Aaron Orendorff is a content expert and the founder of IconiContent. His other titles include: being named a Forbes Top 10 B2B Content Marketer, former editor-in-chief at Shopify Plus, and a regular contributor at Mashable, Fast Company, Business Insider and Entrepreneur.
Aaron’s goal is to make saying “yes” to his content the easiest “yes” an editor can make.
“A Marketer Was Born”
If you meet Aaron on the street, he’ll tell you he writes online for a living. But if you meet him at an event like Content Jam, he’ll tell you he’s a B2B content strategist that specializes in the SAS commerce ecosystem.
Aaron started his career in online marketing about six years ago. He was working as a pastor in Portland, Oregon, when he says a wrecking-ball of an event caused his professional and personal life to implode. Being a pastor was something he had dreamed about since he was around 17 years old, but suddenly it became clear that it wasn’t for him.
So, he started a blog called IconiContent. Little did he know that this would become the catalyst for his marketing career today.
6:30 “Most people have this enormous moment of epic failure or something really gnarly goes down before there’s a breakthrough, and that’s really that point of identification that I think I try to emphasize, even if I don’t get specific.”
From “Zero Credibility, Zero Connections” to Published
The biggest insight Aaron took from his former life into content marketing was that all communication is sales.
8:20 “The goal is, whether it’s in a religious sense or now in a marketing sense, conversion. What is the next, smallest step someone can take?”
Aaron’s first big hit in the content world came about six months after IconiContent went live. Ann Handley, a best-selling author, and partner at MarketingProfs, reached out to him out of the blue and asked to quote one of his posts for a book she was writing.
After that, Aaron was able to leverage his appearance in the book by adding it to his homepage as social proof.
Then he decided to write an entire article specifically tailored for MarketingProfs and use his existing connection with Ann to get published. He researched articles that appear on MarketingProfs’ website, their word count, headlines, topics. Aaron wrote an article, gave it to Ann, who gave it to her editor, and just like that Aaron was published—and he had developed a method along the way.
Steal the Backbone
When creating content, Aaron says to look at what is popular on a publication’s website and “steal the backbone” and insert a different topic.
To find the “backbone” of a publication’s articles, examine a number of articles for:
- Ideal word count
- Headline patterns
- How they use images
- How many links they include
12:45 “I really got scientific. And I got better and better at it as I went on, as those niche marketing site doors opened, they opened really quickly, I thought, ‘What if I straight up did this at mainstream publishers?’”
Aaron recommends looking at what is trending on Google Trends and BuzzSumo for insights into what articles get shared. Then, create content from the backbone of those popular articles and cold pitch them to publications.
How to Pitch Content to Mainstream Publications
18:14 “I want to get incredibly scientific about the way that I do my research so that when I pitch an article, especially at a top-tier publication, especially when I’m coming in cold — and I’m coming in cold the vast majority of the time — it is the easiest “yes” that editor ever faced. That’s the goal.”
The process is labor-intensive — about a full day of work. But the good news is that once you deconstruct a mainstream publication like Entrepreneur, Aaron says you’ve also deconstructed other prominent publications of the same industry because they’re in the same game. And the data you’ve collected is good for a year or two.
When deconstructing niche publications, Aaron warns to pay attention to the ways in which specific elements of the “perfect” article change.
Pitch a Headline, not Social Proof
Aaron says when it comes to pitching articles, no matter how much freelancing experience you have, just go for it.
He learned that the more he tried to pitch articles while relying on the social proof of his previous publications, the more no-responses he got. Now, he boils down his email pitch to a simple email. It includes:
- Attached Word document and Google Doc link to the article.
- The article headline. Make this as seductive as possible.
- Statement that the article is 100% original to your target publication. This lets editors know it’s not mainstream.
Aaron suggests using email search tools like Contact Out or an email permutator spreadsheet to find the emails of editors or people to whom you want to pitch.
Build Relationships With Editors and Writers
Aaron emphasizes that building relationships is key. To endear yourself to the editorial staff and other writers at the publications you are pursuing, he recommends:
- Using links to their pieces and sites in your article.
- If you write an article that mentions another writer, shoot that person an email and let them know when it goes live to build rapport.
- Stay kind and current. Fifty percent of Aaron’s leads in the first two years of freelancing were due to referrals and overflow from other writers.
Will the Field Become Diluted?
Aaron’s transparency about his process is remarkable and he admits that he has wondered whether sharing his strategy might put him out of a job. However, because his strategy requires hard work, many people won’t fully give it a chance. And for that reason, he doesn’t think sharing his strategy will harm anyone or saturate the field.
31:10 “You can give away your best because most people just aren’t going to do it.”
Strategic Time Management
Currently for Aaron, 95% of his time goes to client work and 5% to his personal content. Aaron says that he prefers Twitter for self-promotion over LinkedIn because that’s where he can build relationships with people in his field.
He plainly states his rates on his website to ensure that time for himself and the client is not wasted and to set clear expectations.
Put Fear and Rejection to Work
41:44 “Fear is what has and will hold me back from anything worth doing.”
This is Aaron’s battle cry. Aaron says when he was starting out, every time he sent an article he would say out loud, “Let’s get rejected.” He says that phrase every time he takes a risk because if he embraces the possibility of failure, he’s no longer afraid to be the kind of person who risks and acts.
Aaron emphasizes that when you make the move from being a person who thinks about things and a person who does things, that’s when excellence can be achieved.
By putting in the work, embracing fear and rejection, and rigorously followed a tested strategy, Aaron demonstrates how breaking into content creation for top-tier publications is possible for freelancers, both new and old, not just those with social proof. You just need to start.
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