Freelance content creators wear a lot of hats while working their day jobs: writer, business manager, and client liaison, to name a few. There is always a new skill to learn or process to polish up on. But it’s hard to know which areas freelancers should focus on when they’re trying to grow their skills.
As the founder of Stories By Us and co-host of the podcast Freelance Writing Coach, Emma Siemasko knows a thing or two about finessing the freelance life.
In this episode, she talks to Allie about how she creates awesome case studies for her clients, the merits of content journalism, and why creating a podcast is both important and fun.
- Cultivate your managerial side
- Have a goal in mind
- Minimize your tools
- Learn from your community
- Build your business on relationships
- Check out Stories By Us
- Follow Emma Siemasko on LinkedIn or Twitter
- Connect with Omniscient Digital on LinkedIn or Twitter
Listen to the podcast
Watch the video
5:31 – Cultivate your managerial side
As a freelancer, you have to be both a salesperson and a content creator, which means managing clients as well as projects.
“There are a lot more moving pieces when you’re doing a case study than if you’re just doing a research-driven article, let’s say, in that you’re relying on other people. You’re relying on your client to give you a customer to talk to you, you’re relying on the customer to schedule a conversation with you, you are relying on yourself to get the different parts of the project done, to create the questions and to make sure that that customer that you’re interviewing feels really well taken care of and that the experience is super professional. So there’s this project management slash client management side that I think you need. You need to refine those skills. It’s almost a little bit more like being a salesperson or something, in that you’re just like the account manager. You’re the face of the brand and that’s really different than doing a research-driven article.”
7:58 – Have a goal in mind
When you’re planning a project with a client, it’s important to determine what their goal is so you can achieve what they are looking for.
“When I’m working with my clients to define why are we doing the case, I try and make sure that we’re always doing it with a goal in mind. So for example, I’m like, okay, you want to do three case studies, and your goal is to give them to your sales team so that at this point in the process it helps them close a deal or further convince the prospects. And then let’s think about who are those prospects? Like are there three different services that we want to highlight? Are there three different personas that we want to highlight? And so I try and get those things nailed down. So it’s like, okay, we know that we want one case study to focus on salespeople. We want another one to focus on marketers or whatever the use cases are. It varies from company to company. So I say that it’s really important to start there.”
10:06 – Capture the story
Go into your interviews with an idea of what kind of story you want to tell so you can direct the conversation and get the content you need.
“In the interview, I try and capture just the linear story of: there was a challenge, you found a solution to that challenge, and then there were results from finding the solution. But I’m not trying to direct that conversation much. And then once I have had the conversation, then I can look at it and say, okay, what are the most important parts of this that I want to pull out? I guess the other thing I’d say is when I go into the conversation, I often have an idea of what their challenges were, or how they’re using it. Because with every case study client that I work with, I’m holding a kickoff call where I’m like, okay, tell me about this customer. How are they using you? What are the benefits that you think they’ve gotten? Where were they before? So that the questions that I create are designed for that client in particular.”
26:00 – Podcasts are a viable content channel
If you have interviews and other content available, consider starting a podcast. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and you’ll get more use out of the content you already have.
“Podcasts are actually very personality-driven in the sense that it’s like, are these people that you want to be hanging out with? It’s just a much more casual mode than somebody giving a formal business talk. And actually I would encourage anyone who is doing content in-house especially to consider it, because one of the things I’ve been working on with one of my clients is actually helping them take these interviews they’re conducting, which I’m creating content out of, and making a podcast out of the interviews, because it’s really great stuff and it can be repackaged and repurposed as podcast conversations. So I think there’s a lot of room for that in the content space. I used to be afraid of it, because I was like, ‘A podcast is so much work, it’s impossible. I don’t know anything about audio and sound.’ But I think it actually is a viable channel, and it’s not necessarily much more difficult to add it.”
30:28 – Appeal to a wide audience
When you’re writing content, keep in mind the two extremes of your audience: the skimmers and the close readers. Make sure your writing is accessible to both kinds.
