6 Steps to Getting Started as a Freelance Content Marketing Writer

You’re a writer. You dream of one day earning your living writing novels or screenplays or even (gasp!) short stories or poetry. But, in the meantime, you have bills to pay. (For some reason, landlords and banks don’t accept manuscripts in lieu of rent or mortgage payments.)

Then one day you hear about this thing called “content marketing.” Sounds like it’s all the rage in the marketing world. Consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) companies of all kinds and sizes are jumping on board, and they need content. Lots and lots of content – websites and blog posts, eBooks and special reports, case studies, white papers, and bylined articles for good, old-fashioned print publications. And you think, “I could do that.”

You’re right. Maybe you could.

The growth of content marketing has been a boon for a lot of writers. The demand for written content has skyrocketed over the last few years, luring many wordsmiths to try their hand at this type of business writing. I shared a bit of my own story in Five Often Overlooked Steps to Getting Started as a Freelance Content Marketer, but I’m just one of many writers from all walks of the writerly life who have found a way to make a good living helping companies reach and influence their customers using content.

This post provides an overview of seven areas of consideration that will help you get started as a freelance content marketing writer. It’s not a comprehensive guide (that would require much more space than a single blog post can afford), but it will help you orient yourself in this new landscape and give you some additional resources to check out.

I never once, as a child, said, “When I grow up, I want to be a content marketer.” I am, however, forever grateful that this career path has opened up to me. While writing about software and other B2B (business-to-business) companies and products may not make my soul sing, it does keep a roof over our heads and put food on my table, AND I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really great people who are smart, creative, and appreciative of the work I do.

So, without further ado, here are the six things to think about if you’re considering becoming a freelance content marketing writer:

 

ONE: Get the Lay of the Land

The first thing you’ll need to do is get your head around exactly what this content marketing beast is … and isn’t.

Though I am (and always will be) a die-hard fan of Peter Bowerman, author of the excellent Well-Fed Writer books and courses, a lot has changed since I first read his advice. While good writing is still at the core of content marketing, an entire industry has grown up around that core, making the landscape much more complex and sometimes tricky to navigate.

A good place to start is to get clear about the different between “content marketing” and “copywriting” and the difference between a “professional writer” and a “content marketer.” Thankfully, the wonderful (and very experienced) folks at Copyblogger have done this for us.

First, the difference between content marketing and copywriting, (as explained by Sonia Simone):

Content Marketing is the creation of valuable content that has a marketing purpose. For example, my company creates an awesome special report, and we exchange it for your email address and your permission to educate you further about our stuff.

Copywriting is designed to get the reader to take a specific action. Sometimes that’s making a purchase, but it can also be confirming an email opt-in, calling for more information, or going into a store to check out the merchandise.

To really simplify it, copywriting is the almost scientific art of using words to (almost aggressively) persuade. Content marketing, on the other hand, is more about educating buyers, building community, and creating a (gentler, kinder) path to purchase. Copywriting is the kind of writing you see on ads and landing pages. Content marketing refers to eBooks, presentations, and social media updates. Copywriting is all about “mad men” (or, Mad Men) and persuasive geniuses like Bob Bly,  David Ogilvy, and Robert Cialdini. Content marketing is about providing value to your prospects and customers, becoming their ally and advocate. If copywriting is a salesman, content marketing is a teacher or a guide.

Second, the difference between a professional writer and a content marketer, (again, explained by the lovely Sonia Simone):

Good content requires excellent writing. But the elements of strategy and structure need to be there to get it to work as marketing. Which is, after all, what we get paid for.

So, a professional writer has to have excellent writing skills, but a content marketer needs to be able to produce content that delivers business value. Simone lists four attributes of this kind of content:

  1. It has to move the audience
  2. It has to earn attention
  3. It has to have spark
  4. It usually relies on proven structures

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of how content marketing is different from straight-up copywriting and other kinds of business writing. With that foundation in place, let’s move on to some great resources for really digging in and learning more.

 

TWO: Study (And then Study Some More)

In my last post about the “Big Picture” steps to becoming a content marketer, I wrote about the importance of studying the market and the specialized craft of content marketing. Now, I’d like to share a few of my favorite resources:

  • Ann Handley’s Website: Ann Handley is one of the most well known and well respected professionals in the content marketing industry. She’s also a damn nice person with a fabulous sense of humor. Arguably the first person to don the “CCO” (Chief Content Officer) title, she is a popular speaker at industry events and the author of the two (in my opinion) best books on content marketing:
AHandley 2Books

Ann Handley’s two excellent content marketing books

 

  • The Content Marketing Institute: This massive website, print magazine, and event machine brand offers a wealth of information for all levels of content marketing. They have excellent resources, classes, and a very active blog.
  • Hubspot: A giant in “inbound marketing” (another name for content marketing), this software company has helped to create and define the industry by pumping out many, many resources in the form of eBooks, webinars, and other materials. Their blogs are also excellent, but the link here will take you to their marketing resources library.

