content strategist

The Ultimate Guide: How to Start Your Career as a Content Strategist

This post is by our team content marketing copywriter and Content Strategist, JJ.

$73,000.

According to The Creative Group, that’s the average salary of a content strategist in today’s market.

And, if you’re working in a bigger market, the map below shows us that this number can climb as high as $100,000.

content strategist salary Creative Jobs

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But you’re not just getting in this industry because you’re attracted to the high salary potential and strong benefits.

You’re getting in it because you love telling stories. You’re doing it because you understand the power that great content can have on people.

Above all, you’re doing it because you want to build a rewarding career for yourself where you can use your skills to impact the lives of others.

The salary is just the icing on the cake.

And while you’ve wanted to get into this industry for awhile, you’re just not quite sure how to do it.

What do you do if you don’t have any experience? Who hires content strategists? How many jobs are available? Where can I build the skills needed to become a desirable candidate?

The answers to these questions, and more, lie within the sections below.

Let’s dive in.

becoming a content strategist

Why You Need a Growth Mindset to Succeed

The first thing you need to understand about starting a career as a content strategist is that it’s essential that you develop a growth mindset from the start.

Stanford professor and renowned psychology expert Carol Dweck defines someone with a growth mindset as:

“An individual who believes their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others).”

Someone with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, would be an individual who believes that their talents are innate gifts and cannot necessarily be improved upon.

The world of content marketing changes frequently. What was considered “great” content in 2010 certainly isn’t the same as what it is today.

For this reason, deciding to become a content strategist means also deciding that you’re willing to improve, grow, innovate, and change as the industry demands.

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While that doesn’t mean that you should simply follow in the footsteps of others in the industry, it does mean that you have to be willing to grow and develop your skills along the way.

Before you move forward, I strongly encourage you to make the decision to develop the growth mindset that will allow you to prosper as you move through your career as a content strategist.

Skills and Knowledge Needed to Become a Top Notch Content Strategist

As you begin your career as a content strategist, there are a few main traits that you’ll need to succeed.

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They include:

  • Solid Grasp of Content Strategy Fundamentals. The ability to develop a Content Differentiation Factor (CDF), set content goals, and understand how to create high-ROI content are all important foundational pieces.
  • Understanding of How to Develop Audience Personas. Audience personas form the basis for who content will be written for and about.
  • Ability to Develop Content Sales Funnels. By understanding which type of content should be created for each type of the sales funnel, you can increase the effectiveness and conversion rates of a content marketing campaign.
  • Keyword Research and SEO Knowledge. A focus on long-tail keywords and SEO helps ensure that your content marketing strategy maximizes its long term ROI potential.
  • Ability to Create and/or Manage Creation of Authority Content. With so much content being created today, you need to know how to put together content that separates itself from pack.
  • Content Promotion Knowledge. Understanding how to successfully promote content is arguably just as important as your ability to help create it.
  • Ability to Develop an Editorial Calendar. Building a content calendar helps to ensure structure and efficiency throughout a content marketing campaign.
  • Knowledge of How to Track Content Marketing ROI. The goal of any marketing campaign is to maximize ROI. In order to determine the ROI of your strategy, you need to know which metrics to track and how to track them.
  • Ability to Setup and Manage a Content Budget. Understanding how to maximize content strategy budget will put you in a position to increase ROI potential for the companies and clients you work with.

If you’re just getting started, the above list might look intimidating.

After all, how are you supposed to find the necessary resources to develop all of the above traits before even starting your career?

Fortunately, our own Express Writers CEO Julia McCoy has put together a resource that allows you to do just that. Keep reading.

How to Develop the Necessary Traits to Start Your Content Strategist Career

If you were to attempt to scour the web to find the resources needed to develop the traits outlined above, you’d likely be looking at a learning period of 12-24 months.

How do I know?

Because, before joining the Express Writers team, I tried to become a self-taught content strategist.

And not only did I take over a year to attempt to learn these things on my own, but I had a very minimal understanding of each concept even after that prolonged period.

That all changed when I had the opportunity to go through the Content Strategy Certification Course.

In just three months, I learned more about content strategy than I did in the entire five years prior that I had been working in the content marketing industry.

And the course didn’t just take me from having a beginner’s understanding of content strategy to an intermediate understanding. It took me from beginner to right on the cusp of expert.

That’s because, through the course, Julia gives you a step-by-step look at the exact strategies she used to take Express Writers from an agency that started with a $75 investment to one that has reached $4 million in sales over just a few short years.

The bottom line is this:

If you want an opportunity to enjoy the salary, benefits, and rewarding day-to-day life of a content strategist as soon as possible, this course will help you do it.

free course

But, once you develop the necessary traits, how do you actually go about getting a job in the industry?

Let’s find out.

3 Different Ways to Work as a Content Strategist

One of the most exciting things about working in content strategy is that there are several different ways to build your career.

