thought leadership
Storytelling Communications

How to Become a Thought Leader for Your Freelance Writing Clients

6 Minute Read

It was a harsh reality to face when I realized my clients thought I was easily replaceable.

I’d lost some freelance writing clients and was having a hard time getting new ones, when it dawned on me that my clients could just hire someone cheaper for more or less the same results I provided.

I knew I had to do something to make myself more valuable, but I had no idea what that was.

For a while, I tried to coast on my website communications and portfolio, which included bylines on a few well-known industry blogs. But it didn’t take long before I got found out because my blogs weren’t yielding the best results. Suddenly, I’d be back at square one, trying to convince people I was a valuable hire—even though I didn’t have the numbers to prove it.

Enter: Thought Leadership

It’s been a while since the buzzword thought leader hit the internet marketing world by storm, but that doesn’t mean that your clients no longer strive to be thought leaders in their industries—or that they want any less thought leadership content. After all, being a thought leader reaps a lot of benefits:

  • Placement in Google’s answer box.
  • Quotes featured on industry websites.
  • Interviews with major publications.
  • Speaking opportunities at major conferences.
  • Endorsements from other firms within the industry.
  • Higher site traffic and increased conversion rates.

If you could guarantee that kind of success to your freelance writing clients, don’t you think they’d sign on with you in a heartbeat? (Answer: Yes. Yes they would.) So in this post, I’ll tell you how I learned to be a thought leader for my clients.

I Figured Out What Their Audiences Wanted to Read

I think my life changed forever the day I learned about Answer The Public from Andy Crestodina.

Answer the Public is a keyword data visualization tool that “fetches and maps keyword suggestions/predictions that you see when you perform a Google search.” The keywords it displays are actual questions, laid out in cool wheel charts that are super easy to navigate.

“Questions are great keyphrases,” Crestodina explained. “They’re often longer and less competitive than other phrases. This site shows you all of the questions related to a topic, all in one beautiful visualization.”

And all the keywords you find on Answer the Public tend to be low competition—which we all know is a win in the SEO world.

Here’s what it looks like:

thought leader on Answer the Public

And using the tool couldn’t be easier: all you do is enter a main keyword related to your client’s niche, and it gives you all kind of potential blog post subjects like in the image above. Total goldmine.

What I do at this point is write down the topics I feel most comfortable answering (because there’s nothing wrong with going after the lowest-hanging fruit) and then do a Google search on each of the terms to make sure there’s not too much competition for each one. If one particular term is flooded with a ton of complete blog posts, you can ignore that one for now and go for one that will get results for your client a lot faster.

Don’t Preach Advice—Tell a Story

Too often, business blogs sink like a huge, cement bricks in the water because their posts aren’t interesting. They might have done hours of due diligence with regard to keywords and niche communications, but there’s nothing they can do about keeping people on a page if what they’ve written is a total snorefest.

And let me tell you the main difference I’ve noticed between thought-leading blogs and generic blogs in this respect: the thought leaders always start with stories, and the wannabes just start with some generic opening statement or a statistic.

Sure, we all like statistics because they make us sound smart. But unless that statistic is absolutely absurd, it’s not going to capture our attention. What will capture our attention, though, is a story.

Did you notice how I started this piece off with the story of me suddenly realizing I wasn’t that valuable to my clients? What if instead I’d started out talking about how important thought leadership is? With the story approach, you feel like you can relate to me and therefore want to listen. With the preaching advice approach, you just feel like I’m trying to shove my agenda on you, so you are more likely to seek advice elsewhere.

You see the difference?

And think about the blogs you read from people you consider thought leaders on a regular basis. How many of them interest you because of their stories and relatability? And how many do you read just because you love reading the same generic advice time and time again?

Okay, but how do I find the stories if I’m not an expert in the field?

There are a few ways you can approach this.

First, include interviews in your stories. When it comes to proving your credibility through empathy and understanding, drafting a generic and fictionalized story just won’t cut it. The best thing to do is go straight to the source and ask real people in the industry about their experiences. Not only will this generate a wealth of content for you, but it’ll also help you tell stories that really resonate. And as a bonus, you’ll get another outlet through which to distribute your content—someone who will share your story with their audience once it’s published.

Another approach is to reach out to your freelance writing clients and ask for their insights. For example: when I’m writing for a client whose industry I’m not an expert it, I plan out the blog posts I’ll write for that month, put together some tentative outlines, send them over, and then get my client contact on the phone. I get their confirmation that assumptions I’ve made are correct, gather some background information, and then ask them to riff on a story from their experience relating to each post for a few minutes.

Once you get your clients to do this for a few times, they’ll really start to appreciate the time they spend on the phone with you, and the content you write for them will finally start to get the kind of attention they dream about.

There’s a happy ending to my story—the one about feeling replaceable. Today, the clients I write for now constantly refer me to their friends. What’s more, I can confidently charge a premium, because I know the results will follow my work.

I’ve evolved a lot over the years as a blogger, and to be honest with you, I wish I could have skipped the whole losing loads of clients phase and realizing I was kind of bad at my job. But now that I’ve “cracked the code,” so to speak, I’m confident I can do a great job blogging for any client who hires me—turning them (and myself in the process) into a thought leader in their niche.

If you blog for a living, what are some other ideas you have for creating thought leadership content? Share your tips in the comments.

Subscribe to the Content Standard

Register for Forward 2019!

Chelsea is the founder of Copy Power, where she focuses on helping businesses create the kind of content marketing that gets remembered. Via her blog, free eBook, and writing services, she helps site owners identify ways to keep readers on the page, and most importantly, convert.

Recommended for you