How to be a content generalist

The lovely bunch at GatherContent asked me to contribute a video to their annual Christmas advent calendar. It’s a great idea – 24 days of content-related insight from people working in all areas of the industry.

Last year, I talked about plain English, as I am often inclined to do. But after nearly a year of being a self-employed content producer, I thought I’d try something a little different. And so my video was all about being a content generalist.

What is a content generalist?

Some people who work with content (a tricky word to define itself) are specialists in one particular area. They tend to be great at one or two things and rarely stray from those lines of work.

I am not a content specialist. Though like most humans, I’m better at some things than others, I think I am a content generalist. That means I take on a broad range of projects and have experience in lots of areas.

And that’s what my video for GatherContent covers. I talk about the variety of projects I’ve worked on this year. I also offer three simple tips that have helped me be a content generalist. Crucially, they’ve also helped me win work and stay busy.

Watch the video

You can watch the video right now over on GatherContent’s website. It’s set up in a way that means I can’t embed it here, but hey, while you’re over there, you can have a look at some of the other ace videos too.

How to write accessible hyperlinks

Click here. Find out more. Check this out.

Every day on my internet travels I see hyperlinks written like this, where the link itself, when taken out of context, is entirely meaningless. This is not the way to write hyperlinks, for plenty of reasons.

Links should have meaning

The first is accessibility. Not everyone who uses the web has perfect sight or is able to use a mouse, trackpad or keyboard like most people can. That’s why they use a screen reader, a marvellous device that reads web pages aloud. The person using it can then navigate from page to page like anyone else.

Or at least they can if the hyperlinks mean something. Screen readers work by calling up a list of links on a page. Imagine a list of ‘click heres’ and ‘find out mores’ and think about how you could possibly know where on earth they will take you.

On a basic level, to make sure your site can be read and enjoyed by everyone, your links should mean something.

See the difference?

People scan pages

Studies show that generally, people scan web pages, rather than read them, and that they’re always looking for the next place to go. You should aim to make this process as easy as possible.

First, as before, your links should mean something. They are typically designed to stand out on the page, so when someone scans, they too don’t want ‘click heres’ and ‘find out mores’. You’re forcing them to find the extra context and slowing them down.

The second thing to think about is whether your links are presented in the best possible way. If you have, say, four or five links in a single paragraph, would they be better arranged in bullet points, or even as part of the navigation system?

When you’re writing for the web, whether you’re a professional copywriter or an occasional blogger, your aim is to express yourself in the best way possible. That goes for the words you choose, of course, but also how they appear on the page.

You have to think like a reader, not just a writer.

Form and structure

Finally, the way you structure your link will affect the likelihood of someone clicking it. It may be meaningful and positioned sensibly, but if it’s too long then it won’t get read. People scan pages, remember.

Four or five words is a good maximum to aim for. Anything over that and you’re heading into too-long-ignore-it territory. Like constructing a sentence, it’s about rhythm and context. It’s not that complicated once you get used to it.

Another strange web phenomenon is that people only tend to focus on the first two words of a link. Where possible, you should try and put the important information up front. It’s pretty tricky, but it can be done.

Let me have a go here, using the same example I used above to show meaningful links.

My first attempt had meaning, which is great, but the important information was at the end of the link. You can see how a quick rewrite can make a difference.

The Holy Grail of writing web copy

The problem with trying to follow all these rules is that, if you’re not careful, they can impact the quality of your writing. I’ll be honest with you, I think that my ‘before’ sentence above sounds better than the ‘after’ version.

And that’s the Holy Grail of writing web copy: finding the balance between form and function. You have to make something sound great, but ensure that it’s appropriate for both your reader and the format. Pretty much all writing is about expressing yourself to an audience in the best possible way that you can.

When you write links, it may not feel like poetry, but you do have to engage people. What’s more, your primary job is to help them get from one place to another, all with the minimum of fuss.

This post was first published on and later included in the Medium publication, Write Like a Human.

Six months of Very Meta

It’s been six months since I left Yoomee and started freelancing again. The fact that it’s taken this long to write my first blog post is a good sign that things have gone pretty well. But back in February, I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. It’s worth taking a moment to look back and breathe.

What the heck is Very Meta?

First, a bit about why I’m freelancing as Very Meta. I first registered Very Meta with Companies House in 2014, when I was self-employed for around nine months. I don’t think I ever used the Very Meta name anywhere. Not on my website. Not on invoices.

Instead, I was little ol’ me, Iain Broome. And mostly, that’s still the case. Though I’ve worked for several clients this year and partnered up on the odd project, I’m the only person on Very Meta’s books. I’m self-employed. Freelancing. Very Meta is just me.

So why bother with the company thing? There are a couple of reasons.

My other me

First, there is a whole other me that writes fiction. My first novel, A is for Angelica, was published a few years ago and I’ve previously had a blog, podcast and newsletter where the focus has been all about that other world.

All of that content lives at and to turn that site into a place for freelance work has always seemed a) pretty tricky to achieve, b) confusing for potential clients, and c) ever so slightly wrong.

Freelancing as a company allows me to keep my two worlds separate. Clients know that they are dealing with a single person, unless I state otherwise. And hopefully, it’s clearer for everyone who I am and what I do.

