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AMAs

Aaron Orendorff is — to both the great delight of his relatives as well as their inevitable confusion — the Editor in Chief at Shopify Plus. Shopify, not Spotify (sorry, mom).

Shopify Plus is the enterprise arm of Shopify and hosts some of the world’s fastest-growing brands like Fashion Nova, Rebecca Minkoff, MVMT, Leesa, Gymshark, direct-to-consumer sites for GE, Nestle, and P&G … plus, pretty much all the Kardashians.

Last year, Aaron was named by Forbes as both a “Top 10 B2B Content Marketer” and a “Top 25 Marketing Influencer to Watch.” He’s a contributor to sites like Mashable, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, and Lifehacker. Over the last three years, Aaron’s written the top-performing and most-shared posts at Content Marketing Institute, Unbounce, Copyblogger, and GetResponse.

If you want to check out a few of his long-form articles, Aaron suggests you start with …

Or, you can always troll him on LinkedIn or Twitter through the hashtag #LetsGetRejected

He will be live on May 31 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • SP

    Sujan Patel

    7 months ago #

    How do you research what topics to write about?

    What's your writing process?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      For the second question, that one overlaps with a bunch of others, so I’m gonna answer it at the end in full.

      :-)

      For the first, it all depends on the goal.

      Back in the day when I was a freelancer, all I cared about was getting on main-stream media publishers and big marketing blogs. To do that, I used a combination of …

      1. Buzzsumo to research the most-popular posts on the publisher I was targeting (or their competitors to find gaps)

      2. Google Trends to find pop-culture stories I could tie those subjects into

      3. The most-popular articles — as listed in top ten lists and whatnot — on the publisher sites themselves to identify word count, interlinking opportunities, how they use images, and what type of supporting evidence they prefer (e.g., sage quotes, original quotes from sources, data, case studies, use cases, etc.)

      That combination landing me my first articles on a host of publishers (the headline pattern is pretty obvious):

      Entrepreneur: “The Mindy Kaling Guide to Entrepreneurial Domination”

      Success Magazine: “How to Become Stephen-Colbert Level Successful”

      The Next Web: “The J. J. Abrams guide to intelligent online business”

      Mashable: “Can an app change human behavior? This behavioral economics professor is banking on it”

      Lifehacker: “10 Rules of Professional Etiquette for the Digital Workplace”

      That last one was especially interesting because — at the time — Forbes’ most-shared article was about showing up on time to appointments and meetings. I took that idea as a jumping off point for a full post about online etiquette.

      Forbes rejected it … but Lifehacker picked it up.

      Today, topic selection is all about keywords that meet Shopify Plus’ unique target market. For instance, I often use keywordtool.io to find variants on terms like “multi channel ecommerce” because that term is a parent signal that the person searching has grown their business to a certain size.

      9 Share
  • SG

    Sarah Grosz

    7 months ago #

    Most of the time, people say never mix business with pleasure. For LinkedIn, that’s not really the case… so many people are telling their intimate stories and focusing less on “status updates”. How is LinkedIn reshaping the way we think of business?

  • JQ

    Jason Quey

    7 months ago #

    1. What do you think you would have done had Ann Handley or Demain Farmworth (sp?) not discovered your work?
    2. You've had a lot of success on LI posts.
    a. What frameworks do you use to create these posts?
    b. What would you do to get those posts enough traction if you don't have much visibility on LI? Which of those tactics do you believe are repeatable today?
    c. Are there other things you believe if someone should keep in mind to be successful with these posts?

    Thanks for doing this AMA, Aaron!

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      My pleasure, buddy. Good questions …

      1.

      Getting included in Ann Handley’s book Everybody Writes was a crazy fluke … sort of.

      I mean, on the one hand, there is ZERO reason she should have discovered that post. On the other hand, I was super focused on quality content from day one.

      In the case of Demian — the former chief copywriter at Copyblogger — he wasn’t the only writer crush I was “stalking” at the time, he was just the first one to write back on social and start connecting. My guess is … somebody would have responded and connected eventually ;)

      For anybody who wants, check out my write up about Demian's help and relationship here:

      http://iconicontent.com/blog/decent-freakin-person-success/

      2a.

      Yes and no.

      For the framework stuff, @sarah_grosz asked about that below, so I'll answer more fully there.

      On the no front, the “passion” posts I write on LI are just that: passion. This one is a great example:

      https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6407030292510576640/

      All that happened there was I got fired up reading Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and couldn’t help myself. It actually got a mixed response in the comments with a few people really disagreeing.

