Content marketing is easily the hottest field in digital marketing right now – and there’s a BIG demand for content strategists.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 B2B Content Marketing Report, almost half of all businesses expect to ramp up their spending on content strategy and marketing.
Some 38% say they’ve reduced funding for other types of advertising to increase the budget for content marketing.
The report also found that 52% of all businesses rely on just one person to handle content strategy, creation, and marketing.
With COVID-19, this just got more important since a ton of IRL marketing events got canceled.
Online content creation and marketing in and of itself, I predict, will have a 5-10x increased worth when the economy is back in gear.
Those that were spending heavily on canceled events may begin to finally become aware of the ROI in strategic content creation (which is serious: 3/4 of the internet is reading blogs, and a large percentage of our consumers read blogs before even beginning a conversation with our sales team).
Content needs people.
If you’re thinking of becoming a freelance content strategist this year, you’re on the right path.
Ready to dive into one of the hottest, most exciting jobs in the digital landscape? Here’s everything you need to know about how to break into freelance content strategy in 2020.
What Is a Content Strategist?
Why Content Strategy Is Exploding in 2020
The Demand for Content Strategists
The 6 Secrets All Successful Content Strategists Know
1. Know Your Foundations
2. Learn to Discover Audiences
3. Master SEO Research
4. Rock Your Core With Authority
5. Create Exceptional Content
6. Get Smart With Your Tools
How to Become a Freelance Content Strategist in 5 Easy Steps
1. Learn content strategy.
2. Create a website and a social media presence.
3. Demonstrate your experience.
4. Land your first clients.
5. Build your portfolio.
First Things First: What Is a Content Strategist?
So, you want to become a freelance content strategist. Great!
But what does that mean???
Turns out, there’s no easy answer. Content strategy as a field is only recently maturing this year and there’s still some confusion about what content strategy itself is.
Take one look at the job postings on Indeed, and you’ll see what I mean. Sometimes, postings for content strategists look like they’re interviewing for marketing positions:
Are they looking for a marketer or…? (Source: Indeed)
Sometimes, it looks like job postings maybe think “content strategist” is a fancy word for “copywriter…”
Content strategists DO frequently produce content… but not always. (Source: Indeed)
Both of these listings are technically correct in their outlines of the responsibilities for a content strategist. The career path each content strategist takes varies dramatically.
Content strategists wear many different hats. They’re coordinators, writers, marketers, data scientists, researchers, project managers – all bundled into one convenient person who is systematically mapping out a brand’s journey to success.
On any given day, they may:
- Plan out the content that a brand will publish (including what, when, where, how, and why)
- Research the problems or pain points of target audiences and brainstorm how a brand solves those problems
- Audit content for tone, style consistency, relevance and freshness
- Use metrics to understand what content is performing well and why
- Stray into content marketing to create, distribute, or promote content
Content strategy assumes that content exists to support a brand in reaching its goals, whether that’s informing people on an important topic or selling them something.
Content strategists provide direction to a brand’s content output by identifying the best target audience, plus what content is most likely to speak to them, and how to get it in front of them.
Why Content Strategy Is Exploding In 2020
When’s the last time you dealt with obnoxious pop-up ads while you were just trying to read an article? (Probably a while ago if you’re in the 48% of internet browsers using an ad blocker.)
That sort of advertising is so out of date – and people are letting brands know!
Content marketing has replaced traditional marketing and advertising techniques. Rather than pushing a sale, it emphasizes informing and entertaining the reader with authoritative, relevant, and trustworthy information that they were already looking for in the first place.
It’s a user-focused approach that addresses audience needs.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, emphasizing audience needs over the desire to sell something was what 88% of the top content marketing performers did in 2019.
In 2020, the rest of the world is catching on – content strategy and marketing are here to stay.
Calling All Content Strategists! Brands Need You!
If you’ve seen the phrase “content strategy” springing up everywhere, it’s not just you. It really is exploding in 2020.
According to HubSpot, some 70% of marketers are actively investing in content strategy and marketing this year. Another 3/4 of them indicated that a solid content strategy was a major key for their success in the previous years.
In their 2020 Content Marketing Statistics Survey, SEMrush found that 91% of the 1,200 marketers surveyed indicated that they were using a content marketing strategy in their company.
At the same time, they found that 48% of their respondents rated the performance of their strategy as average, fair, or poor.
In other words, brands WANT content strategy, but they still struggle to figure out exactly how to do it.
That means there’s a huge demand for people who know how to do it well.
The 6 Secrets That All Successful Content Strategists Know
Content strategy and marketing represent a much smarter approach to getting a brand in front of interested readers without being annoying – but doing it well is tricky!
I would know. The phenomenal growth of Express Writers over the past few years was driven by content strategy.
You can recreate this type of growth for your own brand and clients. Best of all, you don’t have to learn the hard way because I’ve already been there and done that.
Here are six secrets that all successful content strategists know. Mastering these will set you on the right path to becoming a successful freelance content strategist.
1. Know Your Foundations
Want to build a house? You need to lay the foundation, first. That means learning content strategy.
You have a few options. If you’ve got the gumption for self-study, consider picking up any number of resources available online. You can also grab a copy of my Kindle book, Practical Content Strategy & Marketing, where I go over these steps in detail and provide exercises to hone them.
Taking one or more content strategy courses may also help you gain the skills faster. There are also some considerations as to whether formal training like a marketing degree is better for a content strategist.