Let’s take a look at some of the main options at your disposal:

1. Companies Hiring In-House Content Strategists

Take a quick look at job boards like Indeed and Glassdoor and you’ll find that there are thousands of companies looking to hire in-house content strategists.

glassdoor Content Strategist

7,716 Content Strategist jobs are currently posted on Glassdoor

The salaries are great, too – Facebook is hiring for a Strategist and paying $103,000-$148,000/year:

facebook content strategist hiring

And while these companies now understand the importance of having a content strategist on their staff, here’s the truth…

They’re having trouble finding talented strategists to fill these positions.

According to another study by The Creative Group, 45% of advertising and marketing executives claimed that finding creative professionals is a major challenge today.

One of the issues here is that many of these positions require years of relevant experience.

And, since many talented people in content strategy are just getting started in the industry, this presents a problem.

The solution?

The industry needs to find a way to groom more content strategists to develop the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to lead a company’s content strategy.

That’s exactly what Express Writers CEO Julia McCoy is attempting to do with the release of her Content Strategy Certification Course.

How to Become an In-House Content Strategist for a Company

As you’re browsing job boards filled with thousands of content strategist jobs, you’ll notice a trend.

They all want EXPERIENCED content strategists.

And, as you see this over and over, you’re probably thinking:

“How in the world am I supposed to gain relevant experience if every potential job requires experience?”

 If this is what you’re thinking, you’re not alone.

content strategists ExperienceImage Source

It’s a problem that job seekers in every industry face.

But what’s the answer here? How do you gain the necessary experience to become a top candidate for one of the thousands of content strategists jobs on the market?

Well, you have a few options here:

1. Volunteer at a Non-Profit Organization. Employers want proof that you have the ability to create and manage the content strategy of their organization. What better way to show that then by volunteering your skills and managing the content strategy of a non-profit you care about?

2. Complete Projects as a Freelancer/Independent Contractor. Freelancing has the lowest barrier of entry and is a great way to develop your skills and experience. We’ll talk about this option more in the coming sections.

3. Work for a Marketing Agency. Marketing agencies often require at least some experience, and/or a strong educational background, but can be a great opportunity to expand your skills and knowledge while working on a variety of different content strategy projects.

The important thing to realize here is that there is no cookie-cutter solution to gaining experience and putting yourself in a position to get hired by top companies.

And while it will take time to develop experience, the career advancement opportunities make it well worth it.

2. How & Why to Find Work as a Content Strategist in Marketing Agencies

Whether because of budget constraints or apprehension towards going “all-in” on content marketing, many companies work with an agency that can handle content strategy for them.

This opens a lot of opportunities for job seekers like yourself.

And, in my opinion, working for a content marketing agency is the absolute best move you can make if you’re looking to quickly advance your skills and earn valuable experience.

This is especially true if you’re able to find an agency that has a content marketing influencer that you can learn and gain experiences from.

How do I know?

Because it’s the exact route I took after working as a freelance copywriter for 2 ½ years prior.

The amount I’ve learned since I started working with Julia McCoy and the team at Express Writers has been incredible.

content strategy skills

From the thorough content strategy training to gaining an understanding of how to develop content that earns real ROI, it has been an amazing learning experience.

And it’s an experience that I’m sure could help you as well.

How to Become a Content Strategist for a Marketing Agency

We’ve already identified that marketing executives are having trouble finding talented creatives to fill roles within their companies. Fortunately for you, the same can be said about executives at marketing agencies.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll simply hire anyone that claims to know what they’re doing.

To get hired, you need to provide proof that you have the skills and knowledge to get the job done.

Doing this starts by developing a strong portfolio of your best work.

Additional resource: 99u put together a great post outlining the 6 Steps to Creating a Knockout Online Portfolio that can help you with this process.

When developing your portfolio, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

They include:

1. Create Your Own Domain & Website. Website builders like Squarespace and Jimdo make it easy and affordable to build an online portfolio regardless of whether you have any tech skills.

2. Show Your Best Work. This may seem obvious, but many potential job candidates flood their portfolio with dozens of projects. Instead, it’s best to narrow it down to the 4-5 projects that you consider to be your best work.

3. Let Your Projects Do the Talking. While you should optimize your website with copy, don’t overdo it. Point out your qualifications, certifications, experience, skills, etc. and let the quality of your projects do the rest of the talking.

Don’t have projects under your belt?

No worries. If you don’t currently have any projects to speak of, you have a few options:

  •  Volunteer to Complete Projects for a Non-Profit. Once again, this is a great option to prove that you have the chops to manage an organization’s content strategy.
  • Start by Taking On Projects as a Freelancer/Independent Contractor. We’ll talk about this more in the next section.
  • Create “Pretend” Projects. Find out the type of clients the marketing agencies you’re looking to target are working with. From there, create a project showing how you would handle content strategy for a client within that niche. You can do this by either creating an imaginary client or doing it for a real business that represents their ideal client.

