For businesses and individuals who need
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
Recently, several big-name magazines--including Money and Time--have moved from print to digital-only or reduced their number of annual issues. Some see those actions as a sure sign that "Print as mass media is dead." Others, like Walsworth, clearly disagree. "Print Magazines Aren't Dying and Here's Why," proclaims an article written late in 2021.
As a freelance writer and content marketer, I'm watching the print magazine industry carefully. Will readers who can't or won't read magazines online have access to print magazines in the next decade? Will magazines that switch to digital-only content thrive in the long term?
Who knows? Even the industry gurus disagree. However, one thing seems obvious: the relationship between freelancer writers, readers and print magazines is evolving. Content Challenge #11 takes a brief look at what that means now and may mean in the future.
What This Means for Freelance Writers
If you look only at the recent drop in print magazine titles, you might be a really gloomy freelance writer. Where will you pitch your next article? Who will you contact? HOW WILL YOU SURVIVE?
There is another side to the coin, especially since most of the magazines no longer in print are still available online. People are still writing words for other people to read. Online magazines regularly post articles and blog posts that appeal to their target market. The result is largely unaffected, even though the process is different. To thrive, freelance writers will need to "go where the jobs are" and fine-tune their skills to match a digital audience.
How Readers Are Affected
Your opinion of the changes in the print magazine industry depends upon whether you prefer to hold a paper copy in your hand as you read or scroll through the text on your phone or laptop.
Readers who prefer to read online generally find the switch to digital copy a bonanza. As more magazines move to online formats, readers appreciate:
Today's Call to Action
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
Which magazine format do you prefer, and why? Drop me a quick comment to let me know.
A quote from the Times Record News summarizes this book well: "The Wolves at the Door is for anyone who has ever been told, 'No. You can't.'"
A headline version of the book might read: "Baltimore socialite and amputee becomes America's greatest female spy."
Both summaries are accurate but understated.
Today's Content Marketing Challenge highlights the bravery and determination of Virginia Hall--America's greatest female spy--and the biography that shares her story--The Wolves at the Door.
Virginia Hall was an American who grew up in Baltimore. After traveling through Europe with her family as a child, Virginia left home in 1931 to live in France and pursue her dream of serving the United States as a Foreign Service Officer. Denied the opportunity to serve because of her gender and her handicap, Virginia moved to Britain to work for British Special Operations Executive (SOE). There she learned the trade of espionage and sabotage.
Throughout World War II, Virginia worked tirelessly to defeat Naziism. Operating inside occupied France–with the help of the French Underground–Virginia helped POWs and downed airmen escape to England, secured safe houses for agents, sabotaged transportation and communication hubs, operated a suitcase radio, and narrowly escaped capture numerous times.
Kudos go to the author, Judith L. Pearson. She handles suspenseful, dark, and dangerous content without sugar-coating it or magnifying it beyond reason. The account churns with turbulence but doesn't completely drown the reader.
Virginia Hall's life inspires us because she was a real heroine who:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
Recommend a book you've read recently.
1. What's the basic storyline or content area?
2. What's your field? Freelancing? Education? Business? Something else?
3. What makes your choice worth reading?
The original freelancers were mercenary soldiers hired for their "free lances." At first glance, they don't bear much resemblance to today's freelancers hired on a contract basis and working from home. However, they share one noticeable trait. Both freelancers and "free lances" belonged to a veritable army.
According to the Freelancers Union, there were 57 million freelancers in the United States in 2019. Website Builder says that, as a group, freelancers spent more than a billion hours each week freelancing and contributed $1 trillion to the economy.
If your interests lie specifically in freelance writing, how can you set yourself apart from the freelancing hoards? Content Challenge #4 examines 10 signs that indicate you might thrive as a freelance writer.
What Makes a Great Freelance Writer?
There is no magic formula for success as a freelance writer, but having certain traits and honing specific skills can help you jumpstart your career and keep accelerating.
Freelance writers who thrive are:
1. Compelled to write. Regardless of how busy they are, people who make great freelance writers find time to write. I don't mean that they're writing a novel destined for the bestseller's list. I mean that they routinely write something, whether that's a card, note, newsletter, article, or poem. If you rarely write, you aren't a good candidate for freelance writing.
2. Adaptable. Writing is a process. It's also fluid. Each iteration includes changes. Sometimes the project is so fluid that the actual result looks vastly different from the first draft. A successful freelance writer expects to make changes, makes them graciously, and learns to factor in the time and expense that making them requires.
3. Trustworthy. I have never met any of my clients face-to-face before being hired. Only a handful have interviewed me via Zoom before contracting with me. A few called to speak with me. Essentially, these companies hired a stranger after reading my profile or proposal on Upwork and reviewing some work samples.
By contracting with me, they trust that my work quality will meet their expectations, that I will bill them only for the work I've done, and that I'll meet their requirements and deadlines. Great content marketers guard the trust their clients place in them.
