How to Transform Yourself from an Underpaid Copywriter into an Authoritative Content Producer

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You probably know that business and marketing are moving in a new direction.

You know that it’s based on producing high-quality content that attracts an audience and nurtures prospects.

And you might know that, increasingly, the author is going to be at the center of it all.

There will always be anonymous copywriters grinding out words for pennies.

But now there is a very potent option for decent writers to start re-inventing themselves as content producers. In other words, as highly qualified, valued professionals who are forces to be reckoned with.

So as 2013 kicks off, it’s time to make a decision.

Will you stick with the old path, grinding out dull copy for dull websites representing dull companies? Or will you venture onto the new path and see where it can take you?

It won’t come as much surprise that I would encourage you to do the latter. This is a great moment to reinvent yourself — or, rather, re-package yourself, taking your strengths and wrapping them up in a great new presentation.

Why choose the path of a content producer?

Well, you might be attracted by factors like more money, more freedom, more prestige. There’s nothing wrong with any of those — they’re all very pleasant.

But you may also find that you’re more fulfilled when you play to your own strengths and start doing work that only you can contribute. For me, that’s the deeper pay-off, and the one that remains more satisfying. You might find the same.

So how do we get there? Today I’m going to talk about some of the first steps on the road to becoming a content producer in the age of authorship.

Column A: Identify your resources

The first thing you must do is figure out what you already have going for you.

If you can write something another person wants to read, you have a giant head start. Most people can’t. And, I’m sad to say, that includes a lot of people who make a living as copywriters.

Authorship of great content isn’t about producing correctly-spelled verbiage for a brochure website. It’s about writing words that attract, entertain, inform, and engage.

You may have some resources and assets you haven’t considered. For example, you might:

  • Know how social media works
  • Be able to write high-quality audio scripts
  • Have good design skills and a good “eye”
  • Have friends with larger audiences
  • Have a good sense of humor
  • Know how to produce decent-looking video
  • Know a lot about a subculture or a niche topic
  • Understand copywriting and content strategy
  • Be passionate and enthusiastic

The hardest part of this exercise is recognizing strengths and assets that you take for granted. This week, spend some time writing down all of the assets you might be able to bring as a content creator. Include time and money, if you have any.

Column B: Identify your constraints

Even if you’ve got a lot of brilliant qualities, there are going to be important aspects and elements of content production that you don’t have. You need to be painfully realistic about what those are.

For example, you might:

  • Have no patience for social media and no desire to figure it out
  • Feel intimidated about writing for the spoken word
  • Have no design skills
  • Not yet know anyone who’s built a larger audience
  • Be entirely humor-impaired
  • Be clueless about video
  • Be confused about how to make your writing serve a business purpose
  • Not feel you know enough about any given topic to create valuable content
  • Be out of time, money, enthusiasm, or another “must-have”

Figure out how to make up for any important Column B deficits

Here’s why you’re re-inventing yourself as an authoritative content producer and not just a writer or even a content creator.

As gymnast and powerlifter Mark Reifkind once said, “Work on your weaknesses, but compete with your strengths.”

First and foremost, market what you’re great at. Put it front and center, and make sure your audience knows exactly what you specialize in. And don’t forget to add in those Column A assets. You may take some of them for granted, but they just might be the deciding factor for your customers.

Second, use your creativity and energy to fill in any important gaps from Column B. You don’t have to master everything on the list I gave, but be honest with yourself about any deficiencies that are holding you back. You know what they are.

Often, you’ll fill in key gaps by working closely with another person who has complementary strengths.

That might mean you hire someone. It might mean you develop a network of freelancers with skills that mesh well with yours. It might mean you simply barter your expertise — your great writing on a white paper or some cornerstone content, in exchange for a good-looking site header and some advice on your site’s look and feel.

What if your constraint is that you can’t write?

Remember, authorship is at the center. If words aren’t your thing, you must find someone who can use language to get a desired reader response.

