Much like in any role, there are some skills every content marketer needs regardless of if you’re an employee, contractor, or freelancer.
And yes, these skills are just as important if you’re responsible for your own content marketing.
What are they? Let’s take a look…
The best content marketing strategy is planned out in advance and helps you towards your greater business goals.
If you don’t know what your business goals are, your content marketing strategy is going to be a lot harder to put together.
Idea generation is probably going to be harder, too, since you don’t know what your target audience needs to know before they purchase from you. It could lead to massive gaps in your content, and therefore, missed revenue, too.
You need to know things like:
- Who you’re aiming your content at
- What they need to know before they become a qualified lead
- What they need to know to become a customer
- What they need to know to upgrade (if that’s an option)
Creating content which answers common questions and problems your customers face will reduce the number of emails you get from potential customers, and may even increase how many customers you get. After all, not everyone will email you with their questions – many will just go elsewhere.
So, if you can answer those questions in your content, whether that’s a blog post, podcast, video, email, or social media post, you’re going to reduce the objections customers have before committing to purchasing from you.
I often find people underestimate research, or group it with writing. Which isn’t right, because it’s an undertaking in itself.
Sometimes the research a piece requires can take even longer than the writing. Does that mean that someone should charge less for the piece, even if they spent three hours researching it and just one writing it?
(Yes, it really can take that long to research something. Sometimes longer to research and less to write.)
Knowing which sources are legit and which ones to avoid are really important when it comes to sharing information with your audience. You don’t want to risk breaking their trust because your source turns out to be dodgy.
Likewise, you don’t want your piece to feel thin because you haven’t done enough research so readers don’t understand why what you’re saying matters to them.
Almost all popular short-form videos that go viral follow a similar structure: the hero’s journey.
Take this Pokémon short film (you’ll see why after you’ve watched it. If you keep scrolling without watching, there be spoilers ahead!):
It goes like this:
- Setting the scene: a group of Bidoofs in the wild. Zoning in on one that tries really hard but is super clumsy
- Inciting incident: Main Bidoof injures some of the group because of its clumsiness Bidoofs
- No turning back: They cast it out. Even the Piplups (little blue bird Pokémon) don’t want him. Sad, unloved Bidoof is then attached by a Starapor
- Midpoint: A trainer and his Lucario save Bidoof from a Staraptor. Bidoof starts training (Midpoints are where things appear to be going well, or at least, on the up)
- Long dark night of the soul: In a gym, Bidoof is up against some seriously powerful Pokémon and doesn’t think it can do it
- Climax: Bidoof has got to fight a Staraptor in the arena! It’s terrified. But Bidoof is the only one left to fight for its trainer. Bidoof rewards its trainer with loyalty and resilience, even when things look really bleak. And ultimately…well, you’ll have to see if this is a comedy (happy ending) or tragedy (sad ending) for yourself 😉 😛
Poor Bidoof really just wants someone to care about it and give it a high five. It’s not Bidoof’s fault it’s super clumsy. But it has a good heart.
There are a lot of other things that happen in this short, but that’s the simplified version of the story, and that’s really what you need to know when you write a story.
There has to be a scene that’s set, where the character (be that you, a member of your audience, or a customer), is struggling with a problem and likely an underdog. Make sure they’re likeable and relatable. Or at least have some sort of likeable/relatable trait.
Then…challenge them. Show what they had to face. Make it seem like they can’t do it. RAISE THOSE STAKES.
And I capitalise RAISE THE STAKES, because a story isn’t powerful if you don’t RAISE THOSE STAKES.
I say it to The Writer’s Cookbook audience all the time: you have to be cruel (to your characters) to be kind (to your audience).
Then, you have a twist. This is usually tied to your ‘long dark night of the soul’, where it looks like your character has failed. The deeper the failure, the greater the feeling of accomplishment will be.
Maybe it’s what happens with Bidoof.
Maybe it’s the murderer being the most innocent person in your whole cast of characters (yes, I did binge a crime show at the weekend. No, I’m not telling you which. I’m bad enough for blurting out spoilers as it is).
Maybe it’s that you open a cupboard and in it is the shoe you thought you lost at the start of the story.
Whatever is interesting and relevant.
It helps to have a callback to the beginning of your story at the end, a kind of ‘AHA!’ moment for your audience.
All right, I’ll leave it there. There’s lots more to say on story structure, how it affects our psyche, and how it’s relevant to content marketing, so if you’d like to know more let me know and I can write another blog post going into more detail 🙂
This is the skill people focus on the most. When you’re a content marketer, or doing content marketing for yourself, there’s always the assumption that you can write.
But, just because you were taught English at school, that doesn’t mean you know how to write.
In fact, if you adhere too strictly to what you were taught in school, you might be doing yourself a disservice.
Schools, particularly nowadays in the UK, teach us to focus on the academic side of writing. There’s far less of a focus on how playful and fun language can be; on training those creative muscles. Even the poetry that’s taught in schools is usually lacking any real sense of fun.
(Side note: you can read some of my poetry on my author website.)
There’s a time and place for serious and academic writing, but your content isn’t it. It’s just going to put your audience to sleep if you write like that. That isn’t how they speak in real life, and it therefore isn’t what they want to read when they come to your for help.