      ———

      Love the story, not the ending

      Love the fight, not the victory

      Love the process, not the result

      Love the race, not the finish line

      Love the climb, not the summit

      Love the struggle, not the calm

      Love the loss, not the win

      Love the failure, not the success

      #LetsGetRejected

      ———

      The same "passion" principle goes for this one I wrote about chasing fireworks in Portland with my daughters and how that experience mirrors success in general:

      https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6406669876395671552

      2b.

      Start an engagement pod with 5-10 like-minded people — either a Slack group or an LI chat — and look for groups like https://www.facebook.com/groups/linkedinsuccess/ where the whole point is just to like and comment on one another’s posts.

      2c.

      Absolutely … check out my answer to Sarah below ;-)

  • ZG

    Zach Grove

    7 months ago #

    Thanks for doing this, Aaron.

    What are the top KPIs that you track for your content on the Shopify Plus blog? How do you think about balancing "softer" metrics like brand awareness vs. trying to drive last-click sign ups/leads?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      But for large-to-enterprise products, let me drop a line on you Hana Abaza — the Head of Marketing at Shopify Plus — dropped on me during my interview over a years ago:

      “I want the least amount of traffic for the highest number of MQL (marketing qualified leads).”

      THAT is my mantra now.

      Naturally, I still report on metrics like traffic, read time, and our email list … BUT, what I really care about and pay attention to are:

      1. Net new leads by first touch and last touch

      2. Deal influences through CTAs (gated assets and full landing page completions) NOT just site or blog visits

      3. Organic ranking for what we call “Ground Zero” keywords (super short list) as well as two larger lists: Priority 1 and Priority 2

      For 1, Google Analytics.

      For 2, I can't tell you.

      For 3, SEMrush

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      This is a touchy question — i.e., I work for a publicly traded company — so I have to be a bit vague here. I’m guessing what you call “softer” metrics might also go by the name “vanity” or “brand awareness.”

      For most businesses, particularly B2C and low-barriers-to-entry SaaS’s (e.g., Shopify’s core offering of a free 30-day trial), I’m all about softer metrics. Pageviews or sessions for traffic, social engagement, and the like.

      Those metrics — along with leading indicators like email list subscriptions and time to repurchase — make sense in B2C (i.e., ecommerce specifically).

  • LP

    Lianna Patch

    7 months ago #

    AARON. Bruh.

    Having known you for a while, and having seen you become only more and more prolific during that time...

    I need to know your writing/interviewing/scheduling secrets. How much time do you spend every week planting the seeds for future content, vs. following up, vs. writing, vs. planning and outlining new topics?

    Do you have a Time Turner? Do you live on a different planet where the days are longer? Are you just BETTER than all of us? Tell me pls.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      First off … yes, yes I am just BETTER than the rest of you

      ;-)

      Nah, but more seriously, let’s see how good I am at math:

      15% Planting the seeds for future content

      10% Following up

      25% Writing (but mostly editing these days, which still require a lot of creation)

      50% Planning and outlining new topics

      That's 100%, right?

      PS, if you want more about "writing/interviewing/scheduling secrets," just lemme know in a fresh question and I'll unpack it more.

      • DA

        Dylan Alex

        7 months ago #

        "...if you want more about "writing/interviewing/scheduling secrets..."

        Yes? -- "more", please? :)

      • AO

        Aaron Orendorff

        7 months ago #

        @quiksilverroyal (Dylan) … if you're still keen to get an answer, drop this as a fresh question and I'll write up a response (this thread reached it's response limit)

        :-)

    • JQ

      Jason Quey

      7 months ago #

      "Do you live on a different planet where the days are longer?"

      Best life hack, ever :)

    • SV

      Steven van Vessum

      7 months ago #

      Maybe he's very good at delegating (too)? :)

      • AO

        Aaron Orendorff

        7 months ago #

        Totally, well … partly totally.

        As EiC, I do a ton of delegating. But the real trick is being an internal connector: getting the primary writer connected to the RIGHT internal subject-matter expert.

        A lot of that comes from being super active on Slack — i.e., Shopify’s giant Slack group with literally thousands of channels and people. I’m constantly stalking and eavesdropping on channels I have no real business being in, looking for the stand out contributors and go-to people. I also just ask internal leaders, “Who should I listen to? Who can I trust? What five to ten names on your team would you send me to?”

        Honestly, it's VERY similar to the process I use when collecting contributions from outside people as well (i.e., round-up posts with influencers dropping meaty quotes).

        5 Share
      • AO

        Aaron Orendorff

        7 months ago #

        Oh, and on top of that, we’ve been working really hard at formalizing the process of cross-team collaboration (kind of how Hacking Growth by Sean and Morgan outline it):

        1. Content team get assigned a topic or keyword

        2. We review existing content for use cases, data, and quotes

        3. We then turn to the product team for insight, REAL examples, and customer data

        4. If the product team comes up short, we turn to account managers (known as Merchant Success Managers internally) and a select group of salespeople

        5. For super technical topics, we look to our Shopify Plus Partners

        It's cumbersome at first to coordinate ALL that involvement, but over time that process has been PHENOMENAL at creating lead-generating content across the board.

