Six words that a writer dreads hearing (seven if you include the contraction). Why? Because often times feedback comes too late in the content creation process. Sometimes, feedback arrives multiple blogs later once a client is too tired of correcting the same mistake again and again internally – a mistake the writer didn’t even know it was a mistake to begin with.
Before nDash was a content community marketplace we were a content creation agency. And during our time as an agency, the most stressful part was when one of our clients would provide us with feedback too late in the process; once we were blogs deep and didn’t know there was an issue to begin with.
What made it worse, was that the mistakes were ones we often could have easily fixed had we known – whether it was finding a new writer, using different language, or adhering to a certain style guide. But by the time our clients told us there was a problem, it was too late.
Transfer this over to our now-platform days and I see a lot of brands on the nDash platform making the same mistake with their freelance writers: they’re not communicating when there is a problem with the content.
Sure, I’ll admit it. Sometimes you’re working with a writer that just doesn’t have the skills your company needs. But other times the writer could easily onboard themselves onto the company’s marketing strategy if given the proper guidance.
Here are two tips to follow when it comes to onboarding your freelance (or in house) writing team so that you can retain talent.
That’s it. Just two things you should do to make the process better for you (the editor) and your writing talent.
Tell the Writer Why You Like or Don’t Like Something
From my experience of being both a writer and working at an agency, I can tell you that having a sentence or paragraph highlighted with a comment saying “this doesn’t work” isn’t helpful.
While this may sound obvious for most of you, this does happen. It then leads the writer to wonder, why?
Then, rather than the writer being constructive with their time and making the edits the brand is looking for, they are instead left wondering which of the four reasons the company didn’t like that sentence or paragraph:
#2. Subject matter
#3. Sources they cited
#4. The opinion provided
Rather than go through an endless loop of editing, it’s important to highlight specific sections and say why you like or don’t like something.
This is especially important at the beginning of the writing process (during the first handful of articles or whitepapers) so that they can tuck that knowledge in the back of their brain and use it again in the near future. Saving you time editing. And making you (and them) a lot happier in your relationship.
Mark Up the First Blog They Write for You
As an editor, I have found that this process to work incredibly well for our onboarding process:
#1. Downloading the first couple blogs our freelance writers have written for us
#2. Tracking edits
#3. Sending it back with a quick note on why I made a few of my more notable changes
This way writers can see exactly where we made changes to the content and they’re able to easily reference it (much like the comments described above) in the future.
It also helps me, on the brand side, because I have something tangible to reference as we continue to work together. I’m able to see if the edits have become less and less, and if the writer is actually listening to the constructive feedback I’ve been given.
What Has Worked for You?
We’re curious to hear from you: what onboarding process do you use for your writing team? What materials are you providing them with? And what does your current content feedback loop look like? Drop us a note on Twitter to let us know!
Writing is tough! We’ve all experienced those days where we’re just staring at a blank page, wondering when inspiration will hit or pondering why we’re unable to string a group of words together. However, just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean that we can make the same blogging mistakes over and over again.
Here is a quick rundown of blogging mistakes to avoid in the future. Not because you have made these mistakes, but because it’s always great to have a quick reminder as we .
Mistake #1: Not Understanding the Brand’s Marketing Objectives
As you begin to write blog content for a new client, it’s imperative that you take the time to truly understand their marketing objectives and voice.
Target Audience: who they are pushing this content towards
Tone: professional, informal, comedic, etc.
Objective: What do they want the content to accomplish? This could be lead generation, brand awareness, thought leadership, etc.
Things to Avoid: certain sites to avoid or pet peeves in content
Content We’re Looking For: blogs and whitepapers aside, they may choose to highlight topics they enjoy exploring or sites they look up to
Company Content Kit: option to upload a style guide, and persona and keyword research
If you are working on nDash with a client and they don’t have a completed group profile – or there is some information that is lacking – be sure to reach out to them in the assignment thread once you have a project up and running. This way you can make sure you’re onboarding yourself onto their marketing strategy correctly.
If you are working with a client that is not on nDash it’s important to make sure you ask them to send over relevant information. Here’s a quick questionnaire that can guide you for your initial content call with them:
Who is reading your content?
I see that your blog content is currently written with an X tone, is that how you’d like your content written going forward?
What types of blogs are your favorite and why?
Which types of blogs do you hate and why?
Who are your competitors?
What types of news sites do you enjoy following?
Is there a style guide you’d like for me to reference?
Taking the time to understand your client’s needs up front will help you knock the first draft of content out of the park, and will set you up for success in the future.
Mistake #2: Taking a Generic Approach to Content Ideation
On nDash, we’re all about pitching clients to expand your portfolio. However, it is important to recognize and embrace that pitching does take time. It’s not a one and done deal.
