If you want to be self-employed in a creative field, and enjoy working across written, audio and visual media, then you might want to find out how to become a freelance content creator.
As a relatively new catch-all term, it can rank alongside ‘influencer’ for annoying some people. But it’s an opportunity to create and share a variety of work, and also get insights into what really resonates with an audience. It’s currently a freelance role which is very much in demand. Plus the same skill set you develop for clients will also help you market your own business, or personal brand.
It’s also possible to get started with nothing more than a phone and an internet connection. This means becoming a freelance content creator will make a lot of sense for anyone who wants to travel and live a more nomadic self-employed lifestyle, or just doesn’t have the money to invest in lots of equipment before you start earning.
What is a freelance content creator?
Creative workers have always been categorised by their primary medium and output. It’s easy to guess what a writer, photographer or videographer is going to produce, for example. But in modern content marketing, there’s a demand for a more general approach across different forms, tied into how that work is then shared, and whether it’s successful in generating interest.
This led to the rise of the freelance content creator working in digital media. As a generalist, you’ll typically start by generating ideas to match any targets or deliverables. You might be asked to deliver traffic, followers, leads or general engagement around a particular business or topic, and decide which social networks and platforms will have the best results for each type of content.
As a result, you could be creating blog posts and articles, social media updates, photos, infographics, memes, vlogs, webinars or video tutorials. And then publishing them on a business website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube or TikTok.
The type of content and the publishing platform might vary wildly from day-to-day. But a freelance content creator needs to;
- Evaluate a business or brand to settle to match the right style, tone and voice, along with spotting the strengths and weaknesses of competitors.
- Create content ideas and concepts which will hopefully deliver the right results. And advise where they should be published to get the best response.
- Manage projects and workflows by ensuring everything is supplied correctly and on time.
- Research and write everything from captions, emojis and hashtags to email newsletters, blog posts and more.
- Use visual assets correctly for each platform, including design and editing.
- Create video content, whether that’s in front of the camera or behind the scenes.
- Promote the published content, track results, and iterate ways to improve in the future.
Some content creators choose to specialise in a particular area, just as traditional writers, designers or filmmakers might use the opportunity to branch into other disciplines. Most bloggers will have experience of basic photo editing, live streaming or shooting their own videos, or have promoted their own articles on social media, for example.
What skills or qualifications do you need to become a content creator?
You don’t need any academic or vocational qualifications to become a content creator. You can start simply by creating some work and sharing it to try and secure some client projects. And this is perfectly viable if you have some knowledge about a particular niche you want to target for work. If you’re already obsessive about fashion, cars, football, video gaming or any other interest or hobby, it should be possible to come up with plenty of ideas for interesting content.
But if you want to secure more work and better rates in a crowded market, formal qualifications can help. Many content creators will tend to have a Bachelor’s Degree in a related field. And they may have also completed a range of courses in areas including copywriting, marketing, photo and video editing. It’s really about displaying your adaptability, and passion for developing your skills, as much as being proficient with a particular piece of software.
It’s also fairly easy to find a variety of businesses and agencies offering internships in content creation. These can be paid or unpaid opportunities, and can be a good way to build up experience and contacts relatively quickly. But it’s important to check that a company isn’t just trying to get some free labour, so be wary about unpaid internships that don’t state clearly what you’ll be learning from the experience. Considering how quickly and easily you can create your own social media brand or website with advertising and affiliate opportunities, it doesn’t make sense to intern for free unless it’s going to boost your knowledge and CV.
A good alternative to unpaid internships with companies is to look for charities and nonprofits who are likely to show greater appreciation for volunteer help. Not only will you potentially get greater coaching and responsibilities as a result, but your free labour will be helping a cause you believe in.
The general skills a good freelance content creator needs include:
- Research and analysis for brands, competitors, and specific topics.
- Knowledge of the latest tools, techniques and opportunities offered by all the major content platforms and how they could benefit clients.
- The ability to come up with multiple ideas for topics, evaluate which ones are most likely to succeed, and an understanding of where they should be published and promoted.
- A constant desire to create the best possible content within the constraints of time, budget and any other limitations.
- Advertising and marketing techniques, including social media marketing, SEO, copywriting, and the basic rules of photography and filmmaking.
- Editing and self-editing work with an eye for details, whether it’s copywriting, design or videography.
- Reporting and analytics, including Google Analytics for websites and blogs, and the systems offered by the main social networks and third-party tools.