There are, obviously, hundreds (if not thousands) of other content marketing resources out there, but this should be enough to give you a good start on your self-study program.

 

THREE: Adopt the Right Mindset

A big part of your success as a content marketer depends on how you approach your clients and your projects.  I consider myself a competent writer, but I believe that my writing skills are only part of what keeps my business afloat. As with any other job, attitude counts, but there are also some strategic mindsets that will help you make the right impression and deliver more value to your clients:

  • Think Big Picture: To be an effective content marketer, you need to think about each content project within the context of the larger content ecosystem. As the old saying goes, no man is an island; and in content marketing, no piece of content is an island. Each piece has to play its role within the larger whole, like a cog in a machine. A smart content marketer also knows how to get the most mileage out of a piece of content by adapting it for multiple mediums and platforms. An eBook, for instance can be broken down into a series of blog posts, mined for social media posts, “translated” into a SlideShare or webinar, or be used as inspiration for an infographic. Though you may not be expected to develop all these different pieces of content, it’s helpful if you can provide ideas and suggestions for ways your client can re-use your content and therefore get more “bang for the buck” on pieces you write.
  • Be a Good Project Manager: I’ve talked about this before, but it’s so important that I have to mention it again. Though your clients will not assume that you will take the lead on developing and managing a project schedule, they will love you if you can provide this service. Do everything you can to make the project experience as stress-free and easy as possible for your clients. Don’t make them feel like they have to check up on you. Be proactive. Stay in touch at each step of the way. Summarize call notes in an email so that they know exactly what the next steps are and when to expect things from you. Give them the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve got things under control and you’ll deliver the goods on time and within budget.
  • Play Well with Others: Because it is an ecosystem, content marketing often involves a wide variety of players – both in-house and freelance – within an organization. Collaborating well with various departments and partners is key to your success. Listening is important, but so is asking questions. Clear, consistent communication is an absolute must. Never assume anything. Always clarify and verify. Take advantage of your teammates expertise and experience by brainstorming new content ideas and ways to repurpose existing content.

Again, these are just a few ideas, but they should get you started thinking in the right way. Content marketers are nothing like the solitary beings in the writer-in-the-garrett cliché. Content writers need to connect with and collaborate with all kinds of people on the client team.

 

FOUR: Explore Positioning Options

In the beginning, you will most likely work on a variety of different project types; but you may eventually want to think about narrowing your focus to a particular specialty. There are countless ways to do this, but – again, just to get  your wheels turning – here are some thought starters on different kinds of niches:

  •  By industry – Some writers build an entire business around a particular “vertical” or type of industry – high tech, banking, health sciences, non-profit, etc. If you have particular knowledge or experience in a given industry, this can be a great way to get your foot in the door.
  • By business type – Some writers like to work exclusively with start-up businesses, small businesses, micro-businesses, or “solopreneurs.” Maybe you like to work only with minority-owned companies or brick-and-mortar businesses who are going online for the first time. There are dozens of different niches you can carve out based on a particular business type.
  • By format – Other writers focus on creating a certain type of content asset – website copy, eBooks, social media content, infographics, etc. If you find that you are particularly good at or really enjoy creating a certain kind of content asset, you may want to think about this kind of specialization.
  • By “style” – Perhaps you have a very distinctive voice that works well for a certain kind of brand. Maybe you are really good at taking extremely complex topics and breaking them down into language that the layman can understand. Or, maybe you are skilled at using humor to educate while entertaining. In any of these cases, you could build a business around your particular style of writing and how you “translate” a company’s topics and expertise into content for their customer audience.

You might also build your business around the kind of service you offer (super fast, super hands-off, super stress-free). Or, you could design your business around offering a certain suite of service. For instance, I offer brand messaging, content strategy, and content development. This gives my clients the ability to work with one resource over a broader range of services, giving them continuity and consistency.

Pay attention to the kinds of things people ask you for, the things they appreciate most, and where they seem to have the most trouble. Look for opportunities to step up and fill the gap. Don’t overlook the value of the things that come easily to you. Sometimes, those are your best “secret weapons.”

