Freelance Writers: This Will Make You an Instant Tech Genius

Young writer conquers tech problemsIt’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:

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 2.07.41 PM

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:

Freelance writers pitch clinic

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.

 

 

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36 comments on “Freelance Writers: This Will Make You an Instant Tech Genius
  1. Nidhi Samuel says:

    Being from a development and techno-marketing background, I am never been afraid of using technology but after starting my startup, I am feeling that I lack so much on creativity. Carol, you know, being a techie person, I can guarantee that anyone can learn how to code and how to use technologies but it is really difficult to learn to be creative because it should come from your heart.
    As a fresh entrepreneur, I would love to get few tips from you, on how I can be more creative in thinking, designing and obviously writing.

    Regards
    Nidhi

  2. Raspal Seni says:

    I love #6 in this list: “If they ask if you can…”

    More than a decade ago, I used to work as a computer field engineer, installing new PCs from big brands. Since I was smart, the owner used to send me to train people at times.

    Once he sent me to a Navy captain’s house and strictly told me to reach there in time. I was there before time. I was to teach him about how to use Outlook. Now, I had never used Outlook since I was into hardware and related stuff those days. But I told him, I know how to use it.

    When I was in front of him, I kept learning and teaching at the same time. The captain was very happy and told my boss, this guy is an expert and answered all my queries. I had a nice chuckle. The lesson is, anyone of us can do this. The captain here would be our own self.

    These things still happen. Someone asks “how do you do this?” and I’d Google it and in seconds give them the solution. Now, how difficult is that?

    BTW, if anyone needs help in tech related issues, I can help and be your tech friend. 🙂

    • Carol Tice says:

      I know that’s what my tech team does for me sometimes, when I ask about how to do something! Life was hard before the Internet…and now, there’s really no excuse for not finding the answers you need.

    • Raspal! I definitely want to be your friend if you’re offering up occasional tech help. :p And I’ll be happy to be your “horses, dogs, cats, agriculture, and random animals” friend in return!

      Who could resist such a bargain of a trade off?

      You never know when someone might need you to write about the integration of booleans in binary bionic pony legs, or an algorithm for an applet about dog slobber. (See why I need help?)

      So, what do you say, friend?

  3. dawn groves says:

    Hi Carol,
    Great post. I appreciate your suggestions, your sharp writing style and your POV. Will share the link.
    Best Wishes,
    Dawn

  4. Nice post Carol with lots of great advice. I also used Lynda.com to learn some code, CSS and other techie skills.

    I agree with your point that it sometimes makes sense to outsource.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Dropping by to share my new favorite online school: Udacity.

    I bought a course (for web developer) 75% off. And I’m loving it.

    Be sure though to read the reviews and check the on sale courses.

    I added some courses on my wishlist. The best things I like are the FREE courses. Install the app on your smartphone and you can learn whenever you have (or make) time. And there’s also the elegant certificate. 🙂
    Carolyn recently posted…How To Apply For US Non-Immigrant Visa From CanadaMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Unfortunately, I believe such certificate are utterly worthless, which is why I don’t offer them on my classes. Clients don’t know these programs and don’t care. They just want to see your clips.

      But online training can be a great, affordable way to get some desired skills!

  6. Nate says:

    “When you’re using tech for clients, you only have to know one more technical thing than your client does.” This is so true! It definitely helps that I do both the web development and copywriting for my clients. Even being able to send them an article that is ready to be published as text in WordPress is a huge help (basically, go into the WordPress editor and format everything correctly and send them the text file with all the HTML).

    One of the dangers that I’ve seen is that I’ve gotten to be too tech-helpful for some of my clients, and I’ve accidentally worked my way into things I don’t want to be doing. Lesson learned:-).
    Nate recently posted…Don’t Forget Value Added… Unless You Don’t Want Paying ClientsMy Profile

  7. Love this! In my *mind* all tech is learnable — but in real life, I don’t have time to climb every learning curve. Outsourcing it to an expert is easier if I don’t think I’ll need that skill in the long term. 🙂

    P.S. I’ve also had this experience more than once:

    CLIENT: “Can you do this with Software X?”
    ME: “I can, but I don’t have a copy of the application.” [Thinks: Because I’ve never heard of it before.]
    CLIENT: “Oh, no problem, we’ll buy you the software.”
    ME: “OK, great!” [Goes to YouTube, learns the basics, gets to keep hundreds of dollars’ worth of premium software.]
    Sophie Lizard recently posted…How to Turn Every Rejection Into a New OpportunityMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Awesome story there, Sophie! And great point — if you don’t have it and it’s not free, ask your client if they’ll get you a license. Great way to learn new tech on somebody else’s dime.

