I'm Simon Worsfold, a former travel and sports writer turned SaaS content marketer. Ask me anything about how to write and pitch great content.

Simon Worsfold
Mar 9, 2018

I once traveled the world writing for a living. In my last job I wrote about the lives of aspiring Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Today I work for a software company. Sound boring? It's not. (And unlike the travel writing gig it actually pays the bills.)

I'm a published author and experienced news writer. Originally from the UK, I now manage a team of content marketers at TSheets by QuickBooks in Eagle, Idaho. I create content for tsheets.com that finds its way into the phones, laptops, earphones, and minds of people across the world.

Simon Worsfold says:

This AMA will end Mar 16, 2018 7PM EDT

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What according to you is the most damaging misconception about what content marketing is?
Mar 13, 3:08PM EDT0

I'm honestly not aware of any misconceptions about content marketing. It's good to see brands focusing on creating useful content and trying to apply the same rigor to it as editors and publishers would. That doesn't always happen of course, but I think it's a good direction for business communications to be heading.  

Last edited @ Mar 16, 10:37PM EDT.
Mar 16, 6:33PM EDT0
What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite book, either marketing or otherwise?
Mar 13, 12:31PM EDT0

I mentioned one of my favorite books earlier in this AMA actually, it's called Above The Clouds by Anatoli Boukreev. It's a mountaineering book. I read a lot of mountaineering literature! Probably my favorite book is a history of the English language by Bill Bryson. It's called Mother Tongue. If you're interested in etymology it's a must-read. 

Last edited @ Mar 16, 10:38PM EDT.
Mar 16, 6:37PM EDT0
How do you define the good content and how do you measure it?
Mar 13, 5:30AM EDT0

Most writers and editors have or develop an instinct for good content. You should be able to tell immediately by reading it if it's going to hit the mark or not. And whether it does hit the mark or not is all down to the reader and how well he or she receives it. There are several ways to measure this and the method you choose really depends on the objective of the content. You might look at engagement on social media, the number of page views in Google Analytics, or if it's a very in-depth and authoritative piece, how many people have cited the article.

Mar 16, 6:41PM EDT0
Why do you think people are so fascinated with the Saas content marketer and why is it so hard for young writers to break into it?
Mar 13, 5:18AM EDT0

Honestly, I'm not sure! But it's good to hear there's such as interest in SaaS content marketing. I think it's hard for any writer at first, no matter what direction you want your career to take. It's a very skilled job but can be, at least to begin with, fairly low paid. And people want to see experience before they give it to you. The old Catch-22. It took me years to balance the books as a writer. Content marketing adds another technical layer to the copywriting process so you need to be more than just a good writer. You also need a good working knowledge of search engine optimization. You don't need to be an expert in SEO, but a solid understanding definitely helps. Crack that, and show people you can write, and I think you'd have a good shot at breaking through.

Last edited @ Mar 16, 10:40PM EDT.
Mar 16, 6:47PM EDT0
Which two articles, do you believe, can be described as your best pieces of writing and why?
Mar 10, 11:45AM EST0

I'm not sure about my best work but all of the articles I've enjoyed most have involved interviews with people because it makes for richer content, and I always learn something new. A recent interview I enjoyed was with productivity expert Laura Vanderkam. The article, published on the TSheets blog, was "How to Find Time for the Things You Love." 

In the build up to and aftermath of the London 2012 Olympics I got to interview many British athletes about their sport and life outside of sport and I'd loved writing all of these articles. It was a real honor to meet so many top athletes back then and to be part of such a high profile event. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Last edited @ Mar 16, 10:45PM EDT.
Mar 16, 6:52PM EDT0
Do you prefer to work with your own ideas based on assignments and why?
Mar 10, 11:13AM EST0

I think it's sometimes easier to work with your own ideas because you can see the whole project with a 360 view of it. When you have a great idea that arrives fully formed, you know exactly what it needs and where to take it. But that's pretty rare and in fact, most of the best ideas come from other people — from bouncing ideas off other people. So team projects usually end up being the most successful, and enjoyable too. Content marketing is a team game and that's one of the reasons I enjoy it.

Last edited @ Mar 16, 10:48PM EDT.
Mar 16, 6:54PM EDT0
What are some of the techniques one can use to manage deadlines or priorities and which of these do you prefer and why?
Mar 10, 8:41AM EST0

The most effective when it comes to writing is just get quicker at writing, and that takes practice. Having the confidence to say no is important too. That can be hard when you work for yourself. But when you're part of a team it's always best to share the workload and decide who's best positioned to take on a particular assignment. 