All too often, I see writers sending out a dozen or so pitches each day. While I love their enthusiasm, it’s important for writers to recognize that taking the time to craft a pitch specifically for the company will get them a lot further than sending a generic pitch.
If the brand is on nDash and is taking time to add information to their brand profile, it’s important for the writer to put forth effort in understanding the content they want rather than ignoring it. Likewise, if the brand is not on nDash but is publishing on their blog regularly, it’s important to look at what themes and topics they’re covering.
Not paying attention to what the brand has either requested or is currently putting out there is an easy way to get a company to ignore you.
Likewise, if you do choose to send an industry pitch (which is definitely an option on nDash!), make sure that it’s a new topic that hasn’t been published elsewhere yet. There’s nothing wrong with pitching an industry topic, but it needs to be a new idea that hasn’t been published on every site already. This way you’re able to stick out from the talent pool.
Mistake #3: The Blog is Lacking Structure
The blogs that read best are the ones that tell a story. They have a flow and are easy to digest – even if they are close to 2000 words.
Throughout the years I have proofed many blogs. Some blogs I become so caught up in I hardly notice the small grammatical errors and instead walk away learning something new and am inspired. Other blogs I end up rewriting as I try to piece together the scattered ideas, paragraphs and headers the writer had thrown into the post.
While this may seem like a straight-forward tip, I do want to reiterate as a reminder: a blog is not an outline.
Yes, it is important to have headers, sub-headers and make the content easily digestible for the reader. But if it’s a string of ideas with no flow leading from one section to another, you’re making the editor’s job harder and the audience won’t understand it.
Which then leads me into my last point…
Mistake #4: Crafting a “Catch-All” Blog Post
I get it, you have a LOT to say on the subject. You’re writing one idea and it then takes you into another thought process. Rather than letting your thoughts dominate the page, let the initial concept own this storyline and jot down a note about what you were thinking. Then take that side topic and pitch a new idea to the brand.
The more you can narrow down the focus of the post, the more you can expand upon the topic, and the more knowledgeable the reader will become.
Allow yourself to truly explore the micro topic in depth, rather than making the post a slew of macro topics that don’t provide any real “meat.”
What Blogging Mistakes Have You Made?
I’d love to turn this over to you – our awesome writer community – to see what mistakes you’ve made in the past and what lessons you’ve learned? Drop us a line on Twitter and share your valuable insights!
Drafting the content is only one small part of keeping a happy client. It also boils down the relationship you’re maintaining with them both before and after the content is complete. This way you can heighten your chances at keeping this client as a consistent customer and maintaining a strong working relationship.
In this blog post, we’ll explore what writers who want to keep and delight their clients do upon article completion – before they pass it in.
Check spelling and grammar
While this may seem straight-forward and (likely) on your radar already we want to reiterate the importance of reading your own work.
I’ve often heard from companies that they’re incredibly happy with the subject matter expertise, but that they’re consistently having to edit the work to align with their style guide or to correct sloppy spelling mistakes. While it’s great that they don’t have to fact-check the content, it still creates extra work to consistently proofread the piece and correct run-on sentences, sentence structure, and overall flow of the blog post.
I get it, it can be incredibly difficult to proof your own work.
Often times, I’ll ask someone on the nDash team to give my work a quick proofread to make sure everything looks right (like I did for this article). However, we don’t always have the luxury of doing so.
Here is a quick checklist (to make life easier) on what to look out for when proofreading your own work:
Did you write in the appropriate tone (casual v. professional)?
Does this client prefer the active or passive voice?
Are you using thought-out transition sentences and paragraphs to enhance the content’s flow?
Does the concluding paragraph match what you promised in the intro paragraph?
Double-check the scope of the assignment
When you’re balancing multiple projects and clients, you can sometimes lose sight of what the clients end goal for a specific piece was. This can also happen when you’ve been working with the same client for months – some writers can begin to get a little too comfortable writing for the client, and the sloppiness can show.
Before you submit a piece ask yourself if the post stayed on-topic and if it covered all of the bullets that you and the client agreed upon ahead of time.
Take this opportunity to also double-check that the CTA that the client wanted to be included wasn’t just “thrown in there” but ties back to the post itself, so it’s not a “sell” at the end.
Send the brand a personal note
Once the content has been completed, don’t just send a text file their way. I’ve seen many writers make this mistake. This message, where you’re delivering the content, is your opportunity to build and maintain a relationship with them. Take advantage of it!
Consider including a personal note with the content that includes one or all of the following things:
1. Thanking them for the opportunity to work with them
2. Mention that you’re happy to make any edits for them, you want to make sure you got this project right
3. Asking them if they’d be open to receiving additional content ideas and/or that you’d be happy to do more work for them (if this is a client you’d like to work for)
It’s important to remember that writing isn’t just about writing content – it’s also about maintaining and building relationships with the clients you’re working for.
