Content to go

Reposition yourself as a content provider and strategist. Experiment with branded material, self-publishing and information distribution, and find new platforms for your writing.
By Mridu Khullar Relph | Published: November 22, 2013


ContentToGoLast year, the Content Marketing Association reported that 20 percent of a user’s time online is spent on content-led websites. Thirty-seven percent of these consumers visit content marketing sites at least once a month.

Good content – also known as “good writing” – rules the online world right now, and yet, many traditional journalists and writers struggle to make money. On the other hand, some bloggers report growing incomes and Internet marketers and copywriters who create branded content for businesses are flourishing. The opportunities seem endless: Eighty-six percent of business-to-consumer marketers and 91 percent of business-to-business marketers use content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute.

While newspaper and magazine journalists are struggling to make money with their content, some writers who have embraced the Web world of branded content, self-publishing and information distribution, are making as much as five and six-figure incomes. What’s going on?

What’s going on is this: Many writers, especially those who’ve had successful careers in magazines and newspapers, are still tied to the old model where someone had to approve an idea before writing or publishing. The fact that we can put work out there and let readers decide is, despite the growth in self-publishing and blogging, an idea many continue to find radical.

Being dependent on magazines and newspapers is no longer a feasible business model, however. My first New York Times story several years ago paid more than $1,000. The last one I wrote was a blog post for $100. But magazine writers and newspaper journalists have a huge advantage when it comes to the Internet: We’re content experts.

So how can you take advantage of the new opportunities and make solid money while staying true to what you love? The following tips are designed to help you think more broadly about where you might find a stable spot in the content farm.

1. Niche and authority websites

Let’s say you’re passionate about dreams. You’ve had weird and interesting dreams that you’ve woken up from and wondered frequently if they mean anything. You bought a dream dictionary a few months ago that you now keep near your bed so you can look up your dreams first thing in the morning. You’ve started keeping a dream journal, too, because you read somewhere that it helps you see the patterns in your dreams, and therefore your life. You discovered the concept of lucid dreaming – controlling your dreams – and you’ve been eager to try it out ever since.

You’d never really known about this world of dream interpretation, and, being a writer, you’re sure there are quite a few article ideas to be found in the topic. You sell a few to your regular clients, and you put up those clips on your portfolio website. A few months later, you start noticing that you’re getting a lot of traffic on that page. On a weekly basis, you start hearing from people who think that because you wrote an article, you’re an expert. They want you to decipher their dreams for them, do an hour of consulting, appear on local TV or be quoted in someone else’s article about dreams. By now, you’re beginning to get really fascinated with the subject. Perhaps you could start a website, you think.

You do a bit of research and find that there are 2.7 million global searches for dream interpretation each month. That’s a serious market for this topic right there! And so you build a website.

This is exactly what happened to me and how I ended up building a niche website on the topic.

A niche website focuses exclusively on a small, single topic. A website devoted to the world of lucid dreaming – what it is, how to do it, why you should even care in the first place – needs to have between five and 10 pages and provide very targeted, very specific information about the topic.

How are you going to make money through your niche website? Once you’ve grown your audience to a certain level – say 500 visitors per day, whether that’s through Google searches or your own marketing strategies – you’ll find that three models will work really well: direct advertising through banner or sidebar ads, affiliate marketing (in which you get commission for products that people buy through your website) and Google ads.

Pat Flynn of the Smart Passive Income blog saw his niche website make $1,200 a month in less than a year after he set it up. He has since started a second one.

Income Tip:  As soon as you can, start contacting big and small companies directly to see if they’d be interested in advertising on your site. Start with smaller companies first but as your audience grows, get in touch with the big corporations, too. A good place to start is by seeing who is advertising on your competitors’ websites and reaching out to them with discounts and deals.

2. Infoproducts

The word “infoproducts” may sound scary to those accustomed to thinking of their writing as a service provided to editors or clients and the work as something that’s published in a magazine or newspaper and is no longer relevant a month (or day) later.

An infoproduct is something – be it a book, an audiobook, a video – that solves a specific problem for a select audience, perhaps parents who write or a woman who struggles with insomnia. Figure out the topics that most interest you, research the audience for that topic and put the two together.

Infoproducts come in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes the same product comes in many formats. There’s no reason I couldn’t take this article and convert it into an e-book that I sell on the Kindle store for 99 cents or record it as an audio presentation and sell it for $9.99 (audio and video are typically priced higher). In fact, the opportunities and the ideas surrounding infoproducts are practically endless. Think books, e-books, guides, audio and video presentations, online courses, DVDs, pdf reports, web seminars, subscription newsletters and even membership websites.

If you find that your infoproduct isn’t selling as well as you had hoped, you can experiment with price, you can go back and fix it and, best of all, you can communicate directly with your readers and buyers to see how you can make it better for them.

Infoproducts do require, however, that you have an existing audience to sell your work or the ability to build one. But if you’re passionate about a topic and write about it frequently, creating infoproducts can be a great way to bring together your interests with your audience so that they are not only interested in your work, but in your products, too.

