This Writer’s Landing a Ton of Work Doing What So Many Companies Need…

Caught up with a commercial writing chum of mine on the West Coast recently (we’ll call him Joe). He told me about all the work he’s landed with his latest client. So many good lessons for commercial writers in his story, I just had to share it.

Joe landed the client through a friend. Do your friends know what you do and your specialties within your profession? If not, they should…

Anyway, a marketing director with a one school of a larger university system (yes, I’m obscuring some identifying details) mentioned to a mutual friend that she needed some proofreading and editing done, and Joe’s friend suggested him. Joe and the client spoke, hit it off on the phone, quickly realizing that he lived in the client’s hometown. The proofing/editing gig ending up falling through, but the good rapport they’d developed had the client call Joe back when some new work came up.

It’s important to note that her hiring Joe was arbitrary and based on little more than he was a writer she’d crossed paths with and with whom she’d hit it off (Remember: clients don’t want to spend a lot of time hunting for a writer). But, much to the client’s delight, Joe’s background – which they hadn’t previously discussed in depth – was a perfect match for the new gig: helping with their new content marketing strategy, to which they’d committed a healthy budget. CM is becoming a popular approach for companies trying to position themselves as “thought leaders” in a particular industry.

Here’s how it works… It all comes down to searchability: helping people find you via Internet searches. You start by determining what kinds of information people are looking for via Google searches, in the relevant subject areas (in this case, information related to the school’s mission). Then, by crafting and posting high-quality content that satisfies those searches, the school draws a steady stream of traffic to its virtual doorstep, and in the end, helps support the school’s goal of increasing enrollment.

Joe’s content-generating efforts are going well enough that the university’s now pondering duplicating the strategy in several other discipline-specific schools in their system. And Joe’s in the wonderful position of recommending friends who are subject-matter experts in those arenas. Given the trust the school has in him (coupled with the desire, as discussed, to quickly identify resources) his fellow writers are basically shoo-ins.

Do fellow commercial freelancers know your strong suits, especially when they differ from theirs?

And to get your wheels turning a bit, what’s cool about a content marketing strategy is the broad array of businesses for which the approach would make sense. In addition to educational institutions of all stripes, how about medical/health practices of every kind (GP’s, veterinarians, chiropractors, alternative health practitioners, massage therapists, acupuncturists, nutritionists, etc)? How about law firms, financial advisors and accounting firms? Which just scratches the surface…

Interior design firms, flooring companies, landscape architects, plant nurseries, building contractors – heck, we could be here all day. Every single one could boost their search-engine rankings and marketplace stature above their competition, by creating solid, relevant content related to what they do, and for which they’ve determined people are searching, and which will bring those people to their door.

You can probably think of a handful of companies in your area that are doing this already? Who else could be a candidate?

Any current or ex-journos out there? Content development could be a wonderful avenue by which to transition to commercial copywriting (if that’s your goal), or at least help craft a healthy mix of editorial and commercial work. It’s not straight editorial; it will usually have a soft marketing slant, but truly soft.

Oh, Joe told me he also landed, thanks to a basic familiarity with social media marketing (Facebook, Twitter), a $1200+/month retainer to execute those components for the school. He’s the first to say he doesn’t consider himself a social media pro, but given how few writers out there today can claim to be, his skills are more than adequate.

Finally, in a serendipitous twist of fate, in the midst of all this, a government agency put out a report about the future of the field for which the school trained graduates. One of their recommendations? More education for those considering the field. Could there be a more perfect dovetail with the school’s mission?

Joe came across the report in his research, and suggested he do a four-part summary of its main points, simplifying and encapsulating the highlights, and have the school post it on their web site. The school loved the idea, and he’d just landed another roughly $1500 worth of work. So, he saw an opening for work that the school hadn’t considered but was happy he’d brought up, and more than happy to fund.