Take advantage of every opportunity you have to speak with the client and deliver 100% effort for every single project.
“Finding freelance writers is easy. Finding the one that’s perfect for your brand is a huge challenge.”
Over the last five years, I’ve given this advice (in one form or another) to thousands of new companies on nDash, who come to us to help with their freelance writer search. Although no two brands are the same, their motivation typically falls under one of three use cases:
#1. Not enough bandwidth in-house
#2. They want additional subject matter expertise
#3. Looking for a fresh voice and outside perspective
Despite the difference in the use cases above, the process for finding and vetting freelance writers is largely the same. In today’s blog, we’re going to dive into the details and offer up some proven tactics to make this important task go smoother. Here we go…
Figure Out the Type of Writer You’re Looking For
Before you can begin vetting a writer, you first need to figure out the type of writer that you’re looking for. We generally categorize them as follows:
#1. A marketing writer: this is someone that doesn’t necessarily have years of understanding the brand’s space but they can listen to brain-dumps and conduct research to craft a well-written and insightful article
#2. Someone with subject matter expertise: this type of writer has years of experience either writing for or working in this industry; they understand it inside and out.
To figure out which one is going to support your marketing efforts best, start by first asking yourself a few key questions:
Who is currently in your content community?
List them and what their role is. Then ask yourself: Are they someone who does the writing? Do you lean on them for content ideas? Are they happy to dedicate 15 minutes of their time here and there to provide a brain-dump on a specific topic?
What are the strengths of each of those contributors?
It’s time to vet your content community and figure out where your strengths are. Based on the list of contributors you provided above, write down if their strong suit is writing based on brain-dumps, crafting research-driven pieces, or sharing industry knowledge
What are you currently lacking in expertise or knowledge in-house?
Perhaps you need someone that can turn a blog your developer wrote and make it more market-facing. Or maybe you need someone that pays attention to industry trends and pitch a few blog ideas each month that would appeal to your target audience.
Finding Freelance Writers
Once you’ve narrowed down exactly the type of writer you’re looking for, it’s time to both find and evaluate potential freelance writers. On nDash, we made this easy for you. You’re able to search writers by industry and keyword.
However, even if you’re searching outside of nDash, the same principles run true when it comes to finding potential freelance writers.
When I’ve have been asked to recruit a writer with a specific type of expertise that we don’t currently have in our nDash community, I typically turn to industry blogs and publications. From there, I look at who the author of the piece is and track down their contact information.
I will warn you, it does take quite a bit of time to go through and track them down, but it’s well worth it!
How to Vet a Freelance Writer
Once you have found the writers you’re interested in (potentially) working with, it’s time to take a closer look at their profile and what they’ve done in the past. A few things you’ll want to take note of:
*Previous work experience: do/did they have a full-time job in your space previously? How many years have they written about this topic? Do they solely write about this topic or are they spread across many industries? This will tell you how experienced the writer is. *Writing samples: while you can’t always be positive that the post was unedited by a third-party, writing samples do provide you with a sense of their writing style, and also provides a proof-point based on publications and companies they’ve written for. *Price: if you’re finding a writer either on nDash or on their personal website, it’s likely that prices will be listed. If not, and you like what you see so far, definitely ask them! It’s important to know upfront whether or not they would be in your budget before moving forward.
Once you have built your short list of freelance writers, it’s now time to vet who is going to make the final cut for your content team. There are two ways to do this, both of which can be done either independently or in conjunction.
Request Content Ideas
A great way to figure out if a writer is a good fit for your space is to provide them with an overview of your current marketing strategy and have them pitch content ideas. This will provide you with some insights into whether or not they took the time to take a look at your brand strategy, and also to let you know if they truly do understand your space.
On the nDash platform we call this a group profile, but in short, this is information you’ll need to provide the writer with to do this well:
*Your website URL
*Types of content you love and hate
*The goal of the content
Administer Writing Tests
If you want to move forward with a writer with absolute certainty that they’re going to be the best fit for your company, then a writing test is a great place to start if you have some time to spare.
In this scenario, you would choose 3-5 writers you’d like to test out and provide them with a blog abstract. Please note, you’d provide each writer with the same abstract so that you can be provided with the most accurate depiction of who has the best writing style.
From there, you can compare all writing tests to see who you think understands your space best and provides a fresh perspective.
Finding and recruiting content writers definitely takes a lot of time! But hopefully, these tips will help you speed up the process.
We get it – you’re so incredibly busy writing, messaging clients, and looking for work, that you don’t have a lot of extra time. And when you do have those extra few minutes, you probably don’t want to spend them on a computer researching what is currently happening in the writing industry. So we made it easy for you.
Below you’ll find six podcasts that you can listen to anywhere, at any time – driving to the grocery store, at the gym, cooking dinner, during an afternoon walk. All made with you, the writer, in mind.