 

FIVE: Find Your Customers

This is always the big question, isn’t it.

There is no one way to become a freelance content marketer. My own journey was a combination of hard work, diligent study, dumb luck, and blind faith. I cannot give you a proven method for finding clients, but I can give you a few pointers on where to start your search:

  • Your Existing Network: Reach out to work colleagues, peers, and casual business acquaintances. Let them know what you’re doing. Ask if they need any support, or know of anyone who does.
  • Friends and Family: Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. Even if they don’t seem like they would have need of content marketing services, it can’t hurt to let people in your personal network know what you’re up to. You never know who a friend might know.
  • Local Businesses: Local businesses can be a great way to get your toes wet, even if you have to do something at a reduced rate, as a barter, or even pro bono.
  • LinkedIn: Yes, LinkedIn. Though Facebook and Twitter may be your usual social media hangouts, LinkedIn really is one of the most professionally active networks online. I don’t socialize there, per se, but I do keep my fingers in a number of industry groups, and I do connect with people there as a regular part of my “getting to know someone” process. I’m also sure to keep my profile updated and as complete as possible. (People will check out your LinkedIn profile.) And, finally, as soon as you have a happy customer, make a note to ask them to write you a brief recommendation. “Social proof” is important when you’re building up your business.
  • Live Events/Conferences: Though it’s often overshadowed by online methods, “Real World” networking is still one of the most effective ways to meet people and make an impression. Industry conferences, workshops, and meet-ups can be a great way to get out and meet people who are either experts, possible clients, or peers. Don’t overlook the value of meeting other content marketers. As I explained in my story, making friends was a huge part of building my business.
  • Other Freelancers: Partnering with other freelancers can be very efficient way to start building your own client list. Look for people who offer services that complement your own. For instance, as a writer you might seek out designers, people who build websites, or people who manage social media for brands. Often, by combining forces, you can provide existing and prospective clients with a “one-stop-shop” solution that saves them time and aggravation.
  • An Apprenticeship: This one may sound a little old-fashioned, but bear with me. You probably won’t find job listings for “apprentice content marketers,” but if you pay attention and keep your mind open, you may stumble across opportunities to provide support to a content marketer whose business is expanding. Sometimes this might mean picking up some writing work, but it could also mean helping in a non-writing capacity like project management, research, or transcription.

 

A few pointers on the right way to reach out to people:

Cold calling is no fun. Even “warm” calling (to people you already know on some level) isn’t something most people look forward to. There are so many potential pitfalls and opportunities for awkwardness and faux pas, but if you just keep a clear head and use your manners, you’ll be just fine:

  • Never be Pushy: This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Don’t present yourself like a used car salesman. Just let people know what you’re up to, that you’re excited, and that you’d love to hear from them if they have any questions or suggestions.
  • Think About Your Services as a Gift: On the flip side of being pushy is feeling self-conscious or lacking confidence. Writers new to marketing often feel uncomfortable “pitching” themselves in a business setting, but I find it helps if you think about what you do as “being in service of,” “helping,” or “collaborating with” your clients.
  • Personalize Your Messages: As much as possible, avoid blanket emails and instead make an effort to personalize each note. Use people’s names. Reference how you know each other. Provide some context for your conversation.
  • Try to Offer Value from the Get Go: If you can, provide some value when you reach out. Maybe you’ve written a really helpful blog post that would be relevant to the person you’re trying to reach. Share it. Or, if you haven’t written any content yourself, share some other useful information that shows you understand what your prospect might be interested in.
  • Be Specific with Your Offer: Instead of just making an open-ended announcement (“I’m getting into content marketing!”) or a broad invitation to respond (“Let me know if you have any needs!”), try to come up with a more focused and relevant offer. For instance, maybe you invite them to schedule a 15-min call on which you can share with them some quick case studies about how other businesses in their market are using content marketing successfully. (These don’t have to be clients of yours – they can just be case studies you’ve read about.) Or, even better, maybe you’ve already researched the company a little, and you have some specific content ideas (topics for blog posts, an eBook idea, or a different take on their social media presence). Let the person know that you have some ideas that are custom to their brand.
  • Have Your Site Available: Optimally, you’ll have a website – even a simple one – up so that you can direct people there. Alternately, you can send people to your LinkedIn profile, if that’s all filled out and up-to-date. The point is to have somewhere to send people where you have the opportunity to share a bit more about yourself than would be appropriate in an email or social media note.

 

SIX: Implement Good Business Practices

I’m keeping this one in here, although I’ve realized that it really deserves its own post.