Mar 16, 6:56PM EDT0

What do you believe are the main components of a good pitch and why?

Mar 9, 4:56PM EST0

If your content is good and it's written with a clearly-defined audience in mind, the pitch should really write itself. If you're finding it hard to write a pitch, I think that's a clear sign that you're about to pitch the wrong content. Beyond that, approach your pitch in the same way you woud approach an article. What's the headline? What's the hook? What are you asking the reader to do? Imagine you were about to receive that email yourself. Would you open it? Would you reply? If not, start again.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 6:10PM EST.
Mar 9, 6:09PM EST0
What interests or hobbies inspired you to become a sports writer?
Mar 9, 3:02PM EST0

I've always had an interest in sport but it was never a true passion until I got to work in the industry. My wife is the real sports enthusiast in my family and she introduced me to it via a British charity called SportsAid. We worked there together for several years. The inspiration usually flowed in the other direction. Every time I got to meet an athlete I would go home and run a little further, train a little harder.

Mar 9, 6:04PM EST0
What are some of your experiences with non-text content?
Mar 9, 10:23AM EST0

I've worked on a few videos over the years (this is a good example) and the main thing I learned from this experience is that the concept always comes first. Commissioning a film without a clear brief for the filmmaker, or a good vision for what you want the film to be about, is an expensive recipe for disaster. Everything flows from the original concept. The tighter the better. Whenever I write video scripts it always amazes me how little copy you need. It's a great skill, writing for video, because there's no room for error. Every word you use has to work, and everything needs to be said in as few words as possible. Top tip: most directors will be able to give you a word limit. If it's a 30-second film, start with four or five sentences.

Mar 9, 5:56PM EST0
What are the types of audiences with which you have been involved with or associated?
Mar 9, 4:07AM EST0

Are you asking which audiences I've written for Alexey? I hope I'm answering your question here! Currently the primary audience I write for is people who own small businesses, and their employees. In my last job it was people who followed Olympic and Paralympic sport, focusing on potential sponsors such as banks, insurance companies, and other corporations. I've also written a lot of consumer content, especially back in my travel writing days.

Mar 9, 5:48PM EST0
What are your thoughts about key word research and why do you feel this way?
Mar 8, 11:41PM EST0

Key word research is essential for any content that you want to rank highly in Google search results. It can be less important to content that's more educational or informative in nature, such as blog posts, but it's still a useful way to get ideas and ensure you're answering people's questions and concerns correctly. Why do I feel this way? Because Google sits on one of the biggest content-related datasets ever collected and that makes it a mine of useful information.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 6:15PM EST.
Mar 9, 5:42PM EST0
Who are some of the most interesting athletes you have interviewed and why?
Mar 8, 9:56PM EST0

I spent about five years working in Olympic and Paralympic sport in the UK and I was lucky to meet many incredibly inspiring athletes, from Olympic champions to young athletes just starting out on their journey to the top. I especially enjoyed interviewing some of the younger athletes because it always blew me away how composed and focused they were at such a young age. They were typically at least four years away from competing at the Games so most hadn't finished their education yet, and the dedication they have is incredible. I was very struck by a British skier, Millie Knight, who's competing in the Winter Paralympics in Korea this weekend. I interviewed her a few times in 2013 and 2014. Millie lost her sight as a child and now skies for Great Britain, becoming the youngest ever Winter Paralympian in British history four years ago in Sochi, when she was just 15. Hers is one of many amazing stories that all too often go completely unreported. Her achievements are unique but there are many more athletes like her who deserve a lot more recognition than they get.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 6:15PM EST.
Mar 9, 5:38PM EST0
What types of social media tools do you utilize to get help for content writing?
Mar 8, 2:37PM EST0

The two that I've already mentioned, Buzzsumo and Followerwonk, are probably my favorites. Buzzsumo is great for research because when you use it to search for articles on particular topics, it ranks the articles by the number of times they have been shared on social media. This is a pretty strong indication that it's good content. Followerwonk helps you find like-minded people on Twitter who share an interest in the topic you're working on. They might be able to help with your research, maybe provide an interview, or be up for sharing your article after it's published.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 6:16PM EST.
Mar 9, 5:26PM EST0
After you have published your content, what are some of the ways in which you promote it?
Mar 8, 2:29PM EST0

Promoting content is a lot easier when you have a clear idea, before you even start writing it, who it's intended for. Otherwise it can be very hard and you may not even want to promote it at all. Knowing exactly who your reader is helps you to decide who to share it with — because they'll already have an interest in the topic and, hopefully, be pleased to hear from you when you reach out. Social media has been a game changer here. Followerwonk is a great tool for this that I'd definitely recommend using if you don't already. It searches people's bios on Twitter to reveal their interests and you can use this info to find people who might want to read and even share your content. 

