My Odd Adventures Hunting for Work as a Senior Content Marketing Writer

First an admission ― I’ve been blessed. For the past dozen years I’ve had a steady stream of work as a content marketing writer. The work has come to me through referrals and networking. The equation was simple: Do good work and cultivate an appreciative clientele + Get referrals to other clients = A dependable and lucrative business model.

Until one day when the fire hose of work became a trickle. A new equation temporarily poked holes in my old one. One major reorganization within my biggest client + An acquisition of my second largest client leading to the layoff of the entire channel partner team I supported for five years + Various slowdowns among smaller clients = The end of two retainers and the steady stream of half a dozen projects per month.

Darwinian Calculations

In the beginning I reacted much like the first stage of Elisabeth Kübler Ross’ Five Stages of Grief. I was in denial. I fully expected business to somehow very quickly return to a semblance of what it was before. When it didn’t after a few months, my survival instinct kicked in. For the first time in nearly 15 years, I decided that I would consider full-time employment. So I began looking for a job, a contracting assignment, and/or project work all at the same time.

It was a sobering but ultimately valuable learning experience. The old adage that you learn the most from failure, not from success, was proven true once again. Here is some of what I learned.

Social Networks, Job Sites, and Spam — Sigh

My very first job as a copywriter was in response to an ad on a job board posted in the journalism department hallway at U.C. Berkeley. In those days job seekers opened up the newspaper and scanned the Help Wanted section. Or you knew someone who worked somewhere and they referred you.

Fast forward to the present. Today you start by notifying your contacts on LinkedIn that you’re looking for work. Only some of them respond, even when you message them personally. You do the same with a wider group of contacts via email and phone. Again, only some of them respond. You question your popularity and the rules of online etiquette.

Next you fill out fields in job search sites like Indeed.com, Dice, Glassdoor, and Monster.com and upload your resume and cover letter. You enter key words in search fields and scroll through the results. And then the emails start coming.

The emails push out the same positions over and over again, several times a day. Sometimes new job listings are nestled within long lists of old ones that date back weeks. Even though you entered terms like “content marketing” and “writer” and “communications specialist” you receive emails about jobs as a truck driver, nurse, and disk drive technician. An email from New York Life Insurance claims that a vice president has seen your resume and decided you would be a great candidate to work as an insurance agent.

More helpfully, the tech writer jobs that recruiters send you are much closer to the mark. And some of the emails from job sites contain tips on resume writing, interviewing, salary data, and such.

A Senior Moment

There were 136,500 content marketing writing jobs in the United States in 2014, according to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number is growing as content marketing has become a promotional strategy du jour. So I was surprised to find that most of the ads for content marketing writer ― even those that wanted 5+ years of experience ― had salaries commensurate with junior-level people. One ad read: “We’re looking for a fiercely creative, fearlessly witty, and massively media-savvy guru”―for an $18 per hour contract. Another was in search of bloggers―for $100 per 500-word blog. Full-time jobs based on 2–6 years of experience ranged from $40-$65K.

Where were all of the jobs for senior content marketing writers? I felt like a desperate Jimi Hendrix singing to an empty auditorium: “Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have…”

A Reprieve

Eventually the thaw ended. My network of contacts came back to life. Opportunities equal to my skills, experience, and pay rate surfaced. Cash flow grew more robust. My old equation for getting work was restored.

What did I learn from this downturn? The experience led me to experiment, explore, and stretch my thinking of what I’m capable of. I wrote a book on content marketing writing I’d been contemplating for years. I began writing this blog series and started outlining a novel. It was a scary but very creative time. I’d like to think that with my new and improved perspective I can minimize the former and accentuate the latter next time the work pipeline sputters to a drip.

Gene Knauer is the writer of “The Professional Content Marketing Writer in an Age of Digital Media and Short Attention Spans”.