If you’re ready to hear from the experts on how to raise your rates, interact with current clients, and land more paid work, then check out this list
Hosted by Mignon Fogarty, an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, Grammar Girl has been named one by Writer’s Digest as one of the best websites for writers multiple times. In each episode, you’ll learn a thing or two about language today, including The History and Glory of the Spelling Bee, Why Animal Sounds are Different in Different Languages, and Racket or Racquet?
To get you started, here are two episodes you may want to check out:
This podcast was created to help writers better understand what they need to do in order to raise their rates, build a large client base, and become a truly in-demand writer. If you’re tired of settling for low rates and barely scraping by, The Copywriter Club was created for you.
To get you started, here are two episodes you may want to check out:
The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience
In each episode, your host, Kelton Reid, and a few serial guest hosts – Michael Grybko (neuroscientist), Adam Skolnick (journalist), and Robert Bruce (short story writer) – interview a renowned writer to learn what their secrets are to being both productive and creative day in and day out.
To get you started, here are two episodes you may want to check out:
Created and hosted by Rebecca L. Weber, The Writing Coach explores and breakdown business strategies and creative skills to utilize as you build your portfolio. If you’re a talented writer, but struggling to land clients, give this podcast a spin.
To get you started, here are two episodes you may want to check out:
This podcast shares real-life stories from freelance writers on their journey and career, shares interview from experts within the business writing field, and shares with you, the listener, actionable tips and tricks you can utilize in your own freelance writing career.
To get you started, here are two episodes you may want to check out:
Hosted by Belinda Weaver and Kate Toon, Secrets of Successful Copywriters is focused on helping you become a better copywriter. So that you can land more clients, save time writing, and charge higher rates.
To get started, here are two episodes you may want to check out:
We ran a little late with our recap for February, so this blog will have to serve as our update for all things new with nDash for both February and March. Needless to say, with (almost) two months coverage, there’s a lot that we need to catch you up on! We’ve continued listening to you – our amazing customers – and here is what we have created and improved on nDash:
We Launched a New Writer Tier
You’re busy and you need to find the best writers. We get it. It can be difficult to set aside the time to truly explore the 8,000 writers that are available to you on nDash. This is why we’ve taken the first steps in creating the Elite Writer Tier.
If you see a writer with the diamond next to their name (image below) it means that our community team at nDash has identified them as one of the best writers, recommended both by us and our customers. While there aren’t many right now, we’re working hard to vet writers and continue to find the “best of the best” to save you time on your recruiting efforts.
A Face-lift to our Content Calendar
Every great marketer needs a great calendar to help them coordinate their company’s marketing needs. This is why we provided a face-lift to our current Content Calendar. Now, when you click on an assignment in progress, you’ll be greeted by a pop-up providing you with the overview of that piece of content
And you’ll then be able to choose an option to click-through on more details if you’d like. Additionally, from the content calendar view, you’re now also able to create new assignments and notes. When you click on any date on the calendar, you’ll be greeted with this pop-up (image below), helping you make life a lot easier when it comes to planning reminder and mapping out your content strategy!
More Functionality in Content Sources
If you haven’t taken time to populate the Content Sources tab on nDash, you may want to block off the 5 minutes to do so, it will save you a lot of time in the future. AND it’s available to all users, regardless as to whether you’re not a free or paid subscription.
In addition to being able to track hot topics, your favorite news outlets, and what your competitors are publishing, now, when you click on the plus button next to the article. You’ll also be able to request ideas from the community. This means our community of writers will be notified that you’re currently a fan of a specific article and would like someone to pitch an idea based off of it as reference material.
More ideas. More blogs. More traffic to your website.
New Beta Version of our Guest Post Feature
We’re incredibly excited to launch this new feature! While still in beta, our guest post feature provides you with the opportunity to source ideas from amazing writers. It also helps your blog showcase a diverse set of authors and viewpoints. Bringing a fresh perspective to your blog and increasing your reach.
More “Jazzed-Up” Default Profile Pictures
If you don’t feel like taking the time to upload a profile picture to your profile, no problem! We’ve now created a much prettier profile picture default for you, rather than a gray blob. In short: it’s your initials.
However, if you do prefer to have a profile picture. This is just a quick reminder that you can click on your image on the top right corner of your dashboard, choose “account settings” from your dashboard, and upload a profile picture from there.
Constantly Stay Logged In (if you want)
We realize how frustrating it could be when you were constantly being logged out of nDash whenever you exited our screen. Your voice was heard, and we now have a fix!
We added refresh tokens so that our site will no longer auto-log you off the platform if you don’t want to be logged off! Making it even easier to continually access your writer community and content calendar on nDash.
Add Yourself to Groups on nDash
Once you’re a part of your company group on nDash, you’re now able to add yourself to other groups on your account if you’re a part of the pro tier. This is especially useful if you’re a part of an agency account that is managing writing teams for your clients or if you’re a media outlet that has a group for each of your columns.