Oddly enough, many of those people hang around here at Copyblogger. Look around and find bloggers or other online writers who have a voice you enjoy. Expand your network of writers, and discover people you enjoy working with who can help you fill in that deficit.

And stay tuned, because we have a few nifty new resources coming for you in 2013 that will help you make those connections.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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Comments

  1. It comes down to who you know and network with. And I continue to see this even through the internet interaction and networking is just as important as off line networking is. I fully agree that you have to first understand and know your strengths than play those cards to the fullest. Though dont forget to continue to sharpen your weakness as well.

    Perfect quote by Mark Reifkind once said, “Work on your weaknesses, but compete with your strengths.”

    That just summed it up all for me!

  2. “First and foremost, market what you’re great at.” It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to market sitting around on my sofa in my pajamas. ;) Great article, great timing. Thanks!

  3. Working as a content producer has absolutely changed my life. I’ve basically created my own career out of it – one that gives me more free time, more flexibility and more income than ever before.

    Best of all, there’s plenty of work to be found in the industry and it’s incredibly easy to break into. And that trend isn’t going to go away the more business owners focus on content marketing as a promotional strategy. I’d love to try my hand at copywriting some day, but for now, I’ve got all the work I can handle as a content creator!

    • Love that, Sarah!

    • Way to go, Sarah! How do you find the work?

      Sonia:
      You nail it with “It might mean you develop a network of freelancers with skills that mesh well with yours.”

      Some people think that they have to have every skill or be everything to every client. I say, stick with what you’re good at and/or what you like to do. If you’re good at many things, you might choose what you prefer to do. Then, solve client problems by delegating the rest. Maybe it means subcontracting, or maybe it means honestly saying, “This isn’t within my area of expertise but I know someone who is fantastic with x. Would you like me to bring her into this project?” Have a line up of peers who have skills that complement yours.

      Maybe the client will want to find their own expert in this area, but at least offering takes it off the client.

  4. “If words aren’t your thing, you must find someone who can use language to get a desired reader response.”
    Couldn’t agree with you more on that last point. Not everyone is going to be a great writer. A lot of people aren’t even good writers. But your business, brand, online presence and so much more are built on words. You can’t afford to miss out on that.

  5. “Will you stick with the old path, grinding out dull copy for dull websites representing dull companies?”

    This is the path we (writers/content producers) start on because we need to feed the family, put gas in the car, buy beer. But it is no way to live. At least if you desire more from life: like adventure, challenge and meaningful work. Your prescription is spot on about helping writers get out of that funk.

  6. Sonia,

    I’m so excited to see what resources you have planned for 2013!

    I always love your reflection, and all of the practical exercises you post here so please keep them coming! I’m going to sit down today to write out my own Column A and B. I love

    Also, your point about doing something fulfilling is incredibly important and underestimated by many. Sadly, I see a lot of friends, peers and family that take a job just because of money or the prestige of the title, and then they are miserable every day! Not worth it in my opinion.

    • That’s one great thing about working for yourself — you can adapt & shift things until you’ve got them the way you want. It may not be pretty at first (it usually isn’t), but you can evolve it over time.

      • Love what you just said here, Sonia. I started working for myself less than seven months ago. I’m realizing more each day how it is an evolutionary process.

        I am still adapting and shifting to find my personal sweet spot.

        You’re right. It hasn’t always been pretty at first. But I know I am growing on the inside and the outside growth will one day catch up.

        Btw, a lot of my personal growth is because of Copyblogger. Thanks for all you do.

  7. Last year I had a lot of luck becoming a paid content producer–I even found work in niches I enjoy. Now my goal for 2013 is to produce content for some of my own projects. I’m paying the bills with work for other people; it’s time to work for myself as well.

    Thank you, Sonia.

    PS. “…we have a few nifty new resources coming for you in 2013″ You have me intrigued!

    PPS. What did you think of the Downton Abbey premier?!

