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, fill out the form here.
I started freelancing in 2014 on the side while working in another field. I made $60,000 that year. I didn't move into content full time until 2022 and made $115,000 in salary and $130,000 full compensation in my first full-time content job.
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Full-time job: $170,000 full compensation
Freelance business gross: $100,000
The biggest salary jump I made in my freelance career was in 2022 when I scored on full year contract worth $60,000 and was on the market looking for full-time jobs and a number of companies I didn't end up accepting a role from wanted to work with me on a freelance basis. I made $170,000 that year (more than I was making at my job) but it was too much work with a full-time job.
I once received performance and retention related salary increases that added up to $30,000 in less than a year of working at an employer. My employer recognized the value I was adding and proactively moved to retain me.
I'm a knowledge translator. I'm able to quickly learn very complex things and then explain them in an easy to understand way at the appropriate level for the audience in question. For that reason, I specialize in thought leadership and primarily write white papers and research reports in my freelance work. I can write them fairly quickly now.
I don't read business/marketing/productivity/writing books. I think the last one I read was Carol Dweck's book Mindset about a decade ago and I liked it at the time. As someone who is neurodivergent, I think I've gained more professionally from books about disability because I learned how to work in ways that worked for me rather than how everyone else does. My advice to others is to chart their own paths, as well.
I don't have a career coach but I've worked closely with someone who heads an agency and she taught me everything she knows about content strategy. That has been invaluable and I don't think I could have learned it as quickly without her. My old partner also was an expert at SEO and taught me everything he knew about that. This was also invaluable.
Because I was a freelancer for 9 years before going in house, I learned how to work quickly and efficiently since I was making money on a per project basis. I find I can write good copy much faster than most writers for this reason. I create a quick outline first and then fill it in. Because I've written so, so much content I understand very intimately how each part of an article should work. Generally, I can write 1,000 words an hour. But I can't do that all day. I am also good at knowing how to structure my days to correspond with my fluctuating energy and capacity throughout the day. I also need to block the rest of the world out when doing that by listening to the same song on repeat while doing it -- which is a common tactic to improve concentration for people with ADHD. People with ADHD are known for being bad at attention but we also have the ability to hyperfocus and, for me, it's about understanding how to tap into that.
I also keep a running list of my to dos which I break down by day and if I'm struggling to concentrate break down by what I hope to do each hour. The goal is to remove any cognitive work in deciding what to work on when. I'll look at my to do list before I stop working for the day and prepare it for the next morning so I don't have to think about what to work on when I get back to work the next day. I do this with my freelance work as well.
My boss tells me one thing she likes about me is that -- while I'm not a perfectionist -- I have very high standards around content. She's often told me that something is good enough and I will say that it can be better with just a little more work and then I'll make it significantly better. She appreciates that even within the intensity of working at a startup, I'm focused on quality rather than just getting all the things done. I'm also opinionated but strategically so. I won't die on every hill but I have a track record for picking hills to die on where it's proven that I was right afterwards. So, I've built a lot of trust around my judgement and strategy.
The other thing that I'd say is that I'm very, very good to my people. Whether you're freelancing for me or working with me, I am a servant leader who will treat you well, get you what you need to unblock you, and advocate for you. As I'm at a startup with a small marketing team, I am only as good as the freelancers who support me and who are willing to work with me. I make sure that my colleagues treat those freelancers well, once got a freelancer a raise on his rate for his good work and am approachable and responsive for questions or issues that come up. I even personally lent a freelancer money when we suddenly changed our payment terms and they were struggling to make rent having expected to get their invoice paid in time. I deeply care about my colleagues and my freelancers and want to support them however I can. Even sometimes in unconventional ways. As a freelancer myself, I also know how I don't like to be treated and I use that knowledge to try to create a freelancer-friendly environment where people will stay working with us for years because it's a good experience for them. Good freelancers are invaluable.
The other thing that I'll say is that as someone who is neurodivergent and disabled myself, I try to give talented disabled people opportunities that they might not otherwise get. I think being able to identify writing talent that hasn't been developed due to cultural biases around disabled workers and provide mentorship around that is part of what makes me successful. It's also helped me learn how to effectively teach different forms of content writing to people new to it.
For years, I've always said that I don't have good advice for how to get into freelance content marketing because the way I got into it was very incidental and based on coincidence and chance. Then, once I got my first break, I spent years just coasting via recommendations from editors I worked with or inbound requests. My freelance income collapsed in 2020 partly because I didn't know how to get new clients -- they'd always just come to me. In fact, it only rebounded in 2021 because of recommendation to an agency that is now my biggest client that came from an editor I'd worked with years before. While I have now taught myself ways to get clients when needed, I think there's a lesson in my past: do great work, do it before deadline, and be friendly to work with. I think all those things contributed to how many recommendations I've gotten throughout my career. People thought of me when asked for a recommendation or they moved to a new job. I also work in a number of technical niches that tend to pay better.
Around getting to $100,000 in your day job, I applied for hundreds of jobs in 2022 and the salaries for content jobs vary wildly. Some Writer jobs had salary ranges higher than some Senior Content Marketing Manager jobs. I focused on applying to well-funded highly technical startups because they tended to pay better. Then, I had companies competing over me and I was able to get companies to increase their offers.