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!
Mercey Livingston is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach as well as a Wellness Writer and Content Consultant.
She’s got a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations, and she studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
In the past, she’s worked in-house as an editor at Well+Good, covering fitness and wellness trends. Currently she writes for a myriad of clients in the health and wellness space, produces podcasts, and helps clients as an integrative nutrition health coach.
How did you get into content and copywriting? What’s your origin story?
I’ve always loved reading, and writing was something that I noticed I was good at in school and I enjoyed it.
Once I started college, I tried out a few different majors, including Business, Marketing, and English and eventually settled on Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations. That’s when things finally kind of clicked for me and I saw a future career in what I was doing.
I saw Journalism and Public Relations as a cool combination of having a career that allowed me to write, but also felt a bit in the marketing and strategy world with the PR side. I eventually started working in corporate Public Relations, and realized that while there are parts of PR and media strategy that I enjoyed, I ultimately wanted to write and be in the wellness space, which is what led me to my first staff writing job at Well+Good.
Well+Good is a lifestyle news site, devoted to wellness. While I worked there fitness was my main beat, which was tons of fun since I spent my days running around NYC taking all of the workout classes I could manage and interviewing top trainers in the industry for articles.
After working on the staff full-time, I decided to try out the freelance world and began writing for other wellness and health sites in addition to Well+Good, and also began consulting for content and copywriting, specifically for clients in wellness.
Now I love the work that I do because it’s a great combination of using creativity, strategy and also my background in public relations, communications, and digital marketing.
Do you think it’s important that freelance writers pick a specific niche? If so, what are the main benefits of doing so?
I think picking a specific niche is helpful, mainly because (hopefully) that niche is specific to you, your interests and knowledge.
For me, I’m a much better writer when I’m writing about something that I’m interested in and know about (or am at least interested in researching more).
Also, I think writing about too broad of a variety of topics could limit opportunities as a writer simply because people want to see demonstrated interest and experience in one area. It really sets you apart, even if that area is kind of broad like say, lifestyle–that can include so many areas from travel, to fashion, to home, to dating and relationships.
But the more specific the niche, the better, since you can establish yourself as an expert in that area.
How did you pick your niche of health and wellness?
Wellness and health are topics that have always interested me and that I wanted to learn more about personally. So once I started writing in the industry I knew that it was the right niche since I loved every minute of the process– from brainstorming topics and article ideas to finding experts and industry pros to interview.
I’m constantly reading the latest books, articles, and research in the industry which I really enjoy–that part of the job does not feel like work to me.
From there, I dove into covering fitness specifically and so most of my time on staff at Well+Good was spent writing about fitness, workout, exercise science trends/new studies, and interviewing top trainers and fitness company founders and CEOs.
How do you describe the main differences between working in-house for a business and freelancing full-time?
Besides the obvious differences like financial predictability, health insurance, taxes, insurance etc. I would say I definitely have more freedom in the decision making about who I work with and what I work on. At the same time, being the only one making decisions in my business can be challenging.
It’s also very different not being a part of a team every day–I feel like a small part of my clients’ teams but in a small way.
Sometimes working solo seems much more productive (no office distractions!) but it is hard sometimes to stay inspired and motivated when I don’t have a table full of fellow writers around me to bounce ideas off of or brainstorm with.
So definitely a lot of differences, and each situation comes with it’s own set of pros and cons.
What’s the most effective way(s) a freelance writer can build a portfolio of clients that they enjoy working with?
I always say that if people are looking to work with clients they enjoy working with, first think about the products, brands, services or people you admire and then simply ask them if they need help with content or growing their brand.
And be open to working for free for a bit (if you’re new to writing) or even doing a trial run to see if it’s a fit. You’d be surprised with how many people want to do more content, blogs, etc. and simply don’t have the time.
All you have to do is offer them a solution that’s appealing to them, and show genuine interest in helping them or their brand grow. This has always worked in my experience and I’ve always been strict about working with clients who I personally support and whose work or mission I want to help promote.
It’s this approach that almost feels a bit mission-driven that helps me land the clients that end up being the best fit professionally, and who I personally click with.
