You’re here, you’re reading, so I have no need to convince you why content marketing is going to be a fantastic addition to your freelancing mix, especially if you’ve been looking for ways to boost your income.
However, since many of you are coming from a journalism background or are used to pitching magazines and newspapers, we’ll need to talk about some mindset issues, some myths surrounding content marketing that might hurt your prospects, and finally, if you’re interested in storytelling, how you might have just hit the sweet spot.
Let’s get straight to it.
I bet you’ve heard it said before but there’s never truly been a more amazing or profitable time to be a freelance writer. Don’t listen to the naysayers who’re telling you that $50 blog posts and 10-cents-a-word parenting reprints are all that’s available to the average freelance writer. They’re not.
As businesses have started understanding the importance of good content, they’re increasingly investing more money to bring in writers to create that content. These businesses are both large and small—I’ve written content for large multinational financial services firms as well as small retail stores—but they may not even be businesses at all. Associations, non-profit organizations, even governments are beginning to understand how to use content marketing to further their goals and connect with their people. And they need good writers to do so.
In the last lesson, I told you that I’d been amazed when I found that my income had doubled from the year before with only 20% of additional effort. When you consider the higher payoff and return on your time, it’s a no-brainer that content marketing writing could not only massively increase your income, but also get you to the six-figure threshold quite easily.
Here are some of the reasons why content marketing writing is better and more profitable than your average freelance work. I list these reasons not only to show you how content marketing can make a difference in your income, but also because as you move through the industry and try to find the right clients, you’ll come across all sorts. The list below will help you set the standard by which you need to measure your clients because what I’m listing below is not out of the ordinary by any stretch. So if you’re waiting three months for your payments to clear or getting repeat edits like you did with that women’s magazine editor, you need to revisit the relationship.
Let’s get straight to the good stuff. Content marketing writing pays well. I average $300-400 per hour, but even if you’re a bit less experienced, finding the right clients could easily mean 50-cents-a-word assignments right off the bat.
That said, you do have to be somewhat experienced. If you’re a new writer, you may have to build up your clips and credits with $50 blog posts, but the good news is, once you have about 3-4 recognizable credits and good clips to show in a certain industry, you can start getting higher-paying work pretty easily.
If you are new, try going after some traditional media work first, even if you have to do it for low pay. That blog post you wrote for The Atlantic’s website or a New York Times blog may only pay $100, but it will build credibility very quickly, especially in the content marketing space. Businesses love to see recognizable names in your portfolio and they’ll often pay more if you have those clips and a specialized knowledge of their niche or topic.
In stark contrast to the falling rates many of us see for stories in newspapers and magazines, in my experience, content marketing rates have only been going up. The more efficiently you work, the more you will make.
Writing good content for businesses isn’t all that different from the work you may be doing as a freelance writer for websites or even newspapers and magazines, with the exception of hard news or investigative reporting.
The point of content marketing is to deliver information to readers that is well researched, trustworthy, and entertaining. As a content marketing writer, I’ve been asked to write service stories (how-to style articles), trend stories, and profiles in exactly the way I would have written them for any of my magazine or newspaper clients.
And if I’m going to write the same types of stories as I normally would, I’m quite happy to earn substantially more for my time.
A common misconception among writers is that content marketing writing equals just blogging. Since I don’t particularly enjoy blogging for businesses, I’ve stayed away from those jobs, and I still get enough work that I routinely have to turn down assignments that don’t appeal to me. Likewise, if you love the idea of writing posts for a company’s blog but don’t want to work on case studies, you’ll likely be able to do that.
This is probably the biggest sell of content marketing writing for me: the ease and efficiency of edits.
Compared to traditional media, businesses run with a much higher sense of urgency. When a business fails to be efficient, in content or anything else, they lose money. So they learn to get things done pretty quickly, even if they’re a big hairy corporation that requires multiple levels of approval—and this drive for efficiency works in your favor.
