What I Learned Writing for Inc.

Lessons from my year as a scribe at an über-popular site.

What’s it like writing for one of the most popular websites in the world?

I should know. For about a year starting in March of 2012, I wrote a series of articles for Inc. (Read them here on the Inc. site if you like.) In total, I penned 23 technology- and business-related articles for the site. In this post, I’ll distill some of the lessons I gleaned from this very interesting experience.

  • Writing for sites such as Inc. enhances your profile, brand, and SEO. Inc. isn’t like Medium or LinkedIn. On those sites, anyone can publish just about anything. Put differently, there’s exclusivity to writing for Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, and the like. And make no mistake: that exclusivity enhances the writer’s credibility, something these media outlets know full well.
  • Writing rates are low. This stems from the first bullet point. Inc. is well aware that it offers its writers enormous exposure. As such, why bother paying them their normal rates? (Writers find out at the end of the month how many page views their posts generated and, by extension, how much money they have made.)
  • Along these lines, page views matter far more than the quality of the writing. This isn’t to say that all writing on these sites sucks. There’s plenty of decent and informative content. Still, Inc. and their ilk aren’t looking for the next Ernest Hemingway. Brass tacks: On sites such as these, well-written copy that generates low “engagement” will always lose to pedestrian copy with oodles of page views. I don’t like it but I understand it. That’s just the reality of the media business today.
  • You are not Terry Gilliam. Writers have to pitch their articles first. What’s more, articles will be edited and writers don’t have final cut.
  • Originality is optional. With so many business-related posts on Inc., there’s a great deal of overlap. Many new posts are essentially retreads of old ones.
  • People will sometimes visit your site after reading your posts. Even more than three years after my last post on Inc. ran, people continue to click through to my site. (Whether they ultimately buy my products or services, however, is another matter.) To this end, the well-trodden exposure argument isn’t totally invalid.
  • Your articles will be shared early and often. It wasn’t uncommon for my posts to be retweeted more than 200 times in the first few hours after going live.
  • Your post titles will probably be link bait—and there’s nothing you can do about it. I remember my first post on Inc.: Want to Build a Business to Last? Here’s the Secret. It’s about my fourth book, The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business. In the book and in that post, I don’t purport to know any such “secret” because none exists. You certainly wouldn’t get that impression from reading the title of that post.
  • Content is mostly snackable and number-based titles are common. Inc. is the antithesis of Priceonomics. Quantity is imperative at content farms, and this heavily drives the types of posts on their sites. A look at the site this morning reveals no shortage of numbers:

Click to embiggen.

  • There’s no shortage of people who will gladly take your place. For free. After a year or so, it became apparent that other writers fit the Inc. writing mold better than I. As a result, we parted ways. I have no doubt that the site didn’t miss a beat. As they say in football when a player gets injured, “Next man up.”

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