People want to know how to become an online columnist, how to become an Inc columnist. Tracy Hazzard has been an Inc columnist for over two years now. She talks about what a columnist is and what a contributor is, and lays out the differences between the two. She also provides actionable tips that you can start doing and applying today.
Listen to the podcast here:
How To Become An Inc Columnist
This is Tracy on Feed Your Brand and I am going solo today because I’m going to talk about a subject that is all mine. I’m an Inc columnist. I’m going to talk to you because I get questions like this all the time whenever I give a speech or I get it in social media or I get emailed it. People want to know how to become an online columnist, how to become an Inc columnist. I thought that I would dial in and tell you the story about how it happened for me and then we can talk about some ways that it might happen for you. I think that nowadays, we have to realize that the power of that bigger media name next to ours holds a great level of authority. If you already are a podcast host or if you are a speaker and author at that kind of level and you want some more authority and some more power in your brand, having that kind of title after your name, it really does help. I have to say that it has really changed my authority and my power in the marketplace over the last two years that I have been an Inc columnist.
I wanted also to find the difference between columnist and contributors. A contributor is someone who may pay to write. In some cases, that happens on very specific channels. You may have a PR firm who may have a deal where they can contribute as many articles or so many articles in any given month on their client’s behalf. They write the articles and they usually put their client’s name as a byline and/or their name as the byline. They do that consistently over time and they pay for that position. That does happen in the marketplace. There are also a lot of people who submit contributed articles. You can write an article and if you have a relationship with Forbes or Entrepreneur or Inc. and they’ll accept a certain number of those articles if they meet their editorial review. They do usually go on to some kind of editorial and proof review.
I have that relationship at Thrive Global. I have an ability to write articles there but it usually takes anywhere from three days to a week sometimes to get approved. I’ve always had my articles approved. I haven’t even noticed that they really edited them except sometimes they might change the image that goes at the top or a little wording in the heading. For the most part, they leave the content intact. I think it has to do with their editorial calendar for the most part. It’s really more what they’re looking for than actually censoring any content or anything like that or editing out any content. You can build those relationships. Those are easy to do and they help you just as well as being a columnist.
A columnist is different because as an Inc columnist I am paid to write six articles a month. I can write more if I want but I’m paid to write six. I have a byline, which means that right next to my name, there is a column name. I have a column name as well. My column is called By Design. I am specifically supposed to write about product design, product businesses, how to get a product to market. That’s the topic and the overall it’s By Design. Although very occasionally, I write about marketing and business management and financial management. I can touch on those but I know that I’m talking to that audience that is in product launch mode of some kind. I try to be very specific about it. That’s the thing about a columnist is that you have a narrow or focus perhaps than just being able to be a contributor and you can write about anything you want in any of the areas. I like it that way because I get to write on innovation, so I’m an innovation Inc columnist. That for me is exciting and fun and completely in my wheelhouse.
That’s how it works out there. Really what you want to know is that it’s really not hard to find a contributor or columnist and reach out them to get them the right articles about you. You just have to be very focus with how you do that. To actually get to be the columnist or the contributor, you have to provide some value to the masthead organization. Masthead is Inc. or Forbes or Entrepreneur, vast company, they are all mastheads. They are the name on the top of a magazine, on the top of the website, on the top of the newspaper, whatever that might be. You have to get noticed by them. How can you do that and how does that happen?
I thought it just tell you the story about how it happened for me. That was really a good case study as to how being a podcaster has really served me well. Back when we started our WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast, Tom and I were interviewing lots of people in the 3D print industry and it had worked out really well. We had made lots of connections locally. Someone invited me to speak at their event outside of LA. It was a talk that I gave and I decided to spin it up. I really decided that even though it was a Maker Faire, I wasn’t going to talk about technology. I wasn’t going to really talk about 3D printing. I was going to talk about a business subject. I was going to talk about how makers make profits. Makers Making Profits was the title of my talk. I really thought that that was more me. It is more me to talk about how to make that ability to be sustainable. How to do what you do best and make it a sustainable business model so that you can keep living in your element. You can keep living your brand. You can be authentically and originally you. That’s my driver in all that I do. This was perfect for me. Giving this talk, it was pretty original. There were lots of talks about 3D printers and talks about drones and all sorts of tech and all kinds of things like that. Mine was very unique and it stood out as being very business focused. It was really well-attended and I had a great audience and lots of fantastic questions. I really enjoyed the talk.
