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Want to become a better writer? Try out these tips from the top 2% of writers

Amanda Jackson
June 18, 2024

I didn’t apply to Harvard my senior year of high school, and I’ve always regretted it. (Phew. Feels good to get that off my chest.)

I don’t even think I would’ve gone if I’d been accepted. But wouldn’t it have made for some killer cocktail party chatter? “Yeah, I got into Harvard—and they have a 3% acceptance rate.”

So I never shot my shot with one of the most prestigious schools in the US. But I did land an achievement that just might rival that one: becoming one of Beam Content’s freelance writers. 

Okay, okay: it’s not the perfect metaphor. But, by the numbers, the Beam roster makes up the top 2% of talent:

Now, hear me: I’m not writing this to toot my own horn. (I still regularly pinch myself that Beam is one of my clients.) Instead, I’m here to hand the trumpet over to my fellow writers, some of the brightest stars in B2B SaaS. Together, we want to shed light on what it takes to excel as a freelancer, from creating darn-good drafts to going the extra mile for clients.

To learn what sets this team apart from the other 98%, I chatted with five of the folks on Beam’s writing roster:

They generously shared the ins and outs of their careers and writing processes. I may not be an Ivy League alum, but I definitely feel smarter after talking to these five writers.

Choose your character: How Beam picked its team

If you’ve ever posted on LinkedIn asking for content writers, you’ve probably experienced something like the flood of interest Brooklin got when he first started looking for Beam’s writers in 2022.

I don’t envy him the task of sifting through the applications of hundreds of talented writers—but I still asked how he did it. What stood out about the writers he interviewed and hired?

Trait #1: They know what they do and how they do it

Brooklin didn’t just look for “freelance writers.” He was on the hunt for individuals who got more specific: “I help X type of company do A, B, and C.”

When content writers can articulate who they help and how they help them, they tend to have a differentiated skillset and defined processes. They know their stuff.

Trait #2: They have range and depth of writing experience

Niching as a writer is good. Staying in the shallow end of that niche? Not so much. “Often I see freelancers pigeonhole themselves in martech, sales tech, or other verticals with surface-level topics,” Brooklin says. “I’m looking for a range of experience across the board and depth in their content.”

Brooklin scoured writers’ portfolios for a range of content types—not just your typical 1,500-word articles with three headers. He watched for in-depth guides, reports, and pillar pages that went one level deeper: “It shows me they can weave things together and not just follow a four-bullet outline.”

Trait #3: They’re great communicators and project managers

Some of the most important traits in a writer are impossible to assess based on a portfolio or even an interview. Skills like project management, proactive communication, and the ability to hit deadlines are invisible at first, but they’re critical in a working relationship. For Beam, Brooklin verified them through referrals and testimonials from past teammates or clients.

“If somebody comes by way of referral, they go to the top of my stack immediately,” he notes. “And reviews are the second thing I look at after writing samples themselves.” Proof of professional skills is often the deal-maker that gets freelance writers through the door.

“You can be an excellent creative, but if you can’t keep to a schedule, ask good questions, or communicate well via email or Slack, it’s gonna be really difficult for you to collaborate as a freelancer.”
— Brooklin Nash

That’s what Brooklin saw in the writers he hired. But what do these all-stars say about themselves? Here are the nine tips they shared.

The process: How they get it all done

There’s no end product without the process—and Beam’s writers have their process down to a science. They’ve refined their schedule, business structure, and capacity so they can be as creative as possible and get sh*t done.

Tip #1: Find a tried-and-true drafting process

Spoiler alert: There’s no mystical, magical formula the top 2% writers take when they draft a piece. However, I did notice that across the board, each writer’s processes had similar stages:

  1. Brief review and research. Brooklin notes that Beam writers usually look at the brief they’re assigned ASAP to a) confirm access to resources, and b) flag any questions. Then, they listen to SME interviews or review original research data.
  2. Outlining and drafting. Armed with quotes, stats, and original insights, they get their hands on the keyboard. If they don’t have a robust outline, they make one. Rosie likes to work from an “80% outline,” where she includes not just H2s and H3s, but the internal links, stats, and quotes that’ll nest within each one. (She often shares this outline with new clients to make sure they’re on the same page before she starts writing.) Outline in hand, they get to drafting.
  3. Editing, editing, editing. Some writers edit while they’re writing, like Hsing, who line-edits as she goes. Others write an SFD—Sh*tty First Draft, to use a term Brené Brown coined in “Rising Strong”—and do the bulk of their editing after. Whichever route they take, they edit thoroughly. According to Rosie, you should spend longer self-editing than you do writing. (Bonus life hack: Most Beam writers read their drafts out loud as part of this step.)
“Editing is an act of respect for your editor. The more you edit on your end, the more it’ll be in a publish-ready place for the editor, too. It’s a win-win.”
— Sarah Brooks

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that an airtight writing process, while crucial, can’t compensate for a lack of two key ingredients:

  1. A killer brief. Beam puts together some of the best briefs in the biz, and it’s not just about detailed outlines. They set writers up for success by including the end client’s goals for the piece, potential internal backlinks, Think/Feel/Do details, and…
  2. Original inputs. The hill the Beam team will die on: content driven by SME insights and original research trumps just about anything else. These writers are incredible at what they do, but Beam sets them up to succeed with expert insights. Then, they apply their process and hit a home run.