4. Inquisitive. Creating content means learning new things. If you like the adventure of discovery, content writing may suit you to the proverbial T.
5. Meticulous about their craft. Excellent freelance writers set high standards for themselves and their writing. They balance the reality that language is constantly changing with the fact that the goal of writing is effective communication.
6. Knowledgeable. As I mentioned earlier, freelance writing is huge and growing each day, thanks to technological advances and a pandemic. Successful freelancers understand the market as a whole and have identified their place in it. They also understand the nuances of difference between writing for the web and writing for print.
7. Self-disciplined. Whether they are copywriters, content marketers, journalists, ghostwriters, or some other type of writer, great freelancers work diligently on every project for each client. They know how to slot time for each project, limit interruptions, and get mentally focused.
8. Willing to take the time to research. No freelancer understands every topic. Research is a given. Terrific freelance writers thrive on careful research done efficiently.
9. Careful to meet deadlines. Meeting deadlines gets tricky if your clients live halfway around the world. Nevertheless, clients expect you to adjust your schedule to meet their deadlines on time, even if that means submitting work no later than 2:00 a.m. A successful freelance writer accepts this as part of the job.
10. Careful to follow directions. Content writers who thrive assume that their clients mean what they say. So, they faithfully follow the guidelines for word length, style, and format.
Today's YACHT CTA
Does the list describe you? While you consider that, also consider today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you've thought about freelance writing and believe you might thrive as a freelance writer, take the first steps to enter the field by learning more. The Freelancers Union site contains a wealth of information. If you're interested in content marketing or copywriting, Copyblogger is an excellent resource, as is the Content Marketing Institute.
Go ahead, take the first step.
Today is February 1. According to an article in the New York Post in 2020, most Americans abandon their New Year's resolutions by February 1. The Post article goes on to say that 68% of those polled admitted to quitting well before February 1st, and 1 in 7 admit that they "never actually believe they'll see their resolution through in the first place."
I wish I could say that I don't understand someone whose resolutions vanish into thin air by February 1, but I do. My single, long-term resolution for 2022 isn't dead and buried, but it's inching closer to the grave day by day. I empathize.
New Year's Resolutions and Content Marketing?
How does this relate to content marketing and a content challenge?
I didn't start the year with an official resolve to improve my content writing skills. I should have. As a freelance content marketer and copywriter, I need to improve my skills consistently. I realized my error while taking my morning walk two days ago and decided it was time to remedy that mistake.
I knew I needed a specific content marketing goal. However, in light of my shaky start with my only New Year's resolution, I hesitated. When I thought of Julie Powell, of Julie and Julia fame, I began brainstorming about year-long writing projects. Then reason kicked in, and I remembered responsibilities with clients, Airbnb guests, and our real estate company. I couldn't realistically expect to tackle anything nearly as ambitious as cooking my way through the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and writing daily blog posts about the experience. I needed to start with baby steps.
That's where this post comes in. Starting today, I am committing to writing and posting meaningful content each day through March 2. That's 30 posts in 30 days. For me, that's a lofty goal. Throughout the 30 days, I intend to improve my skills, increase my fluency, and cultivate a sense of appreciation. Post topics will vary significantly and may address professional development, personal enrichment, family fun, or community involvement.
Posts will not include:
To complete this task, I'll need accountability. That's where you come in, dear reader. You'll help me complete this "Content Challenge" if you 1) follow the CTA at the end of each post, 2) let me know you've done so, and 3) explain what happened when you did.
That's the gist of the Content Challenge.
A CTA with an Unusual Name
Here is today's Call-to-Action, which I'm calling a YACHT: "You Accept the CHallenge, Too."
YACHT # 1: Find your 30-day challenge to tackle.
I'll see you tomorrow. I welcome your comments.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines a phantom as “something apparent to sense but with no substantial existence.” That fairly accurately defines my recent freelance experience as a copywriter and content marketer. Since virtually everything is done online, it feels like I regularly work with--and for--phantoms. I’m confident that these people exist; I have some sensory connection with them. I see their texts and emails. I hear their phone messages. I receive the electronic payments they send. Practically, though, modern freelancing often feels like working with phantoms using smart devices. These are people with no substantial existence to me; nor do I exist substantially to them.
Hasn't freelancing always been a bit ethereal?
No, it hasn’t. The original freelancers were soldiers, and they were definitely not phantomlike. Author Thomas N. Brown introduced the term in his The Life and Times of Hugh Miller in the early 19th century. But it was Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe that made the term and the concept better known. Sir Walter used the term “free lances,” when referring to armed mercenary soldiers who fought without having particular allegiance to the cause. There wasn’t anything ethereal about either Brown’s or Scott’s free lances. They referred to actual people holding real weapons of war.
What caused the change of freelancing from armed mercenaries to phantoms using smartphones?
That’s a great question. A man named Jack Nilles is a big part of the answer. Technology is another. The COVID19 pandemic is a 3rd. Here are the highlights of a process that took over 200 years.
