How I Evolved Professionally to Find My Calling as a Content Writer
Change is never easy, especially when you have to move out of your comfort zone. However, once you decide to take a new direction, you somehow begin to forge your path ahead. You stumble, you fall, then get up and dust yourself, and walk on stronger than ever.
I used to be a corporate executive working in the HR and Training departments of reputed companies. My story follows the trajectory of majority of qualified working women in India. Once I became a mother, I had to select my priorities, and I chose to give up full time employment to devote all my time to my child.
First Step: Part-time Teaching
As my child grew up a little, I began to feel restless for resuming my professional life. I knew corporate jobs were out of bounds for me, as I couldn’t leave my kid with a hired help for the whole day. At that time, crèches within organizations weren’t common.
Teaching and training had always been close to my heart. From childhood, I loved teaching and had wanted to become a teacher when I grew up. I had pursued English Literature, and later Business Management in college for doing something in academics.
Now I thought of taking up teaching on a part-time basis, for the flexibility it offered to qualified homemakers like me. After applying to various management institutes, I was finally appointed as visiting faculty member at two management institutes. I was to teach HRM, Organizational Behaviour and Industrial Relations in one institute, and Soft Skills and Business Communication at another.
I couldn’t believe my luck! I didn’t have to compromise on my family life, I got the job I enjoyed, and as a bonus, the pay was good. My students responded well to my teaching, and I loved interacting with bright young minds. Heck, I even enjoyed disciplining the no-gooders and bringing them in line!
Then my luck ran out. One moment I was enjoying animatedly discussing about cross-cultural communication or behavioral grids with my students, and the next moment I found I had no job. The recession had necessitated cost reduction measures. All institutes had closed appointments, and were to work only with internal faculty.
I realized for the first time, that I was classified as “external faculty member”, someone who could be dispensed with at will.
Feeling worthless is the worst feeling in the world. My identity was gone, and I was left feeling hollow and somehow cheated.
It seemed as if I was doomed to remain just a stay-at-home mom all my life. I desperately wanted an avenue to share my knowledge, to voice my helplessness and angst.
Enter Blogging as a Hobby
It was then that I started thinking of starting my own blog. I had so much to say, and had no forum to voice my ideas, my learning from so many years of corporate and teaching experience. I started my own blog on Blogger @ http://barnaliviews.blogspot.com
I started small and slow, writing once every few days. In fact, I was so naïve that I used to delete some posts after a few days to free up space on the blog! I felt that topical posts had lived their utility, and consigned them to the bin after a week or two. Talk about consistency!
Slowly, however, I began to get a hang of blogging. But even after writing regularly, the number of views was not encouraging. No likes or comments or followers either! Pretty disappointing, wasn’t it? Blogging didn’t turn out as exciting as I had heard about it.
Writing as a Job
At the same time I had also started applying to part-time content writing positions. I landed an assignment to develop two skill-training courses for a local institute, for which I would be paid a fixed amount. I had to follow the parameters of NSDC and NASSCOM to create course outlines, teaching guides and learning material.
I was ecstatic. I had the opportunity to utilize my professional and academic knowledge to make relevant contributions.
However, getting paid for this job turned out to be a different ball game altogether. “No approval” for this and that, “changes required”, “Still not satisfactory”, these phrases started cropping up whenever the question of payment popped up. I went on complying, making changes, editing, and managed to get paid for one course.
The second one wasn’t approved I was told, so no payment!
All my months of pouring over the laptop, researching and writing, building up volumes of courseware - gone in vain!
All Work and No Pay
The tumultuous, fraud-ridden world of content writing was becoming clear to me. Another portal I wrote for refused to pay, citing trivial excuses. I had no contract or letter to contest these discrepancies. After being cheated for the umpteenth time, I finally decided to draw a line.
Lesson learnt, I started insisting on a contract from the client agency before starting work.
How Much to Charge??
Charging for content writing was another tricky area. I had almost two years of writing experience, but that was mostly through freelancing and blogging. Those didn’t count for real “work experience”, according to most agencies. I had to start with a measly 50 paise per word.
In the midst of all this gloom, there was one positive development. On the basis of my previous work experience, in particular management training experience, I landed a contract of writing for an edu-tech company. Writing on my favourite topics like Workplace Behaviour, Leadership, Performance Feedback, etc., gave me a new high. Though the pay wasn’t much to speak of, I loved writing on these topics, and stuck on for a couple of years.
Soon, however, that dried up too. They didn’t need any more articles.
Trying This and That
Then I chanced upon an opportunity for writing on couple relationships at a portal. I sent them an article, was published online, and continued writing for them for some time. During this period, there were several interesting discussion groups on the portal that I participated in. The exchange of ideas with like-minded people was a welcome change in my rather lonely writing journey.
But, good things come to an end rather soon. The portal stopped paying. They wanted “voluntary contributions” in the form of personal accounts. I drew a line here. For one, I didn’t want to discuss my private life on their site; and secondly, I wasn’t going to write for free.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!
A content writer’s professional journey, I realized, was a roller coaster ride. Sometimes, I was struggling to handle multiple workloads, working non-stop without breaks, and sometimes days went by without any project.
These days were lonely and fraught with uncertainty, and I was on the verge of giving up many times.
After years of doggedly applying for content writing gigs, following up for payment (which was peanuts), losing patience and regaining it, I finally landed a contract with an agency through my LinkedIn profile. In the meantime, I had also cleared the evaluation criteria of a popular content portal. Slowly, work from the portal also began to trickle in.
It was something of an achievement, and though the pay was nothing extraordinary, I had a steady flow of work at last.
My Take-away from This Experience
Today, I can sum up my learning in the following words:
ü Writing content for work, and writing for pleasure are two entirely different things. You cannot afford to be bored by the sameness of the work assigned to you, as long as it pays your bills.
ü Deadlines are sacrosanct. It is imperative to stick to the allotted deadlines for submission. The agency/portal that assigns work to you is answerable to the business enterprise that has employed them.
ü Proof reading, cross checking reference sources, editing, rewriting, are part of a content writer’s job. You can’t say no to any of these.
ü Writing for SEO effectiveness is a different ballgame. Your priority is keyword insertion and in making the text crisp and effective. Your work should have a Call to Action (CTA) effect.
ü Content writing will feel like drudgery sometimes, and you will be stuck with a Writer’s Block every now and then. Be prepared to stare at the blank computer screen in front of you for hours at a stretch. Who said writing content was easy, anyway?
ü Keep an open mind towards writing on any topic that is assigned to you. If you pick and choose, work starts drying up. (My preferred niches are lifestyle, travel, and behavioral sciences, but the bulk of my assigned work is in other areas).
I hope that my learning comes of help to all budding writers and bloggers out there. The initial years of struggle apart, it is a bumpy yet fulfilling journey. And at the end of the day, you get paid to do what you love most – Writing!