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Pumping Noise into the Signal: The Problem with King Content

By Jason Katzwinkel on December 26th, 2018
A young boy screaming into a microphone.

"Content is King."

So you want to try your hand at self-employment, to dive into the world of freelance work, and enjoy the freedoms of driving your own destiny? Great! Let's go! With the resources available to people today, it seems like now it's easier than ever to start that freelancing lifestyle. So... how to get started?

Well, you'll probably do what everybody does. Just fire up your favorite browser and search for, "How to be a freelance [INSERT PASSION HERE]".

The first thing you might notice is that almost everything is broken down into seven or nine steps. Or maybe eleven. There's a pretty specific reason for that.

After clicking through into three or four of these articles, you'll notice you find yourself rather uninformed, nonplussed and dissatisfied. The information is basic and obvious; not saying much... if anything at all.

Folks seem to put a great deal of faith in Google searching, believing they'll unearth a civilization's worth of rich wisdom. They believe they will be able to find answers to study and learn from. They believe it is an information exchange. It is not.

The internet is a dumping ground for noise.

The content of the internet isn't an altruistic knowledge transfer for the betterment of humanity; the reward for the authors isn't a bellyful of warm fuzzies. Perhaps, in a different dimension, it could be. Maybe it should be. But it's not.

Nobody is interested in helping you become a successful freelancer. The point of having content on the internet is to give you something to click on. The only motivation is to pull you closer to a form so you can put your credit card numbers into it. The genuine, unfortunate truth is that the machine that we've collectively created out of the internet is a money engine, and it's fueled by words. Not good words. Not useful words. Just... words. Pour 'em in there. Chug, chug, chug.

Content mill is king

There are whole industries dedicated to churning out content to get the clicks.

Seven is clearly a very powerful number. You may have noticed that the last two headlines in the list are identical (even though the sites and content are totally different). This is a kind of snake-eating-its-tail way to illustrate the noise machine that we call the internet.

"Okay, great. Everything is hopeless. Thanks for the update."

So... what can you do to start learning effective freelancing? Well, unfortunately, there is no seven-point list to ultimate success; there is no singular article that will flood you with enlightenment. But there are some universal truths to starting any endeavor that will be helpful to remember when breaking into your new biz.

  1. Be patient. Grow and learn at an appropriate pace, and always remember that everything takes time. The urge to seek out a magic pill (or article) is strong, but true wisdom bets on slow and steady.
  2. Read. No, not the internet. Actual books, papers, textbooks, journals; vetted by editors and publishers, perhaps even peer-reviewed. Read as many books as you can find on your topic, and never stop reading them.
  3. Talk to people. It might be difficult to get out there and network, but you can learn a lot from somebody who's already walked the road.
  4. Experiment. Try different things and see what works for you. See what leads to success by experimenting a lot and failing fast.
  5. Put the work in, and never give up. It's never going to be easy. If you can accept that, and still grind it out regularly and tenaciously, you can find great success.
  6. Become the authority. If you persevere, you'll be the one with the knowledge and the wisdom. Share it generously and graciously.
  7. Always work in sevens? That seems to be a thing.

It's not all empty noise

If you're willing to sift through a lot of chaff, you can occasionally find some tasty wheat out there. Here are a few resources that I've found honest and helpful. Only one of them lacks a number in the title.