I’m a writer. Not a web content writer or web copywriter, but a writer, mind you. That sentence, however, tells an incomplete story. The work I do goes well beyond writing to include strategy (content and brand), business coaching, business advisor and speaker.
So, you might be thinking, “Why do you call yourself a writer?” The answer: Because writing is part of who I am and what I do.
When people ask we what I do, inevitably I draw blank thinking of all the tasks I perform for businesses. I often settle on brand strategist, in large part because people at least think they know what that is.
But a writer is who I am. It’s the one thing I can do all day, every day and never get tired, mentally or physically.
It’s also the one thing I seldom do for brands, which explains why I almost never answer “writer” when people ask what I do.
Content writing is valuable but not often valued
In the digital marketing space, writing has become largely devalued, in large part because there are cheap content mills that can spin out drivel for $25 per thousand words. Another culprit is most people paying for writing not only need a lot of it, but they also think, “Well, anyone can write. Why pay a premium for it?”
The first sentence is largely correct: Just about any can write. However, very, very few people write well enough to create content that should ever appear on a website. Which brings me to why you should pay a premium for it: because your customers and prospects know crappy content when they see it.
I stopped waging this battle years ago, preferring to focus on the writing a enjoy—about businesses, not for businesses. In the rare instance that a brand is willing to create the type of messaging I’d be proud to put my name on, I’m all ears…provided they’re comfortable paying a premium for it.
My thinking wasn’t always so clear, however.
Content writing & web copywriting, the early days
My early foray into content marketing saw me making 40% of my income from content writing. It was more out of necessity than choice.
Back in 2010, on any given week, my cell phone would ring at least a dozen times with calls from small business owners looking for help in at least one of several key areas: web copywriting, new product launch strategy, branding, PR, social media, sales, website design, blogging or marketing. I’m was always as impressed as I was nonplussed.
I had extensive knowledge of new product strategy, editing, PR, marketing and writing, and I had an in-depth understanding of what a website should look and feel like. It also didn’t hurt that I started my career as a business journalist before becoming an editor for a B2B publication for ESPN Outdoors.
The calls never stopped, and I never tired of sharing my expertise.
During a conversation with a de facto mentor, he challenged me to “look broad but think narrow” as I focused on narrowing down the businesses I wished to serve.
His advice was to take a long hard look at what I was best at and what I enjoyed most without regard for what people would pay me for. (He also recommend that I read “Focus,” by Al Ries, which I did and highly recommend.)
Content writing was a gateway to content strategy work
From there, I spent a lot of time talking to and trading emails with friends, colleagues and clients, as part of an exploratory effort that proved to be as illuminating as it was surprising. I still struggled with putting it all together. Writing has always been my thing, but I also enjoyed the dabbling in strategy, PR, web design and new product launches.
Then it hit me.
Writing is the great uniter for all that I do for companies. These business owners needed a means of defining and connecting with their core audience, then engaging with them up to and through the sales process. The content I provided tied everything together.
Solid content and a sound content strategy are sure-fire first steps to getting your business where it needs to be.
What starts as “Can you look at my website?” or “I need help growing my business” or “What can I do to make my product stick out from the crowd?” typically ended with an exploration of the various types of content that will get the company noticed and bring them business.
The conversation that allowed me to see content strategy on the horizon
Still, even after I’d made such a discovery, I wrestled with the decision, one that would change the direction of my business and force me to focus my energies in a more narrow sphere.
Then, as luck would have it, I was talking to one of my most trusted friends as part of our bi-weekly mastermind group, and she said the words I needed to hear: “Ronell, I wouldn’t worry about your business being too narrowly focused. Companies, when they hire you, often don’t know what they need. They’ll hire you to write, then end up needing the other things you offer.”
How right she was.
I’ve never been hired for content writing alone. By offering content writing services, it opened the door to discussions whereby I could adequately and accurately explore a brand’s needs. Those needs were never simply content.
Use content writing and web copywriting to open the door for strategy work
Even if you’re not at a point where you feel comfortable offering in-depth content strategy advice and consulting, it’s a good idea to get as much work under your belt such that you acquire the skills necessary to do strategy work. Start by doing as much and as varied work as you feel comfortable, from web content writing work such as blog posts, web pages and whitepapers to content copywriting tasks, including landing pages and ad copy.
You might think of yourself as simply a writer, but the skills you possess make you invaluable for brands needing a plethora of skills and services.[photo credit: Mike Dixson, creative commons]