        5 Share
  • PH

    Pradyut Hande

    7 months ago #

    Glad to have you here, Aaron!

    What hacks would you recommend from a content distribution perspective when it comes to B2B content marketing?

  • JK

    John Kerr

    7 months ago #

    Aaron, from our Linkedin conversation:

    Bezos says he'd asked a lot how things will change in the coming years but not enough about how things will stay the same. Here's a big old softball: from your windshield - what do you see changing most - and the least. - in the next 10 years?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Love this question … cause it gives me a chance to get all prognosticator on you (caveat: Aaron Orendorff is not an investment advisor nor are his comments legally binding).

      As it relates to ecommerce:

      1. More and more mobile ecommerce, especially mobile payments through apps (China is WAY ahead of the West on this front, but we’ll catch up)

      2. More integration with social networks for native social selling (again, China is ahead of us … and while Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram offer native buying options, most people still go onsite to purchase; business should start getting ahead of this trend NOW!)

      3. Somewhat increased use of voice search — both through tools like Echo and Google as well as through onsite search

      4. A growing symbiosis between Amazon and (well) the rest of the ecommerce world … smart companies already use Amazon to list and sell their "staples" but then do releases and exclusives onsite to build their brand

      3 Share
  • MA

    Michael Althaus

    7 months ago #

    What kind of strategy to advise to develop an e-commerce platform that evolves in a multilingual environment ?

    4 Share
    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Second, in absence of a budget to accomplish number one … here's a bit of what I've written previously:

      "Going native with your site’s language — beyond Google Translate — can make or break global sales. Of the 3,000 online shoppers Common Sense Advisory surveyed from ten countries, a full 75% reported wanting to buy products in their native language. Conversely, 59% rarely or never buy from English-only sites. And nearly 70% prefer or strongly prefer a site’s navigation and at least some content to be in their native language."

      What's that mean?

      It means you don't HAVE to translate an entire ecommerce site to sell effectively in multiple countries.

      Instead, prioritize (1) listing prices in native currencies, (2) translating your headlines and navigation (the rest of the content doesn't have to be perfect), and (3) getting reviews from people inside the countries you're selling to.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Third, at the risk of being promotional, I'm SUPER excited about the work Shopify is doing in multi-language and multi-currency right now. From stuff here from a conference earlier this month:

      https://www.shopify.com/enterprise/international-ecommerce-strategy

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Lemme answer this in three parts …

      First, if you have the budget, you simply cannot beat multiple storefronts in multiple languages and multiple currencies to serve up content written or translated by native speakers that is then tied into multiple supply chains and international warehouses and 3PLs

  • RS

    Roshni Shaikh

    7 months ago #

    1) What is your number one advice to budding copywriters?
    2) When you connect with someone on Linkedin, how do you go about building a relationship? What is the exact question you ask once you are connected?
    3) As a beginner, how should I pitch to websites like copyblogger, assuming I write comparable content?

    Thank you Aaron :)

    One of your biggest fans,
    Roshni

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      3.

      Compose FULL articles tailored exactly for the publication you want to target (see my answer above to @sujanpatel for more). Do NOT send "pitches" … unless you're trying to write for HBR or NYT.

      Make it easy for the editor to say yes by giving them original content that is ready to go; instead of giving them a list of topics (e.g., a homework assignment to help you, not them).

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      1.

      Read dead copywriters!

      Here's a quick list of the BEST copywriting books from a 10 of the best online copywriters: http://iconicontent.com/blog/best-copywriters-best-copywriting-books/

      More than half of those were written pre-Internet. And two are early 20th Century.

      The lesson?

      People are people. Desires and motivations don't change. Learn to tap into pride and fear … and you're gonna be successful no matter what you sell.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      2.

      Simply put … I don't.

      I "stalk" the people I want to connect with across social, share, comment, like, RT, and everything else for at least a month before I try to say something directly to them.

      When I do get direct, I get local. For example, before I moved to Portland earlier this month, I "pre-gamed" by stalking a host of people in a recent Inc. Magazine article about the Portland start-up community. Only after I did a bunch of the aforementioned sucking up … did I then sent contact requests that simply said:

      "Hi, [Name] … I hear you're one of THE people I should know in Portland. I'm moving there next month. After I get out from under boxes, is it cool if I follow up?"

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aaron - thanks for joining!

    What are your biggest pet peeves you've acquired over the years of writing? I want to make sure I steer clear. :)

    Also, do you have personal core values? If so, how did you determine them, how do you make them actionable and what are they (if you don't mind sharing)?