Good business practices are the secret, behind-the-scenes sauce that makes your business viable and sustainable. You could be a brilliant writer or content strategist, but still wind up failing if you can’t manage your business well.

I will give this one more thought for a future post, but a few things to keep in mind from the very start:

  • Communication Skills: Clear. Concise. Consistent. As a business owner and project manager, your life will be LOADS easier if you take the time to put things in writing.
  •  Time Tracking: You can do this manually, in a spreadsheet, or using one of many available software programs (I happen to use Harvest and LOVE it.) Tracking your time will help you learn how long certain tasks typically take, which will help you better estimate your projects.
  • Invoicing/Bookkeeping: Likewise, you should have a consistent and professional way to invoice your clients and keep track of payments. Again, I use Harvest, but there are many other software tools for this.
  • Contracts: I hesitate to touch this one, since I am not in the business of offering legal advice, but – having survived my own contract-related nightmares – I do feel it would be irresponsible of me to leave it out. For starters: HAVE A CONTRACT. Even if it’s just a fairly informal document that is digitally signed, put it together and have your client sign it. Laws vary by state and even, sometimes by industry, but there are some pretty ubiquitous terms and conditions you’ll want to include in your contract. I haven’t used it, but the Freelancers’ Union has a Contract Creator on their website that may be a good starting point.
  • Taxes: Especially if you’re a first-time freelancer, make sure you do your due diligence when it comes to paying state and federal income taxes. I put a certain percentage of each incoming check into a separate account, and then pay my quarterly taxes out of that fund. It saves me a lot of stress and hassle come tax time.

 

 

So, there you go – six steps to getting started as a freelance content marketing writer. I hope you find them helpful, and maybe even a little inspiring. If you have any follow-up or related questions, please feel free to leave them below in the comments. It may take me a little while to answer, but I am happy to share whatever information I have available. For now, though, I’ve got to go get back to my deadlines!

😉

 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Five Often Overlooked Steps to Getting Started as a Freelance Content Marketer

journey one stepSeven years ago this spring, I was a freshly minted single mom building a new life for myself and my daughter amidst the wreckage of a less-than-amicable divorce. I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep things afloat financially, but I knew I didn’t want to return to my old agency life of sixty-hour weeks and around-the-clock meetings. Having spent the first three years of her life at home with my little girl, I was determined to find a way to work as an independent freelancer.

Through the serendipitous inquiries of several acquaintances, I managed to land a couple of long-term, freelance project management gigs. I snapped up the chance to generate some semi-regular income working remotely; but – although I was (very) grateful for the opportunities – I knew that, ultimately, I didn’t want to build my business around project management. I wanted to write.

This is the story of how I became a self-supporting freelance writer and content marketer.

Before I tell this story, I feel I should note, as Ann Patchett does in her wonderful book, The Getaway Car, that “This isn’t an instruction booklet. This is an account of what I did and what has worked for me.” Still, I hope that it might prove useful to you in your journey.

My Very First Freelance Writing Gigs

I had no idea how I was going to break into freelance writing. It was something I’d thought about for years, but had never actively pursued because I was afraid to fail. I had become quite adept at making excuses to keep me from putting my ego at risk. And then, suddenly there I was – nothing to lose and nowhere to go but up. It was definitely one of those now-or-never moments.

I caught a small break early on when the editors of a start-up mommy blog site called Maya’s Mom invited me to become a paid contributor. I had been “live journaling” on their community site about my divorce and had gained a respectable following amidst their audience. I was thrilled to get a paycheck, no matter how modest, for my writing.

While I was learning the ropes of mommy blogging, I kept working the project management gigs, but my small victory with Maya’s Mom gave me the confidence to let my project management clients know that I was available for copywriting work as well. Soon I was doing small writing projects for them, too.

Step #1: Always Say “YES”

It took me about eight months to pivot my business from being 90% project management and 10% writing to being 80% writing and 20% project management. Not too long after that, I gave up the project management altogether. It was pretty sweet, I can tell you, being able to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t do project management anymore, but I’d be happy to refer you to a colleague of mine. By the way, do you have any copywriting needs?”

The trick, I found, to forcing this professional metamorphosis was learning to say one, little word: Yes.

Whenever someone asked me if I could do something writing-related, I said,  “Yes!” I suppose you could say I employed the age-old strategy – “fake it ’til you make it.” I offered my services with confidence, and then I hit the Internet to figure out how to do the thing I’d been hired to do.