    • There is no shortage of writers out there. But, turning yourself into a content expert is what will separate you from the crowd and take you to the next level. I am in this transition period myself and have found that rather than trying to be everything to everyone, refining my focus has open my eyes and created clarity about where I want my business to go in the future.

    • I haven’t seen the new Downton yet! Need to carve out some time, the live airing time isn’t great for me as it’s prime “get family ready for upcoming week” time. :)

      Finding time to do our own marketing … *always* the bane of the independent marketer!

  8. What I have found when writing content is that as long as you can help someone and it gets acknowledged, there is no greater satisfaction. I don’t think of getting more followers, rankings or anything else but, what I write while I’m doing it.

    I know that even those who visit my blog posts and don’t like them, have learned something even if they don’t admit it and that is simply more about me! I don’t have many regular followers but at least I’m out there writing which is what I love doing most.

    I figure as long as I keep doing it, eventually my authority will be recognized. The world today is already moving to quickly and I for one enjoy taking my time to put proper thought into what I write about.

    Have a great 2013 everyone and thanks for the listen! :)

    Maurice

  9. I can’t wait to see what new and wonderful things Copyblogger has in store for us.

  10. Love this article. So, how do we become better content producers? I think it all boils down to learning and practicing it every day. We can never stop learning and increasing our skills. That is why I always enjoy what you write, Sonia, because I always learn something from you. Thank you for that!

  11. The bingo moment for me came when I wrote down “I know a lot about a niche topic” and followed the stream of ideas that subsequently emerged. All of sudden there it was, a huge fat asset of expertise/experience that I hadn’t even noticed because it’s me, so much a part of my every day life that it was invisible until just now. Oh yay!

    I can not only see a ton of possible content for my blog (which has sadly languished for months), but I have a sense of the kind of specific services I can offer to potential clients. I’m thrilled! Thank you, Sonia!

    • Isn’t that fun? I love when you realize you’re actually pretty good at something that a lot of people aren’t good at. And it’s so easy to miss, that happens with our Teaching Sells & Third Tribe students all the time.

  12. Thank you for another inspiring blog post! I have always thought of myself as a content producer. In fact, that’s the title I gave myself on my business card! My writing is part of an overall marketing strategy and that is how I land clients! Some call this “added value” but I think it’s the thrust of my writing offerings.

    I agree that it’s important to use your talents as your career and not try to pursue something that doesn’t come naturally! Also, I believe in specializing. Someone told me early in my freelance career (which was last year) to find a couple niches you are experienced in and enjoy writing about and stick with those. This advice was gold and, since I’ve been pursuing just a few areas of expertise, my writing is better, more effective and way more efficient. And I find I enjoy working a lot more!

    • Agree all around. And lucky for you, more businesses are starting to realize they need content, so finding clients should get easier for you this year. :)

  13. Oh…and I’m looking forward to hearing about this new thing your offering for 2013 to compare people who need good writing with content producers! ;)

  14. Sonia –

    Terrific article, and so timely for me!

    I have a plethora of great (at least I think) ideas right now and am really struggling on a daily basis with the actual act of ‘shipping’ (Seth Godin reference). I have my grid in front of me with my Column A’s and my Column B’s….now I’m ready to focus on my strengths and just ‘get over’ my weaknesses (because at this point most of the ones that are holding me back are mental – dang it!). Yeah, I have some technical aspects I will need to continue to learn as I become a more prolific online content producer, but so far none of those items have stopped me dead in my tracks like my own insecurities about just doing the next step and producing, ‘going live’, or ‘shipping’. No more! January is my break-out month and I’m loving what CopyBlogger is bringing to the table to help me launch!!

    Thanks for your fabulous insights!
    Lisa

    • Oh yeah, the mental constraints are the tough ones. :) But you know, nearly everyone has that. So we accept and we do our best and we keep moving forward.

