Most people discover content marketing by accident. Similarly, most people's careers develop (or don't) accidentally.
This isn't always bad—sometimes, great opportunities unexpectedly fall into your lap. But since you can't sit around waiting for that to happen, you need to find a way to diagnose the weaknesses in your own career and address them. A deliberate approach to your career will lead to more job satisfaction and more rapid growth.
The list below may feel harsh, but we believe it's best to be frank with yourself about your professional reality. Dancing around the truth won't accelerate your career and it certainly won't make you happier. Many people have great careers—they are well-paid, have flexible schedules and do satisfying work—in content marketing. You can too. Here we go.
This is the most common reason that content careers hit a plateau. Writing is a valuable skill, but it's just one facet of a well-rounded content marketer. As Sean Blanda, director of content at Crossbeam writes, "When you think of yourself as someone who 'writes content' you are allowing the very people who want to put downward pressure on your wages to commoditize what you do."
Folks who come to content from a creative or journalism background sometimes struggle to accept that writing is an art, but content is an acquisition channel. There are a few people who have built long, lucrative careers as individual content creators, but they are outliers. If that's your passion, then by all means chase it. The rest of us should plan to master content creation, then layer other skills upon that foundation.
Focusing on superficial goals—words written, articles published, links built, traffic generated, etc.—might make you a better content creator, but they will also chip away at your career leverage. It's easy to replace a three article/week content creator with someone else who will do it for less.
Sean recommends looking at your work through a different lens:
To truly increase your value, you need to understand what drives the company’s long-term growth and focus maniacally on that. This means elevating ... from tactics (i.e. “I must publish three articles a week”) to strategy (i.e. “I must find a way to help our events team sell more tickets”). And it means structuring the content operation to lead to outcomes (i.e. “webinar signups”) and not outputs (i.e. “publishing 10 tweets a day”).
This will be a recurring theme in this post an across Superpath: content marketing exists to serve the business and content marketers should understand exactly how their work contributes to that.
Sometime around 2010, I declared myself a marketer without really understanding what that meant. At the time, it was about writing blog posts, blasting out emails and poring over Google Analytics. I honed my skills and advanced my career, and then around 2018—eight years later!—I discovered a major oversight in my skills. I never talked to the sales team or our prospects, and I really didn't know what either of those parties needed to be successful.
Fast-forward to the present day. I spent two years selling content at Animalz—something I've tweeted about here and written about here—and was humbled by what I learned. So many of the marketing tactics I'd used over the years were of no use to me. It turns out that prospects considering making a purchase do not care in the slightest that I could find good long-tail keyword opportunities and write authoritative content on that topic. Getting on a few hundred sales calls taught me a lot about content marketing, namely that I really didn't know the customer.
Longtime exec and investor Dave Kellogg says it best: "Marketing exists to make sales easier."
I love deriving things from first principles and this seemed the perfect first principle from which to derive marketing. First, you hire a team to build your product. Then, you hire a team to sell it. The only reason you need marketing is to help the second team do its job better.
Five years ago, I would have scoffed at this. Today, I believe it in my bones.
This doesn't mean that content can't be creative, original and fun. It doesn't mean that content can't be art. It simply means that your content strategy should be anchored in the cold, hard truth that your work must directly support the business. One of the best ways to ensure that happens is to develop a really good relationship with your sales team. Get to know them, understand their challenges, ask to shadow sales calls and offer to create some resources to make their lives easier.
Sales/marketing alignment is a huge topic and one that we won't explore today. Another way of looking at this is to stay close to the money. This means clearly understanding how the business generates revenue and how you can impact it. The more time you invest understanding sales, the more successful you will be.
As we talked about above, content creation is just one skill. It happens to be a profoundly useful one, but you still have to build on it.
One great thing about building a career in this field is that there are so many directions you can go. The direction you want to go dictates the skills you should develop, and vice versa. Some people know exactly where they want to go, while others uncover new paths by developing skills that interest them.
I never wanted to pursue a sales career, but given the opportunity to try it, found that my years of content creation and strategy made it easy to talk content with our prospects at Animalz. Soon, I found a new set of skills that I seriously lacked and needed to improve on. Presenting, for example, was something I hadn't done. I felt awkward talking about pricing and got nervous when it came time to actually close deals. An accidental discovery led me down a path of deliberate learning. Your journey may happen that way, or the complete opposite (develop skills ahead of getting the opportunity to use them). Either way, you need a suite of skills to advance and all of should be ready to embrace the uncomfortableness of learning something new.
Here's how to envision your content career skills. Nearly all of us start with content creation and start building from there. The visual on the left shows a stalled career. The visual on the right is just one example of how you might overcome that plateau by developing new skills.
Good content marketers know how to tell a story. You should use that to your advantage in your work, but also in your career.
The most obvious way to do this is to (1) report on your work whether you're asked to or not and (2) use those reports to tell your own story. In her post How to Earn a Senior Content Marketing Role, Animalz CEO Devin Bramhall cites reporting as one of the best ways to advance your career:
Reporting is the best way to show your higher-ups that you think like them. The CEO of your company, for example, is looking for results. If they see reports full of data, they know that you aren't thinking like an exec. If you want to be the boss, you need to learn how to weave numbers into a narrative about your work that touches on impact, lessons learned, and future plans.
If you've done great work and hit all your numbers, you deserve to take credit for it. Handing over a spreadsheet full of data sells that work short. Include those numbers in a written report, provide lots of context, explain why you chose to do whatever you did and talk about what you learned from any mistakes you made along the way.
Your reports tell a more complete story of you and your work than the data ever will.
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