Because business clients are less likely to ask for multiple revisions and aren’t content specialists themselves (which is partly why they’ve hired you), I find they request fewer—and easier—edits. When you spend less time on revisions, you have more time to devote to your next assignment and boost your hourly earnings.
As an entrepreneur myself, the efficiency of these business clients appeals to me greatly. And as a writer who likes to get paid on time, it appeals to me even more.
Speaking of efficiency, have I mentioned that no matter whether you work through an agency or directly with a client, you’ll often be paid within a week of submitting your work? Of course, this depends on your clients and their policies. But typically, many clients will pay pretty quickly—no later than a month after acceptance.
If you pick your clients wisely, work with reputable agencies that have established relationships with clients whose names you recognize, and negotiate your contracts well, you’ll find that chasing invoices will quickly become a thing of the past.
(And if you find that this is not your experience and you have to chase payments with someone, it may be time to dump that particular client.)
One of the biggest problems freelancers face—and a common reason why many quit freelancing—is irregular cash flow.
Traditional media (and even websites) often simply don’t have enough work to give to you on a monthly basis. Even when I had stellar relationships with editors, I could never get more than one article in their magazines each month. Unless you’re blogging for a publication or get on board as a columnist, it’s very difficult to get regular slots in enough publications that your cash flow becomes regular.
Not so with content marketing writing. In fact, if you provide consistently good work that needs little or no reworking, you’ll find that you can rely on assignments on pretty much a weekly basis from the same clients, sometimes even more. This dependable work helps you forecast your income for the month and more importantly, find some stability in your cash flow.
I doubled my income and average between $300-400 an hour with content marketing.
But those numbers come with a caveat: I have 13+ years of experience as a journalist and some pretty high-profile publications in my portfolio.
So let’s be clear: You’re probably not going to hit those numbers right out of the gate as a new freelancer. But you definitely can if you’re coming to content marketing as an experienced writer or journalist or if you start low and work your way up to that level.
Like with freelancing in general, the pay varies across businesses (large corporation or small restaurant?), industries (financial firm or environmental non-profit?), and your level of experience. But unlike with most other aspects of freelancing, I’ve found content marketing to pay a lot more as you do gain that experience and move up the ladder. $1-2 a word is pretty standard for experienced journalists.
Consider the following when you’re thinking about pay and setting your rates. Because yes, unlike with publications, you will routinely be asked for rates when potential content marketing clients are considering hiring you.
1. Your experience. You will hear me say this until I’m blue in the face but a newbie just starting out in any field will not command the same rates as professionals who’ve been doing it for many years. There’s room for more—and less—and you’re going to find yourself on the higher or lower end of the pay scale depending on how experienced you are at both writing and negotiating. My first content marketing assignment paid $1 a word and even now, my lowest-paying client pays $0.65 a word. But there are new writers who’re getting $100 a blog post and are pretty happy with that.
2. Who you’re working with. Large corporations are always going to pay more than the local non-profit down the road so you’ll need to make some decisions about whom you want to work with and whom you don’t (a diversified client mix is a good thing). Government agencies often have very large budgets for the right kind of people and so do trade associations.
3. How you’re working with them. Are you working directly with a client or are you going through an agency? It’s harder to get work directly but it’s more profitable. If you’re going through the agency route, work is a lot more varied (because you’ll work for different clients through the same agency) and the agency will only pay you after taking their nice big cut.
4. Your negotiation skills. We’ll talk about negotiating with big scary clients in Module 3, but this is a pretty important factor when it comes to getting higher pay.
Let’s be honest, no one really knows what’s going on with media at the moment. We’re all trying new things, we’re all experimenting, and in terms of freelancing income and work prospects, content marketing writing seems to be coming out on top.
But—and this is where smart people hurt their own careers—you may be overthinking it.
You wouldn’t be alone.
Until last year, I firmly believed that the moment I stepped out of my journalism shoes and dipped my toes into content marketing waters, I’d stop being taken seriously by my editors.
