Freelance Writer Linsey Knerl on the Power of Content
By Susan Johnston Taylor, Freelance Writer
There’s Nobility In That
If you’ve ever attended a writers’ conference, there’s a good chance you’ve heard freelance content writer Linsey Knerl speak. She’s a frequent presenter at the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference, FinCon, and others.
Knerl’s freelance content clients include brands such as Hertz, HP, and Walmart to name a few. As if that weren’t enough to fill anyone’s calendar, Knerl homeschools five kids (her sixth is in college) and teaches an online course for writers.
We caught up with Knerl to discuss her approach to finding new clients, creating content, and more. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Beat: What do you love about content marketing writing?
Linsey Knerl: A lot of times with traditional journalism, you're picking topics that you find interesting or that touch you on a personal level and you're coming from a place that’s personal. With content marketing, you get handed something. It may or may not be something you're really excited about, and you have to find the thing that makes it exciting. I actually really enjoy that.
How do you find the excitement within a topic?
Number one is a person. It might be a profile or an opportunity to interview someone, and I enjoy those. They always have a story to tell, and that's exciting. I always learn something new. Try to connect with a person.
If I can't do that, a lot of times I can find overlap into my personal life. So, if I'm writing for a walk-in bathtub company, I know the trials and tribulations of somebody trying to age in place in their home because I have a 90-year-old grandmother. These are things we deal with on a daily basis. So if it can't be a person that I'm profiling, I try to find a story that might be relevant in my own life.
What have you overcome to get where you are now in your career?
I think the biggest challenge is just getting over yourself, understanding that there's nobility in making a living and taking care of family and growing as a professional and learning new things. Maybe the things I write aren't going to win an award. Maybe readers are just going to choose between two mattress types and feel like they've made a good decision. Those things are important too.
I think there's an amazing amount of power in writing content. Earning more helps me do things that are important. We have more money to give, we have six children that can get a good education and have full tummies, and those things are valuable. That was something I had to really embrace so that I could go forward and feel good about what I was doing.
Is there a project you're particularly proud of?
I do content for Northeastern University's blog, and I recently had the chance to interview someone who was a first-generation college student. It was somebody who works for the university and now has a child that graduated from college. It was great to see the person who was being interviewed share our article and be proud of how it came out. It wasn't just my boss saying, "Wow, you did a good job.” It was seeing the subject of the interview feel like it portrayed them in a way they would want people to see. That made me feel really good and inspired me to take that same level of extra care with future projects.
How do you find and screen your freelance writing clients?
My finding methods are everywhere, from talking to people on airplanes to combing through LinkedIn content feeds. I find I get a good range of responses and clients because different people tend to use different media sites.
The red flags I get are usually if the first thing they talk about is money. I know everyone has a budget and eventually we get to that, but I actually like talking a little bit about whether we're going to be a good fit for one another and then bringing up money. It tells me that money isn't going to be the one thing they're thinking about.
If the client doesn't bring up money, do you bring it up?
Everybody gets one phone call or interview or consultation. I love phone conversations. They don't usually take very long, and you get so much more done in that time than you would emailing back and forth. You get an idea of a client’s personality, or maybe the mission of the company or the project, and that helps.
There have been times where they've said, "Hey, this is great, we're talking to a few other people, we'll give you a call sometime next week," and then I get a contract by the end of the day that says, "We really like you and what you're offering." And that might be the first time I hear about money, and that's okay. A lot of times I just come back with, "Yes, that works," or, "Oh, I was thinking of a little bit more."
Tell us about your course for freelance writers
I have a ‘10-Week to Better Freelance Writing’ course. When it's time for me to make more money or I want to ramp up my business, it's the process that I go through. So everything from Twitter to LinkedIn to what I say in an email, all that's in there. It's just a very transparent look at how I do things. If you were in my house and watching me work, this is what it would look like.
What misconceptions do you see with less experienced writers?
A lot of people think they have to be an expert in something. You can't fake a bio-engineering degree, so if a writing job requires that and you don't have it, clearly that's not for you. But there are times when they'll say, "we're looking for a credit card expert" and people won't apply because they think they need check every box to qualify. Usually you'll find that, "Okay, maybe I don't have a degree writing about credit cards, but I've written about family things and budgets have come up." And you can find competencies within your own writing or your own life that actually would be a very good match for clients.
But I try to encourage people, especially introverts, to apply for just a few opportunities that are outside of what they consider their routine, and see if the client isn't intrigued. Someone has to be your first client. Why not this one?
What writers do you most admire?
I don't read a lot of business or industry marketing stuff. I read a lot of fiction when I'm not working because that is how I truly get away from my work. I read a lot of classic fiction, and I'm trying to make my way through the Western canon and read a lot of the books that my children are reading for school. I've been reading some of the lesser-known Mark Twain works, and I find them really funny. Everything you read gives you a new vocabulary to work with and everything you read gives you a new idea for how to frame something.
Anything else you'd like to share?
Right now I'm hearing “writing is so dead, there are no opportunities, everything's really slow, January's really slow,” and then it'll be “July is really slow,” and then “December is really slow.” There are no rules. I am having an amazingly productive January because I got lucky with a few things, but also because the fear of a slow January really propelled me to start taking some action on December 27 when a lot of people were still out of the office. I try not to listen to anybody who gives hard-and-fast rules about freelance writing.