    Excited to learn from you.

    Cheers,
    Dani

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      2. Personal core values

      > "Grace is one-way love." — Paul Zahl

      > #LetsGetRejected — Aaron Orendorff

      > "You don't need 1,000 pieces of content. You need 100 pieces of great content." — Andy Crestodina

      > Give, give, give … then (maybe) ask to get

      PS, I've basically stolen everything I know about content from Andy ;)

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      3. Make them actionable

      (These are directly coordinated with my last comment)

      > Am I loving the people in my life (serving them, personal and professional) without expectations?

      > Am I sharing publicly about my failures or just my successes?

      > Am I consolidating existing content before creating new content?

      > Am I waiting at least 1-6 months getting to know someone before I ask for ANYTHING?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Ooooh, love these question. Here, I'll break them up …

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      1. Pet peeves

      > Broad statements about best practices that don't have data or use cases (e.g., REAL examples) to back them up

      > Lack of images in posts

      > Lack of original images in posts

      > And the phrases I hate the most …

      🤔 “Did you know?”

      Probably, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me anyway. Even worse: when you use it as an opening line!

      🤓 “Almost always”

      Boo … lazy researcher! If that’s true, give me a REAL number (and back it up with a source). Plus, as my wife noted, always is absolute … almost always is ALWAYS wrong.

      🤝 “Synergy”

      If you’d like to connect with me or get me to promote something, come straight out and say it.

      😍 “In fact”

      This one hurts to say, but from now on I’m only allowing myself ONE use per article.

      2 Share
      • DH

        Dani Hart

        7 months ago #

        Did you know that I in fact almost always synergize?

        Ok, sorry. It was too easy! :)

        Thanks for sharing, Aaron, this is a great checklist to refer back to next time I go to hit publish.

  • CH

    Corey Haines

    7 months ago #

    What are some pieces of content that performed surprisingly well and what did you learn?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      I have two favorites, Corey.

      One from my freelancer days and one from my time at Shopify Plus.

      First, this piece on Lifehacker: https://lifehacker.com/10-rules-of-professional-etiquette-for-the-digital-work-1770329574

      That article, which was engineered (see my comment to Jason), landed me my first enterprise-level client and roughly $70k over a year-and-a-half period. That’s because it touched on a host of issues that SaaS and physical-product communication companies write about often.

      And, because that lead came from Lifehacker, I was “pre-approved” to be trusted.

      2 Share
    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Second, this article on Shopify Plus: https://www.shopify.com/enterprise/global-ecommerce-statistics

      I wrote that piece — and designed the infographic using Venngage — with the keywords “global ecommerce statistics” in mind. Instead of just ranking for that, it dominates organic search for a host of global ecommerce phrases.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Big lessons:

      1. You don’t have to be a professional designer to make something people will love (although, I can’t wait to have the design team at Shopify Plus give it a makeover soon)

      2. Exhaustively compiling data is (almost) as good as original research

      3. If you break up an infographic into digestible pieces and attached written lessons to each one, other people will link like MAD to those individual visualizations

      • HC

        Heidi Cohen

        7 months ago #

        Aaron--I agree that smaller visuals with related tactics gain traction. Don't underestimate the value of Pinterest as well. Happy marketing, Heidi

  • SV

    Steven van Vessum

    7 months ago #

    Thanks for doing the AMA Aaron!

    Here are my questions:

    1) What advice would you give small SaaS startups if they want to dominate content marketing?

    2) What's the ratio between time you spend on writing content and promotion it?

    3) What are the biggest success factors in your content promotion success (e.g. working with influencers, using platforms Growth Hackers, Reddit, Facebook groups etc.)

    4) if you could go back in time 3 years, what would you tell your former self that would double the ROI on your content marketing efforts?

    Thanks in advance!

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      1. Invest in at least one monster piece of cornerstone gated content you can link to like CRAZY throughout your un-gated content

      Sujan Patel's The Cold Email Outreach Playbook for Mailshake is a great example:

      https://playbook.mailshake.com/
      https://blog.leadfeeder.com/mailshake-content-marketing-roi/

      Also very insightful — as a model — is Andy Crestodina's annual blogger survey (which supports his content and design agency, Orbit Media) as well as how Brian Dean "repurposes" content and URLs:

      https://www.orbitmedia.com/blog/blogging-statistics/
      https://backlinko.com/seo-this-year

      (That last one is SO f****** clever, just like everything Brian puts out)

      5 Share
      • DA

        Dylan Alex

        7 months ago #

        And not only are Andy's survey(s) actionable, they address the specific what I like to call, "Sparrows", the data points speaking to what is working "Now". Truly great!