  8. Pankaj says:

    I agree, technology knowledge and understanding certainly an advantage which you could have to impress your clients and earn even more. There are number of clients who don’t have time or don’t want to do anything by their own, that’s where you can take full advantage.
    Pankaj recently posted…Recharge Business SoftwareMy Profile

  9. Donia Moore says:

    Thanks Carol for another terrific post. Another great free source is SCORE – used to be Senior Core of Retired Executives in different fields, but they’re not always the presenters, nor are they always retired. I have attended some fantastic workshops and learned a ton about marketing on-line and social media from experts actively working in the field. Google SCORE for your area and you’ll probably find some great workshops near you. They also offer mentoring on a one on one basis. SCORE workshops are often hosted by libraries and Chambers of Commerce. They occasionally have bigger events that are paid networking events but the price is usually pretty small. They have hosted Word Press, Constant Contact, Facebook for Business, Twitter for Business and more just this year for free in my area. Workshops are usually 3 hours and they can get pretty in depth when they focus on one topic per workshop.

  10. Elna says:

    Carol
    Great tips for people who aren’t techie! I have a husband who is all up in that stuff to help me with my websites so it’s a good thing and a bad thing (because I don’t have the motivation to learn it myself when I have someone to do it for me).
    In time though, I am learning just by using various applications, widgets, plug-ins etc..
    I like your idea of “fake it until you make it.” I often shy away from job prospects detailing technical jargon in their ad and never apply to them. But if you can become savvy in a day, so can I, right?
    Thanks for the post!
    Elna recently posted…5 Rules Every Blogger Must Know To Ace A Post Your Teacher Would FailMy Profile

  11. Thanks for the tips. I’m not a total noob when it comes to technology, but I definitely have a few struggles. I’ll start keeping my eyes peeled for a techno-savvy 133T to befriend. 😉

  12. Sabriga says:

    Yep, ditto to the above comments and the post. I’m currently building my 3rd website (2nd paid one for clients) and all because WordPress is so easy to use, youtube has a training video on nearly anything (my current project is a Responsive theme which will adjust for correct viewing on any device – 80% of which I learned on a youtube video), google searches (kudos to the comment about learning how to best word your searches) for solutions, and a dose of elbow grease and stick-to-it-ness.

    And I, too, went into deer in the headlights overwhelm in the beginning. Computers made my heart drop to my big left toe. I didn’t understand one word of the vocabulary, much less could follow directions. But, like you, I eventually self-taught, asked enough friends, and spent enough time to get through the “I can’t do it” part.

    Now if I could just figure out how to install that translator plug-in …

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m so impressed by you and other writers here who say they’ve learned to build websites, Sabriga! What a great secondary skill to bring to the table.

  13. Michelle says:

    This is so true! I’ve taken on jobs in the past where I didn’t know some of the tech I would need and I just made to sure to study up. It started simple with editing and embedding photos, then grew from there.

    Not too long ago, I was actually hired to create an entire website. Someone I knew needed one, liked the way my sites looked and asked me to do the same for them. Though I’d done a couple sites for myself, it was still a bit daunting to tackle for someone else. But I made use of lots of Google searches and it was actually quite easy.

    I think that learning tech is something that writers can do more easily than they think. I’ve noticed that doing tech things can require creative thinking – such as trying to figure out how to get rid of a pesky image as part of a free WordPress website template. Us writers are creative sorts so we tend to come up with ideas that maybe others wouldn’t.

    For me, I’ve noticed that I just need to learn a little bit about some piece of tech and then I’m off and running with it in no time. I just have to make myself get over the fear of learning something new and go for it.
    Michelle recently posted…16 Times I screamed my head off during the AHS: Freak Show premiereMy Profile

  14. “…you only have to know one more [technical] thing than your client does.” Biggest takeaway here. I know people who won’t give workshops or classes because they don’t know EVERYTHING about the subject. But there are always people who want to learn the basics and you just build from there.

    I had to learn that just because something seems like a “no-brainer” to me, there are a lot of people who never had to face that particular question or challenge.

