How to Board a Moving Train

Tenessa Gemelke

“My feelings toward your company can only be described as a crush.” The first line of my cover letter to Brain Traffic was more of a confession than a compelling reason to hire me. I had been happy at my last job, but I had also spent several years getting more and more excited about content strategy. I was ready to take the leap. Even if you’re not a doe-eyed fangirl like me, you may be reading this and other blogs because you’re hearing the insistent whistle of content strategy’s steam engine, and you want in.

Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance

Content strategy may seem far from your current career, but it might be closer than you realize. As Erin Kissane points out in The Elements of Content Strategy, we arrive at this work along different tracks, bearing different skills. I came from an enterprise publishing background. Others enter through marketing or information architecture. With such varied origins, how do newbies get started? How can you find a handhold and climb aboard?

Kristina Halvorson, American Hobo

We can take a few cues from the archetype of the American hobo. Living life on the rails, he kept his wits about him and looked for work wherever he could find it. Here’s the advice he might give to a wannabe content strategist:

  • Remember your bindle. What are the most valuable things you already know and carry with you? Content strategy is a hodgepodge of editorial instinct, business sense, and compassion. The strengths you already possess will help you succeed, so keep them tied securely in your pack.
  • Get a running start. To board a moving train, you need to sprint to gain speed. In the case of content strategy, that means educating yourself as quickly as possible while launching forward. Read voraciously. Follow content strategists on Twitter. Find out if there’s a meetup near you.
  • Share the beans. You will meet all kinds of interesting characters as you ride the rails. Stakeholders. SEO experts. Curators. Employ campfire etiquette and graciously exchange tasty morsels with everyone you meet.
  • Don’t wait for an invitation. You don’t need a ticket—or a particular job title—to begin the journey. Wherever you work, you can begin using The Quad and other content strategy principles to shape your projects. If you know this is the route for you, find a way to hop onboard.

You may feel vulnerable as you consider a leap from the safety of a familiar job into something that is still being defined. But that risk pays off when you realize, “I’m doing it! I’m on my way! I am on a magical locomotive bound for Contentville!” (At this point it’s important to note that no hoboes were harmed in the shameless manipulation of this train metaphor.)

Ready, set, jump!

You may feel as if you’re on the sidelines, but you don’t have to sit there and wave sadly at the caboose. There has never been a more exciting time to board the speeding bullet that is content strategy. Organizations are recognizing the value of investing in high-quality content. Thought leaders are refining the philosophy while strategists refine the practice. Confab is next week! There are countless ways to turn your content strategy crush into a serious relationship. And? Brain Traffic is hiring. If you’re at Confab, visit the Brain Traffic booth to learn more.