Shortly after that, I received an email from the LA Bureau Chief from Inc.com. She had said, “I saw this talk and Inc. is starting up an innovation section, which we’ve never had before, come the New Year. I’d like you to consider being a columnist for us. I’d like you to consider writing articles for us,” that’s what she said originally. Before it was over, she was talking me in to being a columnist and not just a contributor. It was a little daunting to think about, “Six articles a month for a column. That’s a lot of content, and I’ve got a day job and I’ve got my business going,” but I thought this is something that I’ve always wanted. I’m going to give it a go, and so I did. I started writing six articles a month. I found it incredibly challenging for me. I decided to approach it almost exactly the same way that I approached our podcast and that really helped me is that I made every article that I wanted to write. I would sometimes figure out the topics ahead of time. Sometimes they just randomly flow from meeting the right people. What would happen is that I do an interview and I record it and I have it transcribed, then I write my article from them. It really helps me get quotes right and be focused and really generate the content prolifically and not have it be outside of my day job. We’re posting a blog post and all sorts of things, although my team usually does that part and with the column, I do that part. That’s the only difference there. For me, it was a great fit into the system of which how I work. That is a consideration even if you want to be a columnist. Can you fit the time in? Can you do it?
Here’s what I really found over the last two years of doing it. It has been the most powerful thing on my resume. It’s consistent and constant content that gets pushed out. It gets pushed out by Inc., not just by me. Although it is mostly on me to push out and increase the viewership and readership on my articles. It really has though given me a lot of open doors. It’s very similar to being a podcast host when I approach someone and I say, “Would you like me to feature you in an Inc. article?” They are always saying, “Yes, let’s have a conversation.” It’s giving me access to some amazing people that I have really enjoyed talking with. I was lucky enough to interview Walter O’Brien, if you’ve ever seen the TV show Scorpion. He’s the real Walter O’Brien. He’s who I got to meet and that was the most nerve-racking interview I’d ever done because I was only told twenty minutes before that I was going to speak to one of the most intelligent people on the planet and I had to come up with questions. I’ve also gotten to meet John Travolta and other people like that as an Inc columnist. That’s cool too.
I have to say that those are the ones that I feel that are most powerful and most resonant to my readership. The ones that help them the most, are the ones that are the most rewarding. It’s just like being a podcast host but it has a little bit different way of approaching it. It has that same kind of collaborative interaction that happens between me and my interview subject, and between me and my audience or my readership in this particular case. There’s a lot of similarity in it.
A lot of people then come to me and ask me, “How do I do what you did? I’m not sure I can just do a talk and then accidentally do it.” Here’s what I have to say. First off, they are always looking for great content creators. People who write great columns. You need to have an original opinion and original view. You can’t be pushing out the same information that everyone’s reading everywhere else. You can’t be doing this as keyword silo kind of way of writing. You can’t be buzz-wording it. You really have to have an interesting view that is unique to you in order to be an Inc columnist. Contributors are different. You also need to have a non-salesy approach. You definitely are not here to promote your brand, your clients. You are there to promote the best information possible for the readers of your column. If you are willing to be in that place. If you are willing to be a servant leader in that area, then they want to see some samples. Make sure you prepare them ahead of time.
One of the most critical things is prepare a list of great headlines. I would do twenty fabulous headlines or topics that you would write. What would be the headline and maybe even the subtitle? Each masthead, so Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur, they have their own style but they’re all fairly similar. That is that they have a header that is the title that gets pushed around, you’ll see it in social media in the header. Then there will be a subtitle. Usually the header is a little more shorter. It’s inviting; inviting you to click. I don’t want to use the word clickbait because it’s very, very discouraged in a magazine world. You don’t want to have clickbait. You don’t want to have something that does not describe what is in your article. You don’t want to mislead people with that. Have great headlines.
