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!
Marijana Kay is a freelance writer and content strategist based in Dublin, Ireland.
She works with massive B2B SaaS brands such as Zapier, AWeber, and Pipedrive (to name just a few).
Before that, she completed a formal education in journalism, obtaining a Master’s degree in the subject. She is also currently helping to build and manage the passionate community of marketers at LearnInbound (a Dublin-based inbound marketing event, community, and collection of courses).
In this interview, we’ll cover a ton of topics, ranging from advice for freelancers, what’s working in SaaS content (and what’s not), and how to set your life up to capture spontaneous and interesting ideas.
Why do you work in content marketing & copywriting? How’d you begin to focus on content? What’s your origin story?
Ready for a really cheesy answer that becomes less cheesy as we move forward? I’ve always wanted to write for a living in some capacity—literally felt like I was born to do it. I’ve written since I can remember. Essays, short stories, poems, all the things.
By the time I reached high school, I saw journalism as the career I want, one that suits me perfectly (if you remove the ridiculous hours and demands journalists typically have live up to, that probably still holds true).
I earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism back in Croatia (where I’m originally from), but once I moved to Ireland with my husband, finding a job in journalism for any length of time felt impossible as I was so new to the culture, politics, and really any events here.
I ended up in a few sales jobs. The last one of them had me sitting next to a marketing team, and their stuff seemed way more interesting than my work. In fact, I got so curious that I’d research and study all things organic search and SEO every day after coming home.
As you can imagine, I ended up going through free resources like the HubSpot Academy and Google certification. In a matter of months, I started connecting with Dublin-based marketers and slowly started seeing content marketing as a career.
That connected me with places that first published my writing as free guest posts. Then, someone paid me. Someone else found that work and wanted to hire me… And so it snowballed.
About two years after starting to learn about marketing, I was fully self-employed as a content writer.
Are there any aspects of your background, skill set, or personality that you believe contribute to your success as a content marketer or as a freelancer?
I believe there are!
Empathy feels like the big one.
Something drives me to always understand the position others are in and my role in it and ways I can make it better. It helps with my client relationships, as well as when writing for a specific audience!
Willingness to potentially fail, and learn from it, is another one.
I feel like fear sets us back and paralyzes—a lot. Once I started thinking about what is truly the worst thing that can happen in any given scenario, and realized it won’t be the end of the world and that I can handle most of it, I became more open to opportunities of all kinds. And if my setback can help someone else learn, even better!
Here’s a weird one: my interpretation of languages.
My native language is Croatian and I’ve started learning English at around 9 years of age (I also learned Italian, French, and Polish at various periods of my life).
This means I almost always choose my words mindfully instead of automatically—I always look at how words are going to sound out loud, especially to a non-native English speaker who is trying to learn from those words. Not sure if it contributes to my success, but it makes me extra aware of areas I can improve in my writing!
What do you attribute to the fact that Ireland has produced so many great wordsmiths? Is it something in the water?
There must be, right? It’s such a privilege to be immersed in a culture that has shared so much incredible writing with the world.
How is freelancing qualitatively different in your experience from working for a company? Is there any advice you’d give someone looking to make the jump (particularly in digital/content marketing?)
This is a trick(y) question as I’ve never worked as a marketer in-house! My last in-house job was indeed in a digital marketing eLearning company, but I was in the product team, literally building online courses in marketing from the ground up.
If I were to make that decision to jump today, the main question I’d want to answer would be: how open am I to having a single stream of communication and work (in-house) versus managing multiple client conversations and expectations simultaneously.
Other than the obvious difference in how you get paid, I see that as the main factor, and I think many people don’t consider it before jumping into freelancing…Only to realize they really don’t like calls and emails and even the autonomy, and would much rather be told what to do.
Some people prefer the stability of one boss—and that’s okay, as long as you recognize it!
How important do you believe specialization to be in content marketing? How narrowly vs broadly should you define your expertise and position yourself to win and serve clients?
I think it’s huge!
Once I started positioning myself as the B2B SaaS content writer rather than just any writer, the demand for my work exploded, and I was able to raise rates and better define my process. That’s when I started building stronger relationships, too, both with clients and industry peers.
I do think you have to start somewhere—and that’s usually with less specialized approach.
I believe it’s worth starting out that way because 1) you’ll struggle to prove your specialty if you haven’t done much work in it, and 2) you get to experiment with multiple areas and see which one you like most.
What are some underrated or lesser used content marketing methods you believe more brands should try? In other words, what works in content marketing that many companies aren’t doing?
I think many companies are missing out on adding their true selves into their content.
Content became the “get-rich-quick-scheme” version of a marketing tactic and everyone seemed to have jumped on and started churning out any content on any remotely relevant topic in hopes to rank in search.
You know what I’m talking about. It’s the stuff that looks relevant and good on the surface (“3 steps to X” or “5 ways to Y”), but lacks substance.
