When it comes to kick-starting a career as a professional content writer, there’s no one right way to go about it. The content industry is huge and competitive. Plus it’s constantly shifting due to today’s data-driven marketing tactics and new technology.

But there are certain steps that can help steer you in the right direction. Here are five:

1. Create or update your portfolio

becoming a professional content writer
Put your work out there

This is by far the most essential step to focus on when you’re just starting out. Most potential employers or collaborators will likely ask you for writing samples. The good news is that there are a number of ways to start building a portfolio. You can start your own blog or submit an article to a local newspaper or a popular website. 

My first published article was for a local Catholic newspaper in New York. I wasn’t paid for that article, but I did use it to land my first paid newspaper gig. And after moving to Madrid, I knew I needed online writing samples if I were to work remotely for a digital company. I began contributing a few articles to Naked Madrid, a respected online publication. Those samples helped me transform my writing from a sporadic side gig into a full-time job. 

To give you another example, my colleague, Joss Burns, landed his first job in the content industry because he got an article published in the Irish Times. And shortly after, the owner of a Madrid-based content agency read it and reached out to him directly. Joss teamed up with four other Madrid-based writers to share their stories about how they broke into the content industry in this article – it’s interesting to see just how many different paths you can take.

In short, without published work, it’s very challenging – if not impossible – to land a job as a writer. 

2. Network as much as you can

The next ingredient to make a career as a content writer is to master the art of business networking. Writing tends to be a rather solitary profession, which is why it’s even more important to get out there and make professional connections within the field. 

There are plenty of ways to network as a writer. Join different online writing groups or gain a good reputation on platforms for freelance writers. Search for groups in your area that meet regularly for writing feedback sessions or book readings. Attend networking events to meet other people who are in the industry or are looking to launch their career just like you. Follow your favorite writers, editors, and publications on social media to stay up-to-date with the latest news in the content industry.

Whether it be from the comfort of your home or attending events and group meetings in your city, there’s no limit to the ways that you can prioritize networking. 

Here’s a great article on how to turn networking into your greatest professional tool, by international journalist Stephanie García. She offers practical tips that even the most introverted writer can find handy.

3. Decide what kind of writer you want to be

becoming a professional content writer
Think about what you enjoy writing about and if you would like to specialize in a certain area

At first, it’s normal to eagerly jump at any opportunity to land a new client, find a new gig, and build up your portfolio. But once established, you can begin choosing the projects you want to work on based on your interests, expertise and standard rate. After working on a diverse range of projects, I know that my favorite niche topics are food, travel, and health and wellness. 

By understanding which projects you’re best skilled for and eager to take on, you’ll set yourself up for success. That’s not to say you shouldn’t challenge yourself outside of your comfort zone. It simply means that it will be easier for you to know which jobs you can add value to as well as which jobs you should apply for. 

That said, no matter what type of writer you decide to be, quality is of utmost importance. This goes for absolutely every job you ever take on. This means taking the time to thoroughly research and proofread your work before turning it in. Also make sure you stick to a style guide, either provided by your clients or of your own choosing.

If you want to learn more about what quality means in the content industry and why it matters so much for your career, read Melissa Haun’s excellent article which explains it all.

4. Consider different positions within the content industry

becoming a professional content writer
Writing is an essential skill for many different positions within the content industry

Writing is a very valuable skill that can be applied to many positions – the possibilities don’t end with being a content writer or editor. A variety of jobs in the content and marketing industries call for a high level of writing. Some examples include a public relations specialist, an advertising manager, a marketing communications specialist, or a social media manager. Just because you consider yourself to be a writer, doesn’t mean you can’t apply for these types of positions.

Use your writing expertise to your advantage to nail the job of your dreams, whether that be a content writer or not!

5. Gain complementary skills

becoming a professional content writer
Whether you’re into photography or coding, gaining an extra skill or two is always a good idea

It’s almost imperative nowadays for writers to have a set of complementary skills, because the content industry is constantly evolving with new technology, and there’s high competition. So, whether this means dabbling in coding and programming, learning about SEO best practices, or taking a course in social media management or graphic design, having more specialized expertise can greatly enhance your resumé and make you stand out as a content writer. Seriously, this might make the difference between getting a promotion at your current company or landing a new job.

For more on gaining complementary skills as a professional content writer, read our previous article: To code or not to code: How programming skills can help your writing career.

Reap the benefits of a career in the content industry

becoming a professional content writer
Working remotely, being creative, developing your own voice… there are many benefits to becoming a professional content writer

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the professional ladder is no short climb as a content writer. From writing for little to no money to working your way up to an in-house writer or editor position, it can be a long, tedious journey at times. But it’s safe to say the benefits of a career in content writing make it worth it.

Writing opens so many windows of opportunity, whether it be with a job that you never thought you’d want or working in a different city or country. Make strategic decisions, market your skills, foster professional relationships, and before you know it, you’ll be working your way up the ladder to success.