What I Wish My Younger Content Professional Self Knew

Shelby Hill is Associate Director of Editorial Services at Skyword.

This industry of ours is so new that it might just be able to drink legally. Seriously, Wikipedia -- yes, I used it as a source, and my college professors just rolled their eyes -- claims the phrase “content marketing” was first used in 1996.

Although the practice of using content to market a business goes back much further than the ‘90s (check out this cool infographic), content marketing as we know it is always changing and growing. There’s so much a seasoned content professional has learned in just a few years; and with a decade under your belt, you’re practically an expert.

So whether you’re just starting out in this field, or you’ve been around the block a time or two, take a look at what 10 accomplished industry pros (and I) have to say:

On Career

Get over your imposter syndrome. Everyone – from that senior executive to those so-called gurus – is still figuring this whole ‘content’ thing out because the space is evolving so incredibly fast. So, be more confident, take more risks, trust your gut, and know that the creative ideas you were terrified to share in a meeting or present to a big client are actually the ones that will be most successful for the company and rewarding for yourself.
— Katelyn Holbrook, Co-Executive Director of Boston Content and SVP of Version 2.0 Communications
Be less concerned with money and promotion, and more concerned with becoming an expert in your field. Don’t learn enough just to get by, get promoted, or earn a raise…Become an expert in your craft. Soak in every learning opportunity like a sponge. Knowledge is power. The money will follow.
— Kate Westervelt, Director of Content Strategy at Purple Carrot
Be curious. Ask questions and don’t limit yourself to what you think is required of you based on your job description. Also, don’t be afraid to challenge or push back on the way something’s always been done…Challenge yourself to get out of that ‘day to day’ mindset and consider how your contribution is impacting not only your team or department, but the organization as a whole, and what small adjustments could have a major impact.
— Mary Austin Williams, Editor-in-Chief of the Boston Content blog and Managing Editor at CommunityCo
I wish my younger content professional self knew the importance of measurement. Content is one of the hardest budget lines to measure ROI. By learning that struggle early and finding clever ways to justify the spend to management, you’ll have more success (and more money).
— Jessica Marble, Marketing Manager at Care@Work, a division of Care.com
Never stop networking; never quit your side hustle; never stop take your finger off the pulse of the industry. It’s easy to get tunnel vision in a single job and forget the bigger picture: your career. But by doing those three things you’ll become a better content professional for your current company and for your future. It’s a win-win.
— Shelby Hill, Associate Director of Editorial Services at Skyword and contributor to the Boston Content blog
When starting out in this industry, the easiest way to wrap my head around ‘content’ was to think of it like a personal relationship. You don’t meet someone you like and immediately ask them to be your BFF, which is what some advertisers tend to do. You get to know each other and eventually connect on a deeper level. That’s what relevant and interesting content can do for a brand and its audience. You might not see results right away, but in the end, you’ve nurtured a loyal customer and that’s sometimes even more valuable than the immediate sell.
— Megan Birch, Content Strategist at Small Army

On Writing

Good storytelling will always win out…Storytelling is what connects us: brands to people; people to products; people to, well, more people. The thing I wish I understood earlier on was that the way in which we tell stories will evolve rapidly, and the earlier on I accepted that truth, the faster I could get around to learning the new and evolving tools of the trade. I would have jumped feet-first into learning Photoshop, video editing, social monitoring tools, and SEO tools. Roll with the tide and learn the new tools of the trade.
— Kate Westervelt, Director of Content Strategy at Purple Carrot
You can’t schedule inspiration in 30- or 60-minute intervals. Often enough, brainstorming meetings just fall flat, leading to clichés or topic traps…Instead, always be open and seeking out new blog ideas in your daily activities, and just let creativity find you.
— Julia Dunlea, Senior Manager of Media and Analyst Relations at Applause
The hardest part about being a writer is removing your own words, editing yourself. As a young journalist, I got hung up on length: The longer the story must mean the better the story. It took a while, but over time I came to realize the opposite: The shorter the story, the better the story. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the 3,000-word narrative. But it does mean if a story can be told in 1,200 words, it can often be told better in 700 words. And if a story can be told in 700 words, it might be amazing in 300 words. Never has this been more true than today, when holding a reader’s attention is harder than ever. Shorter stories with more visuals — photos, video, graphics — can be 10 times more powerful than longer stories. But you have to be willing to sacrifice words and reporting, and that’s never easy.
— Doug Most, Head of BG BrandLab Studio at The Boston Globe
When I was in my 20s, a writer friend wrote a poem about me called “Foreclosure.” She got it published. That’s poetic irony, because the poem was about how I used to get paralyzed by my internal editor whenever I wrote…If I could send a message to younger self it would be this: Lighten up on the super ego, kid. We’re all winging it out here. Even those of us who’ve been doing it for decades. But you get better with every word you write. And you’ll never write anything wonderful, if you never write anything at all.
— Darcy Jacobsen, Co-Founder of The Wednesday Group
You don’t need to win a content marketing award with every blog post! When I first started writing blogs professionally, there were times I would just stare at a blank Google Doc for hours, trying to think of the perfect opening line as if my career depended on it. Now, I just start writing, build the foundation, and then worry about the finishing touches that bring it to life.
— Chris Kiertz, Marketing Manager at Salsify

Thumbnail image courtesy of Unsplash.