The confidence I gained from my initial foray into paid writing via Maya’s Mom was something I leaned on again and again as I took my wobbly first steps into copywriting. The little start-up site was eventually bought by Johnson & Johnson and became their industry-leading mom blog on BabyCenter. Happily, the editorial team at BabyCenter chose to keep me on, and I became a regular bloggers. Though it was often only tangentially related to the copywriting jobs I was pursuing, I worked that one professional writing credit for all it was worth.

Step #2: Study

We are so fortunate to live in a time when there is an almost unlimited amount of information freely available via the Internet. You can learn just about any skill simply by hitting the web and reading everything you can get your hands on. This is exactly what I did.

I also bought several books about the freelance writing business, and read them cover to cover. I paid attention. I took notes. I got my geek on.

Sometimes, this immersion into the world of freelance copywriting was a bit overwhelming. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I didn’t know. It was easy to feel inadequate. But, I tried to remember that even when I felt like a complete novice compared to the experts I was studying, I already knew more than the people who were my potential clients.

Step #3: Make Friends

A couple of years into my freelance journey, I shelled out a few bucks to take an online course about writing white papers. The educational value of the course was fair to moderate. I never did end up writing too many traditional white papers, BUT I did meet many other professional and aspiring freelance writers. Most importantly, I met five particular B2B (business-to-business) copywriters who would help me grow both my confidence and my business.

Together, the six of us founded a collaborative blog called Savvy B2B Marketing. For several years, we blogged together about the ins and outs and constant evolution of B2B copywriting, social media, and content marketing. Since each member of the team had her own unique background and skills, the experience was like a very in-the-trenches course about every aspect of the business. We traded stories, tips, and secrets. We supported each other with referrals, advice, and encouragement. Meeting and working with these smart, kind women was – without question – one of the most important and enjoyable parts of my professional journey. Though we no longer meet regularly, we still keep in touch. In fact, I “see” one of them – Wendy – all the time here on Live to Write – Write to Live.

You can hear the full “Savvy Story,” as told by all the “Savvy Sisters,” in a podcast hosted by Monica Magnetti.

During the Savvy Era, I also had the pleasure of meeting another writer who (although she’d never accept the praise) would become a pivotal force in my career. We met at an impromptu brunch meet-up hosted by the freelance writer Peter Bowerman. Kate, one of the Savvy Sisters, had heard about the event via Bowerman’s newsletter, I think, and she and I decided to attend.

While it was something of a thrill to meet Bowerman (I’d read all his books on how to become a freelance writer … more about those in part two of this series), the best part of the day was definitely meeting another copywriter named Heidi LaFleche  (aka: The Worry Free Writer). We sat next to each other, and I couldn’t help noticing her Hello Kitty watch and cool manicure (one pinky nail was painted a different color than the rest of her nails). We struck up a conversation, and the rest – as they say – is history. Over the years, Heidi generously made introductions to several people in her network who then became my clients. Through referrals and repeat work, those introductions became the bedrock of my business. Even today, I can still trace many of my clients back to that lovely Sunday morning, sipping mimosas on a deck in Newburyport.

Step #4: Do a GREAT Job

I have many people to thank for helping me meet and land first-time clients, but once those connections were made, I knew it was up to me to prove I deserved them.

As a freelance writer of any kind, your reputation is your currency. You have to deliver the goods. Every time. On time. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, this means giving up some other things (nights out, weekends, sleep) in order to make the magic happen. But, believe me, the payoff is worth the effort.

In my experience, though delivering great copy is a given, it’s at least as important to deliver a great experience. The people who hire content marketers need well-written content, but they want the process to be easy, stress-free, and even fun. Bad customer service is a pet peeve of mine. I am easily annoyed (and sometimes incensed) by sloppy service, negligent customer relations, and lackadaisical delivery. Because of this, I am extra sensitive about making sure my clients are happy, and I believe it’s one of the main reasons they come back for more.

It is much easier and less expensive (in terms of marketing dollars and effort) to make a sale to an existing customer, than it is to land a new customer. Treating your customers like gold is the best investment you can make in your business. Happy customers come back for more, and – if you’re lucky – will share your name with other people in need of the services you offer. I do very little to market my business. I’ve never cold-called anyone or bought paid advertising. My business is built almost entirely on referrals and repeat business. It’s a model I recommend highly.

Step #5: Deliver More than “Just” Copy

As a content marketer, you will be expected to deliver more than just the words on the page. Your clients will look to you for advice about which kinds of content make sense for their brand, how to promote that content, and how to engage their audience. They will lean on you for guidance about how to create a better customer experience through content, and how to stretch their content marketing dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible.

