing accordingly.


A writer always needs time. An average blog post can take about three to four hours. They are there to write, so they block out that time just for you.

What other skills do you think a writer should have?

I was chatting about whether writers have to be total experts in any one subject and so only suit one type of client.

The good thing is no.

Unless your client wants to read the ins and outs of the rotation of muons and how they interact with… erm.

We are commercial writers, not writers of academic papers.

Your audience wants to understand what you do, so we are the go-betweens. We remove industry jargon and technical words and present them in language and stories they understand.

It’s not dumbing down before you ask.

And the most exciting part of it for me is we get to learn. A great writer is always learning. Researching, discovering new things.

Not just about your business but also about technology, SEO, marketing, and the whole range of elements within the business of being a writer.

I regularly sign up for courses to keep myself ahead of the curve. Many great companies educate, some for free.

Where do you keep up to date with ideas? Who do you recommend for training and helping with skills?

If you are looking for a copywriter, drop me a line. I am happy to talk about how I can help your business. I would love to learn more about you.


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