In this issue:

  • Curious about audience research and digital authority? Check out our free virtual educational event (ok fine, it's a webinar, but I despise that word)
  • All the content we've ever published about keyword research
  • Everything The Content Technologist has been up to this year, including updates on Let's Build a Website, courses past and present, and website updates
  • Ten things I've learned in five-ish years of running an independent consultancy
  • Content tech links of the week: Big tech knowingly trained AI on copyrighted content despite internal policies against it, the color of the internet, and more
  • Did you read? about the new film nerd channel

Coming April 30: What's in your knowledge graph? Building the future of digital content

Natural language processing (NLP) — an umbrella term for the technology that reads all language-first digital content — is here to stay. How can you prepare your brand's content for entity-first search and ever-shifting discovery that NLP enables?

In this free 45-minute virtual event, digital content expert Deborah Carver (that's me!) will explain theory and techniques to move beyond the keyword era and start building your business' knowledge graph today.

I'll also be announcing something pretty big... so it's definitely worth your time.

You can also register on LinkedIn live if you prefer.

Now available

Huge favor: Can you watch this video all the way through? And perhaps sign up for More than (key)Words here.

I'm super proud of More than (key)Words, a new course that shares my unique and proven audience research methodology. I've executed iterations of this technique for many clients over the past ten years (most of whom I unfortunately can't name because NDAs), and I know how well it works. Now I want to teach you these human-centered audience research tactics, so we can all make the internet a better place.

Early bird pricing (30% off) is available until June 15. Freelancer discounts available upon request — qualify here.

(Now if only the domain forwarding would work consistently. Baby steps!)

Keyword research: A guide to everything we've ever published

Although More than (key)Words is material that's never been published before, we've written plenty of content about this topic over the years. Here's our complete guide.

Read the guide to keyword research

On Let's Build a Website, we're actively building out our content model for a personal website

Since the first week of the year, I've been livestreaming my personal website rebuild. Although this project is mostly an experiment to practice live video while demonstrating software, I'm making progress along with a few folks who tune in weekly.

Here's what we've broadcasted so far on Let's Build a Website:

  • Developed a strategy, sitemap, and content model for a personal website
  • Outlined page templates (the writer's version of wireframes)
  • Researched other websites for inspiration
  • Reviewed various website software and platforms
  • Decided on Webflow as our website software and chose a template, keeping strategy and functionality in mind
  • Started building out an internal content model so my dream of having a personal portfolio website that replaces/augments most social media activity can be realized. Here's the episode, available in front of the paywall..

On Monday, April 15, all episodes will stream on both YouTube and Twitch beginning at 7am Eastern.

Interested in building along or watching all back episodes on demand? Consider a paid Let's Build a Website subscription. (BTW, paid subscribers will have lifetime access to all assets for the LBAW project if and when this content takes a new form.) updates are nigh

After a few pivots last year, I'm reevaluating and reconstructing The Content Technologist's web ecosystem. This means the website will be under construction over the next six weeks or so. You likely won't notice! Most of you never visit the website! And that's fine. But since this is a newsletter issue rife with updates, I figured I'd share the changes I'm making:

  • Reconfiguring the homepage so it features the newsletter subscription prompt more prominently
  • Audit! Ensuring all forms, navigation, and automations related to the website are working and accurate
  • Shifting educational services to reflect 2024's focus on courses instead of live programming
  • Adding in "training" and "speaking" to the Services section
  • Configuring a few more guides that collect past content around frequent topics
  • Rebuilding my bio page

Do you have complaints or wishes about the website? Speak now (hit reply) or forever hold your peace.

Ten things I've learned in nearly five years of running an independent consultancy

One result of mass layoffs in the last year: A lot of y'all are going out on your own to become independent consultants. To that, I say: The more, the merrier! If you're decamping from corporate to start your own thing, I'm rooting for you. The line here is always open if you want to chat or commiserate.

The five-year anniversary of The Content Technologist as a business is approaching, I have some big announcements on the horizon, and I figure I'll share what I've learned. Yeah, it's early, but I have other plans for May.

Mostly, thanks for subscribing and reading. This newsletter represents the soul of my work as an independent consultant, and without it I wouldn't have a business.

1 - Prioritize two activities: making money and owning your authority.

If you don't make more money than you spend, you don't have a business. If you outsource your authority (to social media platforms, to conferences, to unpaid gigs of any kind), you are trading precious time that could be spent working with clients and growing your business in a dollar-value sense. Choose wisely, and limit social media time or other "exposure" activities unless you have very clear goals for the initiative.

2 - Spend as little time on business development as possible.

This is leftover from my experience in the agency world, but I don't do the song-and-dance of the RFP process to get business anymore. As an independent, it's just not worth it for me. Instead, I partner with agencies that know how to sell my services, and I'll input on their RFPs if needed.

I have templates that I adapt when clients need proposals, but I now avoid the super custom proposals I used to put effort into during the first two years of consulting. Those custom proposals rarely netted clients! What actually attracted clients was the relationships I built through content, so I focused my biz dev on making a great newsletter, which I've practiced enough to be able to execute in 2-6 hours per week.