A Few Other Small, But Notable Updates
LinkedIn compatibility: we’ve limited the amount of information we’ll be pulling from LinkedIn if you choose to create your login with this social network. This will provide you with more privacy.
Recalled Medium integration: due to their changing API, we had to remove our integration with Medium from our platform. Sad, but true.
Over the last few years, as a SaaS founder myself, I’ve really come to appreciate their content on a topical level (more on this later), but at the time of introduction, I was particularly blown away by their content operation.
Back then, OpenView had a marketing team of two, yet somehow managed to publish blockbuster pieces on a daily basis. We’re talking 1500+ word articles with research, stats, quotes, and deep insights. While many brands struggled to publish once per month, these guys made it look effortless. How did they do it? And how to they keep doing it today despite lots of new faces?
With a community-based approach to content creation.
In our latest installment of Content Community Pioneers, I’d like to give them a long overdue shout-out, and take a closer into what’s made them so successful, so that your brand might do the same.
Number of Authors
One of the first things you’ll notice about OpenView Labs (their content site and resource center) is a roster of authors that never seems to repeat itself. Every month, it feels like you’re introduced to an entirely new set of contributors. Notice in the screenshot below, for example, that their last eight posts were authored by seven different writers.
By contrast, it’s quite common to see a B2B brand that only has 3-4 contributors per year. Much of this stems from a brand’s inability to define a set of editorial standards for others to follow. They are often obsessed with “brand voice” but aren’t able to convey that to anyone but themselves. As a result, they limit the number of people who are able to contribute, thereby limiting the amount of content they are able to publish.
Not so with OpenView. Although their in-house team plays a significant role in maintaining consistency, this doesn’t involve writing (or re-writing) everything themselves. Instead, they take on the role of managing editors and delegate much of the creative work.
With an ever-expanding list of authors, OpenView has been able to keep an aggressive publishing cadence since the start. This is typically between 4-6 long-form posts per week, in addition to podcasts, guides and other forms of content. I’m reminded of this every Saturday when they send me their weekly newsletter highlighting all of their recently-published work.
Their cadence isn’t simply the result of having lots of writers, however. Editorial planning also plays a big role. If I had to guess, I would say that OpenView has their content calendar planned out at least 2-4 months in advance, maybe longer. Again, by contrast, it’s typical for many B2B brands to plan blogs one post at a time, never able to get ahead.
It’s easy for a marketing department to hyper-focus on quality and publish once per quarter. It’s just as easy to pump out a large volume of low-quality material. As demonstrated by the OpenView team, a community-based approach to content gives you the ability to strike a balance between quality and volume — something very few brands achieve.
Experts & Influencers
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the OpenView content model is the caliber of writers involved. Instead of relying solely on the marketing department (or generalist freelance writers) OpenView seeks out contributors based on their firsthand experience in a particular field or industry. It’s less about their writing skills (though they are all top notch) and more about the insights and expertise they bring to the table.
To give you a better sense, here’s a quick snapshot of their author bios from the past few weeks:
Ryan Macinnis, Director of Marketing at Notarize
Oji Udezue, VP of Product and Design at Calendly
Lindsay Bayuk, VP of Product Marketing at Pluralsight
Travis Kaufman, VP Product growth, Aptrinsic
Justin Gallagher, Head of Product Management at Trello
David Apple, VP of Customer Success at Typeform
Jonathan Kim, CEO of Appcues
While your brand might not to be able to consistently get people like this to contribute, you should make a point to prioritize experience and insight over availability when it comes to who does the writing.
Understanding of Audience
When I first started nDash (as an agency) the topics being covered on OpenView Labs were not of much interest to me. While I was worried about selling retainers and bookkeeping, they were writing about SaaS churn, product-led growth, and scaling an inside sales team. It wasn’t until we pivoted to a SaaS/community model that these topics really started to resonate.
Spend a few minutes on their site and it becomes immediately clear that they have a deep understanding of their audience. They don’t partake in clickbait or publish material that’s clearly designed for SEO purposes. Instead, they tackle important issues and publish content designed to help their audience overcome a specific challenge. The content is meant to serve the audience, not the other way around.
It’s easy to get sidetracked by page views, social shares, and other vanity content metrics. Ultimately, success is defined by its usefulness to an audience. OpenView is a perfect example of this.
Open to New Ideas
Editorial calendars are often dominated by a small group of marketers, leading to stale, repetitive content. Not so with OpenView. As you might expect from a community-based operation, OpenView is always fielding ideas from the outside world. Although they are highly selective with the topics they choose, this openness gives them the ability to put forth a diverse editorial calendar with a wide range of views and perspectives.
