“Content marketing is the only marketing left.” – Seth Godin
You want to know how to start a career in content writing? Excellent. It’s a fun job that makes use of core humanities skills in one of the fastest-growing fields in the workforce, being digital marketing.
Check these boxes while following the road map to your first job and you’ll be in great shape to land a content writing role in short order.
Make a portfolio website (seriously)
Content writers work online. Your presence needs to be online, too. In fact, creating a portfolio website was one of the key differentiators that earned me an interview and then ultimately a job after 9 months of unemployment—yes, specifically for a content writing role.
There are plenty of website platforms from which to choose, and many of them are solid:
A fair amount of those platforms have free versions that will help to get you started (with the exception of Squarespace). Recent graduates in other fields can probably get away with the free versions, but if you’re serious about becoming a content writer then having a professional website with its own domain name will go a long, long way toward building your credibility.
Digital marketers work with websites more than anyone, so having one of your own adds a layer of credibility that most candidates never achieve.
This website will host your resume, your project pages, your blog, as well as written references and LinkedIn recommendations. It’s a step above just another LinkedIn profile for all of the regular reasons (professionalism, showing extra effort, and even prestige), but it also shows that you’re serious about developing your digital marketing skills beyond just writing in Google Docs.
Knowing how to start a career in content writing means you’ll likely need to learn other digital marketing skills that are part and parcel of creating a website:
- How content management systems work (like WordPress)
- How Google Analytics works
- Some basic HTML (maybe CSS in time)
- How hosting services work
Writing and research are still the content writer’s most important skills, but you need to round them out with online tools that enable you to post that content and make it look professional.
How to start a career in content writing without experience
The problem with being a new writer and a new graduate is that no one really cares about your opinion. I still deal with this after 5 years in the working world. It’s not ageism, but a lack of experience and/or “accomplishments.” Graduation doesn’t make you the next Malcolm Gladwell… but you knew that already.
How do you get started, then?
Write for other people: more established professionals and/or entrepreneurs, or even their company websites. Entrepreneurs in particular are always strapped for time and could use a hand in putting their thoughts out into the world.
It’s very common for ghost writers to create content on behalf of brands and entrepreneurs. Until making this website almost all of my work was ghost written. That just comes with the territory of being a content writer—either your employer or your client needs the content for themselves, so your name doesn’t always appear.
You can still include these pieces in your portfolio even if they don’t have your name (as long as you really did write them!). Your portfolio earns more legitimacy if other people and/or companies commissioned it in some way (even if it was a freebie expressly to build your portfolio—that’s no one else’s business).
Learn how WordPress works
Figuring out how to start a career in content writing definitely begins with honing your research and writing skills, but understanding WordPress come in a close third place on the checklist—familiarity with it is one of the most important skills you can develop in this career path.
WordPress is simply the most used content management system on the planet, hands down. Check out these stats:
- WordPress powers approximately 38% of all known websites.
- WordPress solves 60%-80% of indexing issues for Google, making it more search-friendly.
- WordPress has the biggest plugin ecosystem of any content management system in the world, which means it’s customizable (and many plugins are free).
Most companies use WordPress. If you join an agency—the most common path into the industry—then most of your clients’ websites will run on it too.
The big areas you’ll need to know:
- The Posts and Pages sections
- The Plugins section
- The Media Library section
Those will cover 80% of everything you need to know—and yes, this website runs on WordPress, too!
How to start a career in content writing at a marketing agency
Agency life tends to be difficult, but it’s also the fastest way to get your foot in the door and learn digital marketing skills.
Agencies are also the logical place to start your content writing career because they’re usually looking for people. Generally speaking, they have higher turnover rates than larger companies.
These are the realities of agency life:
- Agencies fight constantly to maintain decent profit margins.
- Agencies tend to hire young entry-level talent because it’s cheaper (which makes margins easier to reach, in theory).
- High performers leave agencies after a while because their skills grow faster than their salaries.
- Hard-working people tend to leave agencies after a while to deal with burnout even if they aren’t the over-achieving type.
- Those departures create new openings for entry-level hires to join the team, and the process begins all over again.
I went through this exact process when I was figuring out how to start a career in content writing, and I can tell you that it’s worth it. You might even hop between agencies for a little while to find a place with a culture that suits you better, but eventually you’ll have a wide breadth of soft and technical skills that you can use to negotiate a raise or take to an in-house role.
Agencies also want people who have some technical skills in the digital marketing space, namely:
- Email marketing software
- Hootsuite and social media management software
Demonstrating technical familiarity and pairing it with a strong content portfolio will put you in great shape to join a marketing agency. It’s not easy to learn how to swim after being thrown in the deep end, but you’ll get a fantastic set of skills after growing with one for a year or two.
How much do content writers make?
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? Here are the salary ranges for major English-speaking countries around the world:
- $35,000 – $70,000 USD (Glassdoor)
- $34,000 – $69,000 CAD (Glassdoor)
- £17,000 – £34,000 (Glassdoor)
- $54,000 – $100,000 AUD (Glassdoor)
“Content marketer” might not be the actual title of your first role out of college, especially if you join an agency. That’s okay! There’s data for those roles as well, and most of them touch on content pretty substantially anyway. Andy Crestodina over at Orbit Marketing compiles salary data for marketing roles every 18 months or so, and that includes those other entry-level positions (figures in USD):
- Marketing Coordinator: $45,450
- Marketing Associate: $46,199
According to that same report, Content Strategists (with 5+ years of experience) earn a median salary of $70,385 (USD) per year as well. Not a bad salary at all.
That’s the long and short of how to start a career in content writing. Once you’ve checked all of these boxes then you should start building familiarity with other tools, such as:
- Graphic design software (I recommend Canva’s free plan to start)
- Email marketing software (ActiveCampaign is the gold standard)
- Google Analytics
Start networking as you go through this process and you’ll begin to discover new roads that lead to jobs outside of the usual application process, especially as you build a bigger portfolio and acquire technical skills for digital marketing platforms.