And it’s easily possible to develop almost all of the skills and knowledge above by diving into all of the resources available cheaply or for free online, supplemented by a few commonly recommended books, and advice from more experienced colleagues or online contacts.
How much can a self-employed content creator earn?
If you use your skills in content and marketing to promote your own products or business, then there’s really no limit to the potential earnings you could make. Being involved in podcasts or videos could lead to a presenting career. Or you could grow from your initial success and become a creative agency potentially worth millions in the future.
But what about setting rates for clients when you’re just starting out? Or after you’ve gained more experience and built a strong portfolio of previous work?
As a rough guide, the UK national average salary for a Content Creator is £24,876 (Glassdoor), or £27,500 (Talent.com). This will rise with experience, or if you specialise in an in-demand area, with Social Media Content Creators currently averaging £31,400 in the UK, for example (Glassdoor).
Setting your rates will require some research and a little guesswork at the start. You can look at roles being advertised and the rates other freelancers are offering to give you a ballpark range, and see how your own skills, qualifications and experience match up.
You can also take a look at our other guides on related freelance occupations, such as how to become a freelance photographer or on becoming a freelance writer to see how your rates might increase if you’ve invested more in the audio-visual side, or built a reputation as a highly experienced wordsmith.
Top tips to find success as a freelance content creator
The most common myth about creative work is that some people are just born with a talent that enables them to produce effortlessly brilliant content at the drop of a hat. While it’s true that you may have a natural gift, it’s impossible to build a business around it. To deliver consistent high quality work, you also need to invest time and effort into developing your skills.
So how can you make it more likely that all that investment will pay off?
- Choose a niche and become an expert: Thousands of people are trying to find work as expert freelance writers and content creators. But how many have an in-depth knowledge of Mexican food? Or tabletop roleplaying games? Or 1980’s action films?
Combining two or three niches which you’re knowledgeable and enthusiastic about can give you a unique blend of selling points to potential clients. Even if it’s not an exact match, it may be adjacent to what they’re looking for, which is an easier sell than something completely unrelated.
- Actively consume information every day: It’s important to stay current with news and trends related to content creation, and any specialisms you have. But you also need to actively consider what’s being published by leading brands in those areas, and see what’s resonating with audiences. Why do they use a certain tone of voice or design style to reach their customers?
Who are the leading influencers and industry leaders in your field? What makes them interesting, and encourages others to pay attention to them?
- Practice generating ideas, and producing content, every day: A professional athlete trains every day at their particular sport to build up good habits and muscle memory. So that they can react without thinking in competition. And a good content creator will practice ways to come up with ideas, and work on their creative skills. So they’re always prepared if a client suddenly asks for solutions at short notice.
Imagine your favourite brand has asked you for some content ideas, and spend 10-15 minutes coming up with concepts. And develop the habit of writing something every day, whether it’s private free-form journaling, sharing something on Twitter, or putting something onto a personal blog.
- Develop your own voice: The paradox of creative freelancing is that clients will often have existing brand guidelines that you’ll need to work with. But they’ll come to you rather than other freelancers if you already have a distinctive and recognisable voice. The solution is finding ways to blend both to create something fresh.
- Build your network: It’s never been easier to connect with people around the world, so make use of it. You can join groups like Creative Freelancers UK to connect and collaborate, ask questions, or find opportunities without leaving your desk.
Share content and successes from others, adding your own insight, especially if you want to build connections with established freelancers.
- Establish a regular routine with scheduled breaks: No-one can be creative 24/7, and clients don’t always appreciate you waiting for creativity to strike, or writer’s block. The greatest artists and creative talents all found a regular routine to sit down and start work regardless of how they felt at a particular moment. Whether you start working at 9am or 9pm, the important thing is to start without waiting around for inspiration.
Often the best ideas come when you’re taking a break from work. And that’s why so many famous authors schedule regular walks into their days. Learning a new skill away from your job, doing tasks which are relatively mindless, or just relaxing with a book completely unrelated to business can all help to keep your creativity fuelled for when you need it.
More resources and support
Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:
- How to become a freelance web designer
- How to become a freelance writer
- How to become a freelance Virtual Assistant (VA)
- How to become a freelance SEO consultant
- How to become a freelance structural engineer
- How to become a freelance photographer
- How to become a freelance business analyst
- How to become a freelance event planner or organiser
- How to become a freelance proofreader
- How to become a freelance bookkeeper
- How to become a freelance coach
- How to become a freelance illustrator
- How to become a freelance photojournalist
- How to become a freelance hair stylist
And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership. It includes advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.