It gets better. Related entities and organizations found this solid summary on the school’s site, ended up linking to it, further boosting the SEO love coming the school’s way already. Over time, the school earns a well-deserved reputation as that thought leader, and a gateway to high-value content on a particular subject.

Getting any ideas from reading this?

Have you picked up any content marketing work?

Can you share how it unfolded, and/or general thoughts on the strategy?

Are you seeing more call for content development amongst your clients?

Ever “suggested” your way (as Joe did) to additional paying work, not on a client’s original to-do-list?

21 replies
  1. William Reynolds
    William Reynolds says:

    Content development is a big part of many of my clients’ online marketing strategies. I work with a lot of consultants who really need to communicate their expertise to draw new customers. I ghost-write “expert articles” for these folks based on their own industry insights rather than just regurgitated facts, and these articles help them build an online reputation. I also encourage my clients to keep up a regular blog (yes, I ghost-blog too) in which they offer valuable tips and perspectives on various aspects of what they do. That’s how an expert creates a readership — by offering genuine added value in a readable, engaging format on a regular basis.

  2. Lori
    Lori says:

    Gettting TONS of ideas from this! Thanks!

    I’ve yet to convince any clients beyond weblog content to invest in this. They’re missing the ROI, I think. Blog posts are content marketing, but a bastardized version, I’ll admit. I have a few clients who could benefit greatly from this type of marketing, but the thinking seems to be to stick with what they think is tried-and-true. One company that could use a solid weblog doesn’t see the value of it. I’ve tried showing them the numbers on my own personal blog, explaining the difference between my personal approach and what I could do for them. Nothing doing. If we don’t know about it, we can’t be missing it (odd, but that’s the message).

    I think Joe’s approach is dynamite. I’m going to take the same one with some of my more flexible clients. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Amanda Brandon
    Amanda Brandon says:

    Hi Peter, Thanks for such a great case study. This is the core of my business! I was trying to explain the content marketing communications to a former colleague on the phone yesterday. I’m swamped with work because I target companies who are looking to grow their search visibility and thought leadership in flooded markets. And, it’s way more cool than traditional SEO articles.

    Lori, you’re right about companies who don’t get it. However, it’s our jobs as marketers to educate them on the value. BTW, I love your blog. I read it with my morning coffee.

  4. Star
    Star says:

    Sigh–I am sad. I remember when content used to be called writing. I must be missing something, but this sounds like an SEO job…

  5. Lee Cole
    Lee Cole says:

    Actually, my budding freelance business is built around this whole strategy, which I just happened to stumble upon. Thanks for the great article. I’m now ramping up to look for more clients who are looking for this sort of thing.

  6. Gina
    Gina says:

    When you refer to content marketing, do you mean content posted within the pages of the website or in other places on the Internet? Currently I write “articles” for a website, but they are informational. They are not specifically about the expertise of the company. This interests me.

  7. Gina
    Gina says:

    By the way, I would love to help organic farms become more visible on the web. But everyone tells me they won’t pay. I don’t agree. Any opinions on this?

  8. Peggy O'Dell
    Peggy O'Dell says:

    As a newbie commercial writer with a journalism degree and some news experience, I would also like more information on what makes content marketing different from anything else a client may need me to write for their website. This sounds like something that could really make an impact on the success of my new career.

  9. Michael McGinnis
    Michael McGinnis says:

    Well, Gina, at least you’re not trying to violate the “salad dressing” rule – organic farmers already eat salad. But as much as we might claim to pitch only to those who already appreciate pitches, most of us secretly believe that everybody does need writers. They may not be able to afford our fees, but everybody needs to communicate better – we just have to work smarter so more people can afford us. A good content marketer is a combination of literary agent, publicist, and white-hat SEO. That work can’t be dispensed with or bypassed. If businesses have something to say but don’t pay for content marketing, either they’re doing it themselves and possibly winning, or not doing it at all and losing. Too many messages are competing among a limited, weary and jaded audience for businesses to cling anymore to the principle of “if we post it, they will come.” Neither should businesses expect that marketing copy without useful information can be effective marketing anymore. Now, when articles provide useful information about what products to buy, that hits a sweet spot.