The content community model isn’t just about assigning (or outsourcing) tasks to a large pool of writers. It’s about collaboration at all phases of the content creation process, including ideation.
Prior to starting nDash, I had been a content marketing manager for growing SaaS startup. After a few years of writing 1-2 blog posts per day (in addition to emails, web copy, cases studies, etc.) I had completely burned myself out. OpenView was really the first brand to show me that quality content at scale was possible, even with a small team. From that point on, I made it my personal mission to help other brands achieve similar results. This is why nDash got started in the first place.
If you’re interested in learning more about the concept of a content community, check out this blog post.
I fell in love with writing in second grade. Writing was the key to what my 8-year-old, gap-toothed self saw as my natural habitat; one where I could transform anything and everything simply through the words I chose.
Then I got to college and discovered that all of those beautiful words didn’t say very much. Their only purpose was to exist as a work of art to be admired, and the list of admirers was short.
Why was that blinding glimpse of the obvious so important? Because writing that stems from nothing more than your love of language doesn’t get you very far in the real world. There are a few exceptions, like Pat Conroy. He used a full orchestra to tell a story that needed only an acoustic guitar, but it worked for him. It doesn’t, however, work for content writers.
We need to stick to the acoustic guitar (and, honestly, we should probably leave those at home too). In our world, words have a job to do, and there’s no room for slackers. Anything that doesn’t further the brand’s goals just takes up space. And brands aren’t going to pay you to fill up their blog with a whole lot of nothing.
What brands wish content writers knew
For career writers, leaving behind the notion that our words are works of art is one of the hardest lessons to learn when we start writing for customers instead of for ourselves. Writing for brands — the customers of the content marketing world — means keeping them happy, even if the writer-as-an-artist living inside of us cringes a bit.
With that said, let me give you a peek at their wish lists. Here are just a few things the brands you write for would like you to know:
They don’t want to argue about the Oxford comma
Believe it or not, not everyone enjoys robust debates about linguistic details. Most of the brands you’ll work with have their own style, and they don’t particularly care what your college professor would have thought about it.
While they definitely want to avoid obvious grammatical errors, most aren’t going to care about things like dashes and ellipses. If you’re going to make your stand on a grammatical hill, make sure it’s something that readers would notice and snicker at. Something that won’t cost the brand credibility.
They don’t have time to answer stupid questions
If you’re getting paid to write, act like it. Don’t call your editor with questions you can easily answer on your own with a little research. Want to know the name of the CEO, the year the company went public, or their primary competitors? Google it.
They don’t have time to not answer smart questions.
What Google can’t help you with is the purpose of a particular piece of content.
Let’s say a brand asks you to write a blog post about chocolate chip cookies. Depending on the brand and their goals, you could take that in any number of directions:
The Top 10 Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes on Pinterest
How to Make Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies Your Kids Will Love
What You Need to Know about Making Chocolate Chip Cookies in an Instapot
What Type of Chocolate Makes The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
How to Host a Chocolate Chip Cookie Baking Contest for Your Next Girls’ Night
There are several different purposes represented in that list: feeding your children more nutritious snacks, selling more Instapots, selling more chocolate chips, etc.
Situations like these are when it’s not only okay but necessary to touch base with your brand contact — it’s crucial to know the purpose of the content you’ve been asked to write. Otherwise, it would be all too easy to take the content in the wrong direction, causing the editor a big headache when they’re on a deadline and need to rewrite your article from scratch.
They want you to understand which audience you’re writing for and what that audience needs to know
Most people in the content marketing world say that content writers should be subject matter experts. I disagree. Brands do need subject matter experts if they’re writing for people who do what they do — thought leadership pieces, for example — but they need writers with a business background if they’re writing for people who buy what they do.
That’s because subject matter experts are vulnerable to the “curse of knowledge,” meaning that they tend to write for other experts — people who do what they do. That can be a big problem when it comes to web content, blog posts, or other types of content. That type of content is usually targeted to people who buy what the brand does, and they’re frequently not experts. If they don’t understand the message, they’re not going to buy the product.
Here’s an example: let’s say a brand sells compliance services to other businesses. A blog post about the technical details of how their service works is going to zoom right over the heads of small merchants who don’t have the faintest clue that they even need to be worried about regulatory compliance. The first thing the brand needs to publish is a blog post on the ever-increasing compliance requirements facing small businesses. Once their prospective customers know that compliance is a really big deal and are shaking in their proverbial boots because they think they’re about to get busted…that’s the time for a post explaining the brand’s solution.
The takeaway here is that, whether you’re a subject matter expert or not, the brand wants you to write to a particular audience. If that’s not clear from the content brief, ask. Then write your content accordingly.
They want you to know how to vet a source
Not all sources are created equal. Let’s take Medium as an example. Medium can be fun to read, but since there is no screening process — anyone can publish — there’s no guarantee that information on Medium is valid. I would never link to a Medium article as a source, although I might try to find the same information elsewhere.