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      2. Ratio wise …

      I'm like 75% creation and 25% promotion (60/40 on articles I consider "cornerstone"). But that might be a little misleading because the company I work for has an entire Growth Team and Social Manager that do the vast majority of promotion.

      I'll explain my own promotion process at the bottom.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      3. (See my comment at the end of this page)

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      4. I'd tell myself two things …

      One, quit your day job. I stayed on as a college professor for like a year and half longer than I should have. Quitting before I "felt ready" (e.g., had enough MRR) would have forced me to find work or eat! (Desperation is a powerful motivator) More than that, however, I would have been able to grow my freelance business even fast by devoting the time needed.

      Two, raise your rates. Just like quitting, I always raised my rates too late. If your response to the question, "How much do you charge?" doesn't make you swallow HARD … you're not charging enough.

  • PD

    Phyllis Duggan

    7 months ago #

    What's the most important piece of advice you would give a marketer to sell his or her services? Considerations for online content/best practices?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Pre-load or front-load your content with (1) value and (2) social proof.

      For content you "own" (like on your site) … don't make visitors go looking for results. In the "deck" of your blog posts (that's the first few lines), bullet point EXACTLY what the reader will get out of the post and ALWAYS make it tangible through data and real results. On landing pages, basically, do the same.

      Never make me go hunting for an answer to the question, "How is this going to help me (1) grow revenue, (2) reduce costs, or (3) improve efficiency?"

      On the social proof side, the best leads I ever got as a freelancer were leads that came through offsite content. They arrived already trusting me. That's why I went crazy for my first two years posting for FREE everywhere and anywhere.

      3 Share
  • DE

    Despina Exad

    7 months ago #

    Excited for your first AMA Aaron :)

  • GR

    Gigi Rodgers

    7 months ago #

    What's a skill you think every marketer should invest in?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Two skills:

      (1) CRO (especially being able to measure and test)

      (2) Emotional copywriting

      For number one, pay attention to Joanna from CopyHackers and like anything that Peep Laja from ConversionXL or Oli Gardner from Unbouce put out (especially courses)

      For number two, pay attention to Talia Wolf, Shanelle Mullin, and read Breakthrough Advertising by Schwartz (pre-Internet copywriter who's dead):

      https://www.breakthroughadvertisingbook.com/

      4 Share
  • GR

    Gigi Rodgers

    7 months ago #

    You've been in this game for a minute.
    What is mindset or belief in marketing, that you have seen debunked over and over again?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Love this question … that's why I saved it for one of the last to answer.

      Debunked mindset or belief?

      Easy: that you need MORE content. Quality beats quantity every day of the week and twice on Sunday. That's why I spend time auditing and compiling (often consolidating through copy-and-paste + redirects) existing content BEFORE I create anything "new."

  • GC

    Goldie Chan

    7 months ago #

    Because you also believe in kindness and treating others with respect - how do you initially weed out the energy suckers/haters etc?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      I pay attention to three things:

      1. Have they built up a track record of goodwill before they reached out?

      (Seriously, it's silly how far just liking and commenting on my stuff via social can get you … if you wanna get to know me)

      2. Are they actively involved in a topic I already care passionately about?

      (If that's the case, I'm gonna love a 10-15 minute conversation no matter what)

      3. What can they do for me?

      (I know, that's lame … but at least it's number three on my list)

      2 Share
  • DA

    Dylan Alex

    7 months ago #

    Hiya Aaron, Dylan here!

    Thank you and beaucoup appreciation everything you do; and I am noticing a smattering of Q's about the Writing/Copywriting Process..?

    My question comes along the same vein(s), perhaps, as questions asked already by Roshni Shaikh in the queue and Sujan Patel...

    From a copywriter/writer content (blah, for lack of a grander analogy) perspective, when penning copy...

    Q: How do you explain to clientele [you want to write for/or already are writing for] you need to see as much of their company or brand information (their customer experiences, etc., often not available to the causal eye) so you can write directly - to their audience(s)..?

    And "Thank You" again, for this 'Think Tank' Get-Together, 'A-maz-ing'.

    Verily,

    Dylan!

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      To gather "insider" information I do four things — after scoping a project for time, which I only communicate through a deliverables timetable (not working hours), and then giving them a proposal with a 50/50 invoice:

      1. NDA

      2. Data dump of existing internal collateral (usually through Google Docs or Dropbox)

      3. A "review" meeting of that collateral where I ask a TON of questions

      4. And a list of their "most popular" content … what I really look for in that are social shares, comments, and — in ecommerce — existing customer reviews

      I've never received push back on that process … but I also front-load projects with the clear expectation that, "I will ONLY be as good as you (and your existing customers) are honest."

