Welcome to another post in the $100k Club series. You can see the full series here. This is "My Morning Routine" for content marketing folks making six figures. The goal is to shed light on the skills and habits that enable people to achieve lucrative jobs and help get more people in this club.
These will be anonymous and updated regularly. If you make more than $100k/year and want to contribute, email me.
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What was your first full-time job in content? What was the salary?
I worked at a science marketing agency making $38,000 a year. I was hired as a "content marketer," but really I was hired to pump out product description copy that was loosely search optimized — thousands of them for a division of a huge F500 company that honestly didn't have much of an idea of what they wanted.
I'd never done anything related to search or client management or even really content marketing (I'd just majored in a science and was okay with words). I had to learn quickly, and I approached that by templating out the work across the pages, creating a standard format to communicate the copy changes to clients, and using the free time to read everything I could read about content, SEO, and marketing.
Over time, as I built knowledge, I could weigh in on client projects in a different way. Getting to give strategic recommendations to big companies as a fresh-out-of-college newbie was incredibly valuable.
How much do you earn today? What's your job title?
$110,000 plus bonus, stock, and benefits. Title is Director of Content Marketing.
What's the single biggest salary jump you've made? (either from job-hopping or a promotion/raise)
My salary progression over the last 5 years has been:
Year 1: $38,000
Year 2: $38,000 --> $46,000 (promotion) --> $60,000 (job switch)
Year 3: $60,000 --> $75,000 (promotion)
Year 4: $75,000 --> $87,000 (raise)
Year 5: $87,000 --> $110,000 + bonus/stock (promotion)
Ultimately the company I was at was too small to have career prospects. Jumping to a high-growth company meant an increase in salary, but also tons of opportunities to keep growing professionally and get compensated for it.
What is your most valuable skill?
Looking big picture to understand how things work.
Content marketing isn't about how much you can write or how much traffic you bring in or even ROI — it's about the impact (defined in all kinds of ways) you can have on a business.
Understand what makes great content great. Understand (through research, data, testing) what works in channels. But also understand how the business makes money. Understand what people internally hate doing, or where they have pain. Understand where the sticking points are, and you can apply content (or something else) to smooth those over. Sometimes that means ROI, sometimes reach, sometimes just making someone's day easier — which, trust me, will help you later.
What's the best book you've ever read on writing, marketing, sales, business or productivity? (Feel free to suggest more than one!)
First — read widely vs narrowly. The below recommendations are a good place to start, but I think it's important to seek out the people who are the best at what they do and learn from them. A book is $10-20 to get a lifetime of experience (and libraries are great).
- Thinking Fast and Slow: Marketing is about how people think, and how people think mostly doesn't change. This and Cialdini's "Influence" are the best primers, but I would start with this.
- Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: Great look at how to think about strategy. Tears down the way a ton of organizations plan, and shows you how to approach building a strategy based on the characteristics of your business and the market.
- How Brands Grow: Under the radar, but uses modern data analysis and huge data sets to dispel commonly accepted marketing "truths" (like differentiation, brand personality, and other things that are not as axiomatic as we say they are). There's a part 2 and a companion book "Building Distinctive Brand Assets" that also make similar points.
I don't think there are any single source-of-truth resources on writing or content marketing specifically. The closest is Andy Crestodina's Content Chemistry, which is a great overview of a particular type of content marketing. Ann Handley's Everybody Writes is probably the best book on the mechanics of writing. I think all content marketers should study copywriting, but also think that the books in this area aren't amazing. Check out CopyHackers!
Have you had a career mentor/coach? If so, how did you find them and what have you learned from them?
I think something that gets lost in the mentor/coach conversation is that it doesn't really start as "hey, will you mentor me?" I'm not sure anyone other than maybe my most recent boss would consider themselves a mentor, but I've been fortunate to learn from a lot of folks in the space.
The biggest thing I did as a young content marketer was just email experts and say "I'm a young content marketer just getting into the field. I've been learning from these XYZ places and practicing in these ABC ways. Where would you suggest I focus next?" Sometimes that led to phone calls, sometimes just emails, but all of the answers were helpful and I'm still in touch with a lot of those people.
Everyone was just getting started once, and they want to help you if they can see you'll take their advice and use it.
What skills or habits help you thrive at work?
There are a few that I think stand out.
- Get really good at something first. Start by nailing down your functional expertise, but also take a broad view of what that means. Being really good at content marketing means understanding writing, copywriting, journalism, SEO, social, and other areas at least to a degree. Work from a strong base of knowledge so that you don't have to figure out tactical execution at the same time as big picture stuff.
- Look for the "right thing." What makes sense for the business? When I was starting I used to be confused about why things were being done a certain way, and it turned out that there was no reason. Start by looking for moments of impact before you talk yourself out of them by looking for constraints. Look for what you'll need 6 months or a year down the line instead of trying to hit monthly numbers.
- Try to say yes. Look for win-win situations. When people come to you with an ask, the instinct can be to protect your time, but often they don't need that specific asset — they just have a different problem they need solved. Dig into the ask and you'll find that there are often ways to achieve your goals and theirs at the same time.
- Understand what people want. You'll have to work with other teams more and more as your content role grows, and that will be easier if you know what their goals are. It's very hard to get people to do things that run against their incentives (and I would argue it's impossible over any significant length of time), so look for ways that the work in your plan can help out other teams. This is easier if you focus on what the business needs, because there will always be areas that can be supported by content but are not content centric.
- Have a plan. Show people why your proposal puts together all the pieces. Often people ask for one or two pieces of a larger vision, forgetting that not everyone can see the full picture. If you have a documented plan, it's a lot easier to communicate that plan to other people. And because many teams don't have well thought out plans, it starts to pull influence in your organization towards you.
- Use small wins to make your position the obvious one. There are two ways to get things done: you can go in and present a big case to stakeholders, or you can start executing in an area that no one has strong opinions about. The first way is unavoidable — but ultimately costs social capital and sets you against other people in a fight for resources (not ideal). The second way avoids argument, makes progress towards goals, and sets you up to be in a super strong position when you actually ask for what you need.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to join the $100k club?
The skills above are key. To add to those:
- Don't stop learning. Take side projects, read books, network — learn from the best and try to understand their thinking.
- You aren't trying to optimize your content; you are trying to optimize your business. Content is a tool, not a goal. Think bigger than content marketing and you make yourself more valuable to your organization.
- Intention. Do things for a reason. Don't check boxes. Focus on first principles, understand your business, and always know what lever you are trying to pull. There's a huge difference between saying "this is for brand awareness" and saying "we want to connect our product to ABC key category entry point for XYZ audience, and we plan to spread through those networks using 123 approach." If you don't know why you are doing things, how will you convince people to help you?
What is your gender and ethnicity? (optional)