Here are a few more things to keep in mind about choosing your sources:
.edu and .gov sources are among the most reliable. You can feel safe linking to any of these. Even Google approves.
Try to stick with primary sources. If you need medical information, for example, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, the National Institutes of Health (one of those prized .gov sources!), etc., have more reliable patient-centered content than sites like WebMD or sites that belong to someone with a vested interest, like a pharmaceutical company. And stay away from patient forums. Just because somebody on a forum claims standing on their head while eating a raw onion every day cured them of the disease du jour, that doesn’t make it reliable medical advice.
Actively look for bias in your sources. Just the other day, I was reading a paper on autism that was professional, scholarly, etc. — everything I look for in a source. Then, at the very end, the author made a comment about “discriminating against” people with autism. The author could have made the same statement from a place of neutrality, but she instead chose a word that showed a lack of objectivity. Even though I agreed with the point she was making, I couldn’t use her paper as an objective source. Bias can be sneaky like that, slipping through without attracting anyone’s attention, which is why you have to actively watch for it.
Brands want you to follow directions
This one is simple, folks. Whether it’s including specific keywords, sourcing royalty-free images, or sticking to a specific word count, just do it.
Brands want you to have their backs.
Everybody makes mistakes, and sometimes brands may ask you for something that would undermine their credibility, like the time a brand asked me to write a blog post on how to prepare for an OSHA inspection (most OSHA inspections are of the “surprise” variety). You can earn lots of brownie points by not letting the brands you work with look stupid.
That’s a lot to remember, but it’s much easier if you keep in mind that it all comes down to business. In fact, you can take all of these tips about what brands want from content writers and sum them up with a simple change in perspective:
Think of yourself as a business owner selling a product (content) to your customers (the brands you write for). Successful business owners focus on what their customers want to buy rather than on what they themselves want to sell.
Are you focusing on the type of content your brands want to buy?
Editor’s Note: this post was written by nDash content community member Patti Podnar. Patti Podnar is the content strategy and marketing half of Podnar Consulting LLC. Her mission is to guide her clients through the process of making sure their content aligns with their business needs. Hire her on nDash.
Content is a living organism: it’s constantly changing and adapting to its surroundings.
As marketing technology changes, so does content. As a consumer grows, learns and digests information, content adapts to best reach them. This all goes to say: you constantly need to be reviewing and tweaking your content strategy.
As we go into the end of Q1, now is a great time to reflect on what you’ve done to-date in 2019, and take a look at what is currently happening in the content landscape.
Here are the five stats that you must know before putting pen to paper (or I guess finger to keyboard) and planning out your 2019 Q2 Content Strategy.
What does this mean? Simply put, you really need to understand your audience if you want anyone to read your content. Too many marketers make the mistake of constantly writing, but never actually listening to what their readership has to stay. Here are a few questions to consider:
Are you sympathizing with their pain points?
Are you providing them with action items to fix their problems?
Have you commented on recent industry news with your brand’s opinion?
If you’re not sure what your audience wants to hear, then now may be the time to take advantage of your content community and ask them what the want to write about. Since they’re not privy to all in-house conversations, they have the potential to bring a fresh perspective to your blog and to highlight a few of the struggles your audience is having that you may not have realized.
The average word count of top-ranked content in Google is between 1,140-1,285 words (SearchMetrics)
What does this mean? No, it does not mean to squeeze as many words as you can into one piece of content because, as we mentioned above, storytelling plays a key role in creating killer content. But this does mean that if you’ve been consistently publishing blogs that are around 800 words, it may be time to change it up a bit and to see your audience’s reaction.
Perhaps play around with creating pillar pages. Or invest in creating investigative, long-form content, that highlights what thought leaders in the industry are saying. Here’s a great example of investigative blogging.
The average blog post takes 3 hours and 16 minutes to write (Orbit Media), but the average time spent reading an article is 37 seconds (NewsCred)
What does this mean? So many things, where to begin?! Here are our takeaways:
Not everyone on your team will have the time to write a blog. While we’re strong supporters of making employees the foundation of your content community, we also recognize that not everyone has the time to sit down and write. This is why we promote taking a short blog employees’ write and expanding upon it. Or setting your thought leaders up on a braindump with a freelance writer so that you can still share their insights, but aren’t taking up more than 30-minutes of their time.
Invest in good writing. You need to create attention-grabbing content. I’m sure that you’ve heard of this before, this concept isn’t anything new. But it’s why formatting (bolding, creating lists, shorter paragraphs, etc.), pictures and diagrams, and an incredible intro and conclusion are so important. You only have 37 seconds to make a great impression.