  15. I somehow find it hard to understand how you could wish to become an author (and be a copywriter to begin with) if “you can’t write” and “words aren’t your thing” and feel accomplished at that by finding someone who can write – on your behalf? What would you ask of them – to ghostwrite for you? I agree great content creation is more than just writing, but still writing is the most important part of it, IMHO, and the rest of the skills you mention can certainly round your professional profile off, but they alone can hardly turn you into an author.
    Or am I missing anything?
    Thank you :)

    • I actually think that the “producer” aspect is the most important part. I’ve seen people create mini “agencies,” where they don’t do a lot of writing (but they know good writing when they see it), but they can assemble all the elements of a strong content strategy.

      Good writers have a big advantage, and those who *aren’t* good writers will need to remedy that deficiency by partnering with someone who can offer that gift/passion for language, IMO.

      • Very interesting. I hadn’t thought of the producer aspect. Who was the famous person who was asked if they could answer any question in the world? They won the contest because they said that they couldn’t answer any question in the world, but they knew who to call that could. Same idea.

        And yes–that’s a really vague anecdote. I hate it when I want to make a point but can’t remember enough details to actually do it.

  16. Thanks for another great article Sonia. The most salient point for me was to focus on your strengths and–in essence–outsource your weaknesses.

    In the leadership literature, there is a big “strengths movement” wherein one who is striving to become a better leader 1) identifies his/her strengths, 2) works to improve those strengths, and 3) only works on those weakness that could potentially derail process. These “derailers” are glaring performance-halting behaviors.

    However, it seems that our natural propensity as humans is to focus on weaknesses with the thought being that “I will become stronger overall if I turn my weaknesses into strengths.” From a leadership standpoint and analogously from a writing standpoint this is not the case. What the research shows is that strengthening your strengths actually makes you a better leader (see Zengerr and Folkman, Buckingham, Kouses and Posner for additional information).

    What you outline is a process of self-discovery to understand your strengths and weaknesses. The lesson from the leadership gurus is to 1) get stronger in your strengths, 2) balance your weaknesses with the strengths of others, and 3) work on improving only your very worst weaknesses that have the potential to hold you back from your goals.

    Great advice for aspiring authors and writers as well!

  17. Sonia, here’s your Column A and Column B as I envision it:

    Column A – Resources I’m one hell of a fiction writer
    Column B – ConstraintsDamn if I know.
    #amwriting
    #ampestering
    ;)

  18. Too true – I spent five years slinging words for pennies and wondering “why is this so hard?” Last year I sat down and looked at other people in the field and what they were doing and asked “what am I missing?” Turns out the ONE thing I was missing (duh) was having a solid network, both online and offline. It’s an ongoing project, but as it turns out, it also makes this job a lot more fun. More work and more enjoyable? Boy was I missing out.

  19. But here’s the thing. Attracting an audience and nurturing prospects good copyrighting comes out of a greater appreciation for not just the neuroscience of the written word but, also, the not so pretty world of auto-responders, cornerstone pages, editorial calendars and back-linking guest blogs.

    As someone who’s interested in hiring a writer I also need someone who understands the most important thing about being an entreproducer: Process.

    Hell, why is Copyblogger such a raving success? For a handful of reasons I admit but I became a paying customer when I saw how Premise could help me MOVE FASTER… speed up processes.

    Maybe I’m asking for too much in a writer? I really want someone to have knowledge of how strong, effective writing interfaces with all the other moving parts to create behavior that grows my list (grows my business).

    • I think that is an excellent point. A smart content producer combines the creative (that’s often the part we start out with) with the practical (that’s the bit you can learn with a little help & some good software).

  20. I love being a content producer. I am currently trying to close the gaps as you stated so I can become a better graphic designer. I want to make gorgeous websites in addition to providing written content. I think it will be a great package deal for my clients once I am proficient at both.

  21. Great Post! If you know your subject area and know how to write about it in a way that makes your content irresistible, you’re halfway there.