As a freelancer, your primary objective will be applying your knowledge of content strategy to your client’s brand. That means you’ll need to learn:
- How to identify what sets your client apart from the competition
- What business goals or needs your client has, and what forms of content will best suit them
- How to identify or create a client’s branded voice
- Which metrics will help you gauge whether your content is meeting your client’s needs
- How to convey the value of what you do in language that business owners understand.
2. Learn to Discover Audiences
Content strategy involves crafting content that speaks directly to your client’s targeted audience. Do you know who they are?
Don’t rely on your client to tell you, either. It might seem illogical, but it’s not uncommon for businesses to not have a clearly defined target audience. In 2019, some 76% of brands were still failing to use online behavioral data to target their ads – mostly because they didn’t know how to access it.
Let that sink in for a minute.
As the content strategist, there’s a good chance it’s going to fall to you to discover a client’s target audience. And your content strategy is only going to be effective if you can do it.
3. Master SEO Research
Once you begin producing content that aligns with your strategy, you’ll want to make sure it’s found. You can leverage SEO in a few different ways which might affect your overall content strategy. For example:
- Local SEO helps businesses get found in the community
- Different types of keywords correlate to different parts of the sales funnel
- Keyword research can give you good insights on your client’s competitors
4. Rock the Core With Authority
In my book, Practical Content Marketing & Strategy, I spend a lot of time talking about the content house. That’s your “turf”, so-to-speak… or in the case of your clients, your client’s website (not social media or another platform).
A solid content strategy always moves toward building the authority of a brand or moving the customer through the sales funnel – or both.
You may deal with clients who always have ideas for content that deviate from their core, or niche. That risks watering down the brand authority. You may also deal with clients who prefer a hands-off approach, providing you with few or no details. In either case, you’ll need to know how to deal with this as a freelance content strategist.
5. Create Exceptional Content
Remember earlier when I said that content strategists do sometimes wear a writer’s hat? That’s because content strategy is so intertwined with content creation that many companies (and freelancers) happily do both at the same time.
You must learn how to write amazing copy and content that blows your readers away.
Furthermore, depending on where your client is with their branding efforts, they may or may not have a preferred POV and voice for you to use when developing your content strategy. If they’ve also put you in charge of creating content, exceptional will mean adhering to that pre-existing voice. Flawlessly.
6. Get Smart With Your Tools
Content marketing strategy loves its tools. From endless editorial calendar templates to project management gadgets, expect to be inundated with them when you start your journey as a freelance content strategist.
I recommend that you start with a few basic tools. Nothing fancy. Consider creating or downloading templates that you can use for every client. At a bare minimum, you should have a:
- Content strategy calendar
- Way to perform SEO and keyword research
- Solution for creating and tracking content marketing budgets and expenses
- Method for conducting market research (target audiences, personas, segments, etc.)
- Strategy for keeping everything organized and centralized
- Set of tools for capturing, measuring, and analyzing metrics
From here, you can personalize your tools to your needs.
How to Become a Freelance Content Strategist in 5 Quick Steps
If you’ve gone through all six points above and have implemented them, you’re well on your way to becoming a freelance content strategist.
Next, you’ll need to build your freelancing practice. Do that with these five quick and dirty steps:
1. Master Content Strategy
If you’ve taken my advice above, you should have a decent grasp on content strategy. Next, practice! Try:
- Analyzing a brand and discerning its content strategy.
- Asking friends or family members with web presences to do content strategy with them.
- Staying on top of the industry by following blogs and experts.
2. Create a Website and a Social Media Presence
You’ll need your own “turf” as a freelance content strategist. So, create your content strategy and your website to showcase your experience. Do:
- Treat yourself like a client. Put as much care and effort as you would into someone else’s work.
- Brand yourself. This can be as simple as ensuring consistency in colors and labels across your LinkedIn, website, and other social media sites.
3. Demonstrate Your Experience
One of the advantages of taking a course or working through a book is that you’ll have access to exercises that can help you demonstrate experience. Remember:
- Content strategy is trending: A lot of people claim to know content strategy, but you’ll be able to prove it.
- Listing content strategist training or certifications you’ve received demonstrates experience.
- Mockups and specs are perfectly acceptable portfolio pieces when you’re just starting. Just be transparent.
4. Land Your First Clients
Once you’re up and running, it’s time to find clients! YAY! Consider:
- Bidding sites like Upwork. They can get you in front of a lot of potential clients quickly but have lots of competition.
- Approaching companies that you like. Crafting a solid pitch email can work wonders.
There is DEFINITELY work out there and most of it pays well. Consider checking Indeed for job listings. Many companies hire contractors or freelancers remotely.
5. Build Your Portfolio
As you gain new clients, you’ll start building a portfolio of your best work. You should reach a point where you let your portfolio do all the talking as quickly as possible. It will become an asset for securing more clients. To build a portfolio:
- Search for the websites of other content strategists and see what they’ve done.
- Read guides on building portfolios.
Get Started Today as a Freelance Content Strategist
Phew! That was a lot. If you’ve made it all the way down here, then congratulations. You’re now armed with all the tools you need to become a freelance content strategist.
Breaking into the world of freelancing is pretty straightforward, but it can be hard.
Content strategy is huge in 2020. Hopefully, you’re better equipped to get started on the right foot.
If you’re ready to take the next steps and get in on this amazing new trend, sign up for the Content Strategy Course and gain the expertise you need in 45 days.