Working with other people

The second reason is about where Very Meta might be in a couple of years time. When I left Yoomee in February, it was difficult to see past the next week, let alone months or years. But I’ve been trying very hard to look at the long-term picture and what I want to do for a living in the future.

Being Very Meta and not just, you know – me – makes it easier to collaborate with other content folk. I’ve worked with some ace people over the years. If I have too much on or if a juicy project comes along that I can’t tackle alone, I can call on those people to team up and help out.

Of course, I can do that without working under a company name. But for me, again, being a single entity helps make things clearer for everyone. Whether it’s just me on a project or a collaboration, it doesn’t matter. Because the work is coming from Very Meta. And that means it will be good.

Lastly, I can see a future where Very Meta is more than just me on a permanent basis. I’ve worked with both Eleven and Paper this year. Both fantastic companies with small teams doing high quality, interesting work. I look at the way they do things and it feels right. Exactly the approach I’d like to take myself.

I’ve currently no desire (or need) to turn Very Meta into a business with a load of employees. But I can totally see it being a shared venture in the future. I don’t need to worry about any of this at the moment. However, freelancing under the Very Meta banner helps sew the seeds for what could come.

Working with Cornerstones

When I was freelance in 2014 I had one main client that provided most of my income. Inevitably, going freelance again, I got straight on the phone to Cornerstones Education. They had work for me. I was up and running.

Cornerstones make a (very popular) curriculum and other educational products for primary schools. I’ve spent the last six months working mostly on one new product called Cornerstones Yoimoji. I’ll write up a full case study as soon as I get chance, but it’s been a veritable feast of content development.

Cornerstones Yoimoji characters

Yoimoji characters (L–R: Decca, Scoop, Wingo, Clem, Waffles, Snickle)

The Yoimoji are 58 illustrated characters. Together, they helps schools teach fundamental British values (a specific thing in education), as required by Ofsted. I’ve written value definitions (another blog post in waiting) and scripts, recorded and edited voiceovers and created 60+ animated videos. I’ve also managed the whole development process alongside Cornerstones’ creative director.

Working on the Yoimoji has been loads of fun. Cornerstones have just started talking about it in public and you can read their Yoimoji launch post here.

Using my network

One of the reasons I stopped freelancing when I tried it before was that I ended up too reliant on my main client. I did work on projects for other companies, but nowhere near enough to sustain an income. This time around, I was more prepared and made a conscious effort to build a rounded portfolio.

That’s not to say I’ve spent my time cold calling companies or permanently networking. Far from it, in fact. I can honestly say I’ve spent the last six months working. Lots of working. And it’s been great.

I’ve worked with 10 different clients so far in 2017. Nearly every one of those clients has come through existing relationships. I’ve really tried to use my network.

Over the years, I’ve worked with, been pals with or perhaps had a brief conversation at some event with a wide range of people. Over time, those relationships build up. Sheffield’s creative and digital scene has a strong can-do, DIY ethic where people see each other often and help each other out.

I have a long way to go, but after six months it feels like I’m in a position to take Very Meta forward into next year and beyond. I’ve learnt that what you know is important, but who you know can make an incredible difference.

These things that I have done

Iain Broome recording the CreativeMornings Sheffield podcast with Lyon&Lyon

Recording the CreativeMornings Sheffield podcast with Lyon&Lyon

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to create a portfolio of case studies on this website. I’ve worked on a diverse range of projects that have seen me create different types of content, from web copy and straplines to podcasts and videos. There have been tweets too. Many tweets indeed.

I won’t go into too much detail, but Yoimoji aside, here is some of what I’ve been up to.

One of the most enjoyable things about this first six months has been the variety of content work I’ve done. It’s kept me on my toes and seen me learn new things, which is fantastic. I now need to build on the momentum and these relationships to make sure the second half of the year is successful too.

What’s coming up?

I’m still getting used to not knowing exactly what projects are on the horizon, but I do know I’m going to be very busy up until the new year.

I’m currently finishing up on the Yoimoji project for Cornerstones. After that, I’ll be helping them with other products, most of which I can’t talk about. I’m signed up with Sheffield Digital until the end of October and hope that I’ll be able to continue beyond then. Same goes for my work on The Outdoor City.

And just this week, I’m starting a new project with Good Things Foundation. They’re the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity and they do amazing work to help people develop their digital skills to overcome social challenges. I’ll hopefully be in a position to talk more about that soon too.

Sharing the journey

This first blog post has been a long time coming. Though it was tempting to spend ages building a fancy website for Very Meta, I made a conscious choice to focus on getting and then doing paid work. And I’ve been super busy, as a result.

But I do need to find time for marketing, putting myself out there, or whatever you want to call it. So far, the work has come naturally, but I’m at the beginning of this journey and I don’t want to be complacent.

I need to get some case studies onto the site. By showing the work, I will get more work. But I feel like there are plenty of options beyond that. Should I start blogging regularly? Should I start a newsletter? How about a Very Meta podcast?

I haven’t quite decided yet, but I know that whatever I do, it needs to be sustainable. I don’t want to make daft promises to myself (or anyone else). We’ll see how it goes.

Stay in touch!

If you’d like to keep following my progress or say hello, you can follow @iainbroome on Twitter or @very_meta. And of course, if you have an exciting project that you think we could work on together, email and let me know.