What are some common mistakes freelancers make when building the “business” side of things (so operations, client acquisition, client management, etc. – all the non-writing stuff)?
One common mistake is looking for clients in the wrong places (i.e. over-trafficked job boards) and not setting boundaries around your time.
Also, ignoring red flags at the beginning when taking on clients–I think early on it’s tempting to take on anyone and every project that comes your way, but it’s not the best approach.
I think taking your time to figure out a niche and your ideal clients is always worth it.
What’s a strong skill or lesson from your journalism education that sticks with you today?
I would say the lesson in writing objectively as a journalist and constantly trying to see all sides of an issue or topic.
It’s easy to write about one viewpoint or one perspective (especially if it’s what you personally believe in) but journalism school teaches you to always check your bias, and make sure you’re including voices/perspectives from all sides and solid evidence in any claim you make (i.e. is the health claim backed by science?).
Is there an aspect of your personality or your background experience you attribute to your ability to write well and succeed as a writer?
I think the one aspect of my personality is curiosity and I also genuinely love learning about new topics and ideas.
I also love connecting with people, especially in the wellness industry, and hearing their stories and what inspires them is part of what drives my work. I’m inspired by many of the people in this space, so writing about them and their work comes very naturally to me.
Also, I really love to read, and that’s something that’s always helped me be a better writer. It’s one of those things you can’t teach someone to love inherently, I think, but it’s so helpful. I haven’t met many successful writers who don’t read a lot.
Biggest pet peeve in content you see published online?
Probably lack of originality and voiceless/flat content.
What would you do if you didn’t work in content/writing?
Something else I actually do in addition to writing is holistic nutrition consulting/health coaching, so probably that!
Writing about wellness and meeting people in this field are actually what inspired me to do training for holistic and integrative nutrition coaching with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
I enjoy helping people with nutrition coaching since I feel like I’m putting the things I’m learning every day to more tangible use–I get to share it with people and help apply it to their everyday lives.
People feel so overwhelmed by all of the wellness information out there, which I totally get, so I enjoy helping people kind of tune out the noise and find what works or is helpful for them in their individual situation.
What inspires you? What kind of writing, media, personalities do you follow, and where do you get your ideas?
Travel and experiences definitely top the list–that’s why when I went freelance, even though I left NYC, I committed to go back there often since it’s such an inspiring city to me.
Every time I go to NYC, I come back with a list of new ideas for writing, projects etc. Meeting people there, whether that’s at a fitness studio, event or even a bar always inspires me.
I try to travel to a new place as often as I can to change things up–NYC is amazing and diverse but it also can feel like an island (I think people say that? ha).
Also as someone who is into fitness/wellness, daily exercise/movement is essential for my brain and productivity. A lot of good ideas come to me during or after a workout–whether from the class itself, the instructor or from just having my brain shut off for an hour and focus on my body.
I recently got into dance cardio workouts which are such a challenge to me physically, but also mentally since if you’re not present in what you’re doing, you’re lost for the rest of the song!
There’s a ton of wellness information and media now –from magazines to social media to blogs– so I stay on top of those pretty frequently. I think it’s so important to stay on the radar with what people are talking about in your industry. Also as a writer I’m pitching ideas a lot to editors and the last thing you want is to pitch something that’s already been done or not really current or relevant.
I follow a lot of leaders in the wellness space, from obscure wellness bloggers, functional medicine practitioners, to CEOs of companies like Dave Asprey from BulletProof or Melissa Hartwig from Whole30.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, I’m very into them. I also produce podcasts for some of my clients, which works out well.
Gimme three tips to improve my writing? Or rather, tips that anyone can use to become a better writer
- If you can write something, sleep on it, and then edit it, do that! The space away from something I just wrote always really helps me when I come back to it. If you can’t do that, at least try and go for a walk and then come back to edit it.
- Read your work out loud–people want to read something that sounds conversational and sometimes we don’t realize how weird the writing sounds or does not flow until you hear it
- Read as much as you can, especially in the field or industry you want to write about