  10. Michael Scully
    Michael Scully says:

    Gina says:

    “By the way, I would love to help organic farms become more visible on the web. But everyone tells me they won’t pay. I don’t agree. Any opinions on this?”

    Do you really need more mere opinions?

    I have no opinions, which is probably just as well. I can propose some questions:

    First question: Do organic farms *need* to become more visible on the web? Who are “organic farms,” anyway?

    Second[ary] question[s]: Who is “everyone”? And on what basis do you “not agree”?

    The ultimate authority on this particular subject is the organic farmers to whom you present the proposal. If none will pay, then… as my wife’s grandmother would say, “there’s your answer.”

    Look into it, and let us know what you find.

  11. Gina
    Gina says:

    Michael, I did make a sweeping generalization by referring to “everyone.” I have spoken with a few copywriters who are close to the industry and several other copywriters outside of it. But I need to dig deeper. Organic farms need to make money like any other business. I just wondered if anyone on this blog had any knowledge about copywriting in the organic farming or food industry.

  12. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Great stuff, everyone – thanks for your contributions! Glad to know, 1) it’s giving some of you ideas (and me, too!) and 2) that a number of you are knee-deep in the strategy yourself. Good for you, Lori, nudging your clients to be a bit more progressive in their thinking. But, yeah, better to hit up those who already think more in that direction.

    And thanks, Amanda for sharing your success. Hear that, everyone: “I’m swamped with work because I target companies who are looking to grow their search visibility and thought leadership in flooded markets.” Good for you. Find a niche and fill it. Always comes back to that.

    And thank you Mr. McGinnis, for those great insights… 😉 I know I definitely believe all businesses need us. Writing, after all, is the engine of commerce. Nothing happens at any stage of business processes without writing. Solid thoughts on the evolution of information marketing and what companies have to do these days to be seen. I’d ask, “What happens when all companies are doing content marketing? How will one stand out in that world?” But, there will always be those who won’t understand the need for it, I suppose.

    And thanks, Michael… Gina, don’t believe the conventional wisdom about anything until you find out for yourself. And when approaching them, I’d make it less about “being more visible on the web” than “driving more traffic to your site,” which is the natural by-product of being more visible, but relates more directly to something they absolutely want: higher sales. And no, Gina, I don’t know about organic farms, but it’d be easy enough to reach out to a few, and find out the deal…


  13. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Peggy, in answer to your question, the content you’d develop for a client’s web site would be separate from the main detail of the site – separate from the links covering Who We Are, What We Do, How We Do It, How to Reach Us, etc.

    It might be in an article archive on the site, and again, the whole point of it is to provide information related to their business mission on the subjects the client has determined their target audience is looking for via Google searches. And as others search for that information, they’re brought to the site and then hopefully, they’ll move through the sales process and eventually become a client.


  14. Gina
    Gina says:

    Peter, We are talking about landing pages, correct? I think of landing pages as kind of a back door into a site, where people land from doing general searches. At the end of the content, there would be a link to the home page, contact page or whatever other relevant page within the site makes sense. Am I interpreting Content Marketing Strategy correctly? Thank you.

  15. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Hi Gina,

    No, I’m afraid you’ve got it wrong. Landing pages are a totally different thing, and definitely not “where people land from doing general searches.” Let’s say a company does a direct mail campaign, or email campaign. They make some sort of offer and give the reader a link to visit for more information. That link will lead to a landing page. If the landing page copy is written effectively, not only will the visitor get more information/details about the offer, but it will move them along the sales cycle and get them to take the next step – whatever that may be.

