Category Archives: Personal Growth

What makes you an outstanding content writer?

So are you an outstanding content writer?

I was just now going through this “Business Insider” article that talks about how you have to be above average, or rather extraordinary in order to survive today’s work environment. Of course we have different definitions of exactly what is extraordinary and outstanding; it depends on your level of expertise and the degree of competition you face around you. But the article makes sense.

Since I provide content writing services, I am thinking in terms of a content writer; what makes you an above-average content writer? To understand this we have to go to the root of exactly what service you have to provide in order to become extraordinary.

Although my primary business is providing content I have no hesitation in admitting that it’s not the most important thing in your Internet marketing kitty, nonetheless it is the most fundamental thing. I mean, if you don’t have content, you have got nothing. It isn’t just content that can help your business. You need to disseminate that content, you need to market it (and hence, content marketing), you need to grab attention, you need to improve your search engine rankings, and you need to maintain a constant buzz on social media and social networking websites.

Of course you should be able to write quite well and create compelling content that converts, but that’s a given. Listed below are a few things you can do in order to become

An outstanding content writer

  • Practice your art, constantly: Like any other art or skill, content writing needs brushing up every day. It is an invisible muscle that begins to grow weak if you don’t use it all the time, and use it in the right manner. Write as much as you can. You should write even if you don’t have work right now. I have seen many aspiring content writers and bloggers shying away from writing unless they have got paying assignments. This atrophies their ability. Write just for the sake of writing and you will sooner or later – provided you promote your services in the right manner – will get paying assignments. But unless you write well, you’re not going to get paying assignments. So practice, practice and practice.
  • Stretch your content writing abilities: You shouldn’t just write about things you are comfortable with. Write on totally alien topics because this is how you have to write when you begin to create content professionally. You are not just going to get what you like. Many times you will get assignments you have never even heard of. You will have to learn many things, and learn them in such a manner that you can write about them clearly. So you might as well start writing on “difficult” topics right now rather than getting into a fix later on.
  • Read constantly: There are very few professional writers who don’t read regularly. Reading isn’t always about entertainment and passing time, it gets you into that mode that creates conducive environment for writing. Reading begets writing. It triggers your muse. You get to learn many new expressions and you also get to learn how various writers express various emotions and expressions in their own ways. You should also read contemporary literature, articles and essays so that your language is not antiquated.
  • Expand your intellectual horizon: Writing doesn’t just mean you can write error-free sentences. Good readers can read between the lines and they can easily make out what’s your intellectual level. Always try to broaden your perspective. A big reason why I constantly get new content writing assignments (I have been providing professional content since 2004) is because I haven’t limited myself to providing just content. When my clients hire me, they get a complete package and in most of the cases, especially when it comes to doing business online, they rarely have to brief me or provide me extra information. When you know stuff, you can write with conviction. It also saves you lots of time and speeds up your writing.
  • Create an active presence for yourself: Unless people know of your existence how are they going to give you work? And since most of the people these days come in contact with other people via social networking websites, you have to be present there, and not just as an inactive account, but a vibrant and active profile. You don’t have to be present on every platform. For example, you can just choose Facebook and Twitter and be regularly visible there. It also reassures your prospective clients that you’re not someone lurking around quietly without any testimonial and reference. When they know that you can be easily found, it’s easier for them to trust you as a reliable content writer.
  • Provide a turnkey content writing solution: Your client shouldn’t have to work with different vendors in order to meet his or her content writing and content marketing requirements. Provide exceptionally well-written content, and if your client also has to market the content and disseminate it, you should be able to help him or her out. Even when your client needs to formulate a long-term content strategy he or she shouldn’t have to seek another content provider? Have enough experience and knowledge to provide strategy and consulting whenever required.

So these are a few work habits and professional traits that can help you become an outstanding content writer. You don’t always have to wear different hats at the same time, it’s all about knowing what you do. This is where you can get an edge. You will notice that most of the content writers simply create a website, somehow manage to create a search engine presence, and after that provide totally uninspiring content writing services. You can survive that way, but you cannot thrive. In order to thrive in the content writing business, provide a package, instead of a service. Provide a solution, instead of a product.