    I also love the advice to always say “yes.” I’m just took on a project in an area where I don’t have a lot of experience, so I hired an expert to help me nail it. The cost of the hire is totally worth it because the learning curve is too steep in this case to be worth fumbling through on my own.

    YOU don’t have to know all the answers; you just have to know where to find them!

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t know if you should *always* say yes. I’ve definitely had tech-y projects I turned down.

      For instance, at one point I got a call from Microsoft Office Live, a top-5 global site. They wanted me to blog about a new tool of theirs. Only problem: I’m on a Mac! I literally would have had to buy a cheap PC laptop to install it, then learn to use the PC and then their tool, from scratch…it would have been too much slogging to get there. AND because I never use PCs, I worried that I would still kind of ‘miss the boat’ on the sophisticated tips I was supposed to be developing.

      So I passed. If it really smells like it’s over your head, you should. But if it’s just a question of “Can we collaborate on X tool,” or “can you post on X format,” say yes. Basic tools are easy to learn.

  15. Sue says:

    Carol, this is right on. The biggest problem is fear. The best thing to do is add time to your schedule so you can spend a few hours learning the technology without being under stress for a deadline.

    You don’t have to know it all. What you have to get good at is learning how to craft your questions in the search engines.

    I help clients all the time with technical stuff I don’t know how to do. All it takes is a few Google and Bing searches and 99.9% of the time I find at least one article that explains exactly what I need to know.

    Learning how to search for technical articles opens up the whole world to you. (Sort of like in the olden days when we learned how to use the card catalog at the library.)

    Once you get good at finding the information you need, you can be an expert to your clients for just about anything. (Except maybe brain surgery!)
    Sue recently posted…5 Steps for Avoiding Microsoft Word Formatting MishapsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      That’s my joke exactly, Sue — give me 24 hours and I’ll *be* your expert!

      This year, I have written about technology for cable-TV companies, advanced washing-machine technology, and about e-learning platforms. None of which I knew spit about before getting the assignment. And they all worked out great…because I asked lots of questions, watched videos (the washing-machine folks had great ones!)…asked for resources and kept slogging until I knew what I needed to know.

  16. Rita says:

    Hi Carol,
    Agreed. Top notch journalists seek out expert sources for cred. Why would tech blogging be any different? If you need to write something technical find someone willing to give you specific facts. It’s how I found and developed my niche–webhosting.

    The other thing is your knowledge-base will snowball with use. Don’t be afraid. Put yourself in your readers shoes and ask–what would I want to know? Is this clear? Useful?

    And always remember the Ann Lamott term “shitty-first-draft.” Start. Good writing is in the rewriting.
    Rita recently posted…10 Things You MUST DO Before You Call Your CustomerMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I have ended up writing about so many arcane tech things for clients, Rita — and it’s true! In a weird way, some tech clients even like having someone like me, because they know I’ll ask all the questions readers would ask, too, so what I produce will explain it in a way everyone can understand. They like that man-on-the-street point of view from a copywriter sometimes, instead of tech-insider, where you might talk over readers’ heads.

  17. Ronda says:

    You are so right, Carol. You truly can find nearly anything you need to know simply by doing a Google search. When I’ve needed more in-depth info, I’ve often used lynda.com, which has training videos of all kinds. You can buy a one month membership for $25 and view all the training videos that you want during that time. I did this when I needed to quickly learn how to use 2 (new to me) software programs—Dreamweaver and Articulate—and couldn’t find exactly what I needed online.
    Ronda recently posted…7 Warning Signs that Your Content Marketing Has Gone Off the RailsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      My husband loves Lynda.com, Ronda — he uses it to learn about digital photography stuff. Another great resource, though a paid one.

    • Great tips for writers who realize the world is going ‘tech’. The only point that I would be careful about is number 6 (If they ask if you can…). If it’s a personal meeting with a potential client we are talking about and you desperately need the job – perhaps pretending you know this or that platform, program or system works just fine. However, sometimes it can lead to a writer failing to complete the assignment, when he or she realizes the information that needs to be chewed over is overwhelming.

      Overall, a great read indeed! Keep it up!

      • Carol Tice says:

        Not talking about information — talking platforms here, Jonathan. If you don’t know a particular industry or subject matter, I’d never lie about it. But if they ask if you can use Basecamp or WordPress for blog posting, or Google docs or something, just say yes. It’s a matter of an hour tops to get functional on cloud-sharing.