  • MD

    Mostafa Dastras

    7 months ago #

    Hey Aaron,

    You always mention that guest posting account for a big part of your success as a writer. How exactly did it help you? Was it knowing a-class editors that would recommend you to others? Was it featuring thought leaders in your posts for famous publications and getting their attention? Or was it showcasing your expertise and waiting for others to contact you? I know the story of your "bromance" with Tommy Walker and how a post for CXL got his attention. I read the post a couple times -- amazing.

    And you never did cold emailing right?

    Say I got my little name featured on some popular blogs such as Hubspot, WordStream, etc. I know it obviously leaves a good impression on people's minds, but is there anything you recommend someone like me should do?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      “Was it knowing a-class editors that would recommend you to others?”

      Not at first. And, honestly, only with a handful over time (like Lisa Dougherty from CMI and Lisa Jenkins from SME)

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      “Was it featuring thought leaders in your posts for famous publications and getting their attention?”

      Kind of … writing for big publishers certainly opened the door to a lot of contributors (thought leaders) who wouldn’t have otherwise responded to my emails. Keeping those relationships going is key.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      “Or was it showcasing your expertise and waiting for others to contact you?”

      Yes, yes … and YES!

      I never got much traffic from guest posting. And I never built up a big email list. But one or two leads a month was all it took from those posts to generate a thriving freelance career in less than two years.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      “And you never did cold emailing right?”

      I never cold emailed prospective clients.

      But, golly, did I cold email editors! Contact Out — a Chrome extension for getting hidden emails from LinkedIn profiles — and email permutator spreadsheets were my go-to tools.

  • RG

    Robin Geuens

    7 months ago #

    Hey Aaron! Thanks for doing an AMA.

    I watched your interview with Jacob McMillen where you talk about using ghost drafters to help you create content more efficiently. As a freelance writer, I've been trying to do that as well.

    1. How much creative freedom do you give your ghost drafters? Do you give them a broad outline or a very detailed one?

    2. How do you ensure that the article maintains your unique voice? I've tried using ghost drafters but it always ended up with me rewriting 3/4 of the article because it didn't sound like something I'd write.

    3. Where did you find your current ones?

    Again, thanks for doing an AMA.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      1.

      Very, very, very little freedom at first. When I would "break in" a new "ghost drafter" I'd give them the …

      (1) Proposed headline
      (2) Targeted publication or client
      (3) Subheads (i.e., a full, point-by-point outline)
      (4) Sources to use in research (both link-to and do-not-link-to)
      (5) Two articles to "mimic" I'd previously written

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      2.

      I've had similar experiences as well. The thing is … I can rewrite WAY faster than I can create, so it's still a win.

      Also, I had a personal editor I pay. She and I would do a final pass together. Which was still faster and less expensive than me putting something together from scratch.

      I think the key is saying, "The less work I have to do, the more I'll pay you." And then honoring that with the good folks … and kicking everybody else aside.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      3.

      I don't have any current "ghost drafters" … but my best source used to be my email list. Even when it was just a few hundred, hitting them up with, "Want to write for me? I'll pay you." worked wonders.

  • BA

    Brian Almeida

    7 months ago #

    How did you decide what to charge clients when it came to freelance writing gigs? And how did you get your first one?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      As far as charging …

      First six months: $25-$50 an hour

      Second six months: $100 an hour

      Second year: $150-$200 an hour, BUT, I'd never break it down like that. Instead, I just sent them a deliverable time-table with a total proposal.

      Today … I do VERY little freelance work. So I have this on my homepage

      ———

      Got a project?

      Awesome. But first, fair warning: I only have enough room to take on one new client a month (and often not even that).

      Also, one-off jobs are productivity killers. It takes time to really get to know your goals, product, voice, and niche.

      So only email me if your eyes are wide open to:

      A minimum of $3k to start (per month).
      A minimum of one-month lead time.
      A minimum of two-month engagement.

      (Oh, and yes … I do C-level ghostwriting. But don’t tell anyone.)

      All that sound cool? Alright …

      3 Share
    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      My first gig came from a friend of the family. All I did was edit their work. But, hey, a start is a start! After that, they all came either by referral — from writers I'd made friends with, but were too busy (shoutout to Henneke and Demian) — or they came through my guest writing at publishers.

  • BA

    Brian Almeida

    7 months ago #

    Follow up question, is there any key steps you would recommend to do when wanting to becoming a freelance writer?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      I think the key to me getting started was two-fold:

      1.

      Write anywhere and everywhere for FREE (especially big publications)

      2.

