How to Transform Your Editorial Experience Into a High-Paying Content Strategy Career

By Aubre Andrus December 2nd, 2014

Since making a living as a journalist is a constant grind for most freelancers, some writers have been making the move to the greener pastures of content strategy. According to Glassdoor, content strategists earn an average of $72,000, about $20,000 more than the national average for journalists.

Assuming most of us want to make more money, the next question is: How can freelancers become content strategists?

As writers, we often scrutinize any slogan, script, blog post, tweet, or email that comes our way and think, I could have written something better. So why don’t we? After all, traditional editorial writing and marketing copywriting rely on overlapping skills.

Content strategy builds on that creativity with a focus on long-term development and management. That content could be a mix of social media, editorial, and marketing copywriting. Here’s another important distinction: It’s about getting the right content to the right people at the right time—and inspiring action along the way.

Companies want to maximize the impact of their content and achieve their business goals in the process, so strategists also study analytics to point their clients in the right direction. Sound different from a traditional editorial career? Yes and no. It depends on what kind of writer you are.

Those looking to get into the content strategy game should know it’s a steep hill to climb. For content strategist Kelli Lawless, the ability to drive a concept or long-range plan forward is more important than her ability to put words on a page. “Content strategy is about shifting your mindset from how the words look on the page to considering how the overall concept works for your client’s long-term business goals,” she said. “It’s not just a cool article idea; it’s how it’s going to convert people to product evangelists.”

“Content strategy is about shifting your mindset from how the words look on the page to considering how the overall concept works for your client’s long-term business goals.”

However, there is good news for those who are willing to begin the ascent because, as Lawless points out, “Writers are really good at concepts and ideas… A lot of writers don’t realize that they’ve been doing strategy for a really long time.”

How to break in

The quickest way to make the jump is to analyze your body of work and look for any trends in your career. Many writers specialize in certain topics and have years of expertise to draw upon.

“Let’s say you’ve been writing travel articles. Turn that into ‘I have a broad understanding of the challenges inherent in travel,’” Lawless said. “You have to start thinking from a business perspective and a global perspective.”

If you’re a generalist, make it a priority to specialize. Writers can build their portfolios slowly by writing for well-respected publications and accelerate the process by self-publishing an ebook to build credibility.

Lawless also said writers could develop a content strategy for their own businesses by repackaging articles, building their blogs, or developing SlideShare presentations about content strategy. Ultimately, once you have enough material to your name, finding a client who’s willing to take a risk on you will be the best way to get experience.

How to find clients

Lawless works with many large consumer-driven companies that want to know why their consumers aren’t engaging with their existing content and how they can adapt.

“You’re going to sell content solutions from a business point of view, and the client needs to know why it’s going to work,” she explained.

Freelance writers may find that their current clients simply ask for an article, but what the clients really need is a plan. It’s up to you to help them realize that. Provide a list of potential pieces and recommend that they set up an editorial calendar with specific goals tied to audience engagement.

“Get your head out of ‘What’s my assignment?’ and into ‘What’s needed here?’” Lawless said.

Those who are still transitioning into the strategist mindset might want to start on smaller projects, like retooling a Facebook page for a small business or writing marketing copy for a product.

Lawless started her career as a traditional writer and editor, but she realized years later she had always thought strategically. Her background in script editing and speechwriting helped her think about not only the words, but also the delivery.

“Some people have a brain for it,” she said. “I’d just encourage people to look at what you’ve been doing and figure out if you’ve been doing strategy all along.”

Image by Paramount Pictures
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