Below that, you can have a subheadline that might be something that really helps you focus on being a little more descriptive about what’s in the article, because you use very few words before. I would put together a full list of 20 to 25 of those like, “These are some of the articles I would be writing for you over the next year. If you’re interested in them, these are great topics. I think they’re unique. I think they’re focusing on hot buttons for a lot of people but I think that these are very original and will play well with your audience.” That being said, it also needs to be matched up. If you’re writing to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Inc. is not the right place for you. Inc. is really a lot of more of those submillion dollar wanting to be Inc. 5,000 companies and 500 companies. They aspire to be at that level. When you’re looking at that, you want to make sure that you really are helping with nitty-gritty tactical things that might propel them up the system. If you’re writing in Fortune or you’re writing in other magazines like that, you’ve got to be writing for people who have different types of problems. Make sure that the media is matched to the audience you want to talk to. Otherwise, it’s a lot of work to being an Inc columnist or a contributor without a lot of immediate rewards. You’re not going to get a client from there. It’s not going to happen every time you write one. That it is building long-term credibility for you and it is building long-term authority for you. If it fits your audience and it’s building that authority in the right place, then it’s worthwhile to you.
After that, you’ve got to find the right editor to approach. That’s not always an easy thing. I get a lot of people come to me, “Will you introduce me to your editor?” “My editor only works in innovation.” It’s not going to help there. Unless I really knew you’re a great writer, I wouldn’t introduce you because it could hurt my relationship with my editor. To ask anyone to do that is really treading on something that you probably don’t have a right to ask that favor for. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go into the Inc.com website, the Forbes.com website and mine the information on who the editors are because they’re there. They write articles as well. You’ll be able to find them and you’ll be able to send them an email and submit to them. I guarantee you that for the most part, while they aren’t always looking for people, they are always looking for good content. If you have good content, they want to read it, they want to see it because it’s all a numbers game in the media world today. How many articles are going out each day? How much posting can they do? How much messaging is happening? It’s really about that.
It’s not always about, unfortunately, the quality of the content and having this journalistic process and training, which is of benefit because that means rookies like me could become an established Inc columnist. It’s also just a different world nowadays and so they want to put in as much as they can in terms of that. The other part of it is that I think you really have to be pushed out in the message when you send an email, and be very gracious and very short in the email and then offer up these topics and some samples of your work. It is to say how you will go about promoting the articles. If you’re good at bringing them new readers, and you’ll be bringing eyes onto every single article you write, onto your column as a whole, they want to know that. Your ability to follow up is important.
That being said, you need to make sure that your platform is in order. I’m going to refer you back to the platform episode with did and really listen to that one because having a great platform, having a place where they look you up and they go, “This person has a great pedigree. They have great resume. They have lots of other media they’ve been on. I can hear them articulate. I’m reading their blog posts that they’ve written. They have a great voice.” All in all, you’re an established person. You’re not just someone who’s coming in fly by night with some new creation and they aren’t really sure who you are and they aren’t really sure what your audience is, and if there’s a good match there. When they can really check you out all over there and see that you’re very well-established and experienced and truly an expert in what you do, it makes them saying yes to you a lot easier.
That also being said, I want to point out that having a podcast is a great way to do that because with podcast, you’re putting out content all the time. You are able to manage your own audience. You’ve built an audience all by yourself. You’ve grown that audience. You’ve got them engaged. You’ve got them listening and you’re continuing to engage them week after week after week. In and of itself, you have a lake up on a lot of other people as a podcast host. You can use that to your advantage as well. Don’t expect to happen, for me, that happened six months after our podcast had launched. Actually, it was maybe even longer than that. The reality of that is that we had definitely established our audience and built ourselves there and really proven that we could command that level of authority. It really boated well when I was writing the column from that point forward, that I would be able to push out and I would have an audience who would listen and read.
I just wanted to throw this out to you because I get this comment all the time. I hope this was a valuable and useful episode for you. If you have any questions or comments or anything you would like to touch base with me about, please do so on BrandcastingYou.com or anywhere on social media @FeedYourBrand. Stay tuned and we will be back with a new episode. Looking forward to talking with you. This is Tracy from Feed Your Brand.