Brian Honigman
Storytelling Innovator Series

Meet the Content Marketing Innovator: Brian Honigman

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This week’s Innovator Series interview takes a different approach. At Skyword, one of our biggest assets is our community of writers, so we decided to reach out to Brian Honigman, a freelance writer and media innovator based in New York City. Brian works with Skyword as a contributor to the Content Standard, offering advice to writers and brands on how to work smarter together. He not only brings years of experience in the digital marketing world to his own writing, but he constantly educates us on the changing world for freelancers and brand journalists, making him the perfect person to jump-start our new Content Marketing Innovator series.

Question: How did you make the decision to jump into freelancing, and what were the immediate differences or culture clashes you saw?

Before working for myself, I worked at Marc Ecko Enterprises, where I managed the social media, SEO, and other online marketing activities of the company’s fashion brands. I made the leap into consulting and freelancing in 2013, when I was no longer able to grow in my position at Marc Ecko, and when I saw an opportunity to work for myself by slowly bringing on my own clients. It was a scary, exciting, and thrilling decision to say the least, and I’m so happy with my decision to go solo.

The immediate difference was the lack of security that I felt when first starting to work for myself, as opposed to having a full-time role with a salary. There was an amount of anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to support myself, and while I’ve always managed to find new work, there have been many failures along the way, which required me to take risks and gave me feelings of discomfort at first. All of these decisions were well worth it.

Q: How have you maintained such close ties to brands and agencies while simultaneously building your own personal brand as a journalist?

Most of the work I’m doing is related and feeds into each other across the writing, consulting, and speaking. For example, a relationship I have with a brand or agency as a freelance writer could lead to a potential consulting project with those organizations in the future. Tweeting an article I wrote for a client or a publication could lead to another company learning about my expertise and asking me to do a speaking event in the future. A speaking event could then lead to a freelance writing project or consulting project from a member of the audience. Luckily, each aspect of my business simultaneously builds upon itself.

Q: What drove you to pursue a focus in technology writing, and how did you advance your understanding of the industry enough to speak authoritatively about it with your clients?

I write about technology because it’s a subject that I’ve always cared about in my personal life. I’m passionate about how tech is impacting the way people communicate. I also had multiple internships in undergrad that helped fine-tune this fascination with technology at a mobile commerce agency, a TV station, and a legal startup.

I advanced my understanding of digital media through taking on internships in school that exposed me to many angles of online marketing, constantly reading about the industry, through early roles in my career, networking offline extensively, and writing about what I was learning to teach others. I never stop learning about my industry because that’s when you become obsolete and behind the curve, giving other ambitious consultants the room to take your place.

Q: How has social media supported and helped grow your career as a writer?

I’d argue that social media is the reason I am where I am today, having this interview with you right now. Social media lets anyone have a voice if you’re persistent enough and talk about topics of interest to an audience. Many people on social media love to chat about social media, which is lucky for me, since it’s an ongoing shift across industries and it affects the ways companies do business.

For example, Salesforce came to wide-scale popularity by riding the platform shift to the cloud as it grew its business and became known as the CRM in the cloud. I obviously am not comparable to the empire that is Salesforce, but throughout my career, I’ve ridden the platform shift to social media and mobile.

As a writer, social media is absolutely necessary to connect with readers and show value to editors at publications. As a contributor to many publications, I’ve had editors accept me as a writer because I have an audience across social media. A publication wants distribution of its content, and as a contributor, it’s important to provide proof of your expertise and audience to share your content with.

Q: How much of your day is spent reading and responding to writing requests versus actively hunting opportunities and building a pipeline of writing work?

My day-to-day is different every day, which is why I love what I’m doing. I spend most of my time writing content for my clients or for a publication I contribute to, which helps bring visibility to my business and generates new leads.

Less than half of my time is spent on consulting work for clients, giving direction on strategy, or creating an audit to help give a business a sense of where it needs to be when it comes to SEO, content marketing, or social media. A quarter of my time is spent promoting my content on social media with my audience, scheduling content to be shared across the week using Buffer, and other initiatives to increase visibility.

All my clients reach out to me through inbound leads, since they find me through an article, my social presence, word of mouth, or at a conference. When I first started out, I reached out to a few technology companies in my network to gauge their interest. Since then, I’ve been able to build a strong pipeline through content marketing.

Q: What’s the difference between writing for a brand and writing for a publisher?

The goal of an article is different when writing for a brand because it wants to provide value to its audience in a piece of written content but also drive awareness of its business, generate leads, and educate its audience.

An article for a publication doesn’t have the interest of any business in mind; it’s meant to be an informative story that helps provide value to the publication’s audience. There are many overlapping themes between writing for a publication and writing for a brand, but business writing has specific goals in mind that would typically conflict with the ethics of an unbiased publication. However, there is a growing gray area with native advertising.

Q: Is there a dark side to brand journalism? How is that overcome?

I think the major dark side to brand journalism is creating content for the sake of creating content. Since content marketing has proven to work for businesses, many others try to take advantage of the marketing tactic and do it poorly. The only way to do content for your business is by creating content that provides value to your audience without being overly promotional.

Besides that, I don’t think brand journalism is as evil as some traditional journalists make it out to be. Honestly, consumers don’t care if something is sponsored content as long as its factual, valuable, and engaging. A recent study by the University of San Francisco School of Law found that a growing number of consumers don’t care whether content is paid or unpaid.

Q: What are three lessons you’ve learned on your journey from freelance writer to media innovator?

First, failure is commonplace and part of the journey of becoming a better writer. If I gave up every time a commenter told me I’m terrible or an editor told me they don’t want my story, then I would have quit dozens of times. It’s important to keep at it if it’s something you care about.

Second, as a freelance writer, your network is everything. It’s important to network with editors, other writers, marketers, readers, and everyone else in between to become a better writer and grow a client base.

Third, you have to put in the time as a freelance writer to make your content stand out. By working hard, I mean working smarter, working after hours, producing more content, perfecting your craft, and always trying to be better at what you do every day. Hard work can help you find happiness in your career, which is the ultimate goal.

If you or someone you know would like to be highlighted in this Innovator Series, please send me an email at tedk@skyword.com. And, check out how Skyword is helping connect influential writers such as Brian with the world’s best brands through our latest platform enhancement.

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