It’s ironic that I ended up finding my greatest success as a writer through a blog-based, online writing business. I am one of the most non-technical people you’ll ever meet.
Technology makes me cry, honestly. I have been known to assume the fetal position and moan softy for prolonged periods when I can’t get some widget to work right.
Or to think seriously about flinging a computer out a window.
So I feel for writers when I get questions like these:
“I want to leave a comment on your Freelance Writers Den forum, but I can’t figure out how.”
“How do you enliven words with a link?”
“My client wants me to write and publish posts inside their WordPress system, but I’ve never used WordPress. Help!”
You can do this
The first step to becoming more technically adept is to change your attitude. You’ve got to stop acting all helpless about tech, to earn well as a writer today. You can’t throw your hands in the air and declare the problem unsolvable.
Because I can tell you, it isn’t. Despite possessing a natural ineptitude that borders on tech phobia, I’ve gone from complete ignoramus to solidly competent online.
I can code an ad in my blog sidebar. I can move widgets around. I can use membership and mailing list software. I put up blog posts with images, embedded videos, and slideshows in my clients’ WordPress dashboards.
I’ve been able to confidently pitch and land gigs that require the mastery of these technologies…often when I didn’t yet know how to do them.
How’d I go from typewriter-bound, old-school journalist to a writer with solid tech skills? Here are my simple tips:
1. Find a guide
Before you freak out about how you can’t figure out how to leave a comment or use a tool on some website, start looking around the site. Often, you can find a guide to how to do it.
For instance, on Freelance Writers Den, we’ve got an Orientation Guide with screenshots and everything. It walks you step-by-step through how to start a topic, find out if someone replied to your comment, how to upload your profile photo, send a private message, and more. For my Useful Writing Courses that I teach with Linda Formichelli, we’ve created handouts called “How to get the most out of this class” that have our tech basics spelled out.
Most sites with any technical complexity put these together, because they save time answering emailed questions. Look for FAQs — they may solve your whole problem.
2. Get free online training
If the site or platform you’re using doesn’t have a guide, you can find tons of free training online for any basic technical issue, simply by typing the question you have into Google. Like this:
Did you note how many results there were for that question? Really, stop stumbling about in the dark. Help is available.
One of my favorite free-training spots is W3Schools, which is packed with great basic trainings on HTML and CSS coding (and more, but the rest of their topics are too technical for me!). For learning WordPress, look no further than WordPress.org, which is stocked with dozens of free lessons.
3. Take a quick class
If you want to learn a tech area in more depth, check your local library, parks and recreation agency, or community college. For instance, I’ve noticed my library is giving classes in how to successfully download and use various types of media files. These are great for low-tech people vs online classes, since you don’t have to learn anything technical just to take them.
Downloading might seem basic to some of us, but the library is willing to spend two hours going over that with you. Some of these classes are free, and some charge a nominal fee. It’ll be worth it to stop feeling like you’re a dinosaur who sinking slowly into a technical tar pit.
4. Read techie blogs
Google several of your tech questions, and you’ll probably find the same sites come up repeatedly in your results. Subscribe to those blogs, and you’ll see a series of posts that may help you. Set aside even ten minutes a week to scan through those, and you’ll pick up fine points of how to do things a bit better.
There’s always shortcuts and new twists you could learn — for instance, I picked up a couple handy tips from this recent post on WordPress hacks.
You might also Google the general tech topic you most want to learn about, and subscribe to blogs you find that way. Half the stuff might be completely over your head, but don’t let that bother you. Hang in for the valuable tip or two that fits exactly what you need, and discard the rest for now.
5. Get a tech friend
If you learn best having someone explain tech stuff to you one-on-one, try to locate a tech person who’ll take pity on you. You’ve got writing skills — maybe you could do a tradeout and rewrite their website copy?
If you’re willing to spend a little bit, teens are bursting with this knowledge and will work for minimum wage. Take an hour or two of their time, and suddenly, you won’t feel so stupid.
6. If they ask if you can…
Here’s my biggest secret: You can learn tech on the fly for a client. If they ask if you can use a platform or tool to work with them, just say “yes.”
I did this with my first blogging clients, a client who worked on Basecamp, and more. Just nodded my head, acted confident…and went off and quickly figured it out.
Most online tools are pretty intuitive, and they resemble each other, too. If you’ve used WordPress, for example, you can probably also use Blogger, or your client’s custom-coded blogging tool. If you’ve used Google Drive, Basecamp won’t be tough, and vice versa.
Assume you can pick it up. If you get stuck, ask your client if you could chat with their tech trainer for a few minutes, to make sure you’ve got exactly how they use this tool. Usually, they’ll be happy to do so.
7. Partner with a techie
It’s not necessary to learn every blessed technical wrinkle yourself. And some tech stuff is complex. If a client wants you to write and code their website, just let them know you’ll be partnering with a site designer to get this project done.
At this point in my business, I pay webmasters a substantial sum monthly to work on projects to improve my blog and the Den. I’ve chosen to focus on writing, rather than learning these skill sets, which would take a lot longer and slow down my business’s progress.
Some writers hire a transcriptionist to save time — and you can hire tech people to save time, too.
One thing more
When you’re using tech for clients, you only have to know one more technical thing than your client does. Show them one new tech twist, and they’ll think you’re a genius! This has happened to me more than once (hilarious, no?).
Stop thinking you’ll need years to master some aspect of technology, and jump right into talking tech with clients.
If you’ve figured out how to run promoted post-style ads on Facebook, for instance, share that info. I stumbled onto a free Webinar about that recently, so I used it in my own business:
Now, I’m set to talk Facebook marketing strategy to clients. Most small business owners are shocked and amazed if you can show them something like this. Many don’t have time to delve into social media.
This really does work like teaching religious school: You can study a
Bible lesson tech maneuver one week, implement it on your own blog the next week, and be impressing a client with it the week after that. See one, do one, get paid to do one.
How have you learned the tech you need, writers? Leave a comment and tell us.