You’re a freelance writer, so the ultimate deciding factor on whether somebody decides they want to hire you or not is how you write. Duh. And the thing that makes your writing appealing to someone? It’s not your impeccable grammar or your knack for using commas correctly: those things should be a given in the eyes of your clients. Having immaculate grammar is not going to help you stand out from all the other writers out there, because ALL professional writers have impeccable grammar (or at least, all the ones worth hiring do).
No. The thing that will make your writing stand out above all others’ is your voice. And you need to start honing it. When you write privately, write stuff no one else will see, how does it comes out? Because that’s your voice. Uninhibited, unapologetic, this-is-how-I-write-when-I’m-not-thinking-about-it.
There isn’t a wrong voice or a right voice, or a voice that clients will find most appealing, because the truth is it’s different for everyone. Some businesses would abhor my occasional (ahem) use of swear words, for example. But that’s fine, because I know there are others out there who love it. I mean, just look at you: why are you here, reading this? It’s because you like my voice, right?
The words I use, the fact that I swear, my undiluted, direct approach: something about it resonates with you. And it’s not just the words, either. It’s what I’m actually saying. You can relate to me, feel we have something in common – whether it’s our belief that working in a job you hate is dumb, or that life’s too short not to pursue this writing dream. In short: you feel I understand you. I GET YOU, MAN.
Your voice is essentially just your personality on the page. And that’s why using your voice can make your prospective clients want to hire you: because they like you. Because they can relate to you. And because they want your voice on their website, because they see something of themselves in it.
Suppose you meet someone at a networking event and you hit it off. You enjoy their company, their jokes crack you up, and you like the same TV shows. Then you discover they’re a web developer, and you just so happen to need a web developer right now! You’ve met a couple of others that evening, but you didn’t particularly click with either of them. One of them thinks Z Nation is a better show than The Walking Dead (PAH!), and the other spoke in such a monotonous voice you’re not even sure whether they were telling you about their web development services or what they had for breakfast.
You grab all three of their business cards and check their websites out when you get home. Their prices are all in the same ballpark, and their portfolios all seem fairly similar, although it’s hard to tell, because what the hell do you know about web development? So – how do you decide who to hire?
It’s obvious, isn’t it? You hire the guy you like the most, the one you had the most in common with. The one you wouldn’t mind grabbing a drink with some time.
And that’s how your voice can work for you, too. You need to not worry about offending the client who thinks Z Nation is the best show ever, so you can appeal to the ones who love The Walking Dead. If you try to tread a fine line in between the two, you’ll find yourself appealing to nobody. And what happens then? People hire you based on your rates. And that’s the one place you don’t want to be.
Your voice is arguably the most important element of all, but it’s also one of the hardest to grapple with, particularly when you’re not used to writing things for yourself, such as a blog, a journal, or even just countless Facebook updates. Try to catch yourself when you find yourself trying to write something plain and safe and boring that won’t put anybody off. If you catch yourself thinking, ‘Oh, but will this put people off?’ you know you’re onto a winner: WRITE IT DOWN. Because that line you’ve thought up? Yes, it may put some people off. But it will resonate with others, and they’re the people you want to work with anyway.