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Day 22 – Being a content generalist

by , Content Strategist, GatherContent

Being a jack of all trades is often frowned upon. But is that fair? Perhaps being a generalist, rather than a specialist, is a good thing. On day twenty two of our Content Strategy Advent Calendar Iain Broome discusses just that. Here’s to being a generalist!

Video transcript

Hello. My name’s Iain Broome. I’m a freelance content producer and writer person from Sheffield in the UK. Today I want to try and shout about the idea of being a content generalist. Now much of the advice that we receive, not just as content people but in life generally, is to try and specialise. The idea is that if you are a specialist in something, that means that you are the go-to person and people want to talk to you and find things out from you. And it is a really fantastic thing. It is great to be a specialist in something. I’m not really sure that I am a specialist in anything. I think I can do lots of things, but I don’t know if I’m a particular specialist or expert in any one thing. I think I’m a content generalist.

I’ve been freelancing since February 2017, so not very long at all. When I first started out I thought that I would have to be a specialist. I thought I’m going to have to really focus on one thing. For me it was plain English, or writing in plain English. But the reality has been quite different. I’ve ended up doing projects where I have edited podcasts, I’ve edited video, I’ve written for the web, I’ve done some content strategy work, I’ve done some. I even wrote a few articles all about boilers. As in like stuff that heats your house.

Now the truth is I think that we’re all generalists. I think content people really have to be generalists. If you’re working on a web project for example you need to know a little bit about SEO, you need to have some idea of what’s going on when it comes to design, you need to have knowledge of UX and UI stuff. You need to be a real generalist. You need to have, if you can code, crikey! If you can code as well, you’re absolutely laughing. So rarely do content people work on one particular thing and stay on it. Research! There’s another thing that’s very important, user research.

Wireframes. Information architecture. Project management. We do a lot of project management. So yes I content people are naturally generalists. So I want to share three things that I think will help you embrace the idea of being a content generalist.

Number one. Be prepared to learn new things. Have an open mind and be prepared to get stuck in and try something new. You don’t have to be an expert in something to do a good job. And you do have to remember that the people that you are working for probably aren’t experts either. So they don’t necessarily know that you’re not an expert. Although you should probably tell them if it’s quite a serious and difficult thing that you’re trying to do.

Number two. Don’t worry about your job title. We worry about our job titles a lot in the content industry. There are all kinds of things that you can call yourself, I say don’t worry about any of them. You are whatever you want to be at any given time. Who cares what you’re called? The content comes first, does it now. That’s what we always say to clients, content first, take a content first approach. So that’s what we should do. Worry about the content, don’t worry about what you’re called.

Three! Say yes to things. That’s something that I’ve really had to do this year, partly out of necessity at times. You know, first year of freelancing! But say yes to things. If you think that you can’t do something then sometimes, where appropriate, it’s ok to learn on the job. Be honest. Say, you know what, I’m not sure if I can do that, it’s not really what I’ve done before but I think I’ve got the skills and I think I can probably do what you need me to do.

The alternative of course is to continually say no to things and A, that’s not feasible if you’re a freelancer, but even if you’re not a freelance person, continually saying no does force you into a corner. It’s difficult, it’s difficult to grow and do new things and expand your knowledge and stuff like that.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. It’s Merry Christmas from the shed and hope you have a lovely time and I hope that GatherContent see fit to invite me back next year. I should also say that you can find me at verymeta.com. Or on Twitter you can find me @iainbroome. I-A-I-N. B-R-double O-M-E. Thank you.

About Iain

Very Meta is the freelance home of Iain Broome, a writer, editor and content producer with bags of experience.

He develops content strategies, turns complicated ideas into plain English and writes thoughtful copy for print and screen. That’s the basics. He does other stuff too. Like develop and run content workshops, create educational videos and record voiceovers in various funny accents.

After a decade working in top-notch agencies, Iain has created content for the likes of the NHS, Morrisons, the Eden Project, various government departments and, in what was a curious turn of events, international bestselling author, Wilbur Smith.

You can say hello to Iain on Twitter or find him on LinkedIn to learn more about his content and consultancy services at Very Meta.​

About the Author

Content Strategist, GatherContent

Rob is Content Strategist at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways, WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy at leading industry events.

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