Better content can drive traffic to a blog by up to 2,000% (Omnicore), and content marketing gets 3x more leads than paid search advertising (CMI)
What does this mean? Great content is going to drive more people back to your blog, which means more people will be visiting your website. This means you have 2,000% more opportunities to convert visitors into leads – or better, customers.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? It is – and it isn’t. While creating more content will generate 3 times more leads than PPC, it won’t deliver if your content is, er, for lack of a better word, bad.
If your content doesn’t haven’t a compelling message, doesn’t resonate with your audience, and there isn’t a clear call to action at the end, then it won’t provide your marketing team with the results they were hoping for.
Your engagement rates will increase by 28% if you invest in professionally written content alongside video product demos or similar information (Omnicore)
What does this mean? While more and more companies are beginning to invest in video, this doesn’t mean that written content can fall along the wayside. It’s still so incredibly important to invest in written content. Not just as a standalone medium, but as a supporter for your video content.
Next time you put out a product demo or create a vlog, make sure that you have some incredible content on that page to accompany it. Not everyone is going to automatically set aside the time to watch your video, but yet you’ll still want them to leave the page knowing what you’re offering.
Here are a few options for what written content to include on the video page:
Tease the video content
Recap highlights and takeaways of what the video covers
There’s never the “perfect content strategy.” But the one thing you do not want to do is stick with the same content strategy every single month. Your audience is constantly growing and changing, and your content should reflect that. Add more voices to your blog, and change up the types of content you’re creating to figure out what resonates best.
Are you ready to build your content community? Let us help! We’ll do the writer recruiting for you. Drop us a note.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by nDash community member Tereza Litsa. Tereza is the Social Media Manager ate Lightful, helping charities transform how they do digital and build meaningful relationships with their supporters. She’s passionate about anything digital, with a keen interest in content writing, social media, and marketing. To learn more about Tereza, or to have her write for your brand, check out her nDash profile page.
“Nobody wants a generalist, everybody wants a specialist.”
Newbie freelance writers often scoff at the idea of limiting themselves to one – or even a few – different subjects. They start their journey into wordsmithery with the misguided notion that they can write about anything if given the opportunity. If someone just gives them the chance, then they’ll deliver curated content about any subject.
The problem with being a generalist within the writing field is that it undercuts your value; you’re throwing yourself in a sea of other generalists. Each of them dipping their toe into each topic and being able to write about “everything.”
Over the past few years, high-quality content has become more important to businesses. As a freelancer, I discovered that businesses aren’t willing to dish out those dollars to a writer that can do a little of everything. What they are looking for is a specialist in a certain field, to help them attain greater exposure, ROI and make more of an impact on Google’s algorithm.
Money Money Money
It makes the world go round. Everyone wants it but very few have enough of it. Everyone wants a fair rate of pay for their efforts, regardless of the job that they do and being a freelance writer is no different. Narrowing down to a single lane or two will increase your value as a writer.
To put that into perspective—If I had a specific heart problem that required a niche skill set to resolve, I’d rather see a cardiologist instead of a general practitioner. If we cross-reference that idea with salaries, the average cardiologist earns $423,000 a year, according to Medscape Cardiologist Compensation Report and that’s not including production bonus and benefits. On average, a GP makes under half of that.
Being a specialist within a particular field makes you the go-to writer. You’re more in-demand, your value goes up and you become a sought after commodity. This enables you to charge higher rates and establish repeat clients.
The first port of call would be to look over your CV and determine whether you already have lucrative expertise. Did you work in marketing? Were you a lawyer? They’re a good start. If you’re already adept in a particular field then that’s a huge amount of bonus points to get you on your way to finding a suitable niche to write about.
Another method is to pursue your passion through writing. What makes your heart race and your spine tingle? No, I’m not telling you to write about pizza…unless you want to.
If you’re passionate about fitness or the beauty industry, you can transform that into a high-paying niche and build a portfolio out of something you love.
For best results when seeking higher pay and larger volumes of work, become an authority by breaking the niche down even further. Sounds pretty difficult, right? It is. This is where all the top writers make the big bucks. Some of the most lucrative writing niches are:
Specific fields—topics within your niche that you’ve learned, researched and experienced. For example, if your niche is science; writing in detail about neuroscience is going to get you a far greater return.
B2B content—this includes whitepapers, case studies, eBooks and long-form articles. They involve a degree of technical expertise but you’ll be rewarded well for your work.
Email sequences—drip campaigns and direct response copywriting isn’t all sleazy sales talk. This is a low-word, high return gig.
Becoming a successful freelance writer is a long journey and the process takes time. Being a generalist may suit your needs early in your career but, to cash in on the big bucks, work with bigger brands and become more in-demand. It’s time to narrow down your niche.
Editors Note: This post was written by nDash community member Anup Sohanta. Anup Sohanta is a full-time freelance writer specializing in marketing, health, financial services, and other topics. To learn more about Anup — or to have him write content for your brand — check out his nDash writer profile.