In the first part of this series, I gave you an idea of the landscape for content writing for big businesses. In this post, we’re looking at opportunities for content writing for smaller businesses.
This sector is booming as more small business owners understand the power of content. This is good news for content writers.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Just a few years ago, which can be like an aeon in today’s environment, the world of content writing among small to medium sized business was very murky.
Some small to medium sized business owners were starting to see the need for content marketing and blogging – but they were busy people. They were pulled in all directions just running their own businesses. So they looked to find affordable writers in order to fulfil their content needs.
History of content farms
Around this time, content farms sprang up. And I call them content farms instead of content agencies. Content agencies generally have a good relationship with their client and with their writers.
Put simply, content farms were kind of like ebay for content. They were like online marketplaces. Writers would register for these content farms. And business owners looking for writers to produce content would try and find appropriate writers there.
There was no real middle person trying to match the right writers with the right clients. And there was no middle person vetting the quality of the writers registered on these content farms. While there were certainly writers registered on these sites that were good quality, there were also writers who were terrible quality.
These arrangements rarely paid well. It was not uncommon to hear of articles being written for only $10 an article. Ridiculous! These could have been written by anyone … a writer with no experience who wanted to make some spare cash by penning an article that was nothing more than a regurgitation of ideas they Googled … to someone with little grasp of English from a developing country who was, understandably, trying to make a living via some gig they found on the internet.
Many small business owners were sucked into the idea that they could get content for really cheap – and many tried. While this is a generalisation, the results were typically not good. Some small business owners ended up with several extremely badly written blog posts each month – and they published those posts because someone told them that it would be good for their SEO.
At the time, the content world for small business owners was not a pretty place to be. In fact, in many cases, it was downright embarrassing.
However, over time, small to medium sized business owners came to realise this was not an effective strategy. They were paying money – not very much money, but still money – for terrible quality writing. You know the saying: if you pay peanuts …
While some of these content farms still exist, I’m pleased to say that I’m observing more small business owners understand that it’s a false economy to think you can pay someone $10 – or even $50 – for a decent article.
The output was often unusable. I know first hand because I’ve done experiments with various content farms and actually commissioned “writers” to see what the quality would be like. On the whole, it’s pretty poor.
Can small businesses afford good content writers?
However, the reality is that these small to medium sized business owners simply do not have the kind of budget that’s at the disposal of Telstra and HCF or David Jones. And they often don’t see the value in publishing the kind of articles that you would see on Smarter Business or Direct Advice for Dads and so on.
But they DO see the value in is publishing thought leadership style articles. Why? Because they understand that it’s a great way to showcase their expertise, document their ideas and create inbound enquiries from people who resonate with what they read.
What do I mean by thought leadership style articles?
For the purposes of this article, a thought leadership article is basically one written by an expert – and it showcases their expertise.
This presents opportunities for content writers because business owners/thought leaders are typically time poor. They are busy focusing on their core business – so they outsource their content writing.
For example, you might ghostwrite an article which is ultimately bylined by the thought leader. You don’t have to be a thought leader. You can simply write for thought leaders – they are your clients.
What’s the difference between a regular feature article and a thought leadership style article?
Let’s say it’s an article on “how to get ready for end of financial year”.
If you were writing a regular feature article – which might appear in SmartCompany – then it might feature quotes from a spokesperson from accounting body like CPA Australia. It may also include a case study or two, people who can talk about how they get ready for the end of the financial year.
However, if you’re writing a thought leadership article for a smaller business, it might look a bit different. Let’s say Mary Jones is the managing partner in an accounting firm ABC Accountants. If Mary Jones wants you to ghostwrite a thought leadership article for her to go on the ABC Accountants website, then you would not be quoting a spokesperson from an accounting body. In this case, Mary Jones is the expert. And you’re unlikely to be finding case studies on your own. Mary can either provide you with real life clients or – if she doesn’t want to name actual clients – she’ll provide you with scenarios that clients typically face at the end of the financial year.
While this is not an exact science, this kind of thought leadership article for small businesses usually requires less research. Instead of finding two experts and three case studies – like you might do for a regular feature article – you may only need to talk to one person, Mary Jones.
That’s the whole point of why they want to publish the article – to position themselves as the expert and ‘go to’ person on that topic.
Let’s look at another example. Perhaps it’s an article on living a paleo lifestyle.
If you’re writing this as a regular feature article for a mainstream publication like Body & Soul, then you would use a typical structure you learnt in Freelance Writing Stage 1 such as:
- Comment from a nutritionist on their expert opinion about whether the paleo lifestyle is actually healthy
- Comment from a leader in the paleo community on why the movement is so popular and what they think the health benefits are.
- Comment from case studies. Eg
– Someone who adopted the paleo lifestyle, rid themselves of diseases and now have more energy than ever before.
– Someone who adopted the paleo lifestyle but who saw no change in their health but just added stress to their lives because they were always concerned about what they were supposed to eat.
– Someone who adopted the paleo lifestyle but has decided to give themselves weekends off where they can eat anything because they want some balance in their lives.
This would work as a regular feature article.
But what if you’re writing this for a thought leader in a smaller business? Let’s say it’s Paleo Pete who sells paleo products and cookbooks on Paleo recipes. He even has an app you can buy if you want help to keep you on track with your paleo lifestyle. Paleo Pete has a popular website and he wants you to ghostwrite content for it.
For this kind of thought leadership type article, Paleo Pete is the expert. So you would not need to find “a leader in the paleo community on why the movement is so popular and what they think the health benefits are” because Paleo Pete is the one positioning himself as that leader.
You’re probably not going to interview a nutritionist about whether the paleo lifestyle is actually healthy because, obviously, paleo Pete is all about how healthy the paleo lifestyle is. And he’s not in the business of promoting people who could be his competitors.
You wouldn’t have to do a tonne of research to find those case studies that we mentioned earlier because Paleo Pete would have them at his fingertips. They are likely to be his clients and he will either put you in touch with them. Or he could talk about them and describe how he has helped Jimmy or Melissa or Claire to benefit from the paleo lifestyle.
The content writing sweet spot
I hope that gives you an idea of thought leadership style articles. While smaller businesses do sometimes publish regular feature style articles, they are increasingly publishing thought leadership style articles and that is where the sweet spot can lie for content writers. That’s where the opportunities are.
Furthermore, as these articles typically require less research compared to regular full blown feature style articles. Most of the time, all the information is provided to you. But it’s up to you to turn it into a coherent and compelling article.
Some examples are:
A fitness business may want you to write a blog post on 10 ways you can get fit at lunchtime. The trainers can easily reel off 10 ways and it’s your job as a writer to make that article sound good.
A boat building business may want you to write an article on 5 mistakes to avoid when you are a rookie boater. They would tell you the top 5 mistakes and it’s up you to write them into a compelling article.
A podiatrist might want you to write an article on how to go barefoot running without pain. They would give you the information you need to know, but it’s up to you as a writer to turn it into an interesting article.
Some of you might be thinking … if they are providing all the information anyway, why don’t they just write it themselves? Well, some small business owners do! However, a lot are extremely time poor or they have no confidence in their writing skills. They just want to share the information and have someone else craft it into a compelling article.
Sure there are still some business owners who are looking to pay writers next to nothing for their work. No need to get angry about this – just don’t work with them. There are more than enough businesses who WILL pay you a rate you’re happy with.
If you’re interested in mastering the art of writing thought leadership style posts for small businesses, you can discover easy-to-use templates and ideal angles to use in the Content Writing course.