Income Tip: Research shows that each of us has a preferred way of consuming content. You might like reading e-books, while I may prefer to get the same information via an audiobook as I drive to work. To maximize your sales and the impact of your products, offer each one in several formats. Bundle them, too, so that hardcore fans can get access to each of the formats for one cool price.

3. Branded Content

Those schooled in hardcore journalism practices often have a hard time getting used to the idea of branded content. Many writers errantly assume that content produced by corporations is either marketing spiel or will bore you to the point of tears. In fact, writing for businesses and corporations can be not only incredibly lucrative, but it’s sometimes no different from what you were doing as a journalist in the first place.

Case in point: After I made the transition kicking and screaming from journalist to “content writer” earlier this year, I started working with a UK-based company that produces research and analytics tools for corporations. They wanted me to find interesting consumer trends in India and write articles about what’s causing these trends, which businesses are being innovative and how these trends translate globally from culture to culture. In fact, these articles – 1,300-1,500 words in length – are no different from similar pieces I write frequently for a U.S.-based business magazine.

Branded content comes in many forms and many names: B2B marketing, B2C marketing, custom content, content marketing and more. Then, there are the hundreds, if not thousands, of trade and association magazines that are hungry for well-written stories. You’re not going to be able to write exposés about their advertisers, but you’d be surprised at how thorough some of them are about their reporting and how many editors insist on keeping editorial and advertising separate as much as they can.

If there’s a topic that interests you – say, organic produce – look up businesses that work with organic produce (shops that sell them, transporters that ship them, farmers who grow them) and see if you can work with them to create informative content for their audiences. I know a woman who reported on environmental issues for years and now writes content for some of the best non-governmental organizations around the country and the world.

Income Tip: Figure out what you most love writing and what experiences you have. You’ll not only be able to attract higher-paying clients that way, but you will also have a much more enjoyable experience with the work you do.

4. iPhone and Android apps

According to recent research, 86 percent of smartphone owners say they would like brands to produce more exclusive or original content for their devices. That’s a big opportunity for writers who can get themselves associated with these brands from the ground up.

But brands aren’t the only point of opportunity when it comes to smartphone apps. Increasingly, new apps in the marketplace are content-rich and create more value for their users. These apps need information on an ongoing basis. Consider the BabyCenter app, for instance, which is targeted to women from pre-pregnancy to beyond a child’s first year. Each day, a new tip is available for mothers depending on the age of the child and the child’s stage in life. Consider also the many travel apps that are in-depth guides to a town, a city or a country. Writers provide the content for these apps.

You can get this work in a variety of ways. Companies that exclusively produce apps recruit writers, but are often independent and small with limited budgets. Other companies such as Sutro Media and Collca publish books as apps and pay royalties to writers. While writers aren’t exactly raking in the moolah at the moment, it’s not a bad way to get your name in the app world for little effort. Make sure it is little effort, though, because you don’t want to put in too much work for too little reward. Don’t write 50,000 words if you’re getting paid 50 cents for each sale. Sutro Media publishes apps on travel and has yet to cover several countries. Where are you based? Could you write and promote an app with your local knowledge?

The best way to garner app-writing opportunities is still to partner with app developers. While the risk level is higher than writing for an app publisher, the rewards are much greater, too. It could be that you write the content of an app, another person does the graphics and design, and a third person does the programming and setting up. Then the team promotes the app and splits the profits three ways.

Income Tip: When you’re writing for apps, always try to negotiate a fee that incorporates a percentage of sales instead of a simple flat fee. The app will be sold for months, years, maybe even decades, so you want to make sure that you’re reaping the rewards of what you helped create.

Income opportunities for writers who keep open minds and are ready to experiment are practically endless. Apps. Information products. Courses for online universities. Kindle singles. Kickstarter campaigns. Experiment with one of these or come up with your own creative ways to package work you’ve already done and make it keep working for you.

Mridu Khullar Relph is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, as well as Time and Ms. magazines.

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The 3-Step Guide for Finding Work That You Love That Pays

1. Aim wide.

When you’re looking for high-paying work that you’ll also enjoy immensely, remember not only to aim high but also to aim wide. The more new arenas you explore, the more you’re likely to find areas that are a perfect fit for you. Don’t dismiss ideas immediately because they seem too complicated or because you haven’t had much success with them in the past.

2. Determine where interest meets the money.

You’ll find markets that are very high-paying that bore you or ones that fire you up but pay little, if anything. But if you look hard enough, you’ll also find a niche (many, if you’re lucky) that excites you but that is also complex enough to pay well. That is where profitability lies – personally and financially.

3. Be open to failure.

The benefit of trying everything and being open to everything is that it increases your chances of finding that which you truly love. The disadvantage is that you’re going to find misfits frequently. Keep looking for high-paying niches in topics that interest you, and a good income doing work that you love will never be too far away.