Mar 9, 5:21PM EST0
What are some of the methods you use to handle writing about “boring” topics?
Mar 8, 8:39AM EST0

Haha yes some topics are definitely more interesting than others. But that's all subjective, of course. If you're not into a topic you're writing about just remember that your reader is. (And if they're not, choose a different topic.) If you keep thinking like your audience, and put yourself in their shoes, you'll never write boring content. If you're really not excited about a topic, find someone who is and interview them. Their enthusiasm will probably be infectious. The BBC just launched a new podcast all about this in fact. It's called The Boring Talks.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 6:17PM EST.
Mar 9, 5:10PM EST0
What methods of analysis do you use to establish what feedback to apply to your work and what not to?
Mar 7, 9:58PM EST0

A lot of writers find it hard to take feedback, and I'll admit I've definitely been one of them at times, but it's a really important part of the process and it's something you get used to over time. I work with writers who are awesome at taking feedback and it's really inpisiring to see how they respond. Getting a fresh persective on your work can make a huge difference. But I don't approach it analytically at all. I just try to stay curious and keep an open mind because I've learned some of the feedback that sounded totally crazy and irrelevant at first often ends up being the most valuable.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 5:05PM EST.
Mar 9, 5:05PM EST0
What are Penguin, Hummingbird algorithm updates, and how do they affect a person’s content strategy?
Mar 7, 9:04PM EST0

This is something every content marketer needs to know. An SEO expert will be able to give you a better answer than this but essentially, in 2012, Google updated its algorithm to deter websites from trying to earn easy rankings by buying or otherwise adding external links that pointed to their content which did not offer any value to the user. This was the Penguin update. The changes were designed to impove Google's search results and it meant a lot of sites that previously ranked on page 1 found themselves a long way down the list, on pages that people were much less likely to click through to. Links are still important but now they have to be earned naturally, rather than bought. This is good news for your content strategy because it means your content has to be the very best there is if it's going to earn links. Your readers will thank you for this.

The Hummingbird update, which came about a year later, was a more comprehensive overhaul of Google's algorithm. It introduced the idea of "searcher intent" — again to make Google search results more useful to people. This is why Google now shows the answers to your questions, sometimes before you've even asked them, in the search results on google.com itself so you don't always have to visit other websites to get the information you need. It's good to be aware of this when creating content because Google knows better than anyone how to serve up content that meets people's needs. It also gives you more ways to get exposure from Google if you have the best answers to people's questions. This is getting technical but one of the ways Google did this was to introduce the idea of "semantic search." It's worth googling this phrase yourself to get the full scoop but essentially it's Google's way of guessing what you actually want, even if the keywords you use don't tell the whole story.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 6:21PM EST.
Mar 9, 4:29PM EST0

If you could travel anywhere for a story, where and for what story would that be the place you choose to go? 

Mar 7, 5:30PM EST0

The one story I had the opportunity to write but never got commissioned was about aboriginal communities and conservation in Australia. I was fortunate to spend almost a year traveling in Australia in 2004 and 2005 and I took a real interest in the way some of its national parks are jointly managed by people who use traditional, Aboriginal conservation techniques and people who are inroducing modern, Western techniques. I spoke to a lot of park rangers and managers about it and would have loved to have spent some time learning more about traditional methods, the people who crafted them, and their history. It would be great to go back there one day and write that story.

Last edited @ Mar 9, 6:21PM EST.
Mar 9, 4:01PM EST0
How do you find balance between documenting travel and enjoying the experience?
Mar 7, 3:43PM EST0

Haha this is another great question. It was always a challenge. Whenever I was researching a travel article, everything I did, anyone I spoke to, and anywhere I went could become material for it. So the work aspect was always in the back of my mind. This makes it less of a vacation of course, but hey, it's the best job in the world! So I can't complain. I even spent my honeymoon in Morocco researching an article (for Canadian travel magazine, Verge) but still 100% enjoyed the trip and in many ways it added to the experience. I think my wife got a credit as a photographer on that one too!

Last edited @ Mar 9, 3:56PM EST.
Mar 9, 3:54PM EST0
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