When you’re building your freelance website, setting up your LinkedIn page, or sending out a pitch to a potential client, you need to have an official freelance writer title that quickly conveys what you do and can lead clients to you via keyword searches. However, there are a number of various titles that freelancers use to describe themselves (copy writer, content writer, blogger, ghostwriter), and many of them overlap in certain areas. So, how do you know which title best suits your specialty? Let’s break down the definitions.
(Want some tips on setting up your website? Check out 5 Steps to Create a Standout Freelancer Website)
This is often used as an umbrella term for all forms of freelance writing. However, traditionally, this means a freelancer who submits articles to publications like commercial and trade magazines. Whether you’re writing feature articles, a weekly column, or regular articles for the entertainment or fashion section of a magazine, if your work is bylined and appears in a publication, you’re a traditional freelance writer.
However, because the term for your work has been adopted by so many niches, you’re probably going to want to spice up that title a bit. There are tons of folks calling themselves freelance writer (and nothing else) out there. So, it’s a good idea to pick one or two of your specialty areas and put them in your title. For instance, health and nutrition freelance writer. Or, freelance writer specializing in self-help and how-to.
There is a theory out there now that the term “freelance” itself carries unpleasant connotations of someone typing away at a hobby “career” working for $0.001 per word, and that you should avoid it altogether in your title and opt for something like health and nutrition writer. I’m not sure how proven this theory is, but your title sounds solid with or without “freelancer” if you’re adding those specialties.
And remember, just because you name those specialties/preferred topics in your title doesn’t mean you’re barred from ever taking on a job that falls outside of them. The title is just a tool to help clients seeking your favorite type of work find you and view you as an expert.
I talked briefly about the difference between content and copy writing in my post 10 Things You May Not Know About Ghostwriting. But let’s address it again. The two terms are often used interchangeably these days (especially in job board listings), but if you want to stand out from the crowd and impress those professional clients who still understand the distinction, you need to understand the subtleties.
Content writing involves creating material like blog posts, articles, and web content that provide value to a company’s or individual’s readers, educate them in some way, and/or establish a relationship between your client and the audience. The goal of content marketing is to establish your client as a leader in the field. Your client wants to be the go-to source for their target audience, and it’s your job to create content that establishes that trust and engagement.
If you’re writing material for a pest control company, your larger goal is to make sure that people researching how to get rid of mice, roaches, or any sort of pest find your client’s articles on the subject. You want to be able to answer all their customers’ burning questions either on their website or on their blog. You aren’t being salesy, you’re being helpful. You aren’t saying, “Mice in the ceiling? We can help!” You’re giving step-by-step advice spoken with authority. You’re saying, “Mice in the ceiling? Here’s some tips for setting up traps.” Then, if one of the readers doesn’t want to deal with the mess of extermination by him or herself (I know my husband and I didn’t), that person just clicks on over to your client’s hire us or contact page and rings up the helpful experts they feel some trust toward. Or, even better, you write something like, “Mice in the ceiling? Here’s some possible reasons why.” All readers of that article still need to know how to get rid of the mice, but they view your client as an expert in the field who can not only tell them why they might have mice, but who can also get rid of them. Help from a pro is just a click away.
Writing content like that also gives your client a better chance of ranking high in search results when people are googling an exterminator. Especially if you, a master content writer, wrote their homepage copy as well as articles for their blog.
Content writer covers a lot of ground, so adding those favorite topics to your title is going to help a lot here, too, or in any title, really.
Copy writing, by its original definition, is sales-driven content. Instead of establishing expertise and reader relationships, your ultimate goal is to sell your client’s product or program. You’ll find copy writing in product reviews, product descriptions, and posts directly connected to a product a company sells.
Content and copy writing do overlap in many ways. For instance, if you’re in charge of your client’s whole site (setting up all the landing pages and working on the blog) you’re probably doing a good mix of copy and content writing.
Copy and content writing also overlap when you write a specific type of blog post or article. Say your client is Freshbooks (the invoicing and accounting software I use to run my business). If you write an article called, “5 Ways Freshbooks Can Help You Get Ready for Tax Season,” you’re going to blend content and copy writing. You’re providing valuable tax tips and tricks to your curious audience (content writing), but you’re also clearly pushing the product as the ultimate solution (copy writing).
If you were to just write the landing page for Freshbooks, a page dedicated solely to getting visitors to click that “purchase” button, that would be copy writing only. If you wrote a blog post attached to the main site called, “5 Documents You Need When Filing Your Taxes as a Freelancer,” that’s content writing only.
See the difference?
Obviously this means you specialize solely in writing blog posts and even running a blog. However, if you’re a freelance blogger who writes blog posts for other people, that’s a form of content writing; you’ve just narrowed the title down to the form of content you like writing most. If you run your own blog as your main source of income, you’ve probably monetized it with things like affiliate links, courses, and ad revenue.
Making a full-time income off your own blog takes time, no matter how you go about it. Why? Well, you need a substantial amount of traffic in order for affiliate links and ad revenue to start paying off regularly, and traffic and an email list take time to build up. However, once you get rolling, the possibilities are endless. There are bloggers like Michelle Schroeder-Gardner who make $100,000 a month from their blogs.
The journey into blogging for others is usually comparatively quicker. Blog post samples only need to be 500 words. You can write up a few one week and start pitching the next.
This is another umbrella term, like freelance writer. At its most basic level, it is writing without credit, but there are some nuances you need to be aware of.
A lot of content and copy writing is sort of like ghostwriting. For instance, when you write those blog posts attached to your client’s website, you are very rarely given a byline with a headshot at the bottom. You’re establishing your client as an expert, so putting your name on the content sort of defeats that purpose. However, as a regular content writer, you’re allowed to link to that blog post freely in your portfolio, while a ghost is bound by some sort of confidentiality agreement that requires workarounds to create a portfolio. For instance, if the article you wrote has the CEO’s name at the bottom of it, listed as the author, he or she probably isn’t going to want readers to know he/she didn’t actually write that up, only assigned the topic. You’ll have to sign a confidentiality agreement, and you can’t link to that article as a sample. That is why ghosts charge more; in establishing their client as an expert, they make it harder to present themselves as one, so they must be adequately compensated for that extra trouble.
If you’re a ghostwriter, you’re going to want to specify what sort of content you ghostwrite, because it can cover the gamut. You can ghostwrite books, blogs, trade magazine articles, courses, newsletters, etc. Your title needs to be more specific than just “ghostwriter” unless you’re wanting to write all those things. I am a book ghostwriter, and then I further narrow that title with specialty genres.
I hope I’ve cleared up some of your confusion about the meanings of the various titles you see floating around freelancer circles. Now it’s up to you to decide which one describes your business and speaks to your passions the best. Then you get to rock that title on all your platforms. Good luck!