How I have been adopting minimalism and eliminating distractions while doing my content writing work

Image credit: MarcelGermain

It started with using Q10 (a full-screen text editor). When you use this text editor there is nothing else on the screen: just the text you’re typing, according to your preferred column width and background and foreground. Prior to this I was already using EditPad for my writing needs. I don’t even remember when I used MS Word last. I kept using it for saving files though because clients prefer doc files.

There were three activities I was using bloated software for: MS Word for writing, Photoshop for random graphic work and Dreamweaver for PHP coding (all pre-installed by my Laptop vendor). I remember spending hours getting the right font shape or shade. Although I used Dreamweaver just for coding, it was so resource hungry that I couldn’t run another application while working on it. Frankly, I had no problem with MS Word, it’s just that I wanted to use a text-editor rather than a word processor.

About 4 months ago I switched to Ubuntu (a Linux version) completely and automatically stopped using all Windows software. For sending DOC files to my clients I switched to the OpenOffice writer. For doing PHP coding I started using Komodo Edit, which is lighter, and quite better than DW (although it has some problem with handling larger files). Since there is no better alternative to Photoshop (GIMP doesn’t even come near) I haven’t done a single graphic work for the past 4 months. In fact I redesigned this entire website to make the layout graphic-free. All the “cool utilities” I’d been using for years, I stopped using. I deleted 40 GB of software that I’d been downloading and backing up for years. I also deleted files and folders I haven’t used for the past 4 years.

Primarily, I need my laptop for

  • Content writing
  • PHP coding
  • Communication
  • Managing tasks

As you notice, I haven’t included graphics work because I was doing that simply for designing my own websites, and only I know how much time I’ve spent designing and redesigning my websites (and I regularly use just a couple of them).

Since I couldn’t find an alternative of Q10 in Ubuntu, I had to make do with OpenOffice writer for a while. I also used the gEdit text editor that comes with Ubuntu, but it had some line break issues when I transferred the text to the word processor (for final formatting).

For the past 3 years I’ve been using Google apps to manage my email. This means I can use the Gmail interface with my business email ID. I never configured its POP3 features and have been managing my email online from the beginning. It not only lets me manage different conversation threads, it also lets me find old emails fast. Of course I never have had to take email backups.

My writers keep sending me attachments when I outsource my work to them. A couple of months ago I started opening the files in Googledocs instead of downloading the attachments. Whatever editing and proofreading needed to be done, I did in Googledocs, and then sent the files to my clients straightaway as doc attachments. I created folders for different writers and started sharing with them so that they could directly save the files in those folders. Eventually I started using Googledocs for working on my own documents too, and now, no documents are saved on my local drive. I don’t need many word processing features and I rarely use spell checks and thesaurus etc., or use online references.

The only files I have to save locally are my media files and PHP files. Once I figure out how to edit PHP files online I’ll stop using Komodo Edit too. For managing my tasks I regularly use Tadalist and occasionally, Remember My Milk. To generate my invoices this month I started using Zoho. For instant messaging and voice chat I use Empathy and Skype. Since I’m not a power user when it comes to Twitter and FaceBook, using Tweetdeck was an overkill and hence I switched to Brizzly.

So basically I’m saving no information locally and I have minimum software installed. How does it let me get less distracted?

You get distracted when one, you can easily do the things that distract you, and two, when you spend more time trying to be productive, rather than actually being productive. Ubuntu versions of various software tools are not easily available and even if they are, it’s often tedious to make them work the way you like them to work. This encouraged me to install less and less software, and totally chuck away tools I use once in may be 3 months.

Now each morning all I have to do is, fire up my browser and start working. Even when I’m typing this, nothing else is visible on my laptop screen. In Googledocs you can remove the upper portion by pressing CRTL SHIFT F and in FireFox you can press F11 to get full screen view. So it’s just you and your text.