I worried that there would be conflict of interest issues, that I would be asked to write marketing crap rather than the stories I’m skilled at telling, and that I would have to “sell my soul” for the money and put my name on things that I couldn’t truly stand behind.
It couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In fact, since taking on several content marketing clients (including the Nigerian government and the large American bank, Chase), I’ve found that not only has my income skyrocketed, but also that I’m getting to do good work that I can put my name behind and believe in. Any conflict of interest issues or discomfort I may have initially had with writing content for businesses went straight out the window when my clients said simply, “write as you normally would.”
However, there are still certain content marketing myths that repeatedly keep coming up in journalism circles that keep freelance writers and journalists wary of approaching new clients in this field or experimenting with the idea.
Here are the most persistent ones and why I believe them not to be true.
In Module 5, we’re going to get pretty in-depth with the kind of work you’ll be doing as a content marketing writer and the conflict of interest or ethical issues that may come up. I think journalists, especially freelance journalists, have to be super careful of the lines they’re treading and the conflict of interest that comes up every now and again, so my modus operandi has always been full disclosure and complete honesty.
My work for a financial services client involves writing articles on how to save and invest money and my work for a government agency has been about cool projects that are coming out of the country. These are articles I could easily have reported and written in the same way for my editorial clients. However, the next time a publication assigns me a financial story on developing world markets, I’ll be extra careful to let her know that I’ve done work for a certain financial services company and send her the links to it.
In my experience, 99% of the time, it simply does not matter.
(There is obviously a different set of considerations if you’re an investigative or daily news reporter.)
This myth is probably the reason I resisted content marketing for as long as I did, but I realized last year that I’d been doing some content marketing without even realizing it. That non-government organization that helps girls get education, for instance, for which I wrote blog posts. Or the hard-hitting news story I wrote on data trends in emerging markets for a custom publication. I write for trade publications all the time; some of that work is now content marketing.
I can safely say that out of my now half a dozen content marketing clients, not one has ever asked me to write anything that doesn’t involve reporting, sources, and fact-checking. I’ve written how-to articles, profiles, trend stories, case studies, and more. And every time, the process has been exactly like it would if I were writing for a publication.
If I didn’t actually know who the client was, it would be just another day in journalism for me.
This isn’t as much a myth as it is a generalization. Yes, content marketing pays well, sometimes really well. For instance, my lowest-paying client pays $0.65 a word and my per-hour average for content marketing is easily $300 an hour. But like with most of freelancing, quality, experience, and negotiating count for a lot of what you’ll eventually end up making.
I’m able to get a lot of higher-paying work and big-name clients because I’m a proven journalist and have the clips to show for it. Because I’m so niche in my knowledge of the developing world, many of my clients simply cannot find enough writers to write their content and therefore end up paying me more simply for that knowledge, that experience, and that specialty. I bridge the gap between East and West, and as one of the very few writers who can seem to do so, I get the work that no one else can do. I’m also a really hard negotiater. What can I say? I’m Indian. There isn’t a deal we don’t try to make better. (You give me 50% off, I’ll want 60.)
Your experience will be different. Your income will be different. It will depend not only on your clients, but the quality that you provide, the speed at which you provide it, and of course, like I’ve always said, your business skills. (Negotiate like an Indian!)
So yes, if you were writing a “how to save money” story for Bank A, you’re probably not going to get away with saying that readers should put their savings in Bank B, even if that’s what you believe to be the case.
That said, if you’re worried about that, you’re probably missing the point of content marketing, because like I’ve been saying all along, content marketing isn’t about serving an agenda, it’s about providing information, advice, resources, and trustworthy content to a business’s clients and customers. The reason journalists make such a good fit for this kind of work is because we specialize in well-researched, trustworthy content.
Will you have to edit out the truth? I never have and I’ve never been asked to. But if I were—and I’m sure the situation could come up—I’d simply walk away from the assignment or ask the client to change the scope of the work. Easy peasy.
(P.S. When you’re not desperately clinging to assignments because it’s your rent money or mortgage payment, this becomes easier to do. And as your content marketing career grows, you won’t even think about it because you’ll be making a lot more money with more than just the single client. That’s why you’re taking this course, right? So if walking away seems like a difficult thing to do at the moment, don’t worry. You’re going to get more comfortable with it as we move through this course.)
Anyway, the rule of thumb is this: Hold yourself and your work up to the highest standards of truth and storytelling. If something doesn’t gel with your goals and your ethical lines, walk away. Do this and you’ll have absolutely nothing to worry about.
You may have to write some blog posts, but most of my work so far has included profiles of inspirational people, case studies, how-to articles (that have sometimes been published as blog posts), trend stories, and more. In fact, in comparing my journalist work to my content marketing work over the last year, I can find no massive difference. Same skills, same storytelling, sometimes even the same format.
Content marketing certainly does mean writing for brands, but a “brand” can mean anything. It can mean Tesco and HSBC, but it can also mean that animal welfare organization that runs out of your small town and that needs some blogging help. It could be the restaurant down the road or the small online business that your friend runs.
The blog posts on The International Freelancer? Content marketing.
Start looking and you’ll find that content marketing is everywhere. And if you’ve been a freelance for any length of time, you might find that you’ve already done a bit of it.
A large number of freelance writers and journalists have the mistaken notion that they need to have marketing or PR experience to do well with content marketing, and if you’re in this camp, you’ll be happy to hear that the opposite of this is true.
The content marketing industry is very focused on moving away from the idea of hard sell and constantly bombarding their customers with sales pitches and instead, building brand loyalty through conversations and content instead. A large part of this includes giving information and advice to customers and potential customers through industry-specific how-to articles, trend stories, and case studies.
But a large part of it also includes telling stories about the business.
I’m going to give you an example that almost all of you are familiar with. A large majority of you bought this e-course after having been on my mailing list for several weeks, months, or even years. Every Thursday, you receive an e-mail from me, which tells a story about my life, my work, or just my day, and in that story is a takeaway, a lesson that I hope you will take to heart. These stories have included one about how a crummy old blue sweater made me change the way I query and another popular one about how my husband and I stuck a bottle of champagne in the fridge only to be opened when I got a book deal. (Also, how that all ended pretty badly and the way we recovered.)
Every now and again, I’m running a discount on e-courses or launching a new one or just promoting a product, and I mention that in the newsletter, too.
But the key thing is that I always tell a story. And I always include a takeaway.
You’ve bought this e-course because you liked the look of it and thought it would help your career, yes, but you bought it from me because you’ve heard my stories, know how I run my business, and most importantly, trust that I will actually deliver. You’re not only investing money, but you’re also investing time with me.
My newsletter is an example of content marketing. I use it to build relationships with my readers and customers. I use it to showcase who I am, how I run my business, and to give you a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of The International Freelancer and the change I’m hoping it will create in the world.
You’ve bought from me because you believe in my mission.
And you believe in my mission because I’m telling you stories.
Storytelling is key.
Of course, the personal stories I’m telling about my business are not the kind of stories HSBC will be telling you about their business, but there are good examples of content marketing all over the place, including with big brands. Apple is a good example. I don’t even need to tell you all the stories that go with that brand; I’m sure you know at least a couple. Toms is another good example. I know the story even though I’ve never set eyes on a pair of their shoes. And the story is that the founder of Toms, Blake Mycoskie, befriended children on a trip to Argentina and saw that they didn’t have shoes. So he started a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need. I don’t need to tell you that this story sells shoes as much—or even better than—any marketing effort likely ever will.
As content marketing writers you’ll be telling stories. Sometimes they’ll be the stories of businesses, sometimes the stories of products, sometimes the stories of the founders, sometimes the stories of customers, and sometimes just the little stories of the day-to-day operations.
But stories—and people who can tell them effectively—are very highly in demand and very well paid in the content marketing industry.
In the next lesson, we’re going to talk about the similarities and differences between content marketing writing and some other forms of writing that you may already be familiar with and how to use them to your advantage.