The Long, Slow Grind

TL;DR: Building something worthwhile takes time and fortitude. You have to stick with it and produce excellent content, even when no one is watching.

I’ve been a writer for my whole life, but professionally for the last 15 years or so, and for the vast majority of that time, I’ve written marketing content. Writing is fun, but we all need to keep growing and learning to feel good about our work, so now I’m adding content strategy to what I offer. 

In order to learn how to do strategy right, I’m part of a mastermind group called Strategy Bosses, where I’m learning the nitty gritty details related to audience research, SEO, content analysis, and competitor analysis, and how all of those elements support a good content strategy and should influence your implementation plan. It’s been fun to learn new things and to be part of a community—it reminds me of college, which I loved.  

As a challenge, and as a way to implement what I’m learning in a practical way as we go, I’m applying each element to my own business as I transition from offering B2B tech content writing to offering content strategy to climate technology companies. I’m marketing a different set of services to a different group of people, so essentially beginning at the very beginning again.

It feels like an exam: building a successful strategy business equals a passing grade.

A different outlook

Doing this exercise is also giving me a view of some of the challenges that my prospective clients face. An issue that I’m experiencing right now has to do with building an audience for a new venture.

As a writer, I’ve often deeply enjoyed the process of researching, interviewing, and writing about something. Then, I hand it off to the client and I’m finished. I don’t watch the engagement numbers, or know how many (or how few) people are reading the piece. It’s very rare for clients to share that kind of information with me, so it’s not something I’ve considered often.

Even my own content, like social media posts or blog posts, weren’t that important as marketing tools in the traditional sense. They were more for networking and showing folks that I can write sentences that work together. I’ve never really attempted to use content to build a sales funnel for myself.

The (disappointing) analytics

Now, though, I’m putting much more effort into my own content, and working to make sure that it fits into a larger strategy, and I’m encountering what is an old problem: what to do with a piece I love that isn’t getting much traction? 

One part of my content strategy is publishing a newsletter (subscribe! Share! It’s fun) sharing what I’m learning about climate change mitigation. Recently, I wrote about an organization called E2, which is an association of business owners across the country. E2 publishes a report called Clean Jobs America that tracks job growth in a detailed way each year. When I read that Tennessee experienced more growth in clean energy jobs than any other state in 2022 I was shocked.

I dug in a bit, and decided this is a good topic for an infographic. I wrote out the points, found someone on Fivrr (@hirehtmlcoder is fantastic!) and am so pleased with the results. I’m putting it here, too, just because I can.

It’s a little disappointing that only about 20 people saw it. How do you get work that you’re proud of in front of people who might be interested in seeing it? (hint: you keep producing better, and even better, work)

The illusion

I keep reading about people who build audiences of thousands of people in just a few months, and I’m increasingly skeptical of their tactics. My guess is that most of them are doing some audience-building before they officially begin whatever new venture they have, or that they have an existing audience from a previous venture. Those are perfectly valid, but they aren’t the same as going from zero to substantial audience. (And who defines “substantial” anyway? What kinds of numbers represent a “big” audience?) 

Time for the grind

In the end, I think that finding people who are interested in what you have to say takes two things (besides having interesting content): grit and time. 

You just have to continue to create and publish and put stuff out there—solid, interesting, entertaining stuff. Do the interviews, write the excellent headlines, put out the infographics, share the videos. Put yourself on a schedule, make good stuff, keep doing it week after week.

Share other people’s good stuff, too. Find your community and then cheerlead for the people in it. As often as you share your own content, or maybe even twice as often, share other people’s content. Comment on their posts and videos and images. Have conversations and ask questions and make friends. Go to events.

It’s not a fast process. And, like most long term endeavors, you hit the murky middle pretty quickly. My first newsletter went out on August 16, so it’s been two months, or five editions. I can say with some confidence that each article has been a little better than the one before. 

This is the infamous grind we’ve all heard about. It’s not glamorous, it’s tedious, and it’s absolutely necessary.

People want miracles. They want flash and bang and now you have 30,000 interested people excited to learn about your product or service. You can sell a miracle. But can you sell the need for determination and resiliency? If no one wants to look at your infographic, can you buckle down and create the next thing?

The flash and bang and pretty colors are exciting.

But can you stay interested when things are quiet?

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