  22. IMO, You should at least have to know how to write to be a successful content producer…don’t you think? I would think that would be the main “talent” especially if your going to make good money doing it. Good day!

    • There are many film and television producers who don’t or can’t write. And that’s a bit more sophisticated content than what is generally found online (so far at least).

      The point is, there’s writing, and there’s the business related to the writing. Both are required, and I think most writers can learn the business side. But if not, you need someone to be the producer.

  23. Good article Sonia,

    You’re 100% right I’m actually noticing the same concept in television commercials.

    The Allstate mayhem and the Gieco “happier than a witch in a broom factory” commercials are good examples.

    Watching these commercials you spend so much time laughing you forget it’s selling you something.

  24. Fantastic post to start the year off with! This speaks so well to me right now as I’m rebranding my writing business with just this very thing in mind. Love the idea of writing down your strengths and weaknesses and though I’ve already done some of this as an exercise to the whole rebranding thing, I think I might just do it again to see if there was anything I missed.

  25. Just would like to share how I have handled a couple of my constraints. Typing is one big one so I now use Dragon Naturally Speaking software to speak words unto my screen and when I occasionally can’t think my way out of a paper bag, I hire ghostwriters (very affordable)

  26. Sonia, love the way you encourage people to play to their strengths, reminding everyone that we do have knowledge that can give others the answers they’re looking for.

    It’s good to be able to package those answers in entertaining and engaging ways. It’s also good to reach out and let others help too. But becoming an authority means opening yourself up to others. I think people who stand out recognise competition doesn’t really exist, and shouldn’t be allowed to (on or off-line) because it’s a barrier to creating networks.

    The strength of your network, how open you are to allowing your network to support your ideas to get them out there and busy solving problems, determines how successfully your ideas get heard.

    It all comes down to reaching out and creating your network.

  27. I’ve got my Column A and B down pat. Sure wish that B wasn’t so dang long. There’s a few things on that side that have hampered my ability to get going. The biggest is money. I need to hire people and can’t at the moment. So I’m left with bartering. Looking seriously now. Great post that offers real action plans.

  28. What a great article for the New Year! Thanks for that! I’m going to print it out and paste it above my laptop!!

  29. I agree that defining your resources is very important and not often talked about. Ultimately, you want to be an authority and understand your full scope and what you can do or write about really is important too.

    Rosh

  30. Thanks a lot Sonia, another great from your great posts.

    Yeah, i extremely agree with your thoughts here. In the past few months, i gained slow improvement on my blog, especially since Google rolled out its updates. But this year, i’m ready to make a huge change on my journey of blogging. I see your point there.

  31. Just started my own content producing company and this post further proves I’ve chosen the right path for me. Great, encouraging read!

  32. I was a public school teacher with an English Degree for 5 years and I did not know that this world (content writing and so much more) even existed until I ran across it while searching for part time jobs. It has intrigued me, as I have always loved to write and have decent writing skills. However, I know absolutely nothing about all of the things that are being discussed here. Does anyone know where I could go to gather the very basic information that I need to begin scaffolding my understanding of content writing, SEO, etc.? I am a single mom with three kids and this would help our finances if I can learn the basics and break into it. Thanks in advance for any information. Amy

    • Amy, the first place to start learning would be right here. Look over in the right sidebar and you’ll see a list of topics under Tutorials. Everything there is free and designed to be a solid introduction to each of the topics.

      Beyond that, sign up for free updates to Copyblogger, as we expand on all the topics weekly. We also have some more cool stuff coming soon. ;)

  33. Reading Copyblogger is more valuable than going to college. Some real gems around here. Just have to read and be willing to apply the wisdom.

  34. Sonia,

    An excellent article, which got my attention, from just the headline alone. But now you have my interest, I want to learn more. I am interested in doing what your headline says. So, when are you going to provide some follow-up content?

    Terry

  35. There’s already enough compliments out here; now where is the follow-up content? :)