Nearly 50 years ago, Jack Nilles thought remote working would help business and the environment.
American physicist and engineer Jack Nilles believed that having employees working remotely was a great idea--for business and for the environment. Nilles--who is now known as the father of telecommuting and teleworking-- suggested that people living in rural areas should be able to work from home or at satellite offices which could be established close to their homes. Nilles argued that this approach would reduce traffic congestion into crowded cities and lower the amount of automobile exhaust expelled into the air. This, he pointed out, would benefit the environment while strengthening businesses. Nilles was a visionary. His ideas weren’t accepted immediately. Some scoffed at them. How could having employees working out of sight be a good idea? Others thought his ideas were excellent concepts, but just not feasible.
Technology made remote working possible, and paved the way for phantom freelancers.
Technology has advanced at light speed from the 1970s until now. Several of those advancements have changed virtually every aspect of our society, including the field of freelancing.
The personal computer
The Internet revolutionized remote communication. Email allowed freelancers and clients to stay in touch and gave them quick, easy access to each other if a problem or question arose.
The world-wide-web also made it much easier to research a topic. Trips to local or business libraries usually weren’t necessary. Freelancers or employees working remotely could find lots of answers with the tap of a few computer keys. The tricky part became sifting through a pile of information to find the most accurate and applicable nugget of truth.
Smart Devices and Apps
The development of smartphones and tablets made it even easier for freelancers to connect with clients. They also made freelance work even more portable.
Once companies began developing “an app for that,” the stage was set for freelancing scenarios in which businesses hired a self-employed freelancer for a specific job, often without meeting him or her before, during or after the project.
Freelancers borrowed a word from entertainers, and began calling these contracts “gigs.” Thus, the gig economy, which Merriam-Webster (again) defines as “economic activity that involves the use of temporary or freelance workers to perform jobs typically in the service sector,” was born. Companies needing someone to help file online tax returns, write their blog posts or develop a business plan, could hire an independent contractor to do a specific job for a certain amount of time. The tricky part was finding a person who could do the job well.
Apps provided a way to help companies find freelancers and freelancers locate each other. When I started freelance writing 18 months ago, I used a handful of websites (and their associated apps) to help me find writing gigs. After testing the waters a bit. I gradually narrowed to Upwork, which works best for me. However, depending upon your location, your field and your background, you may find a better fit with People Per Hour, Freelancer, Guru, Toptal, Fiver or another platform.
Now a freelancer armed with a smartphone and Wi-Fi access can use an app to send and receive messages, submit or accept a work proposal, do online research for a blog post, or write copy for a website--all while sitting in the passenger seat of a car that’s traveling 70 mph down the freeway.
A global pandemic forced us to change instantly.
If you really want an explosion of remote and freelance workers, insert a global pandemic into the equation. When offices everywhere shut down and people were asked (begged, coerced, required) to stay home, working from home became the norm for thousands of people who had ALWAYS gone (out) to work. After nearly 50 years, Jack Nilles’ idea of remote workers had come full circle.
What did we learn from the transition?
The year 2020 showed us that remote workers could dress in work attire--at least from the waist up--and then sit down in front of a computer or iPad and Zoom into a brainstorming session or GoToMeeting with their colleagues online. They faced hurdles, surely, but many were able to function well from home.
When Buffer asked people working from home to identify problems they faced, 2 answers received equal numbers of responses--communication-and-coordination issues, and loneliness. Some of the other factors workers mentioned included 1) being unable to unplug from their work, 2) dealing with distractions, 3) staying motivated, and 4) finding Wi-Fi that worked reliably.
We also learned that contract freelancers who normally work phantom-like from home were increasingly attractive to businesses. According to Upwork, the proportion of workers who freelance rose from 28% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. That upward trend is likely to continue. In June of last year Forbes predicted a coming boom for freelancers, noting that hiring freelancers gives a company flexibility. For many companies, the benefits of locating and hiring someone within a few days, and being able to direct the project by means of email, text or phone call outweigh the risks of trusting someone you often haven’t met and may recognize only from an online photo. This attitude extends to my field of content marketing and copywriting, as well as to many other disciplines.
Compared to Sir Walter Scott’s “free lances,” today’s freelancers seem to be grossly ill-equipped for the battles they face daily. Appearances are deceptive, in this case. Armed primarily with a PC and mobile devices, this phantom army of gig workers is playing an increasing role in shaping the American workforce. Although the transition of freelancing from armed mercenaries to phantoms using smart devices took a couple of centuries, the updated version seems likely to remain indefinitely.
I'm Sandy . . .
I write crisp, accurate, engaging copy and content marketing for B2B and B2C clients. Calling on degrees in marketing and accounting combined with over 20 years of teaching experience, I write for clients that represent industries as diverse as SaaS, woodcarving tools, private education, life transitions, accounting advisory services, and residential and commercial real estate.