      When I first started, I said yes to EVERYTHING that came my way. Most of which I had no business writing about. It was a steep learning curve, but that was the point:

      🤡 Email sequences for a face-painting and clown company

      🇲🇽 Spanish and ESL curriculum kits for elementary schools

      💊 Protein shake for a liver-supplement ecommerce brand

      🇦🇺 Landing page for an Australian “help get your visa processed”

      🔒 Countless blog posts on cloud-security at the enterprise level

      🍿 Video scripts for a non-profit adoption agency in Portland

      📞 Digital and physical conferencing tech (also enterprise)

      And, way MORE

      Often, I’d literally say yes and then immediately turn to Google: e.g., “Oh, for sure I can put together a series of press releases!”

      Why so many (ignorant) yeses? Because writing about topics foreign to me forced me to …

      (1) Build my portfolio as fast and diverse as possible

      (2) Understand and put into action the universal fundamentals of communication and persuasion

  • AL

    Alex Lenox

    7 months ago #

    Hey Aaron,

    My question relates to scale. How do you go about scaling your writing business?

    Do you have a stable of writers you shell out work to when you have too much on your plate?

    What do you look for when hiring other writers or content creators?

    Thanks for your time!

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      To scale, check out my earlier answers to @rgeuens above.

      As for what I look for … two things:

      1.

      Can they string together coherent sentences

      2.

      Are they HUNGRY as hell

      Number two is crucial. If they hound me, follow up with me, ask me what's next, propose their own stuff … I keep 'em around as long as I possibly can.

  • AS

    Anthony Sills

    7 months ago #

    If you could only share one insight/tip for companies on structuring, launching, or managing an effective content marketing program what would it be? Thanks Aaron!

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Cross-collaboration between teams and departments FTW!

      Trust your writers to WRITE: to structure, edit, layout, and polish. Let them do their jobs … but never make them do their jobs in isolation.

      Raw content — the real backbone — should come from a mixture of your …

      (1) Product team
      (2) Growth team (for acquisition, promotion, and a relentless focus on THE FUNNEL)
      (3) Sales (to vet and give feedback on what to include; they are the front lines)
      (4) Technical experts like engineers, developers, and support

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    7 months ago #

    Hey Aaron - very cool to finally have you on!

    If you were building your audience from scratch today, what would you do?
    What does the first day, week, month of this effort look like?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Challenging question! Here goes …

      First day:

      Slam together a Squarespace website with (1) a home page, (2) an about page (with contact form), and (3) a blog.

      Add Sumo to collect emails and run social sharing.

      Hook up Google Analytics.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      First week:

      Write one blog post a day focused on applying marketing lessons to different niches.

      Remove blog post dates from your Squarespace template.

      Run "engagement" Facebook ads for those posts targeting non-Western countries. That will jump your social counts up to 1k-3k for less than one cent a like … and nobody on your site will know ;)

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      First month:

      Write 2-3 more posts a week on the same niches you already focused on.

      Target, write, and cold email full articles to at least 5 different publishers (short-form for mainstream pubs is best)

      Pick 10 or so writers you love and "stalk" them like crazy. Give, give, give … don't ask for anything during month one.

  • JK

    John Kerr

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aaron, I'm a bit tardy but I hope you'll have time to answer my question posted earlier.

  • YP

    Yulia Peleneva

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aaron! Thanks for this AMA! I actually struggle only with a content promotion. What does your workflow look like when it comes to content promotion? From your experience which channels do perform better?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      My favorite channels are (1) LinkedIn and (2) Twitter … but I got a few caveats (hacks) that make them work:

      1.

      I'm a part of a dozen different "engagement" pods through LinkedIn chat, FB Messenger, FB Groups, and Slack.

      The entire point of these groups is to like, comment, RT, and share each other's stuff.

      The key here is to either get in on existing groups — just ask around, they're everywhere — or start your own. Then … give, give, GIVE before you try to get.

      2.

      For Twitter, I use Quuu Promote … best organic promotion tool I've ever experienced!

      https://promote.quuu.co/

      I also use Hiplay to put my own Tweets — and lots of Tweets from other people (remember: GIVE) — on regular rotation.

      https://hiplayapp.com/

      Lastly, I often use ClickToTweet to make it UBER easy when I ask people to share; for example …

      https://ctt.ac/066bT

      3.

      On LinkedIn, if I want to promote something (e.g., a link), I create a custom video and upload it natively. LinkedIn usually penalizes posts with links by not showing them as often … this seems to get around that:

      https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6372189178578505728

      4.

      MOST importantly, I bake promotion into my content during the creation process by constantly asking influencers to contribute (see the LinkedIn post above as an example).

      I do this by:

      (1) Creating a Google Form with one or two questions
      (2) Soliciting responses from the people I know first
      (3) Ending each exchange with the people I know, "Is there anyone else I should ask to contribute to this?"
      (4) Using Contact Out — Chrome extension — to get email addresses from LinkedIn
      (5) Pre-promoting contributions during both the collection phase and before the article drops

      5.