Writing engaging content is a skill in itself, the same as copywriting or novel writing. Every form of writing requires different techniques and a different mindset to be pulled off successfully.
It pains me how many pieces of content I’ve read that are poorly edited. I’m not talking about a few typos, here – we’re all guilty of those.
What I mean is content that’s poorly structured, doesn’t flow, isn’t explained well, goes off on wild tangents, and maybe even doesn’t answer the questions raised in the title.
Editing is a skill that’s very different to writing. It requires the logical, analytical parts of our brain. Planning and writing are far more creative.
For this reason, editing should be done at a different time to writing.
The longer you leave between writing and editing a piece, the better, but at the very least, take a break between each stage. Make a cup of tea; walk the dog; meditate. Whatever gets you away from your work in progress. Doing this will mean that you can come back to your piece more objectively and edit it more like a professional would.
Great editing is really what makes a standout piece. It’s where the sexy language comes in; where you check for flow and depth. Without those things, your piece is going to be lacklustre.
A big part of content marketing is often reaching out to other people in the name of networking. Doing this requires confidence that often isn’t talked about.
If you’re not a confident person and have issues putting yourself out there, or you struggle to post on social media for the same reason, content marketing is going to be really hard. After all, most of content marketing isn’t content creation – it’s promotion.
This is a mindset shift that people often don’t think about when they get into content marketing. They think they’re going to get paid to write (I sure did), but there are so many other things that go into content marketing, and this is a really big one.
You have to be confident in your abilities as a writer, editor, and marketer. You have to have confidence in the content you’ve published.
You’ll probably need to have the confidence to push back when your boss or client is asking for the impossible, or making requests that don’t fit the long-term content goals, too.
Unfortunately, this is one of those skills that comes with time. There’s no magic spell or quick way to develop confidence. The more you practise the other skills, the more confident you’re likely to become.
You’re going to face setbacks. That’s just how it is.
But, when cold emails only get opened 24% of the time, and building your following is a long-term game where you train the algorithms to show your content to more people, it can be really hard to keep going when it feels like an uphill battle.
Sure, this can build resilience, but if you don’t have some of it to begin with, you’re going to find it more challenging.
A curious pattern I’ve noticed is that, when I ask people if they think they’re resilient, those who insist they are, are the ones least likely to be resilient.
Think about that for a moment: the more someone insists they’re resilient, the less likely they are to be resilient.
This isn’t a scientific study by any means, but it’s the pattern I’ve noticed from the last five years of teaching writing mindset.
The ones who are more resilient are too busy getting on with things and shrugging off setbacks to dwell on if they’re resilient or not.
It almost feels like the people who insist they’re resilient are trying to convince themselves they possess a skill that they need to work on.
And I get it. We all want to believe we bounce back from setbacks easily.
Truth is, though, most of us don’t. Especially if it’s something we care about a lot.
And that’s ok. It’s much better to acknowledge that and remember that resilience is a skill than to dig your heels in and insist it’s a skill you have when you don’t.
Much like confidence, resilience develops over time.
And a hell of a lot of hard work, both on your content marketing and yourself.
It’s not an easy skill to develop. But I promise you, it’s the most rewarding one on this list and will lead to the least regrets in life.
These aren’t as important as the skills above for content marketers. Yet.
But I wanted to highlight them because audio and video content is on the rise, which means any content marketer who doesn’t know how to make the most of these mediums could get left behind.
More and more businesses are wanting videos scripted or edited.
Quite often, when wanting to create a video, a business will think that they can script it themselves and just outsource the animation itself.
Then, when they come to write the script, they realise it sounds like a 2010 version of Siri reciting from a script. It’s robotic, it’s unnatural, and it’s cringeworthy.
The more characters involved in the script, the harder it gets.
Scriptwriting is a combination of storytelling, characterisation, dialogue, and sometimes description skills. (Sometimes the animator will do the description.)
These are all skills associated with novel writing, but they’re just as important for writing business content, even blog posts.
If you’d like to brush up on your storytelling and editing skills, check out this great interview I did below with Fictionary CEO and editor Kristina Stanley:
What she says about the psychology behind stories is just as relevant for nonfiction as it is for fiction.
As more businesses embrace podcasting, they’re going to want to hire content marketers who know their way around tools like Audacity, Descript, and Premier Pro.
This is probably going to be more important for employees, but if you’re a business owner, knowing how yo use these tools will make it a lot easier for you to create your own content on your own schedule.
Much like audio editing, video editing is going to become even bigger as time goes on.
You don’t need fancy tools to do it – you can edit on your phone using something like iMovie – but it never hurts to brush up on your video-editing skills.
It might help you stand out when you apply for a job, and it could make you indispensable for your employer. Most will probably want you to know your way around a particular programme, such as Adobe Premier, so it helps to at least learn the basics.
If you enjoy it, it could even become a new revenue stream for you as a freelancer.
Skills like writing are often focused on when it comes to becoming a content marketer, but there’s so much more to it than that. The right mindset is just as important as your writing skills. If not more so.
Writing skills are easy to learn; it’s not so easy to change your mindset.
The right mindset will ensure that you adapt to the ever-changing landscape of content marketing, providing your audience with what they need, when they need it. This will help you to communicate with them in an engaging way, and lead to more sales and revenue.
What skills do you think are important in a content marketer? Let me know in the comments below!