The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Content Marketing

Thursday, April 16, 2015

By Mridu Khullar Relph

In 2008, Steve Goedeker, who runs an appliance retail company in the US, was trying to save his family’s business and so, as a first step, he took it online. Profits soared, according to the New York Times story in which Goedeker was featured.

But then something more exciting happened. Goedeker decided to replace his Google ad spend with content marketing. According to the New York Times story, they hired two full-time writers and now spend between $100,000 and $150,000 a year on content marketing efforts.

Did you sniff the opportunity yet?

If not, the NYT story goes on to talk about Marcus Sheridan, owner of River Pools and Spas who published a post about how much it cost to install a fiberglass pool on their blog, and—pay attention to this bit—made $2.5 million in sales from just that one single article. Another business owner in the same Times story, attributes 1 to 3 percent of their business growth ($120,000 to $360,000) directly to content marketing.

Who does all this writing that content marketing requires? Freelance writers and more specifically, if industry chatter is to be believed, freelance journalists with years of experience covering these topics.

Because businesses expecting hundreds of thousands of dollars return for their content don’t hire writers off oDesk to do the work, they hire writers with proven storytelling, publishing, and writing skills.

People like you and me.

Why Freelance Journalists Should Consider Content Marketing Writing

I introduced content marketing into my freelancing business last year. And when I did my yearly sums in December, I found—much to my amazement—that my income had doubled from the year before. This extra income was all from the content marketing work. Even better? I’d only spent 20% of my time doing it.

The work was the same. I was still writing news, profiles, and trend pieces, so why was content marketing paying more while my journalism income continued to stay stagnant?

And the answers to that question are why content marketing writing has become such an amazing opportunity for freelance journalists.

I found that:

  1. I was being paid, on average, more than I was paid for my journalism work. (Between $1-2 a word is what I’m typically paid.)
  2. The revisions are almost non-existent. Both clients and agencies are eager to get the work out the door as soon as they can because they can’t afford to create inefficiencies in their business. This means that if you submit publishable content right off the bat, you will never have to endure the four to five revisions that are typical of national (US) publications.
  3. Payment is immediate. I’m often paid within seven days of submission. (That’s right, submission, not acceptance.)
  4. The client or agency ends up generating a lot of the ideas, which cuts down on my work time.

All these things ensure that not only am I paid more (I average $300 to $400 an hour on my content marketing assignments) but that the lack of endless revisions and follow-ups regarding payment mean that I’m enjoying much more job satisfaction and joy with my writing than I have in years.

More money, less aggravation, same work. That’s why I think freelance journalists should consider content marketing.

Are You Already a Content Marketing Writer Without Realizing It?

Ever written a guest post for a blog that sells products (e-books, for instance)? An article for a non-profit organization that they sent out to their donors? Posted social media updates for a local restaurant chain? Written health stories for the online newsletter of a medical association?

You’re a content marketing writer.

In fact, content marketing writing is so prevalent that it’s very likely that you’ve done it as a freelancer without even realizing it. It often comes packaged as straightforward article writing, after all, so you’d have no reason to suspect otherwise. But if it’s for a business, and the business has customers, it’s content marketing. This blog post is content marketing and if you’ve ever written for The International Freelancer, you’ve done content marketing writing.

What actively learning about content marketing will help you do is two things:

  1. It will help you proactively find work that you enjoy in the space and make more money doing so, and
  2. It will help you know when you’re engaging in it so that you don’t unintentionally or unknowingly cross any ethical lines that will hinder your journalism work or credibility.

How is Content Marketing Writing Different From Other Types of Writing?

All that said, there are pros and cons to everything and content marketing is no different.

We’ve discussed the pros. Now let’s talk about some of the cons.

  1. You can’t be an investigative journalist if you’re also doing content marketing writing. You can’t take money from large banks to write their content and then publish articles in the New York Times about the banking crisis or offshore accounts facilitated by large banks. So yes, you will be shutting yourself off to certain kinds of work. You should be aware of this before you move forward.
  2. Some editors—and they’re increasingly rare—may not want to hire you as a journalist if you’ve done content marketing (consider that both The New York Times and TIME have content marketing arms.) This is usually also going to fall in the realm of investigative journalism, but it’s worth being aware of all the same.
  3. You’re likely going to have two areas of specialty if you want to keep your content marketing and your journalism lives separate. 

So, by this point, you probably know whether content marketing is a good fit for you or not.


If you think content marketing might be for you, you're in for a treat!

Mridu Khullar Relph, who’s been published in NYT, Time, CNN, ABC News, The Independent, and other publications, and now runs The International Freelancer, found that her income doubled once she introduced content marketing into the mix. Now she’s teaching other writers how to do the same. Check out her new course.


Angela Mackintosh said...

This is a great post, Mridu! I didn't know the term, but I realize now that I'm a content marketer as well. I completely agree with you about the pay rate and revisions! I was just thinking about this the other day--that I haven't been asked to revise or edit my articles. I also get to write about whatever topic I think will be interesting for the client's customers, which cuts my research time. Your class sounds very helpful, and your curriculum looks like it covers everything writers need to know on the subject!

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