      I only share select articles on places like Growth Hackers once every other month or so. That way, I don't "burn" the community by flooding it with my stuff. (Also, I go crazy asking for upvotes and comments via Slack and social … pretty much everytime I've done this, my stuff ends up number one in GH's weekly emails. You just gotta make sure it's worth upvotes and comments.)

      6.

      Lastly, back when I was guest posting at mainstream pubs, I'd run engagement ads on Facebook and target non-Western countries. This was kind of a hit-or-miss strategy … but, when the publisher's onsite social counter includes ad engagement (and a lot of them do), for one cent a like I could get my posts into their top-ten lists.

      (That last one is kinda sneaky, so don't tell anyone and be careful with it!)

  • DE

    Despina Exad

    7 months ago #

    What would you advise a freelance blogger to do in order to nail keyword research?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      The two tools I live by for onsite content are:

      (1) keywordtool.io
      (2) SEMrush

      Both are super simple … and I look for:

      (1) Volume above 30
      (2) Competition below 40
      (3) And terms with high CPC

  • NY

    Nadine Yaya

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aaron,

    Is there any document or link you could point to for content marketing strategy? For example, I'm helping IT Managed Services attract more leads with their content. How do I choose the suitable blog post type to help move potential prospects through the sales funnel?

    Thanks so much!

    Kind Regards

  • RM

    Randy Milanovic

    7 months ago #

    1) why only permit PDF offers as digital downloads (creates a transaction experience in an information request)?

    2) why no integrated blog?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      1.

      Gate assets (PDFs, webinars, etc.) are all about generating leads. Actually, all content is about generating leads ;-) So, there has to be a way to collect their information, vet that information (for MQLs), nurture, and then go for the sale.

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      2.

      I'm not sure what you that means. Could you unpack that or give me an example?

  • AO

    Aaron Orendorff

    7 months ago #

    Aaron, everybody wants to know … what's your writing process look like?

    • AO

      Aaron Orendorff

      7 months ago #

      Thanks, Aaron. To answer your question — I can't get too detailed and give away trade secrets — but here's roughly what my writing process looks like today:

      1. Select or be assigned a specific keyword/topic

      2. Research the current results for that phrase using Google Incognito looking at the top 5-10 results to compile:

      (1) Average word count
      (2) Content type: e.g., blog post, product page, features page (SaaS), etc.
      (3) Use and number of images
      (4) Originality of data
      (5) Common authors, contributors, or sources within those results that aren't competitors

      3. Answer the qualitative (emotional) question(s): What hell do people searching for this term what to be saved from and what heaven do they want to be delivered unto?

      4. Answer the quantitive (intellectual) question(s): How will the content I'm creating help someone …

      (1) Grow revenue
      (2) Reduce costs
      (3) Improve efficiency

      NOTE: In the end, these answers have to be rooted in real data

      5. Survey existing content — either my own content or content on the property I'm writing for (e.g., client) — and pull together resources to …

      (1) Link to
      (2) Get data and quotes from

      Or (my favorite)

      (3) Resurrect and/or redirect

      6. Find the best product offering or gated asset to drive readers to as a CTA

      7. Drop ALL that into a Google Sheet or Airtable record (seriously, I've got one that's color-coded and everything for that process exactly)

      8. Open up a templated Google Doc (also dead serious about that template thing)

      9. Dump in ALL the existing content and anything else I've gathered from 1-6 into the Google Doc copy-and-paste style

      10. Create a tentative outline to guide me with …

      (1) Headline
      (2) Subheads, which will almost always be turned into an anchor linked ToC

      11. Reach out to any and all of the authoritative sources (that aren't competitors) I found during research or who I know personally with a SINGLE question … normally I use a Google Form to gather this

      12. Write the damn thing and wait for original contributions to come in

      13. Once it's written, I also create original data visualizations using branded templates real designers have set up for me in Sketch

      14. Let it sit for a day

      15. Add contributor insights (and edit them getting full permissions to any changes I make)

      16. Hand it off to a human editor that's not me for proofing (or to any stakeholders for feedback)

      17. Do a final round of my own edits based on number 16

      18. Publish

      19. Sit back to have a Coke and a smile

      20. Start promotion ;-)

  • GL

    Ginny Lemarie

    7 months ago #

    Hi Aaron!
    What do you think of online publications that have a paywall? Is it a good idea? Can they generate income from other digital sources?
    Thanks Ginny

  • SH

    Steve Hutt

    6 months ago #

    How does the Shopify platform help founders with small teams drive new visitors to their online stores?

  • JH

    James Haslam

    6 months ago #

    Hey Aaron - I may have missed the boat, but one question. You never outlined whether you use a content calendar! It seems like you create content as it's requested. Is that the case? Or do you go quarterly or monthly planning?

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