Tip #2: Build in time between steps of the writing process

Remember those sleepless nights in college where you’d finish a project mere minutes before the deadline? (I can feel the pit in my stomach and racing pulse just thinking about it.)

Freelancing is akin to doing homework professionally forever—but that doesn’t mean that the top content writers cram.

Over and over, Beam’s writers told me they spread out their process over several days instead of trying to tackle everything at once. “Don’t write and edit in the same day,” advises Sarah. “Writing is a different mode than editing. If you take a step back and go in the next day, you can edit with a fresh brain, and you’ll see things you wouldn’t have seen that same day you were writing.”

Brooklin cites a noticeable difference in quality from writers who’ve learned not to procrastinate. “None of them are relying on cramming eight hours of writing and editing a draft into a single day,” he notes. “They have things planned out, which translates into a very good writing process for the drafts they turn around.” 

Tip #3: Analyze your productivity, then hack it

To avoid cramming and master the art of time management, the top 2% of writers deeply understand how they work best:

  • Hsing told me about her “writing groove” and says that when she’s in it, she’s 100% productive for hours at a time. Rosie, on the other hand, takes lots of breaks while she’s writing. She learned early on that she can’t stack writing-heavy days back to back, so she paces herself to recharge her creative batteries.
  • Emily works best in the morning. My sweet spot is in the afternoon. That doesn’t mean we don’t work during our “off times,” but we prioritize when to do certain task types. Focused writing usually happens when we’re at our best.
  • Kristina writes her drafts from the top of her outline to the bottom. Hsing starts writing the section with the least friction first and works her way up to the sections with the most friction—usually the intro and conclusion.
  • Sarah and Emily both keep a trusty writing sidekick with them at all times: music without words. “It keeps me sane and helps me focus,” Sarah explains. 

All of us writers have learned what works best for us through trial and error. Now, we have cheat codes to remove as many obstacles from the act of writing as we can.

The people: Who they do it with (and for)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that freelance writing is a lonely gig at times. We spend our days steeped in four million plus tabs, software products, and the sound of our own voices reading drafts aloud. 

But it’s people—from agency teams like Beam’s to the subject matter experts we quote to our fellow writers—that make it all worthwhile, interesting, and doggone-it-all, fun.

Tip #4: Take a relational approach to working with your clients

Top-notch content writers don’t put words on a page and call it a day—they’re invested in their working relationships with their clients:

  • They stay up-to-date on industry trends so they have context for content and can suggest angles, topics, and resources. 
  • They write using their clients’ words verbatim whenever possible, gathered from interviews, website copy, or other published content. 
  • They research competitors to avoid sounding like them and bring a unique angle.

Sarah builds all of those practices into her process: “I want the content to sound like the client—I’m just an extension of them.”

Outside of nailing the voice and message, Kristina stays tuned into clients’ big-picture strategy to find additional ways to offer value.

“Everything you write is part of a greater content ecosystem. The quicker you understand your client’s bigger goals, the better you can execute on projects and make suggestions about future ways to partner together.” 
— Kristina Poulter

Sarah explains that a client’s motivations—how they think, what they care about, and their values—all play a part in creating great content. “You’re not an echo chamber for them. You’re actually creating new conversations and sentiments with their customers.” 

Tip #5: Lean into your network

Brooklin notices another common thread across freelancers: “Better writers often have better networks.” But to pose a classic chicken-and-egg question… 

  • Do they have strong networks because they’re good writers? 
  • Or are they good writers because they have strong networks?

To that, I say, both.

When you create SME-driven and research-backed content, your network naturally grows. You take a deep interest in your niche. You connect with industry experts, both as interview sources and from sheer curiosity. You post on LinkedIn or Twitter about your unique point of view.

But a writer’s network fuels their growth, too. Connecting with other freelancers helps them refine their processes and work with the right clients. They glean tips and work hacks from their fellow writers and communities like Peak Freelance and Superpath. If Kristina could give advice to her younger writer self, she would say to build relationships with veteran writers to benefit from their knowledge.

You don’t have to be a “LinkedIn influencer” or “know everyone” to be a top-notch writer. But your network is one of your best assets for referrals and introductions, SME sources, and best practices.

Tip #6: Put your reader first in everything

Hsing had a harrowing experience when a past editor of hers said a piece she’d written was undeliverable in its current state. She was understandably traumatized. But she soon found out that the feedback wasn’t about her writing. Before the piece even got to her, the strategy and angle were incorrect—they weren’t aligned with what the reader would want.

