Web Site content strategist bible

The Web Content Strategist's Bible
Sample Page 1

Before Web Content Strategy

    Life at the bottom of the food chain is no fun for anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a mouse or a writer, being overlooked, ignored, and utterly dispensable is frustrating.

    Now, everyone hold on a minute before you start writing me hateful emails; I know all the arguments. I was a tech writer for eleven years.

     It was a good job and I had a lot of great experiences, but I still felt like I was at the bottom of the hierarchy. I talked constantly about how I was the first advocate for the user and the first system tester. I know that I made countless user interface change suggestions and that the ultimate user experience was better because I was on the team. I was a very good technical writer and no one argued that fact. But my opinion was still perceived as less important than the other members of the development team. I could suggest changes, but others had to actually make them, and often took credit for them as well. I felt underpaid, under-appreciated, overworked, and unfulfilled.

     Even though I had been working in the software development world for much longer than many of the programmers and designers with whom I was teamed, and I encountered the same problems over and over again and often knew we were headed down the wrong road, usually all I could do was say, "I told you so," when things went badly. Don't get me wrong; I was not a shy guy. I stated my case well and with conviction. It was just that no one really had to listen to, or take advice from, the tech writer. It's as simple as that.

     So I walked away from a stable, yet dull, job I had held for years and decided to do some technical writing contract work to see how things worked elsewhere. Unfortunately, I found only more of the same or worse. My co-workers were even less likely to be interested in what I had to say because I was a contractor. I knew my job, was damn good at it, and by this point in my career I felt like I could make a strong contribution at a higher, more strategic, level in a project. But this was a sand box in which tech writers were just not allowed to play. It didn't matter how much experience I had.

     Eventually I landed at IBM. The Internet was exploding and IBM was just getting into the whole Web design thing. The Web development team needed someone to set up a technical writing department, providing technical documentation for the websites they were building for big Fortune 500 customers. Part of what they needed to provide as part of a website launch project was information on how to boot and take down the servers and how to upload new files, etc. It was a good gig, but the managers had a hard time finding a home for me in the organization. The technical manager didn't want me, as he only managed programmers. So I was placed with the only other writers in the group-the Web copy writers and the content strategists-a group whose title I did not yet understand.

     I went about my job mixed in with these others writers whose jobs seemed much more interesting and creative than mine. They wrote Web copy for the new websites that the group was developing and also wrote and helped design the detailed and very creative proposals that they sent out to clients to try and win new business. Little by little, I began to infiltrate their work world. First, by writing and editing the technical portions of the proposal documents we were sending out, then later by actually helping out with developing creative ideas for new Web content.

     The more involved I got, the more it became obvious that these other writers had a much better job than I did. They went to off-site meetings and talked about wild and creative ideas, and everyone listened to them. Shocking! Their ideas went up on the white board and got considered along with all the others. And they got to talk to actual customers! I had been in software development for eleven years and never met a single customer; yet these guys were flying all over the country to meet with clients all the time. This was unheard of in my world. Something interesting was happening here.

The Day I Doubled My Salary

     I was ready to make my move. I spent days writing out my accomplishments, listing the projects to which I had made significant contributions, printing out sample documents, and finding complimentary emails from clients and team members. I walked to my boss's office armed and ready to do battle.

     "Hiya. Got a few minutes to talk about some stuff?"
     "Sure," she said. "Come on in."
     "Well I've been working a lot on Web content projects and helping out where I can. My tech writing material is well defined now and I could easily hand it off to someone else. So... I was wondering if I could change to a content strategist role?" I opened up my folder, ready to provide all kinds of back-up documentation.

"Sure, great! Do you want to start now or in the morning? I have a few projects I can assign to you right now."

     I was shocked! It was as simple as that. All I had to do was ask. No long negotiations and proving my ability. She already knew me, she had work that needed doing, and she was happy to have me step up and take it on. I quickly found myself on a plane to New York City to meet with PriceWaterhouseCoopers about phase two of a project we had just launched for them. And shortly after that, I was off to spend nine months in Paris working on another project. All paid for by the client. Why didn't I ask for this job sooner!

     All this time, I was still on contract. My contract rate got a nice bump and I was quite happy with things. But it was not too long before IBM wanted to hire me as a full-time employee. Again, I was shocked. The offer they gave me was a lot more than I was making on contract, and fully twice as much as I had ever made on salary as a tech writer.

Maybe All You Need to Do Is Ask

     I mention my easy path into the Web development world not to brag, but because it was all there, right in front of me, and all I had to do was ask. Eighty percent of my skills and experience translated well to this new job, and the things I had to learn were actually fun and creative. I didn't mind putting in the extra work and extra time because I really enjoyed getting up and going to work in the morning! Without even knowing it, you may be in a similar situation. If you have good writing and editing skills, you are a seasoned Web user and are interested in how websites are developed, and you know how to manage a project through to completion, all you may have to do is ask.

Is "Web Content Strategist" a Real Job?

     Yes, it absolutely is. However, you could work an entire career as a writer and never even hear this job title unless you work directly in website development. This is a growth field as both large companies who manage their own websites, and Web agencies need content strategists. But you don't have to take my word for it. As I am writing this, I just went out to Monster.com and got 35 results when I searched for the keywords "web, content, strategist." One of the jobs listed a top-end salary of $105,00.00! Here a composite ad I created based on what I just found online to give you an example of what companies are looking for.

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