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!
Janelle Lassalle is a creative writer and researcher that specializes in writing about food, music, travel and all things lifestyle related. You can catch her work in publications like Thrillist, Eater, VICE, and Leafly.
She’s also the co-founder, screenwriter, and head of content at Lassalleworks, a bold, no-bs creative agency currently based in Portland, OR.
How did you get into content marketing? What’s your origin story?
I started off as a Community Manager at a consulting firm here in Portland, OR. That job was utterly soulless. It entailed responding to social media queries day or night, weekday and weekend alike. I quickly discovered I was able to get people to come into restaurants by vividly describing meals and realized there was an art to enticing someone with words. The playful, creative element cut the soullessness down to the quick.
Once I’d had some content experience I was then able to apply for content roles at small startups and tech companies. I worked my way up from there.
Today I produce educational cannabis content for a variety of clients including Namaste Technologies and The Cannigma.
Is there anything particular to your background, personality or skill set that you believe makes you a great content marketer?
I’m a voracious reader and am constantly consuming content. As such I have dozens of saved lists and collections that document all of the cool things I come across. This voraciousness epitomizes the heart of what content marketing is all about.
You need to be very familiar with the content that’s being put out there so you can identify gaps in the market. You need to consume far more than you create.
How did you pick your niche? What got you interested in writing about cannabis/cbd/travel/etc?
As a medical cannabis user I am the biggest cannabis/CBD nerd EVER. It wasn’t my original niche, hilariously enough—I hadn’t even tried cannabis til I was nearly 21! My beat was entertainment, travel and food.
All I needed to get into cannabis was to try it. It changed the quality of my life completely and freed me from pharmaceuticals with sinister effects.
Once I knew how valuable cannabis was as a medicine I decided I would devote everything I could to studying it further. I never imagined I’d make money off writing about cannabis—I just did it because it was fascinating. And soon enough you dive deeper and deeper ‘til you have a niche so specialized people go out looking for you.
How do you research or become an expert in the topic you’re hired to write about? What’s your process?
I started working as a cannabis journalist several years ago. I was also working as a budtender around that time. That job made me realize how desperately folks needed to have some kind of cannabis education.
But most importantly I was a patient—I was my audience. As such I tried just about every cannabis product under the sun. I baked with it, used cannabis terpenes in diffusers, made my own custom oils, you name it.
Most clients will provide me with a brief to get things started. It’s a basic outline with a few guidelines on the topic, word count, audience and the like. I use this outline to build what I call is a skeleton—it’s kind of like an extended study guide. What are the major points that need to be covered? I define these and then string the rest together bit by bit. What information is needed before an audience can dive into this subsection? What exposition is necessary? Breaking sections down into subheaders is a good way to refine things further.
Once the skeleton has shape I create a new document for research notes. I locate what items need to be looked up, find research papers on the subject and take notes. Finally I condense the notes into the skeleton and style it up a bit.
How important do you believe it is for freelance writers to pick a niche? How has it helped you in your career?
Cultivating a niche was the thing that finally allowed me to remain profitable. It does often mean switching from writing B2C to B2B content but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
Like I said, once people start seeking you out you’ve pretty much won, and they aren’t going to do that unless your name and X keyword start popping up together.
How do you craft a piece of content that stands out in a crowded space? What does standout, remarkable content look like?
The first part of creating exceptional content is to really know your landscape, which means to dive into every piece of related content out there. I often read through the first page of Google search results and take notes on the content that does exist while building my skeleton. This ensures my final piece has crucial elements other articles may have omitted.
Remarkable content, then, is extremely thorough, well-researched and written in simple, easy to understand language. The best of the best can break difficult subjects down with ease.
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 do my best to always choose the most challenging topics I can. It’s easy to take the easy way out and just keep cranking out what you know, but choosing topics that continually push you is the best way to flex your writing muscles. And like I said–reading voraciously is key.
Creativity is also essential. Without creative breaks in between the content my brain turns to mush.
I also use plenty of nootropics, vitamins, cannabis oils and adaptogenic herbs to keep my mind as sharp as possible. You can not do this job on less than eight hours of sleep.
What’s the qualitative difference between producing something like a screenplay and an article about cannabis or CBD? How does your process differ?
Good lord the difference is day and night. I’ve been working on my current screenplay for over a year while most CBD articles take about a day or two to complete.
CBD articles generally have briefs with word counts, SEO keywords and a defined audience. A screenplay, however, has no rules. That’s the beauty of it. You’re making it for you rather than for your audience.
I read several books on screenplay theory to give me a sense of how to go about it like Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, which taught me the meticulous and very technical sticky note method I use today.
I also read as many screenplays as I could get my hands on to get a feel for structure.
If you weren’t doing content marketing, what would you be doing?
I’d be one hell of a kick ass chef. I’m also on my way to becoming a director…and I’ve also had my thoughts about going into acting.
Gimme three tips to improve my writing? Or rather, three tips anyone can use to write better.
- Read more. Read everything you can get your hands on! I sometimes find the best copy in strange places—like on the back of an Oatly carton.
- Devote time for pure, unadulterated creativity. Sit on the couch for 30 minutes without looking at your phone and just daydream. You’ll be amazed what your mind comes up with.
- Read your work out loud. Is this language an eighth grader could understand? If not re-write it. Chances are if your writing is clunky you probably don’t understand the concept well enough.