“The experience taught me that you need to keep that reader in mind. Put yourself in their shoes from the very beginning and consider: What do they already know? What are they coming here to learn?” she explains.

Beam’s roster typically writes for enterprise software buyers, AKA super-smart audiences. Sales VPs and CFOs don’t need the 101-level rundown—or as Brooklin calls it, the “water is wet” content.

Top 2% writers ruthlessly cut the “duh” sections from their drafts and figure out what the reader needs.

Kristina recommends the BLUF approach, short for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Your audience is always asking, “What’s in it for me?” Answer that question right away, and you’ll make it easier for them to read on and stick with you. ”Use super clear headings, concrete examples, and bulleted or numbered lists wherever possible,” Kristina advises. All of these features create a friction-free reading experience and keep your audience at the center.

The craft: Writing for the love of the game

I won’t sugarcoat it: Being a freelance writer is tough. Getting and keeping clients. Managing your capacity and schedule. Planning time away to recharge. Staying motivated when the market is bonkers and you wonder if you’ll ever land a new client again.

But Beam’s writers have seen freelancing on its best and worst days, and they’re committed to the craft, come what may.

Tip #7: Nail the introduction

When they say “You only have one chance to make a first impression,” they’re talking about B2B content. (IMHO.) Your introduction can make the audience think, laugh, or click away. You can hook them and make them feel understood or, ya know, just repeat what everyone else is saying.

If you want a crash course in intros that aren’t boring AF, our own Rosie Campbell did a deep dive, complete with stellar examples and quotes from amazing marketers.

Her best, nerdiest tip? Use divergent thinking. “Most of the writing process is convergent—you’re bringing together lots of different topics, information, sources, and ideas into a well-organized, well-argued piece of work,” she explains. “I like to write a fun or narrative intro applying divergent thinking, which means being a bit weird and random.”

Rosie thinks about the topic at hand and asks questions like:

  • What does this make me think of?
  • What are relevant metaphors or analogies?
  • Does this remind me of any studies, stories, or unrelated topics?

Then, she writes something succinct, punchy, and eye-catching that segues naturally into the topic.

“The intro buys the right to borrow that person’s attention for a minute or two. You’re proving to them that they want to read what you have to say.”
— Rosie Campbell

According to Brooklin, an intro can make or break a portfolio review, too. “The first thing I look for is a strong introduction with a unique angle or hook,” he explains. “It helps me sort through who’s going to be the most promising. A strong introduction is a sign of a strong writer.”

Tip #8: Keep track of client feedback

Good writing is pretty universal. But client opinions about Oxford commas, spaces around em dashes, and which case to use for subheaders? Different story.

Beam writers clock each of their clients’ preferences—and they make it their job to turn around drafts that would make the company style guide proud.

Rosie created a system to get her clients’ rules right every time. “I have a template for each client that I use when I’m about to start writing. It has any feedback I’ve gotten as a checklist at the top,” she says. Emily keeps a note on each of her clients in her phone, so she has their feedback in one place for reference each time she delivers a piece.

For both the details and the big picture, Sarah “gets into her client’s head” before she starts writing for them. She reads some of their existing content to hear their voice and make sure she’s writing as them rather than as Sarah. “Sounding authentically like the client is a job I hold really close.”

Tip #9: Know how you can grow, and never stop learning

The top 2% of writers here at Beam are fantastic at what they do. But they also know their own opportunities for growth and work hard to shore up their weaknesses.

  • Sarah and Kristina both say passive voice is one of their Achilles’ heels, but they work hard to spot it in their writing. One of Sarah’s go-to tips for eyeing passive voice is adding the phrase “by zombies” to the end of a sentence—if that works, it’s passive, and she shifts to an active construction.
  • My roughest drafts are almost always well over word count. (I blame college essay page requirements for making me the queen of using 15 words when five would do.) I aggressively search for places where I’ve said the same thing more than once or unnecessarily summarized a quote instead of letting it stand on its own.
  • Emily and Rosie both keep an eye out for extra-long or complex sentences in their drafts. “In B2B writing, it’s much more impactful to get to the point,” Emily notes. When they self-edit, Emily and Rosie find opportunities to make sentences more concise or break them up, if needed.
“I have a voice in my head that asks, ‘What are you trying to say here? Using just one-syllable words, what is the point of what you are saying?’ Just say the thing.”
— Rosie Campbell

Unlike other professions, writers have the privilege of near-constant feedback and review from their clients. They also often find themselves “newbies” in a new topic or field, even if they specialize in a niche. They’re always learning—and the best writers know they never “arrive.” They embrace any opportunity to grow, and they get better at writing all the time.

If you take one thing away from Beam’s top 2% writer roster, let it be this: they give a damn about their work, their relationships, and their writing.

Which tip will you implement today?