Last Friday on October 8th, 2021, I had the serendipitous opportunity to attend the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain’s study weekend in St Ives, Cornwall. The reason I’m telling you this is because it relates to everything I’m about to share with you around starting and growing CBA Content over the past four years.
Since meeting some of the Virginia Woolf Society members and hearing talks by profound scholars, historians and writers, the four lessons that I keep coming back to have resonated with me and the direction of my business even more.
My hope is that by sharing what I’ve learned recently as an independent content writer and marketer, I will encourage you to reflect on your own professional journey and perhaps inspire you to try something new with your business. After all, you won’t know unless you try.
With that in mind, here are four lessons of late that have reenergized CBA Content and lit a new pathway I’m excited to explore.
1. Go Down The Rabbit Hole
Influenced by a trip to see the fantastic Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at the V&A last month, this ‘lesson’ isn’t something you see coming; rather, you might not see it at all until you’re in the middle or end of it, or until someone else points it out to you.
To be perfectly honest, I’m still not sure I’ve gone down a rabbit hole yet, but there is one big change that I recently made that has felt a bit like discovering a wonderland – moving to St Ives, Cornwall. After visiting this exceptional place for the first time last year, my boyfriend and I kept going back until we decided to take the plunge and move down ourselves. It had this homely feel, sitting on the tip of the country, intriguingly layered with centuries of incredible art, history, people and heritage.
Whether the move to St Ives was me going down a rabbit hole of new and exciting adventures or simply a welcome change after living in London during the pandemic, it has certainly expanded my horizons, physically and figuratively. It’s also flipped the page on CBA Content and started the next chapter of learning, growing and moving towards what I enjoy doing most. The trick is though, at least from what I have found, is to not just go down a rabbit hole but to put yourself out there in the process. That’s where my, and Alice’s, adventure really begins.
2. Put Yourself Out There
A lot of creatives, freelancers and marketers (the irony) don’t like to put themselves out there. I’m included in that number, but it’s so important to tell people what you’re interested in, what matters to you and how your unique skill set and experience are helping nurture your passions and achieve your goals.
Putting yourself out there might sound sticky and uncomfortable – who likes tooting their own horn really? – however, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to mean posting on LinkedIn about the award you’ve won or the big client project you’ve just polished off. Those types of successes can certainly boost your credibility and authority, but what I’m referring to is smaller, everyday steps like:
- Attending an online event happening in your industry or around one of your interests
- Interacting with someone or an organization that you admire on social media
- Sending an email to a business or community whose values align with you and your business
- Being openminded about volunteer opportunities; you never know where it might take you
Looking back on some of my proudest moments at CBA Content, almost all of them started with a step listed above. The long-form piece I wrote on conservation at English Heritage, for example, stemmed from an email I sent to English Heritage’s content director.
Another exciting project I worked on with Lonely Planet, and the first video idea I pitched, began by chatting with an extended family member and putting myself out there (let’s just say speaking in front of the camera isn’t my strongest suit).
Recently, because I moved to a new place, I’ve had to become more comfortable with putting myself out there. On the plus side, approaching this daunting task in smaller steps (like those above) is proving to be worthwhile. An outreach message I sent to a local heritage organization, for instance, is what ultimately led me to the Virginia Woolf Society and newfound interests. On the other hand, putting myself out there is still something I have to be proactive about because it doesn’t come naturally… yet! So we’ll keep this as a lesson and a goal – like most of my learnings so far.
3. Narrow Your Focus
This takeaway is a work in progress, too, as I feel like we continuously discover new interests and refine our creative process in order to get better at what we do. When you go down a rabbit hole, often without knowing, you move towards the things that you value and appreciate. Tunnel vision, in this case, can play up your strengths, giving you more focus, direction and drive.
Personally speaking, I’ve taken CBA Content from a general content marketing business that did whatever request came through, to a business that focuses on helping arts and cultural heritage businesses connect people to experiences that matter. Revisiting this mission statement now, I’ve recently noticed a subtheme begin to emerge: one that centers on bringing the stories of women in the arts to life.
For me at least, homing in on a niche and doing more of what I’m good at (writing and marketing, i.e. writing with a purpose) has not only made me happier but also better at my job. I’ve found, after much trial and error, that interest in what you do and quality of work are positively correlated. The greater interest I have in a subject or goal, the higher the quality my work tends to be. While this isn’t a revelation by any means, I am glad that I listened to other freelancers and entrepreneurs who recommended narrowing your focus and defining your niche. After all, no one else has your personal experiences or story, so why not use it to uniquely position yourself and stand out from the crowd.
4. Be Patient
How could I not end on a piece of advice that my mom has given me my whole life? “Infinite patience equals immediate results,” she likes to say, and although I have no idea where she got that phrase from, it always sticks with me. Maybe I remember it because it’s somewhat contradictory and doesn’t make complete sense, but mostly it reminds me that things happen in time. They might not happen as quickly or smoothly as I would like, however, allowing events to take their course, is usually all you can do.
Working independently, you learn to not take silences or one-off collaborations personally. People are busy, budgets get slashed, team members move onto new roles. No more was this apparent than when the pandemic hit. Everyone’s professional and personal lives were affected. Any momentum that businesses had gained in the beginning of 2020 came to a halt. Freelance or full-time, lockdown became a waiting game for all of us.
In addition to helping us realize what’s important in life, the pandemic has also taught patience. With so many variables out of our control, the only thing you could do was take each day as it came. While there is still a sense of hesitancy and caution, people and colleagues are beginning to return to work and rebuild that lost rapport.
For CBA Content, the past 18 months have been a huge lesson in patience. It has also renewed my focus on the kind of work that I think is important and worthwhile. In my case, that means helping cultural heritage organizations share their stories of art, culture and people in an engaging and accessible way.
As you can see, these four lessons and learnings are constantly weaving in and out of my work and aspirations. Hopefully, I never run out of thread and CBA Content becomes a beautiful pattern of relationships, ideas and meaningful collaborations.
I love connecting with fellow freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs so I can follow along with their career journeys and see where they’re headed next. If you would like to connect online, you can find me at cba_content on Twitter and Instagram.
I look forward to “seeing” you there!