Putting everything online (in the Cloud) saves me the trouble of constant backups and a desire to do everything on my own. It also enables me to work from any machine…it means my work doesn’t depend on a single machine. It helps me focus on just the necessary.

And what if I need some graphic work? I’ll outsource. Ever since I started outsourcing my writing projects I’ve become more eager to pay for services rather than spending my own time. It’s not that bad to pay people for services that help you save time…you can put that time to some better use.

Result: my earnings from content writing this month so far have been the highest ever.


Self learning as a content writer

Learning, or rather self learning, is a constant process. Once you start believing that you have learned enough, your growth stops. A content writer is always learning, not because he or she needs to be a genius, but because there are so many wonderful ways of expressing your thoughts. As a professional you deal with myriad clients on a daily basis (if you get regular queries) and you need to write on varied subjects; in fact not just write, but write like an expert; so unless you completely assimilate the knowledge required to do justice with the topic neither you (if you take pride in your work) nor your clients will be satisfied.

A blog posts at PickTheBrain has listed 6 steps to effective self learning and I believe you can apply this concept to anything in your life. Here I mostly deal with content writing and online copywriting I see it in this perspective.

One of the greatest advantages of the Internet is that you can learn as much as you want, without having to travel to different places or purchase expensive books. Provided you know how to sift through the junk, you can get a lot to learn.

But no matter how much knowledge you have access to, unless you are eager to learn, it’s of no use. We have a saying that you can take a horse to the water but you cannot force it to drink.


This entry was posted in Personal Growth and tagged Learning, Personal Growth on by Amrit Hallan.

Initiating a positive climate change while operating your freelance business

Today’s post is about Climate Change (an initiative by — Blog Action Day ).

Climate change is not just the problem of those who think about it and want to take some proactive action. It is a problem we all face, whether we accept it or act like an ostrich. When the polar ice melts and costal cities get submerged the impact is all pervasive. When our kids develop asthma and other pollution-related illnesses it no longer remains an "activism" issue. When the marine life starts withering it affects the entire food chain. When there are flash draughts, flash cyclones and sudden pest attacks we all bear the brunt. So it’s an issue that concerns us all.

Do you know that just by working as a freelancer, from home, you contribute so much towards keeping the climate of the planet healthier? How? Easy. By not commuting on a daily basis.

60% of the pollution we have today comes from automobiles, if I’m not mistaken. Not all pollution is generated by the office going travelers, but with millions of people going to offices at least 5-days-a-week you can very well imagine the kind of strain they put on the fragile environment. No, I don’t mean to say that we should all stop going to offices and go back to the village economies (they’re not actually bad, but not feasible in the contemporary sense), but there are some organizations that are just trapped in the old rut. Many employees can telecommute, many can work from home and they can go to offices when extremely necessary.

So the moment you start freelancing from home you start contributing towards a cleaner environment.

Other than the not-traveling-to-work-factor, there are many proactive steps you can take to make your freelance business more environment friendly.

Reduce your energy consumption

Consuming more energy while working doesn’t just mean paying higher electricity bills, it also means increasing the use of natural resources needed to produce that energy. Even if you can easily afford the bill of using extra energy, imagine how much oil or other fuels are being used to produce that extra energy you are using, and could have avoided using.

You can economize the use of power by taking small steps:

  • Switch off your computer when not in use: There is a misconception that it harms your computer if you switch it on and off repeatedly. On an average a computer can be safely switched on and off 40,000 times. So if you’re not going to use your computer or laptop for a couple of hours and it is just lying there in the room, switch it off. Even in hibernation your computer uses power. Your computer uses lots of power even if your screen saver is running.
  • Use equipments that use less power: Laser printer uses more power than an inkjet printer. A bigger monitor uses more energy than a smaller one. A flat screen monitor is more efficient than a regular monitor.
  • Use natural light as much as possible: Do you have a nice window in your room and do you work when it’s normally bright outside? You can save electricity by using that natural light, instead of using lamps and bulbs, and even if you have to use bulbs, there are many options available these days that give more light and use less power.
  • Maintain your hardware properly: If your computer or laptop is generating too much heat it puts extra strain on your cooling system and consequently, you end up using more power.
  • Work faster: Improve your overall work efficiency. This way you’ll use less time in front of your computer. You’ll need less light because you’ll finish your work while it’s naturally bright around you.
  • Use solar or wind power if you can manage: If you have lots of open space around your house and you live in a sunny or a windy area, and if you can afford, you can tap these renewable resources to meet your energy needs. The affordability, unfortunately, right now, is a big factor, as these technologies, being still in various development stages, are quite expensive to implement.

