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Lessons Learned from One Year of Freelance

awardApril 1st marked one full year of supporting myself on nothing but freelance content strategy work. It has been a year of huge changes, and I am incredibly grateful for all that I have learned. I consider it a hugely successful year on every level. For anyone considering a freelance career, particularly in content strategy, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and I’m happy to pass along:

  1. It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. With that in mind, as a one-woman company, networking is far more important than refining a resume.
  2. Networking is really about making friends. This may not be the case for extroverts, but for introverts like myself sales became much more enjoyable when I stopped trying to sell, and started talking with people whose ideas excited me.
  3. Always keep learning. The biggest thing I miss about working in an office is hearing news of the UX and content strategy community, and receiving articles and new ideas from co-workers. I’ve replaced that office banter with an hour a day of reading a number of blogs and websites (many of which are on my content strategy resource list), including a good deal of time on Twitter.
  4. Not every networking opportunity is valuable. Therefore, it’s essential to pick and choose, and keep networking to an average of 5hrs/week.
  5. Double checking is a vital skill. As the CEO, sales department, and workforce of my one-woman company, there’s no one else around to double check my work. One typo can mean the difference between a new client relationship and a fledgling reputation for sloppiness.
  6. Identify your hourly value. The biggest mistake I made in my first few months was to accept work that was below my pay grade, or just uninteresting. As a result, when more exciting projects came along I was unavailable. It’s scary to say no to a project, but with a little faith I finally began waiting for the good ones to come along. Now I’m spending my time on the projects I care about.
  7. Don’t ever compare free time to the hourly value. The same day I stopped taking on projects that paid too low or required work I didn’t enjoy, I stopped having a social life. I knew the price of an hour not working, and so I replaced dinners out or going to the movies with more work hours, which really takes all the fun out of working freelance! My hourly value is significant for my projects, but my personal time is invaluable.
  8. Set goals. The number one reason I didn’t go freelance any sooner was fear, and I believe that’s true for many people. It’s my belief that the best antidote to fear is data. When I set goals, I don’t need to worry about being successful or sustainable. Instead, I can evaluate my goals monthly and change what I’m doing based on whether or not I’m meeting my goals.

I’m sure I have a lot more to learn, and I may update this list as I think of other big lessons from this past year. I’d also like to publicly thank the many people who have shared their stories, their time, and their knowledge. The content strategy community is a warm and welcoming one, and I wouldn’t be here today without them.

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Content & Copywriting Resources

I love when I can go to one place and find a bajillion useful sites. So I made one just for you! Happy Birthmasversary!

Content 101 (Strategy & Marketing)

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The Difference Between Good Taste and Best Practices

“Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.” -Marie, “When Harry Met Sally”

"Everybody thinks they have good taste."

“Everybody thinks they have good taste.”

Marie’s rationale for getting rid of her boyfriend’s atrocious wagon-wheel table is the same explanation we all use when we think something is obvious, or common sense. Nora Ephron wrote (fictional) Marie’s line in 1989, a gentle reminder to the world that we all think our personal opinions are the “right” opinions. The same line of thought has recently been identified by A List Apart author Nishant Kothary, discussing Jack Hamilton’s perspective on singer Ryan Macklemore:

“What was most interesting about Hamilton’s piece was the unfortunate, but abundantly common, message hidden between the lines: if you enjoy Macklemore, you have terrible taste in music.”

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Sharing is Caring

I’m hearing some contradictory viewpoints on the importance of sharing friends and colleagues’ links via social media. Let’s walk through the options.

“Sharing isn’t as valuable as creation, and I only have time for one.”

I hear this a lot. It’s why many marketing teams aren’t more active on social media, and it’s not an unfounded concern. It comes predominantly from watching the streams of spam that spew from a multitude of useless twitter handles. It comes from watching zombie social media users vomit out garbled content, and praying, “Please, let me never be like them.”