It’s what Benji Hyam of Grow & Convert dubbed mirage content.
On the flipside, you have the likes of Slack, Airtable, You Need A Budget and, possibly my favorite, Ellevest. They stand behind their product and deeply believe in its value for their audience that it jumps out at you with every word you read.
There is no way you will see their piece of content and accidentally believe it’s someone else’s.
That kind of content takes years to build up, and most aren’t patient enough to keep that effort up.
Conversely, what’s a trend in content marketing you’d like to see die (or at least wither up a bit)?
Calling for long-form content as the ultimate savior!
Although long-form content is literally my bread and butter, there are certain use cases for it, and many use cases on the opposite side of the spectrum.
Not everything needs to be an ultimate guide, a 35-step solution, or a half-hour read. Length really only matters in the context of the end reader.
A recipe? As detailed it can be in the lowest word count possible, please—ideally make it fit on a single smartphone screen.
An answer to why my fire alarm is beeping every 60 seconds? Literally the shortest it can be, please and thank you (and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones while you’re at it).
I mean, imagine if you were driving a car and you asked Google Maps for directions to a specific address, and before giving you directions, Maps first told you all about the history of that street for 10 minutes.
Context matters, and 1,500+ words isn’t always the best answer.
What was the most surprisingly challenging part about starting a podcast that you didn’t expect?
The difference of making it attractive and consumable compared to written content, definitely.
Especially because I wrote and produced everything and outsourced nothing, it became super clear really fast that I’m a better storyteller in writing than I am in audio. Telling a story in audio while you’re literally in someone’s ears is linear and limiting because the threshold of losing their attention is far more challenging than in written content.
I’m definitely not where I want to be yet, but practice helps!
On the flip side, what surprising benefits or advantages come with doing a podcast that you didn’t anticipate?
Oh my—the connections. The dozens of connections with the people I was so fortunate to get to interview. Some turned into real-world friendships, which often feels surreal!
Also, people who reach out to tell me something they’ve learned or to tell me they found my other work through an episode recommended by a friend—that’s the ripple effect I feel I’ll never get enough of.
What skill do you believe to be underrated for great content marketers? What should content marketers spend more of their time learning and getting better at?
Without any competition: audience research and understanding the deep drivers of the decisions that the ideal customer makes.
And I mean that beyond just gathering main pain points and questions people ask so that content marketers can answer them. I mean: diving ridiculously deep into the ultimate goals of the person you want to reach.
I like to look at this through the jobs to be done (JTBD) framework, which essentially marks the difference between what a person buys, and why they buy it.
Revlon’s founder captured it by saying: “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.”
I warmly recommend this piece to every content marketer that hadn’t considered content consumers from that perspective and wants to better understand them so they can serve them better, more purposeful content.
If you didn’t work in digital marketing, what would you be doing? Why?
I’d like to think it would be journalism, although who knows? I feel like I’d always end up in a job highly driven by writing or creativity in general. Anywhere else, I would probably be bored and unmotivated to get anything done!
Where do you pull your inspiration from? Where you derive your creativity?
I wish I could say I can come up with the wildest ideas at any moment you ask me to—I can’t!
I do come up with new ideas often, though, and I believe they all have a common denominator: I let things brew in the back of my mind a lot.
I’ll think of something—literally a short, simple concept that on its own isn’t new or anything remarkable to write about—and then think on it, feeding it with things I read or listen to during the next few days, even if it’s seemingly unrelated.
The result? For example, I’ll think of a great analogy to use in a CRM piece I’m writing, or I’ll come up with a real-life online shopping example for an ecommerce piece based on my experience. I take lots of written and voice notes on my phone all the time, so my small ideas build up over time.
It’s also a reason I give myself more than a day to come back to a piece I’ve almost finished—it helps me come up with unique elements to add!
Gimme three tips to improve my writing (or more generally, for anyone to improve their writing).
1. Separate research from writing.
These are two very different processes—when you research and write simultaneously, you don’t let your brain perform the best it could at either of those things. In research, you let your mind wander and look for stories, patterns, uncovered pieces of a bigger picture; in writing, you’re hyper-focused on turning it into a narrative.
2. Speak what you write out loud.
I find this as the best way to avoid jargon and weird phrases that often look great on paper (usually because they make you look smart). If you wouldn’t use it in a conversation, get rid of it. When you’re able to explain even the most complex concepts in a speaking tone of voice, you’re winning!
3. Keep asking “why.”
Question the phrases and statements you use to make a point. When you’re not careful with them, you could end up sounding condescending to your reader and losing their trust. Ask ‘why’ when you make your points because the chances are—your reader already knows it. The next question is—how can you turn that point into something they will actually learn from? It’s a fine line, but the more you write, the better you’ll get at nailing it.