Earlier this month I attended CMALive17, the annual conference of The Content Marketing Academy, in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the third year I have been to one of Chris Marr’s events, and it was better than ever. That man knows how to put on an event! I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of the two days, as there are already more than 30 pieces written about it. You can take a look at this round-up of independent reviews and articles of CMA17 to get a feel for what went down. (Clue: A LOT)
Last year I wrote two blogs after TCMA2016, as it was known then. It’s always useful to look back and see whether we’ve followed through on our plans and intentions, so let’s take a quick review of how I've done with mine!
Reflecting on last year's plans: did I do what I said I would?
First, there was my summary of the day, Marketing tips for freelance editors: The Content Marketing Academy conference, June 2016, where I focused on five main takeaway points that I felt were relevant to me and other editors who may not have considered attending a marketing conference.
How did I do? Let’s take a quick look.
The five points were:
- Don’t wait to get started: create content now. I had done a lot of procrastinating and worrying about writing blog articles, but I bit the bullet and started straight after the conference. I accepted that they wouldn't be perfect, but that I had to get started.
- Produce content consistently. I’ve written a total of 50 posts in the last year, so that’s pretty much one per week. I’m happy with that! I was helped along by taking part in a 90-day challenge earlier this year. It came just at the right time because I felt I was starting to flag a bit, and it gave me the push I needed to keep going.
- Be bigger, braver, bolder. I don’t know if I can be the judge of whether I’m being bigger, braver and bolder, but I have been pushing myself to try new things – I did an interview for Chloë Forbes-Kindlen in September, I took part in a Facebook Live challenge in October, I gave a webinar for the CMA community in May, and I have guest blog posts and a podcast lined up. So I’m at least trying to not play it too safe.
- Create a season. I haven’t created a season as such, but I have done several two-part blog posts, which is a start. I am interested in exploring the idea of a season further, though. I am interested in exploring creating a season, though.
- Find your alpha audience. I’ve definitely been working on finding my alpha audience. The focus of my blog posts has narrowed down more, and I now write content aimed primarily at businesses. But I also write about topics which I hope will be interesting and relevant to my editing colleagues and freelancers generally.
Overall, I’m pleased with how I’ve done, particularly with producing content consistently. The important thing for me here was not to just churn out content for the sake of it. I wanted to write content that was useful and relevant and sounded like it came from me. I didn’t want to add to the mountain of distinctly average content out there that all sounds the same.
And what do you know? Someone thought I’d done just that!
Surprise! I won an award!
Imagine my shock when Chris Marr was handing out awards at the conference, and I won Best Business Blog! No one was more surprised than me!
My friend Anne Johnston, a fantastic photographer, had just won Most Promising Content Marketer and was already up on stage. I was merrily taking photos of her while listening to Chris’s description of the next award winner, and what ‘they’ had done, thinking, Ooh, I wonder who that is? Turns out it was me! I was so, so surprised and honoured – there are so many people in our community writing great content.
Now I have to live up to it and keep writing quality content. No pressure then!
Accountability: the missing link
The second of my blogs to come out of TCMA2016 centred on planning: Working as a freelance editor: the next five years.
In it I reflected on how I’d been to the TCMA conference the year before, learned loads and had my eyes well and truly opened to the possibilities that content marketing can create.
And yet I'd done nothing about it.
I realised my main problem was a lack of accountability, and so I set out three commitments for all to see:
- Create regular content for my website. We’ve already established that I can tick that box!
- Continue to build a community around me. This is the most important thing I’ve been working on, and it has made all the difference this year.
- Redefine my business. This is a work in progress, but I’m getting there and I now have a much clearer picture of who my ideal clients are.
Lack of accountability can be a real problem when you're a one-man band. You are essentially accountable to no one and nothing, except perhaps a client’s deadline. Even the most motivated of self-starters can benefit from having someone check if they've followed through on their plans, however small. There are always troughs between the peaks, and support, honest feedback – and sometimes constructive criticism on some aspect of our behaviour or business practices – can be very welcome.
We all benefit from an objective viewpoint when we’re so close to a problem that we genuinely can’t see the way forward. And when someone else has been there and done that, it’s reassuring to hear from them and know that there is a way forward, even if we can’t quite see it yet.
So I’ve done a few things this year to make myself more accountable.
I’ve joined the CMA community
I’d been on the fence about this before last year’s conference, as it’s a paid membership community and I wasn’t sure I could justify spending money on it. However, after the conference I took up an offer of a 30-day free trial and I was sold.
It’s a diverse community of over 100 business owners, and the level of knowledge, learning and support exceeded all my expectations. The generosity of the other members, and their willingness to share their knowledge and experiences – the good and the bad – is more than I could ever have hoped for. There are regular webinars from big names in content marketing and other business areas, weekly calls, resources on all aspects of being a business owner and regular challenges to stretch us and keep us accountable.
I’m in an accountability group
One of the huge plusses of my CMA membership is my accountability group within the community, Actionlab. There are four of us: Ross Coverdale, a kick-ass video editor; Martin Huntbatch, a website and SEO genius; John Espirian, my editorial colleague and technical writer set on world domination; and me.
We meet fortnightly via the wonders of Zoom, and we have a private channel in the CMA Slack community. This year we finally all met in the same place at conference, although it did take a while to organise even that, but I think you’ll agree the photo was worth it!
We basically support each other and provide feedback, guidance and a shoulder to cry on if required! It can be a total love-in at times, but we can be very stern and provide a much-needed kick up the backside if someone is losing direction!
I’ve been on an editing retreat
Last summer I read how colleagues in North America had been on a weekend retreat. I posted in an editorial Facebook group, asking if anyone in the UK had been on one. It started a chain of conversations which led to seven of us creating a Slack community to help us with accountability and direction, both as editors, in terms of Continuing Professional Development, and as business owners, looking at marketing, strategy, direction, etc.
This gives me accountability and a sounding board from an editorial point of view. The others, like me, are all Advanced Professional Members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). So our business discussions can focus on the challenges and opportunities of working in this field.
Ultimately, the aim was to work towards having a weekend retreat, and earlier this month we did just that. We took an AirBnB house in London, and our colleague in Canada joined us for the afternoon and evening sessions via Skype. It worked out really well – look out for blog posts on that, too!
When you speak out enthusiastically about something, you find there are opportunities!
At the SfEP annual conference in Birmingham last September, I took part in a session about professional development. At one point I explained about accountability groups and how useful they were, and although no one seemed aware of what they were, there was a lot of interest.
It so happened that I had been sitting next to Beth Hamar, who had just taken over as Conference Director. A few months later she emailed to ask if I would run a session on accountability groups at this year’s conference. How could I refuse?! I’ll let you know how it goes!
Planning, accountability, and an award. It's been quite a year!
Do you take the time to plan and reflect, either on your business or on your personal and professional development? How do you keep yourself accountable? Let me know in the comments what works, or doesn't, for you. I'm always interested to hear other's stories!
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