Putting the free in freelancer: why content marketing is essential for anyone working in the gig economy today

You’ve probably already heard the modern mantra “content is king” so many times your mouth is a little full of puke right now hearing it again. Sorry.

Unfortunately, it’s true and regardless of what it is that you’ll be selling — whether it’s your time, your expertise, your upcycled Patron bottles on Etsy, or your new app — you need to wrap it up in so much content (that you give away for free) you might feel a little queasy just thinking about it. Content is today’s eco-friendly package. Or if food metaphors are easier to swallow (ha ha) think of content as the sausage you’re selling stuffed inside a Turducken (which is a sausage, stuffed inside a deboned duck, stuffed inside a deboned chicken, stuffed inside a turkey and then deep fried. Mmmm)

What is content exactly?

No true-to-form blog article written attempting to define an oft-used and abused term would be complete without the requisite Wikipedia reference so here it is:

“Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain customers.”

So this is content right here — a written text. It may one day be packaged into a beautiful, artisanal, hand-made book prepared in small batches using only organically grown vegetables for ink and paper (stay tuned!) or sliced and diced into more blog posts with shareable links sown across the virtual fields of social media plenty (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook). It can be read or riffed on and turned into a podcast. You can even make a video of yourself making content, and turn that into another piece of content.

Whoa, that’s so…Meta.

Content can be:

a photograph
a hand-drawing
a video
a sound clip
a gif
a cinemagraph
a 360 photo or video clip
a song
an icon
an infographic
a pdf template
a free e-book
a downloadable guide
Etc…..

Content is basically what most of the internet is stuffed (some might say) clogged with. And it’s coming to an inbox near you.

Isn’t there enough of this stuff out there already?

Yes and no. And in the time we took to get this far down the page, another petabyte of data just materialized into existence. Because, even though we’re drowning in content (information) which has given rise to an entire industry of life editing/minimalists and declutterers (sending you content on how to cut down on the content you consume), content, like the poor, will always be with us.

Never before in human history have so many of us, had so much time, capacity for distraction and access to so much variety of content. In an always-on, always hungry, always distracted age people need to feed on content constantly. Whether you like it or hate where it’s taking us, whether you believe it’s a transformative opportunity or just making us all stupider, having near instant access to virtually anything we want to see, hear, read or know anything about is how humans behave now and it’s only going to get better (or worse) depending on your point of view.

How is content marketing?

Content marketing first started creeping into the digital marketer’s lexicon around as early as 1996, but only leaped into the front seat around 2013. By 2014, Forbes was reporting on the seven top ways to use content marketing, nicely illustrating its own point with a listicle title.

The nut of the idea is basically a response to the ad-weariness that emerged as the internet expanded, bringing with it an onslaught of clickable advertisements that advertisers thought were so awesome until they realized that people started hating them, and then stopped clicking on them, and now they install software on all their devices to block them.

If you’re in the business of selling something (and if you’re not, you’re not in business), how do you get the word out to prospective, increasingly savvy customers who may have a visceral hatred for ads?

You change the way an ad looks, of course, by transforming it into content. Which is not to say everything your read, watch, listen to and share with your friends for free is advertising masquerading as content, but more of it might be than you have paused to consider.

Like a trojan horse for your brain, content lets marketers in until you stop treating them like invaders and start inviting them into your homes. If you are the marketer, this is a great thing. Saturate your prospects with enough familiarity and that part of your brain that makes judgements — the mental gatekeeper — stops looking at your content and gives it a pass. From there, it’s just a short hop, skip and a click away from some kind of purchase.

Instead of using an ad to bait your prospect into finding out more about you or just making a purchase straight off, now you need to give your customers free stuff — lots of it — before they even think about becoming a customer, which most of them won’t, but because of the scale of the internet, you don’t need most of them. You just need a tiny percentage of most of them to have a successful business.

Content IS marketing today because nobody is ever going to find you, let alone pay any attention to you, yes even you, if you don’t pump out enough content to enable that discovery to happen.

Is it more work? Yes. Does it mean learning new skills? Yes. Does it cost you more in time and effort than just doing your thing online and hoping people will stumble across you and make you super rich? Yes. But it can also be fun, help you connect with people who will love what you have to offer and actually help you grow and develop into a successful independent entrepreneur.

Because you, dear freelancer/modern day gigger/artist/photographer/writer/startuppy dude/organic food maker…are just not that big a deal to most people. And that’s okay. It’s how you get to be known that matters and is where the fun is at, and a big part of that is making content.

(originally appeared on www.thedigitarian.com)