What Makes a Great Freelance Content Strategist? An Interview with Devesh Khanal
According to a survey by SEMrush, 77% of companies claim to have a content marketing strategy, yet 38% go on to describe that strategy as being simply “average”.
And when you dig into the detail, you soon discover why. Only 26% of those surveyed have a dedicated content strategist on their marketing team.
Suddenly, those “average” strategies make sense. Nobody’s at the wheel.
Without the insight and cohesion of a skilled strategist, most marketing strategies will flatter to deceive. But identifying and hiring a great freelance content strategist can be like panning for gold. There are a lot of solid writers and content creators out there, but how many have that extra quality, where they can step back, look at the bigger picture, and deliver a joined-up marketing plan?
It takes a lot of patience and sifting to find them, so to learn more, we spoke with Devesh Khanal, co-founder of content marketing agency Grow and Convert. Devesh has hired and trained countless strategists over the years and can spot the most important traits, skills and idiosyncrasies from a mile away.
We talked about creating content with a purpose, key attributes and characteristics, and how to recognise great content when you see it.
So, what makes a great content strategist? For Devesh, the ability to write and edit is a given. As we’ll discover below, he’s more interested in the intangibles...
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✍️ First Thing’s First: What Does a Content Strategist Actually Do?
Generally speaking, the role of a content strategist will involve:
- Research and creation of relevant content for your brand’s target audience;
- Delivery and promotion of content to the most appropriate and active channels;
- Development of an editorial strategy to ensure consistency across the board;
- Development of brand, tone and style guidelines for content marketing;
- And ongoing measurement and analysis of the content marketing strategy.
But according to Devesh, the most important role of a content strategist is to develop content marketing as a profitable and reliable customer acquisition channel.
And this means that each responsibility outlined above has to be geared towards earning conversions. Content cannot be created for the sake of creating content. It must be underpinned by in-depth research, executed flawlessly, and measured obsessively.
“Content should always be written for the purpose of acquiring customers,” he explains, “and this involves the strategist picking keywords with an eye for conversion intent. They’re not picking topics to ‘go viral’ — they’re picking topics to get customers.”
A great freelance content strategist will own this responsibility, using data and research to drill down into your customer’s pain points. By understanding why they’re searching, and not just what they’re searching for, the strategist can then set about crafting a piece of content which answers a customer’s question or solves a problem, moving the reader closer to the point of conversion.
🕵️ Recognising the Qualities of a Great Content Strategist
When it comes to content strategy, there are certain professional skills and personal traits that mark out the best from the rest. But there’s one thing they all need to have in common: the ability to convey ideas clearly and articulately through writing.
“All strategists start as writers at Grow and Convert,” explains Devesh. “It’s a pillar skill. They have to be good to then build on the other skills. Without doing the writing and editing parts well, the entire process breaks down.”
The other skills Devesh mentions can vary across marketing disciplines. Some content strategists are generalists, while others are T-shaped, taking a deeper interest in a specific skill set or subject matter.
But that’s not to say that a solid grounding in marketing fundamentals isn’t crucial.
When you’re hiring a content strategist, Devesh says, you’ll want to be sure that they understand the importance of customer research; that they can eke out the pain points from surveys and interviews; that they champion SEO and CRO, and that they can confidently analyse and act upon data.
🎨 And Then You’ve Got the Intangibles
As with many knowledge-based jobs, the hard skills involved with being a content strategist are simply the tools of the trade. According to Devesh, it’s the soft skills — the intangible, immeasurable qualities — that help shape the best and brightest content strategists for what is ultimately a tough and pressurised role.
“This job is not an easy one,” he says, “This isn’t just diligence and following process. Smarts and intelligence are required because it’s very creative — and there are a lot of moving parts to navigate.”
A strong personality is, therefore, a must. If you’re bringing a content strategist on board, you need to look for a mix of confidence and clarity of thought. It’s a client-facing role that requires conflict resolution, project and schedule management, deadlines, and targets.
But beyond that, Devesh explains, it’s about empathising with an anonymous customer.
“You need your content strategist to understand a stranger’s mindset. What are they thinking? What are their pain points? And — most importantly — what might they Google or want to read to solve their problem?”
🔮 A Tip for Spotting Truly Great Content
As we’re covering what you should look for in a great content strategist candidate, it would be remiss not to draw your attention to the importance of their portfolio.
It’s here where you get to see their strong CV and personality collide, delivering outstanding content which resonates with a target audience and gets results. At least, that’s the idea.
So, what does that look like in action? Here’s a tip from Devesh:
“When I’m reviewing a strategist’s work, I want it to feel and sound like an actual human being would say it out loud. It should be authentic. It should be the opposite of what 99% of other businesses seem to produce. It shouldn’t be generic blog nonsense; it needs to be written from a unique perspective.”
The quality of the content is the ultimate litmus test. It separates the real deals from the snake oil sellers.
🎬 Final Thoughts: Great Content Strategists Take Action
The trouble with “average” strategies is that they’re often driven by average strategists — or no strategist at all. Content is handled in a piecemeal fashion, with a blog here and a Tweet there, yet there’s no joined-up thinking or deeper understanding as to why it’s being produced.
According to Devesh, great freelance content strategists won’t stand for that. Instead, they take action.
“They don’t just talk about strategy, they do it. They don’t just think about topics, they write them and promote them,” he says.
And at the end of the day, it’s that mindset that delivers results.
A huge thanks to Devesh for taking the time to speak with us. You can learn more about him and his background on the Grow and Convert website.
If you’d like to connect with an experienced freelance strategist, Traktion can match you with top content marketing talent inside 24 hours. Get started for free here.