    Note the second paragraph of my comment above addressed to Peggy – that should give you a brief description of what CM is all about. Bottom line, it’s articles on subjects of interest to visitors who find those articles via Google searches. And the company posting them (and having a commercial freelancer write them) has determined what sorts of information people are searching for related to their business or industry. So, as those people search, they find the articles and are brought to the site… But it’s an SEO-driven outcome, not one designed by the company (as a landing page would be).

    Hope that helps!


  16. Gina
    Gina says:

    Peter, I feel like what you are describing overlaps with what could be described as landing pages. I have written landing pages , which are technically part of the site structure–but they are generally found through Google searches by people needing industry-related information or as you say, informaton related to the “searcher’s business mission.” The content is not hard sell, but is designed to inform and establish the site owner as an expert or authority in the related industry. And, these landing pages have been totally SEO-driven. It seems to me “landing page” is an evolving term. It used to imply hard sales. But there are different ways to drive a searcher to a site or article–especially SEO. And content marketing is essentially doing the same thing in a softer way, by informing and winning the trust of searchers. Maybe I’m rationalizing, but isn’t it all part of content marketing strategy? Thanks for helping me continue to figure it out. Gina

  17. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Hi Gina,

    Well, guess what – we’re both right! 😉 And I learned something new as well. All the landing pages I’ve ever done were the pages visitors went to when responding to an ad, direct mail or email marketing campaign. Not just from general searches.

    Just for fun , I did a Google search for “What’s a landing page?” While most of the stuff that came up referred to my understanding of a landing page (and this page is a good Google-aggregated page of results), the Wikipedia definition talks about two types. The definition starts out as follows:

    In online marketing a landing page, sometimes known as a lead capture page, is a single web page that appears in response to clicking on an advertisement. The landing page will usually display directed sales copy that is a logical extension of the advertisement or link.

    Landing pages are often linked to from social media, email campaigns or pay per click (PPC) campaigns in order to enhance the effectiveness of the advertisements. The general goal of a landing page is to convert site visitors into sales leads.

    But then, lower down, it discusses two kinds of landing pages, one fitting the above description, and then this:

    There are two types of landing pages: reference and transactional.

    A reference landing page presents information that is relevant to the visitor. These can display text, images, dynamic compilations of relevant links, or other elements. Reference landing pages are effective if they meet the objectives of their publishers, which may be associations, organizations or public service entities. For many reference landing pages, effectiveness can be measured by the revenue value of the advertising that is displayed on them.

    A special type of ‘reference landing page’ is the ‘webvert’, the marketing goal focuses on lead generation and interaction with the visitor. A webvert is not ‘transactional’ in nature. A webvert is a reference based, ethical landing page.

    So, it looks like the term can apply to both, but again, if you look at the aggregated results from the link above, most refer to the first, which, again, is how I know it.

    But, thanks for teaching me something new!


  18. Gina
    Gina says:

    Peter, Thank you for that information. I circle around all these strategies and concepts, but always wonder what I’m missing. It does feel like the Wild West of marketing on the Internet trying to figure it all out. I do believe companies are evolving to realize that quality Content Marketing is what builds trust and makes sense. Do the Content Marketing pages you talk about include links to further direct readers? I would think so, but that question comes to mind. Thank you much. Gina

  19. Sydney
    Sydney says:

    @Gina…all this stuff boggles my mind too.
    I signed up for an online course in article marketing and SEO as I am new to that. Hope I’m not getting ripped off 😉
    Google’s algorithm just reinforces the idea that good content is the most important thing.

  20. Gina
    Gina says:

    I don’t think I’ve found a forum yet, which discusses the nuts and bolts and challenges of keyword writing. I find that you either have to take a course or field comments from people who make the point that “good content” should come first–which should be a given for any good copywriter.

    Repeating keywords in content is challenging. Period. And the rules and theories about how many times a word–or where or which word–should be repeated are a mystery even to top experts, because search engines are forever changing. But I would love to find other copywriters who find value in discussing the challenges of structuring good copy with keywords. That almost seems more difficult to find than the key to keyword writing.

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