Pros: If you never share, you guarantee never becoming one of the zombies.
Cons: Never sharing (usually) means never being shared. It removes nearly all chance of building relationships via social media. Continue Reading

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What’s that Sound?

suitsThis morning I got in the car, turned on the radio, and immediately remembered that I have got to TiVo Suits this Thursday. There wasn’t a Suits commercial on the radio. There was something better: “Love Me Again” by John Newman was playing. This is  a song that I couldn’t have named 24 hours ago, but USA has managed to forever associate it in my mind with Suits, by making it the soundtrack to the Season 3 trailer. Continue Reading

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There’s no Wrong Way to use a Reeses

“THEM: Well, I have to confess that we don’t quite use it the way you’d want…

ME: (frowns)

Now, that frown you see may not be for the reason you think. I’m not frowning because people don’t follow the methods we share to the letter. I’m frowning because they seem to think that’s a problem.” -Jesse James Garrett, How to Design Experiences the Adaptive Path Way (Or Not)

In Jesse James Garrett’s recent article, he goes on to talk about the process Adaptive Path uses, and how it works for some people but not others. He advises readers to use the parts that work for them, and let the rest sit for another day.

His words are wise, and they apply to more than just process. Continue Reading

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PSA: Content Reuse doesn’t negate Focused Content

This is a public service announcement.

Image property of thecontentwrangler.com

Image property of thecontentwrangler.com

9 out of 10* content strategists and content marketers agree that you should reuse your content. However, that doesn’t mean reused content should be any less focused than original content.

If you offer webinars, and get great responses, don’t throw your webinar images up on Pinterest “to reuse them.” Put them on Pinterest if-and-only-if your target audience is also on Pinterest.

If you write an article and your audience is engaged, discusses it, and contacts you with follow-up questions, don’t read your article aloud to create an “easy Podcast”… unless you know your target audience listens to Podcasts.

Rule #1: Use the content mediums that your target audience uses.

Rule #2: Reuse content in multiple mediums, in order to reach more of your target audience.

Rule #3: Rule #2 should never, never, never negate Rule #1. For each content reuse, the content should still be put in areas the target audience will visit.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

*statistic not based upon any research.

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Secret Santa’s Secrets

santaIn 2013 Santa brought this little Jewish content strategist an extra-special present: a content strategy Secret Santa game. The instructions were simple:

  1. Sign up via Twitter and get the name of another content strategist
  2. Write a blog post or article before December 23
  3. Receive an anonymous post or article, and post it to your blog

Though the instructions were simple, I and many other perfectionist content strategists struggled. What were we supposed to write about? Should we mimic the recipient’s style? Should we be funny? Serious? Ultimately we had to face the difficult truth: there was no wrong answer. Continue Reading

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The Super Bowl, Prop Bets, and Content

superbowlSuper Bowl XLVIII made history yesterday, when the Seattle Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos 43-8, the third worst blowout in Super Bowl history (and second worst blowout in Broncos Super Bowl history). But that’s not why I watched the game.

My annual Super Bowl party is a matter of pride: we make plenty of food from homemade wings to desserts, and we invite friends both new and old. But that’s not why I watched the game.

This year was a particularly exciting year because Renee Fleming, opera singer and Crane School of Music grad (go Crane!) was singing the National Anthem, and I even drafted a Fantasy team for Puppy Bowl X. But that’s not why I watched the game.

I watched the game because one clever move got me invested. Continue Reading

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Upcoming talks, Spring 2014

Looking for me this spring? I’ll be at…

DCL Webinar: Finding Your Brand Personality
Re-branding Content During a Migration with Marli Mesibov: Step 2
Thursday, February 20, 2014 1:00 PM

DCL Webinar: Collaboration: Fun for the Whole Team!
Re-Branding Content During a Migration with Marli Mesibov: Step 3
Thursday, March 27, 2014 1:00 PM

Congility 2014
Out of the Silos and into the Farm
June 18-20, Gatwick, UK