What do you get when you combine a love of travel, a passion for writing and an entrepreneurial spirit? Content strategist Gigi Griffis. Wanting to be a writer since she was little, Gigi's dream came to life after working as a copywriter at an ad agency and realizing that a great piece of content needed an even greater strategic foundation. And that's when she dove head first into content strategy, creating her own business, traveling the world and passing on the good -- her goods -- to others.
Gigi is a content strategist, writer and founder of Content for Do-Gooders, a consulting business for brands looking to tell their story through strategic websites, blogs and social media. Even better, Gigi gives 10 percent of her profits to causes around the world that she cares about.
How does she manage it all? A pinch here and there to make sure it's real always helps. "I was sitting in a café in Ghent, Belgium writing when it hit me: I'm a writer. I'm a storyteller. I'm a content strategist. And I own my own business, which allows me to travel the world while I’m doing it."
“The very idea of that kind of freedom -- the freedom to set my own schedule, work with fantastic, world-changing clients and travel the world -- left me breathless and inspired.”
What inspired you to pursue your current job?
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to tell stories and I wanted to travel. In fact, my main goals in life during my teen years were to a) hold a baby kangaroo and b) get paid to write stories, both of which I’ve now accomplished.
As an adult, working as a copywriter in an ad agency, I stumbled into content strategy because writing for businesses is a complicated and messy thing, and to be truly effective as a writer, I needed to develop strategy as well.
And as for being a business owner? The very idea of that kind of freedom -- the freedom to set my own schedule, work with fantastic, world-changing clients and travel the world -- left me breathless and inspired. As soon as I said the idea out loud, I knew I had to be a business owner; a writing, world-traveling, content strategist business owner.
What does your job involve on a daily basis, and what types of responsibilities do you have in your position?
Every day in my job looks a little different, but typically I have anywhere from three to five clients I’m working with at one time. For some clients, I put together detailed strategies for how they'll create, manage, and retire their content and what kinds of content and platforms they’ll use. For other clients, I write articles, blog posts and/or website content. And for still other clients, I spend my time creating compelling marketing messages that clearly and simply communicate what the business offers, why it matters and how people can take advantage of their service or product.
Where do you find inspiration for content creation? What are the five guidelines you set for a great content strategy?
One of my main sources of inspiration for client content is interviewing the clients themselves. Their depth of knowledge about their business, products, services, customers and the deeper questions of why they do what they do are absolutely priceless when you're putting together messaging and writing content.
As for guidelines for a great strategy:
1 / Start with business goals. Everything you write, create, manage or promote should be intimately connected to what the business is trying to accomplish.
2 / Also start with user needs. Everything I do is about balancing what a customer or website user needs with what the business is trying to accomplish. Before you do anything else, you need to know who's reading your content and what they need from it.
3 / Be realistic. You might see value in re-writing 10,000 pages, starting a Facebook campaign, and creating a white paper -- but does your client have the resources (both time and money) to really do it all? Content strategy isn’t just about showing clients the best way to handle their content, it’s also about showing them how to get there. And sometimes it's in baby steps.
4 / Be visual. A great strategy has great visuals. Use charts, sketches, wireframes and data maps to communicate your plans and points.
5 / Love. The best strategies come from people who really care about the customers the business is serving and about the business’s mission, goals and/or product/service. Before I dive too deeply into a project -- in fact, often before I even accept a project -- I like to get really excited about the company and what they’re trying to do. And throughout the project, I frequently ask what I can do at the strategy or content creation level to make the experience more wonderful for the user.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
As a business owner, my biggest challenge has been pricing my services appropriately. I find that when you underprice things, people undervalue your time, which is a shame. But you also don’t want to price yourself out of the market. It’s always a balancing act -- and something I’m still working on.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
My first two years in business, work-life balance was difficult for me because I was unrealistic about how much client work I could take on in a week. I was thinking in terms of the 40-hour workweek, but the reality of business ownership is that you spend some of your work time doing sales, customer service, marketing, networking, quarterly taxes, monthly accounting, collections and a thousand other little things that are not billable client projects. This means that a 40-hour workweek might actually only be 20 or 30 or 35 hours of client time. So if you take on 40 hours of client work per week, you either end up neglecting the marketing, sales and other pieces of your business (which is one of the reasons so many freelancers swing madly between having too much work and then too little) or working substantially more than you planned on working and losing your work-life balance.
So, my no-fail tactic is to do the math. Dedicate an appropriate amount of your weekly time to marketing, sales, accounting, etc. and know how much time you have left to take on projects. I usually assume a less-than-30-hour workweek (with notable exceptions made for really exceptional projects) and I create both my schedule and pricing accordingly.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I can't believe I have this job?" What was it?
I have those moments all the time these days. One notable one was when I first became location independent -- selling my things and living and running the business from the road. I was sitting in a café in Ghent, Belgium writing when it hit me: I'm a writer. I'm a storyteller. I'm a content strategist. And I own my own business, which allows me to travel the world while I’m doing it. I almost had to pinch myself. All the things I wanted as a child are the things I am getting paid to do now.
I'm endlessly grateful.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Love yourself, love others and always make time for gratefulness.
Also, I know it’s cliché, but every journey starts with the first step. Every time I have a lofty goal -- like right now, when I’ve decided to write my second book -- I make a list of all the teeny tiny steps I need to take to reach it and I tackle them one at a time. Because, sure, the big picture is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. But small steps are doable, and once you’ve taken five or ten or fifteen, you’ll be amazed how much closer to your goal you suddenly are.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
Trust yourself. Never let anyone tell you your dreams are impossible or you’re too young or the economy’s bad or whatever other excuse they’re going to give you. Instead, make a plan. Make a really good plan. And then start taking those baby steps. When you look up from all your hard work, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. And you’ll feel hopeful about how far you’re still going to go.
What is one thing we might be surprised to know about your job?
I only spend about half my time writing and putting together strategy documents. The other half is mostly spent listening, encouraging and celebrating my clients.
What would you tell someone who was just starting out and wanted a career in content strategy?
Learn as much as you can about not only content and writing, but also complementary disciplines, like design and coding and layout.
Train yourself to ask good questions and learn to be comfortable with silence. Lots of what I do as a content strategist is interviewing people, and to be an effective interviewer, you have to give people some space to think and answer and you have to be able to ask questions in a variety of ways.
And, finally, learn as much as you can about how business owners think and make decisions and how users think and make decisions. Your job as a content strategist will be to balance business goals with user needs. To do this really well, it’s important to understand both sides.
And it never hurts to write something every day.