Use less paper

Papers are actually destroying the forests of the world and this is unleashing unprecedented global warming. These days you can generate practically every document digitally. You can send electronic invoices to your clients. You can completely computerize your accounting. There are many tools available that let you take down notes online or on your desktop (in fact they are more efficient and easier to maintain and retrieve). You can read every major newspaper or magazine under the sun online. There are 1000s of ebooks available (both free and commercial) that you can easily download and read.

Use public transport for longer distances and cycle for shorter ones

If you have a decent public transportation system in your city then use that to cover longer distances, instead of using your vehicle (are you still using one of those fuel guzzlers, by the way?). Using your cycle to visit the neighborhood store not only makes you healthy, it also helps you reduce your carbon footprint.

Raise awareness around you and educate your kids

One of the most wonderful things about freelancing from your home is that you are always in the community. You are there when your kids are home. It’s not easy to run a business from home and it takes up lots of time and effort, nonetheless, compared to an office going person, you get to spend more time with your kids and spouse. Educate them about a positive climate change and what habits they can inculcate to improve our environment. Involve them in the activities. Encourage them to get the community involved and inform people.

Volunteer your skills, talent and knowledge

There are many NGOs actively working towards a cleaner environment and they can definitely use your abilities. Take some time out of your busy schedule and explore the possibilities of working with them as a volunteer.

Participate in online activities that spread awareness

Like the one currently happening at 100s of 1000s of blogs right now are writing about the issue and if the perception of just a few hundred individuals can be changed with this activity it’s all so worth it. It doesn’t have to be something very length. Just post a few paragraphs, create a sketch or a video or an animation and put it on your website. In fact, this gives me a great idea. Once in a month I’m going to write about Climate Change on this blog. Kindly drop in your ideas on what all I should write about.


Torture or fun, writing is just like any passion you follow, or is it?

Is there a “tortured writer myth”? If there is I’m yet to come across, at least in a personal sense. I was just reading this blog post titled The Myth of the Tortured Writer where the writer has tried to bust the myth. Whereas I totally agree that writing doesn’t necessarily have to be a gut-wrenching experience it doesn’t always have to be “fun”. Writing is creativity. Creativity is like a harvest, a growth of plants. Sometimes the land is so fertile and watered that you don’t have to put in much effort, things grow there just like that. It can be fun growing fruits, vegetables, flowers etc. on such land.

But sometimes the land is barren, the sun is hot and there is no water source nearby, and if you want to grow things there, you have to till, you have to make the soil soft, you have to add manure and you have to bring water to your fields. It’s hard work, but if you’ve made a conscious decision to get a harvest from that land, you’re going to get it.

Being a writer I’m a bit biased. Writing is more akin to creating a world and then diving into it whether it is molten lava or pleasantly cold writer. It is a story, and a story has its agony and ecstasy, and this is the beauty of writing.

Having said that, I believe writing-related difficulties and blocks are overrated and needlessly blown out of proportion. Some people are constantly writing, and some are perpetually caught in the cobweb of their mental blocks. Whenever you feel trapped like that, do some reading, especially writers you enjoy reading, aspire to emulate. Write on a subject slightly different from the current topic you’re writing on. Write from a different perspective. You will soon emancipate yourself from the “torture” and start writing as if you’re seamlessly playing music and are enthralled by it.


This entry was posted in Personal Growth on by Amrit Hallan.