To provide this kind of strategic support, you need to go back to Step #2: Study. Content marketing is a vibrant and ever-evolving area of expertise. Though the term and practice have become mainstream, the field is always growing and evolving. This can be daunting at first, but it also provides valuable opportunities for you to shape your business around specific kinds of expertise and projects.

I am always learning, and always refining the types of services I provide to my clients. In addition to content development, I also offer in-depth brand messaging services, content audits, content planning, and also content editing and mentoring. I love that the breadth of the content marketing landscape gives me almost countless options when it comes to the kinds of work I do.

So, that’s my story … at least, it’s my story so far.

In Part Two of this series, I’ll share some more hands-on advice about the seven tactical things to consider as you get started in content marketing: getting the lay of the land, finding critical resources, getting into a good writer’s mindset, positioning your business in the market, finding customers, identifying best business practices, and dealing with finances.

Until then, here are a few posts that are appropriate companion reading:

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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The Most Important Page on Your Author Website (Plus a Chance at a Freebie Consultation)

all about me notHello, there.

How are you? Good? Good.

I’d like to talk with you for a minute about what is probably the most important page on your writer/author website: The About Page.

The About Page may seem like a fairly run-of-the-mill page, but it’s statistically one of the most frequently visited pages on a site. No matter where people enter your site (your home page, a blog post, your books page, etc.) there’s a pretty good chance that they will also take a look at your About Page. Is your About Page doing its job?

A while back, I wrote a post for my marketing blog: How to Write an About Page – 5 Steps to Get It Right. The post is a bit of a rant, but I prefer to think of it as a loving intervention. In it, I explain – in detail and with common mistakes & solutions – the 5 steps that will ensure you’ve got a great About Page that helps you catch and hold the interest of your site visitor, convey the value of what you do (to them), and – bonus points! – get them to take one step closer to being an actual reader.

The 5 Steps I review in the post are:

  1. Remember that it’s never about you
  2. Include all the important information
  3. Make it personal
  4. Make it visual
  5. Show ’em what’s next

I hope you’ll check out How to Write an About Page – 5 Steps to Get It Right. And, I hope it helps you make your About Page a real workhorse.

[AUTHOR UPDATE]: Please note that as of Saturday, April 4th at ten AM EST, I am considering comment entries for the free About Page consultation closed. Please feel free to leave a comment if you like, but please note that I will be selecting the two winners from those folks who have already left a comment. Thanks! 

In fact, I’m so revved up about improving the world one About Page at a time that I’d like to offer two readers a free About Page consultation.

If you think your About Page could use some help, and you’re willing to let me publish a “Before & After” here on Live to Write – Write to Live, let me know in the comments (and include a link to your website!). I’ll pick two winners, and get in touch via email. Then, over the next few weeks, we’ll work together to give your About Page a bit of a makeover.

You in?

Excellent.

Talk to you soon. Now, go check out that post! 🙂

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Image Credit: Mark Falardeau

A classic will always be a classic

I recently picked up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo at a local book sale on the second day where a bag of books cost $2. I figured, I’d never read it and it was one of those things that I *should* read in my lifetime.

IMG_20140304_105932161I mean a classic is called a classic for a reason, right?

I slipped it into my bag with the personal promise that if I hadn’t touched it by the next book sale, I would donate it back.

But then a funny thing happened. It was a cold New Hampshire night, I was sitting by the heater covered up in a wool blanket and I wanted to read something but didn’t want to get up (and risk losing all my heat.) So I looked around and the closest book happened to be that very same copy of The Count.

Why not? I opened to page one and started reading. A few hours later I was still reading.

“Griffin,” I called out to my son, “you are not going to believe this story. It’s got justice and injustice, deceit and naivety, good guys and bad guys, and a hero who shows incredible patience and grace under the most incredible conditions. It’s a story where good behavior is rewarded (finally) and bad behavior is, well dealt with. In short, it’s amazing. Absolutely amazing. I can’t put this book down!”

“I know,” Griffin replied to me when I was done gushing over the story,” We had to read it in high school. It’s one of my favorite stories.”

“You do know that classics are called classics for a reason, right?” He then asked me.

What I want to know is just when did my kid get to be so smart?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

5 Things to Consider When Writing Webcopy

When I write for someone else’s website, the first thing I do is hold a face-to-face meeting. I want to be able to hear the owner’s actual voice and figure out what it is about their business that makes them stand out from the competition. Some of the information I’m specifically looking for is:

What is the voice? I talk about voice a lot in my marketing writing. It’s something you hear about all the time with regard to internet writing. People want to hear your voice. But what does that mean? You, as the writer, need to gauge whether the client’s voice is friendly, authoritative, funny, or motherly to name just a few examples.