“When I write sales pages or web copy, even case studies, I always say, ‘Hey, we’re going to write an 800- to 1000-word narrative piece.’ Some people are going to read every word. Some people are just going to read the headlines and look on the little box on the side. So our goal is how do we tell that story so that it not only reaches the people that read every word, and those are actually the easy people to reach, but how do you format it in such a way that someone can skim it and look at it for three minutes and be like, ‘Okay, I get the gist.’ And I think that is actually a challenge with all of the content we create in terms of, do we have headers that allow people to scroll to the section that they’re most interested in? Are we providing audio and podcasts for people that would prefer to listen to the content? And wherever all of this lives, is it easy for people to find this stuff? If they see that blog article, is it then easy for them to say, ‘Eh, I don’t want to read this. Can I listen to this?’ Or whatever the case may be.”
32:40 – Don’t be afraid of repetition
Repetition helps people become familiar with your message. While it may seem monotonous to you, your audience will appreciate seeing the same content more than once.
“People often need things to be repeated before they gain familiarity. I think there was some stat, and I don’t—whoever is listening, don’t take my word for this. But there was some old stat where they would say somebody needs to see a brand seven times before they recognize it, in the sense of like on a billboard or something. And so you may need to like repurpose content in different ways or share the same message in different ways. And I don’t think that if I see something on a blog and then I see an email and they’re about the same thing, I’m like, ‘Oh wow, those people aren’t creative. They haven’t come up with anything.’ As a prospective customer, that’s not how you think of it. You’re like, ‘Oh wow, they’re the experts in X thing because they keep talking about it.’”
35:04 – Hire subcontractors instead of virtual assistants
Virtual assistants are all the rage, but Emma thinks they’re not worth it. Instead, she recommends hiring subcontractors to take over burdensome tasks.
“Freelancers love to talk about getting a virtual assistant. I think it’s the biggest racket in freelancing. There’s some people that agree with me on that, but you don’t need a virtual assistant. I’ve tried it. I don’t see the value. People have tried to convince me, I’m like, ‘Nope, don’t see the value.’ I do think there’s value in hiring a variety of subcontractors to help with specialty things like your design, or hire a social media person to help you with your social presence or whatever. But the virtual assistant, I hope there’s no virtual assistants listening to me like cringing. There are plenty of people that want the virtual assistants. I just don’t see the value in it at all.”
38:07 – Minimize your tools
If your business is bloated with an overabundance of project management tools, you’ll end up wasting more time than you save. Lower the number of tools you use to increase efficiency.
“People invest in lots of things, and they’re not really worth it. And they invest their time in lots of things, and they’re not really worth it. And my thing is like, well, what’s the minimum thing you need to do the task and get it done? Let’s not bloat out your business with project management tools and all these tasks, let’s make sure that you’re delivering what you say you’ll deliver on time, and that you have some process here. It’s not that I’m not about tools. I use tons of tools. I have a defined process, but I just feel like for some people it’s very bloated compared to what I do.”
39:17 – Learn from your community
Workshopping with other people in your field can help you uplevel your skills. Find a community to learn from to keep your skills sharp.
“The other thing that I think works really well for upleveling skills and stuff is, I guess I would call it mastermind groups or workshops or community-based upleveling. I joined a mastermind a few years ago that was a number of other content writers and copywriters. And I was in it for a year. And that really helped, because I was talking with people and workshopping ideas. For me, the way that I uplevel is collaborating with others and learning from other people. But if I feel like things are stale and I need help, I either need to hire a coach who can help me, and I have hired coaches or various things over the years, but I need to hire either a coach, or maybe I need to read a book, depending on what it is. That’s less collaborative. Or maybe I need to join some kind of community. I’ve joined some where they say they’re a community, but really it’s a Facebook page. I mean like where it’s a dedicated slack channel where someone’s running it, and I’d pay a lot more for that rather than just having a Facebook group that I’m dumped into.”
40:33 – Build your business on relationships
Connecting with people is a vital part of freelance work. Build relationships with your clients—you can learn from them as much as they learn from you.
“Relationships basically are the lifeblood of my business. They always have been. Connecting with people is not just for my benefit as a business owner, but also so that I can help them. I just feel like the relationship part of it is so important, and I can learn so much from other people, and they can learn from me. So I try and find ways to bring those relationships more and more into what I do. And I think it’s also important if you’re a freelancer and you work by yourself, it’s even more important to connect and to solidify those relationships.”
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