A six-figure freelancer on the top content marketing myths that you may have bought into and how they’ll damage your career if you let them.
Until last year, I was under the grip of one of the biggest content marketing myths. I firmly believed that the moment I stepped out of my journalism shoes and dipped my toes into the content marketing waters, I’d stop being taken seriously by my editors.
I worried that there would be conflict of interest issues. I thought I’d be asked to write marketing crap rather than the stories I’m skilled at telling. I worried I’d have to “sell my soul” for the money and put my name on things that I couldn’t stand behind.
It couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In fact, since taking on several content marketing clients (including an African government and a multinational bank), I’ve found that not only has my income skyrocketed, but also that I’m getting to do good work that I believe in. That content marketing myth cost me money. And it stopped me taking on work I enjoy. Any conflict of interest issues I thought would come up went straight out the window when my editors told me to “write as you normally would.”
In fact, content marketing is a perfect pivoting point for journalists, especially mid-career journalists, looking for new challenges and a (sometimes massive) boost in income.
However, there are certain content marketing myths that repeatedly come up in journalism circles. They make freelance writers wary of approaching new clients in this field or experimenting with the idea.
Here are the most persistent content marketing myths and why I believe them not to be true.
Myth #1: You can’t be a journalist if you take on content marketing work
We discussed this in detail in an earlier article, but this myth is a persistent one. I think journalists, especially freelance journalists, have to be super careful of the lines they’re treading. Conflict of interest issues may come up. My modus operandi has always been full disclosure and complete honesty. My work for my financial services clients involves writing articles on how to save and invest money. My work for a government agency has been about cool projects that are coming out of the country. These are articles I could easily have reported and written in the same way for my editorial clients. However, the next time a publication assigns me a financial story on developing world markets, I’ll be extra careful to let her know that I’ve done work for a certain financial services company and send her the links to it.
My experience: 99% of the time, it simply does not matter.
(There is obviously a different set of considerations if you’re an investigative or daily news reporter.)
Myth #2: You’ll have to write marketing crap
This myth is probably the reason I resisted content marketing for as long as I did. Then, last year, I realized I’d been doing content marketing without even knowing it. That non-government organization that helps girls get education, for instance, for which I wrote blog entries. Or the hard-hitting news story I wrote on data trends in emerging markets for a custom publication. I write for trade publications all the time; some of that work is now content marketing.
I can safely say that out of my now half a dozen content marketing clients, not one has ever asked me to write anything that doesn’t involve reporting, sources, and fact-checking. I’ve written how-to articles, profiles, trend pieces, case studies, and more. And every time, the process has been exactly like it would if I were writing for a publication.
If I didn’t actually know who the client was, it would be just another day in journalism for me.
Myth #3: Content marketing pays really well
This isn’t as egregious as some of the other content marketing myths but it is a fairly common generalization. Yes, content marketing pays well, sometimes really well. For instance, my lowest-paying client pays $0.65 a word and my per-hour average for content marketing is easily $300 an hour. But like with most of freelancing, quality, experience, and negotiating count for a lot of what you’ll eventually end up making.
I’m able to get a lot of higher-paying work and big-name clients because I’m a proven journalist and have the clips to show for it. Because I’m so niche in my knowledge of the developing world, many of my clients simply cannot find enough writers. They end up paying me more simply for that knowledge, that experience, and that specialty. I bridge the gap between East and West. As one of the few writers who does so, I get the work that no one else can do. And I charge appropriately.
Your experience will be different. Your income will be different. It will depend not only on your clients, but the quality you provide, the speed at which you provide it, and of course, like I’ve always said, your business skills. (Negotiate like an Indian!)
Myth #4: You can’t write anything negative/you have to edit the truth
So yes, if you were writing a “how to save money” story for Bank A, you’re probably not going to get away with saying that you should put your savings in Bank B, even if that’s what you believe to be the case.
That said, if you’re worried about that, you’re missing the point of content marketing. Like I said in the beginner’s guide to content marketing, content marketing isn’t about serving an agenda. It’s about providing information, advice, resources, and trustworthy content to the business’s clients and customers. The reason journalists make such a good fit for this kind of work is because we specialize in well-researched, trustworthy content.
Will you have to edit out the truth? I never have and I’ve never been asked to. But if I were—and I’m sure the situation could come up—I’d simply walk away from the assignment or ask the client to change the scope of the work. Easy peasy.
As I mentioned when we discussed the ethical considerations of doing journalism and content marketing, hold up yourself and your work to the highest standards of truth and storytelling and you’ll have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Myth #5: Content marketing writing means you’ll have to write a lot of blog posts
You may have to write some blog posts, but most of my work so far has included profiles of inspirational people, case studies, how-to articles (that have sometimes been published as blog posts), trend stories, and more. In fact, in comparing my journalism work to my content marketing work over the last year, I can find no massive difference. Same skills, same storytelling, even the same format. (You can read all about the different kinds of writing content marketing involves in this article.)
Myth #6: Content marketing means writing for big corporate brands
Content marketing certainly does mean writing for brands, but a “brand” can mean anything. It can mean Tesco and HSBC. It can also mean that animal welfare organization you support. It could be the restaurant down the road or the small online business that your friend runs.
Can I tell you a little secret? This post that you’re reading right now, this very minute? It’s content marketing.
Start looking and you’ll find that content marketing is everywhere. And if you’ve been a freelancer for any length of time, you might find that you’ve already done a bit of it.
So it’s a content marketing myth that you’ll be stuck working for big corporates, even though there’s plenty of work out there with big corporates.
My book The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Content Marketing is a great way to learn about the industry and get high-paying work. In it, we cover the content marketing industry, where you as a journalist fit in, the ethical considerations and boundaries you need to maintain if you want to continue being a journalist, the pitching (and how it’s different), finding your niche, and lots more.
If you enjoyed the article, you’re going to love the book.
How to Pitch: Pitching guidelines for 200+ publications
We know that finding markets to pitch your story ideas, understanding what they’re looking for, and making sure they pay an amount you’re comfortable with can be the most time-consuming and frustrating part of the job. So we’ve tried to make it easier for you.
Here’s a list of publications, organized by subject and with a note of their pay rates, each with a link to their guidelines.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the publisher of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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