Content Crafters is an interview series where we de-construct the tools, tips, and tactics that top bloggers use to get so much work done. you’ll walk away in mere minutes with actionable takeaways you can try out right away. Let’s dive in!
Christine Giraud is a Boston-based freelance writer and copy editor. She focuses primarily in the cannabis, health, and health technology niches.
Her work primarily focuses on B2C and B2B content for blog posts, articles, social media posts (Facebook and Twitter). She’s been published in tons of top publications, such as Digital Journal Group, Leafly, Civilized, The Boston Globe, Foottraffik, Overture Global Magazine, Rehab Select, Barton Associates, GreenSight, Zoc Doc’s The Paper Gown, Dig Boston, and more.
Before becoming a freelance writer, she worked in clinical research coordination for Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center.
She also holds a Master of Arts in Radio-TV-Film and still occasionally works in media production
How did you get into content marketing? What’s your origin story?
I was in a hell-job. You know, the kind of job that kills you slowly from the inside? To cope with said job, I was writing fiction for fun and loved it. So I decided to write for a living.
Getting fired also helped with that decision. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. My dream was to write long form stories fit for the New Yorker, not content marketing which I didn’t know about, but as I started to learn about the options open to writers, I realized that content marketing was more attainable.
Probably a lot more likely to support me than, say, writing my novel. (Which I’m still doing believe it or not.)
Is there anything particular to your background, personality or skill set that you believe makes you a great content marketer?
Not sure. Content marketing is palatable because you’re giving readers useful information. I didn’t realize that the first content marketing article I wrote was content marketing. It seemed like journalism, but it was in service to a brand. I became a content marketer without knowing it.
How did you pick your niche? What got you interested in writing about cannabis/the cannabis industry?
I went to visit a friend in Humboldt County, California in the fall of 2017. That’s pretty much the mecca of U.S. pot growing, although I didn’t know that at the time. (I’m from Western Massachusetts which has a very primitive pot culture.)
My friend doesn’t work in the industry, but from having grown up there, he had lots of interesting stories. Stories about back-to-the-landers, Russians, Laotians, Mexican cartel, groups all tensely inhabiting these beautiful mountains and redwood forests to grow pot, often illegally.
I heard how houses burned down regularly from electrical wiring that couldn’t take the demands of growing. How rents were sky high in small towns in the middle of nowhere, I guess because rich tenants were in the neighborhood?
Mostly, I discovered it’s an actual domestic industry that’s been forced into the shadows, not packages of pot coming in from Mexico and dealers on the corners as I’d always assumed. The pot you smoked in college was likely grown in California by a U.S. farmer who, in any normal reality, would be treated the same way a grape, grain or tobacco farmer would be.
But in our world today those farmers are criminals. (Most can’t get licenses, even in legal states, because the regulations make it too expensive.) It’s bizarre.
Anyway, when I went back to Massachusetts, I remembered we’d voted to make recreational pot legal in 2016 so I started to go to industry events to see what was happening. The industry has many facets to write about: history, medicine, social justice/racism, scientific, agriculture and horticulture, stigma.
How could anyone not want to write about it? Stigma has made it tougher to get work in my other niches– health and health tech– because employers would see I write about cannabis and pass me over. (I’m not paranoid. This happens!) Plus, cannabis outlets generally don’t pay well.
Eventually, I found ones that pay ok, relatively, and cool people in my other, better paying niches that don’t care that I write about it.
How important do you believe it is for freelance writers to pick a niche? How has it helped you in your career?
Very important. People prefer that you have a depth of experience in something.
There will always be someone out there who knows more than you do so try to be that person.
But definitely don’t pick a niche you’re not interested in, even if it’s lucrative. You’ll just be miserable.
There are ways to make lucrative niches more interesting. Let’s say you have finance experience. You know that’s a lucrative area for writers, but you can’t stand that Wall Street world. You also happen to love dogs and think about how they’re gravely misunderstood.
So write about the pet industry and how flea collars are tanking in the stock market and what’s around the corner for keeping fleas off your poodle, etc.
How do you keep your skills sharp and continue learning? What’s your process for continual improvement with regard to writing, content marketing, SEO, or other digital topics?
I actually want to take nonfiction writing classes (long form journalism) because I know I can improve. I started writing with skills built from my academic and work experience, not storytelling.
My fiction writing classes have helped, but still don’t go far enough.
I’ve heard there are decent online classes with the Poynter Institute. I also want to take journalism ethics classes. I’ve been in a few ethical dilemmas when it comes to subjects in my articles.
But until then, writing and reading are the ways I improve.
What’s your research process, or how do you become an expert on a topic you’re hired to write about?
Google the subject and talk to people in your network to find experts. Research these experts a little before you interview them with your prepared questions.
Be ok with getting off track because sometimes interviewees will lead you into more interesting areas.
Always record the interview if you can, but ask their permission first.
What’s your advice for an ambitious junior content marketer looking to grow their career?
Pick a couple of niches that are growing. I also write about conversational AI. That’s partly because I’m interested in it, but also because it’s growing.
Also, go to conferences and events in that industry. Many of my clients or interviewees are from those events.
Even if you didn’t personally meet them, feel free to say you saw them speak or whatever so they know a personal connection is there. They’ll be more likely to respond.
If you weren’t doing content marketing, what would you be doing?
I honestly don’t know. I’d be writing, but in areas that probably don’t pay enough to eat. Maybe waiting tables? Teaching English in Bulgaria?
Gimme three tips to improve my writing? Or rather, three tips anyone can use to write better.
- Read Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. It lays out the basic rules of skillful content marketing writing.
- What topics do you want to learn more about, that you won’t get sick of? Start researching those areas and pitching stories to relevant outlets. If you’re very new and have a slim portfolio (definitely have your own portfolio and not just a Contently platform), write a couple for nonprofits or friends who need content to show you can write.
- Don’t accept low paying gigs for too long. After a while, a year max, you should start demanding better pay. Good luck!!!