If you’re looking to find potential marketing agencies to apply to, Curata’s Ultimate List of Content Marketing Agencies is a great place to start.

Clutch, a review site for firms and agencies, also has a list of 900+ content marketing agencies that you can target.

If you’re looking for an agency in your area, a simple Google search should yield plenty of results.

Content Marketing Agencies in pa

My search for ‘content marketing agencies in PA’ led to over a dozen agencies that I could apply to.

Overcoming “Imposter Syndrome” When Applying

When preparing to apply to an agency, it’s natural to feel a sense of “imposter syndrome” because of your perceived lack of experience and skill level.

imposter syndrome

But, as Jeff Sauer, a digital marketing consultant, says, one of the things that often keeps agency applicants from getting jobs is their lack of confidence.

As he mentions:

“The people who are hiring you are just as scared about their lack of knowledge in digital marketing as you are. Digital marketing is new, and new things are scary. Concentrate on how you can make things less scary for both parties, and you will get hired.”

This is a great piece of advice and it applies to applying for a content marketing job just as much as any other digital marketing job.

When creating your cover letter, focus on your strengths and how you can contribute to being a productive employee for the agency.

Don’t get caught up in the skills and knowledge that you don’t have. After all, so long as you maintain a growth mindset, you’ll learn those skills and develop the necessary knowledge as you continue working in the industry.

3. Freelance Content Strategist

When I started freelancing part-time in the summer of 2012, the opportunities for professionals in content marketing were bleak to say the least.

Job sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com were filled with clients that were looking to pay the bare minimum for the skills of freelancers, regardless of their expertise or experience.

Fortunately, the tides have turned. Today, freelancers have more opportunities and are as well-respected as they’ve ever been.

It’s about darn time freelancers got some respect.

The reason for this is two-fold.

For one, the number of skilled professionals that have decided to join the world of freelancing has risen significantly. The initial perception about freelancers was that they were freelancing due to their inability to find a job, and not by choice.

That’s no longer the case. In fact, 63% of freelancers today do so by choice.

And, according to Intuit, the freelance economy – also known as the gig economy – accounts for over 34% of the US workforce. That number is expected to rise to 40% by 2020.

State of Freelancing in 2017

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Second, businesses have begun to realize that hiring a freelancer, or a team of independent contractors, often produces higher ROI. This is due to just how expensive it can be to hire in-house content specialists.

Even just hiring a single writer, inbound marketer, editor, and community manager will cost the average business $221,000 per year.

Add a seasoned content strategist to the mix and you’re looking at right around $300,000/year.

All of this equates to talented freelancers being in higher demand than ever.=

In the end, the main point being made here is simple:

Freelancing CAN be a career if you want it to be and it’s NOT, by any means, a symbol of failure because you didn’t get a “real job”.

In addition, it’s a great way to develop the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to open up opportunities for the future.

How to Become a Freelance Content Strategist

Before pitching your freelance content strategy services to clients, you’ll need to do three things. They include:

1. Pick a Niche. By determining your niche, you’re immediately putting yourself in a position to maximize your income potential while working with clients in an industry that you actually care and know about.

2. Create a Website. Use website builders like Squarespace or Jimdo to create a website that gives you a platform to market to clients.

3. Build Your Portfolio. Using the strategies outlined in the previous sections, create 4-5 projects that display your ability to provide content strategy services.

From there, the biggest question for most freelancers is simple:

“How do I find clients?”

 Before we move into some of the options for finding work, it’s important to realize that, as a freelancer, it will likely take some time before you earn a steady flow of high-paying clients.

The benefits associated with freelancing, such as freedom, choice of clients, and the ability to set your own rates, come with the sacrifice of what can often be inconsistent income.

So long as you maintain a growth mindset and work towards building your reputation, however, it shouldn’t be long before you put yourself in a position of high demand.

As far as where and how to find clients, you have several options:

  • Cold Emailing Clients in Your Niche. Create a list of 200-300 potential clients within your niche. From there, take the time to write personalized cold emails aimed at bringing them on as clients.
  • Guest Posting. Find out what publications and/or websites the clients within your niche read and start pitching guest posts to get in front of them.
  • Contena. Although it is a fairly new site, Contena features dozens of remote content marketing related projects and even a few full-time job opportunities.

For more options, Search Engine Journal’s article outlining 7 Sites to Find Find Freelance Marketing Jobs is a great resource.

Start Your Career as a Content Strategist Now

It’s an exciting time for content strategists.

If you’re willing to develop a growth-mindset, cultivate your skills, and prove your abilities, a career in content strategy can be both rewarding and lucrative.

Make the decision to get a jump-start on a career you’ll love. Get started with Julia’s free course here, or go for the all-access, six-week training below. It’s all you’d ever need to get going in content marketing and strategy.

You won’t regret it.

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