3 - Conferences in your owned niche don't net clients.

Especially in content, where many people have an unreasonable expectation of never being sold to ever, it's not really worth it to commit to conferences where the attendees already understand the value of your niche, or where most of the attendees are beginners looking to boost their careers. Instead, look at industry-specific marketing conferences or areas where you can introduce your thought leadership to broader audiences who are focused on results.

4 - Segmentation is overrated.

If I have the choice to create one really good product for a large niche or several super-bespoke done-but-not-perfect products for even nichier niches, I'm going to choose the former. With limited resources, I'd rather focus on making the product good instead of trying to cater to the idea that people won't react to your product unless they think it's for them.

Late last year in an attempt to remodel my business sustainably, I niched down too far. It was a down year for my target audience across the board, and they couldn't commit to my super bespoke ultranichey product. Not sustainable! I pivoted quickly to save my pocketbook, leaving a fair bit of a mess in the wake.

Because computers are good at making tables and organizing people into groups, we're often encouraged to segment our audience so we can use segmentation software. That's a bit glib, but I really feel that unless you have a 10k+ mailing list, there's not much advantage to segmentation.

5 - Lean on your strengths, not others' models.

There's a maxim in small business ownership that you should always follow an existing business model. That's a notion that works for franchisees, not for independent consultants with specialized skills and strong opinions. Just because a coach/client/friend/competitor has a working business model that you could try does not mean it will work for your business or your personality.

In my case, I love writing and building. I like sales less. I like sending unsolicited emails even less than sales. So, building authority and meeting potential clients through content and inbound marketing makes more sense for me, personally, than pinging potential clients with meeting requests or overwhelming this list with marketing automation.

6 - Many people—including many professionals—have the same expectations of solo businesses as large corporations.

In a small solo business, you don't have a lot of runway to fuck around and find out. When you fuck around and aren't actively making money, you find out that you have less money or are in debt. Something I've learned working mostly in start-ups and small businesses: Done is better than Perfect in many situations.

But a surprising number of people don't know the difference. They don't understand why you don't have unlimited time for activities beyond the scope of work. They don't understand why you won't just sit down and walk them through, step by step, the proprietary research you already explained (and provided a written guide to) twice.

The nice thing about being a solo consultant, though, is that you can cut ties and not experience much loss. There are still plenty of fish in the sea. Related:

7 - Contracts! You need 'em.

Define your deliverables and activities for every client, every time. Specify what your scope of work includes, down to clear deliverables, word count, hours spent, number of revisions, and communications preferences. Define what overage looks like. Then, track your time. You will likely go over sometimes, but know when it gets to be too much.

8 - If you want to run a collaborative media company where everyone is paid fairly for their contributions, you need at least two years of cash runway or an airtight sales strategy.

I'll just leave the Great Business Failure of 2022-23 there. Collaborating with other experts last year was amazing! But it takes time to build a media company, and it took me way too long to realize I didn't have the business model or the resources to back it up.

Realistically, you probably need like five years of cash runway, a solid business plan, and a lot of investor goodwill.

9 - Sexism is everywhere, even in independent consulting.

Nothing upsets me more than men who charge higher prices than I do, even though the work is sub-par, even when they're just discovering processes and methods that women have been advocating for years. Similarly, women-focused entrepreneur ecosystems are filled with pink-tax sexism in their own right. I would like to see more gender-agnostic entrepreneur spaces, as well as more men recognizing, collaborating with, and linking to women whose work they read and respect.

10 - You don't need to scale. You do need to replicate.

Don't post every day if you're not actively building audience. Don't dream of calling yourself a Founder or a CEO if, in practice, that wouldn't fill your cup. Don't worry about growing an audience if it's not necessary for your business.

Do focus on building and iterating processes that make client service and deliverables high-quality and repeatable, all the while saving you time. Do the work that gets referrals and a good reputation.

The Content Technologist is a newsletter and consultancy based in Minneapolis, working with clients and collaborators around the world. The entire newsletter is written and edited by Deborah Carver, independent content strategy consultant, speaker, and educator.

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Cultural recommendations / personal social: Spotify | Instagram | Letterboxd

Did you read? is the assorted content at the very bottom of the email. Cultural recommendations, off-kilter thoughts, and quotes from foundational works of media theory we first read in college—all fair game for this section.

Yesterday, the Criterion Channel launched Criterion 24/7, a livestream of its collection of films, one after the other. They've reinvented tv! And I love it, especially since it's been nearly two decades since I had regular access to Turner Classic Movies.

The service is for Criterion Channel subscribers only, and right now there's no info on which film is on now or what's coming next, which is refreshingly surprising and fun for sleuthy types. Just tune in, and it's a good movie.

If you're not familiar, the Criterion Collection is basically the canon of highly regarded films throughout history. Yeah, it's a bit highbrow, but like cinema, it's beautiful, fun, and unexpected.