A company that offers services to declutter someone’s house is going to have a far different voice than a company that offers international shipping options. When I sit down with the client, I listen to their physical voice when they explain what it is their company does, and that gives me an idea of how they want themselves represented on the internet.

What benefits do they offer the customer? I recently saw a client who showed me his introductory slide presentation for prospective customers. It started with how his company got started (30 years ago) and continued until today. That’s clearly a presentation that was designed for a person who is very proud of his company. It was not designed for someone who wants to know what it is you can do for them. Find out what the benefits and then use that information in every piece of writing you create.

What are the Keywords? I always ask my clients, what words would I use to describe your business? Those will often be the SEO words you’ll use for much of the documentation. I then ask, what words would I use to describe you? Those are often the words by which the company wants to be known  – trustworthy, intelligent, competent, etc. It will be those attributes that you’ll  be showcasing in your writing.

What’s the best way to present the information? Is what the company does visual? If so, like in the case of a decluttering service, perhaps before and after photos would be effective. Is the company more results oriented, as in, they save the customer money? Then charts and graphs might be effective. . Does the company showcase or teach skills? Well now, there’s a case for video clips.

Figure out, based on the product and services, how best to represent that information on the web.

To whom are we targeting the information? In almost all cases, it starts with a blog. That part is easy, what becomes a bit trickier is figuring out how then to broadcast that blog material.

Figure out who the company typically sells to? Is it the CFO? If so, then don’t spend a lot of effort on Facebook and instead concentrate on sending articles and blog posts to LinkedIn groups and out on Twitter. Does the company have a more “friendly” community? If so then go guns blazing to Facebook. Get those blog posts up and invite discussion in a community format.

Not all web promotion is created equal. It’s up to you to match what you hear and understand from your discussions with the client to what is available out there and that would bring the most bang from their investment dollars.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

An important part of being a good writer is being a good listener.

It’s about them, dummy

This post is in reply to a request for more marketing writing information.

My sister is in a Social Media class and she pointed me to this little gem of a video that brilliantly shows the relationship between the “Advertiser” and the “Customer.”

Advertiser vs. Customer

It’s a point that I need to state time and time again when I’m working with businesses.

It’s not about you, it’s about your audience.

Yeah, sure, you think your business is great (and maybe it is), but if you can’t sell your need or products to a customer, you’re going to be nothing.

So many people still don’t get this. They write about all the good things their business has done. They start marketing material off with “We are.” We are doing this. We are doing that. We’ve won this award. We are great.

But what they really need to do is write about how the good things they are doing can create a benefit to their audience’s lives. Will it make things go bigger, faster, or more efficiently? Will it amuse them? Why should they care about what you are doing?

When I’m reading marketing material, and it starts with “we” I sigh. It’s the pompous Uncle at the Thanksgiving table who’s going to dominate the conversation for the next 15 minutes, isn’t it? Pass the potatoes and it’s time for a little daydream, I know where this is going and I’m checking out.

Here, in a nutshell, is the ultimate challenge for the marketing writer – to always, always present the business’s accomplishments in the context of the audience’s needs and to not fall victim to the bloated, playground bragging style that far too many companies feel is the better way to go.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

It’s not as easy as it looks, which is why a good copywriter is something that a business will hold onto.

Define and you shall have – the continuing story of a writer who got her groove back

This is how happy I am these days.
Photo credit: Twoshortplanks

You know that little hissy fit I had a while back where I publicly declared that I had had it and that I was going to treat my writing as if it were a real business (and not a hobby that could be interrupted at any moment just because someone “needs a pickup?”)

Well a funny thing happened on the way to my business. It’s kind of like the Universe was waiting for me to finish stomping my foot and when I was done said, “Well okay, then, let’s get to work.”

Last week, my first “full-time” week as a freelance writer, my business partner (Lisa Jackson from this blog) and I got 3 new clients and tons of new work. In a “you’ve got to be kidding” kind of moment, I also got some email from an editor who started it off with “You don’t know me, but I know you. Interested in some assignments?” Two other editors contacted me for a total of 7 feature articles due by the end of this week. And oh yeah, out of the blue I got paid for a project that I thought was long dead in the water.

It was a week worthy of inclusion in one of those “The Secret”-like books, you know, clearly define your future and it will arrive on your doorstep?

Every day I now leave the house and I set up shop anywhere I can. Sometimes it’s a coffee or sandwich shop, or a local library, including a university library. Basically, I try to write anywhere I can find some space and a wi-fi connection (I’ve even written from inside my car.)  I write for the morning, break for lunch, and then write until about 3 or 4 at which point I head home and start the daily soccer and after school event diving.

And guess what? The house hasn’t fallen apart, the kids have not become juvenile delinquents, and I’m even getting help in the kitchen when it’s time to make dinner.  We are all, as a family, on a much more even keel.

Who knew? Because obviously, I sure as hell didn’t.

To pay back the world for letting me write like this, I allocate 10 dollars a day for coffee and food. I see it as my rental cost for the space but I also see it as giving back to the community (I try to choose local restaurants and sandwich shops for lunches.) The way I see it, 50 dollars a week is a small price to pay for the writing freedom it brings.

As soon as I post this, I’m going to take a shower and then meet with a potential new client this morning. I know that the work is not going to continue like this and that as a freelancer I’m always going to have to do a little hustling but, I get it, I get it. I’ve always believed (and taught my kids) that no one can hit a target in the dark. If you are not clear on your path, if where you want to go is not illuminated, then chances are, you will spend your time not only wandering, but also being truly being lost.

* * *

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

Now, I just need to schedule in time to exercise…. baby steps.

Writing: Art vs. Commodity

Writers are born with a genetic predisposition for luxuriating in the written word. We cannot help writing; the act of putting words down defines us in a way that is both primal and ever-evolving. We see the world as our personal cauldron of inspiration. We are observers, historians, and seers. We are the muse manifested.

But even a muse needs to eat.

You are what you imagine yourself to be.  – Kurt Vonnegut
Although I have been writing since the age of seven (that’s over three decades of scribbling, scratching, and pecking at the keyboard), it is only recently that I have begun to publicly own that identity and call myself, “writer.”  Though I had always wanted to make my living writing, I mucked about for years (Oh, to think of all those years!) with other work: retail buying, account management, project management, etc.

I didn’t believe that I could make money with words. I thought that such heights of joy were reserved only for people who were blindingly brilliant, highly-educated, inordinately lucky, massively connected, or – perhaps – all of the above. I had no experience, no college degree (I spent a lovely year at Boston College, but ran out of money), and – most tragically – no confidence.

Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs. She hates prima donnas. – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
People always say that you’re a writer because you write, not because you’ve been published or paid or featured in Oprah’s book-of-the-month club. It’s true, but most writers would still like to be able to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. I would like to write the next Harry Potter series, but no one is lining up with a fat advance check. My reality is that I am a single mom who busts her aspidistra on a daily basis to keep this little ship afloat.

I make time to work on my “art,” but – while I’m creating my masterpiece – I also put my skills to use in a more commercial venue – copywriting.

Craft is craft is craft. – me
I know that writing a white paper or a Web site is not the same as writing the next great American novel, but all good writing – whether fiction or “copy” – rests firmly on the same set of skills and the ability to tell a story. That story may involve intrigue and drama, or it may be constructed to convince the reader that she simply must have the latest, greatest whatever it is.

It’s easy to see how fiction writing can help improve commercial writing. A case study, for instance, is nothing but a well-told success story. But can copywriting strengthen your fiction-writing skills? Yes. The most important rule in copywriting is to write for the reader. Commercial copy must not only grab and hold the reader’s attention, it must persuade her to take some kind of action. Fiction’s only goal is to get the reader to turn the page. Marketing copy must inspire the reader to pick up the phone, click a link, or run to the store with cash in hand. Learn the psychology of selling and the tricks (I mean, ahem, tools) that you need to succeed, and then apply those same skills to crafting your fiction. Learn to understand what your fiction reader wants and needs and then draw her in by delivering on those desires.

You fail only if you stop writing. – Ray Bradbury
The bottom line is that a writer writes.  And a good writer uses all her craft whether she’s writing a novel, a poem, a brochure, or an appeal letter for a local non-profit. Though each task requires that you deliver a different type of content, never forget that all good writing is based on the same principles. And never forget that, no matter what you’re writing, you have the opportunity to bring your creative muse to the party and refine your craft.

How about you? Does your writing life mix literary and commercial work? Do you find that the two can coexist in your daily rounds and in your writer’s soul? Do you find that there is crossover between the two disciplines?


Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She focuses primarily on small and start-up businesses, using content marketing and social media marketing to help her clients build profitable, long-term relationships with their customers. She is a mom, a singer, and dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter.