Patti Podnar Freelance Editor Spotlight

Patti Podnar: Freelance Writer Spotlight

We featured Patti Podnar in 2016, and after almost a decade, she’s still an active member of our community. So, we figured it was time for another freelance writer spotlight. Check out what she’s up to now!

Background: The Highlights

As a certified content strategist and ghostwriter with features in Entrepreneur and Marketing Land, Patti translates complex business ideas into engaging content that drives results. From crafting marketing plans to managing social media and outsourcing content creation, she helps businesses of all sizes bridge the gap between strategy and execution.

nDash’s Discussion with Patti Podnar

Jenn: Patti, thank you for your interest in updating your writer spotlight! Can you share a bit about your journey into freelance writing and what inspired you to start?

Patti: I’ve always known I wanted to write, so I got a BA in journalism. After college, I worked in corporate communications for a Fortune 500 company for 12 years before leaving to stay home with my kids. We had three children in under three years – the younger two in January and December of the same calendar year! – so things were crazy for a while.

Once things calmed down I bit, I realized how much I missed writing. Fortunately, this was right about the time business blogs took off, so I was in the right place at the right time.

Jenn: With your extensive experience as a freelance writer, how has content writing and strategy evolved since you began?

Patti: Just about everything has changed! But if I had to focus on one factor, it would be SEO.

When I first started freelancing, it was all about getting clicks, keyword stuffing, building backlinks, and spending a whole lot of effort trying to figure out what Google wanted. People built huge organizations based on helping you discover the best keywords for your site, build backlinks, etc.

But what nobody was talking about at the time is that those practices were designed for sites that made money from ad revenue. When marketers started applying those same strategies to websites selling products and services, it got kind of crazy.

For example, one editor actually accused me of plagiarism because I was writing descriptions of baby blankets and used the same text for each, changing only the color. Now, of course, I realize he was just trying to avoid being penalized by Google for duplicate content, but outside of that context, it didn’t make sense. And it wasn’t customer-focused. Whether color was the only difference between the blankets would have been important for shoppers to know.

So that’s the most important content marketing evolution on my list. Starting from a place where SEO was like trying to hit a moving target while blindfolded. I’m really thrilled to see the many different tools brands have to analyze their data and determine which SEO content performs best – not just for clicks but for conversions. Today, it’s all about user intent, which is better for customers and better for brands.

Jenn: Your approach involves understanding what clients want their content to achieve. Can you share an example of how that works?

Patti: Sure. Let’s say my client is a fine-dining restaurant, and they want me to write a blog post on why they don’t partner with any of the delivery services we all got used to during COVID.

My first question would be, “Why is that important?” Then, I’d ask, “Why do you want a blog post about this?”

There could be a number of possibilities:

  • Food in fine-dining establishments is best served still sizzling from the kitchen, not after it’s been riding around in somebody’s trunk as they pick up orders from several different restaurants before they start their deliveries. Maybe they don’t want their reputation to suffer from bad reviews about food that never should have been part of a delivery program to start with.
  • Maybe they’ve heard horror stories about people using food delivery services who get completely different food than what they ordered.
  • Alcoholic beverages have a much higher profit margin than food. And the more people drink, the more they order – both alcohol and food. So, in-restaurant dining is far more profitable than deliveries.

Basically, they don’t want to send their food out. They want customers to come to them for an experience, not just a meal. And they want to be able to control the quality of that experience (which also leads to a higher average ticket).

Jenn: What steps would you take next?

Patti: Armed with that information, I’d recommend skipping the post on why they don’t use delivery services. Instead, I’d recommend these three:

  1. I’d tell the story of the restaurant’s history as a fine-dining establishment, focusing on how they use fresh, locally sourced ingredients that are best enjoyed straight from the kitchen. If it’s been part of its community for decades, maybe I’d write about all of the rehearsal dinners and birthday parties it’s hosted or maybe how the staff worked with nervous young men to create the perfect setting for a marriage proposal. If it had pictures of these events on its walls, I’d include them in the blog post.
  2. Next, I’d write about how part of servers’ training includes tasting every item on the menu so that they can make knowledgeable recommendations. I’d highlight a couple of the restaurant’s most experienced servers. I’d have them talk about why it’s such a great place to work and ask them about their favorite menu item.
  3. Finally, I’d write about the restaurant’s extensive wine list and craft cocktails that change by the month. I’d also write about how servers are trained to make recommendations that complement the diner’s vision for the evening: Do they want the right wine and food pairing? Is it a celebration that merits a special bottle of wine they won’t find anywhere else? Or is it a girls’ night out that’s just begging for a flight of their seasonal cocktails?

So, instead of writing one negative blog post, I’d write three positive posts that make people want to jump in the car and go to the restaurant!

Is that getting a little bit out of my lane? Not if I’m marketing myself as a content strategist. I love blowing my clients away by delivering more than they expected.

Jenn: How do you navigate the challenges of being a freelance writer for clients across different industries with varying strategic goals?

Patti: The restaurant example would work across most industries because, with a few exceptions, everybody’s strategic goals lead to the same place: Making a profit. So, I start by finding out how they make money:

  • Do they sell their own products directly to customers? Or do they sell products from a variety of vendors?
  • Do they have brick-and-mortar stores, or are they online only? If they do both, which is more profitable?
  • Do they make money through subscriptions or gated content?
  • If they’re B2B, do their customers have the same knowledge level as they do?
  • If they make referrals to vetted providers, who pays? Do you have to pay to access their recommendations, or do the providers pay to be recommended?

Then, I try to find out any risks or threats currently affecting their business. With AI, for example, the world is still figuring out the rules. That makes it difficult for both companies developing AI and those trying to incorporate it into their operations.

When it’s time to start writing, I always ask the same question: “What do you want people to do, think, or feel after they consume this content?” I’ll often follow that up with, “Why is that important?” Because sometimes they genuinely don’t know! I’ve experienced that first-hand. When I wrote for a Fortune 500 company, I learned more about the business in my last two years than in the previous 10.

So it’s easy to see how an entry-level marketing employee put in charge of filling up the editorial calendar might plug a topic in just because they needed a topic. Or you could have a content manager who inherited an editorial calendar from a previous employee and has no idea why a topic was chosen. Asking, “Why is that important?” as many times as it takes to nail down the nitty-gritty of what they’re really trying to accomplish works magic.

The Rest of nDash’s Conversation With Patti

Patti Podnar headshotPatti’s background in sustainability, automation, and marketing fundamentals ensures your content speaks to a wider audience. She knows that powerful content is key to attracting and retaining customers.

Jenn: As a freelance writer, how do you approach the challenge of making complex topics accessible and engaging for a general audience?

Patti: As I’ve mentioned, not being an expert is one of my “superpowers”! I ask the same “stupid” questions that a brand’s readers would ask. Brands that deal with complex information tend to suffer from “the curse of knowledge.”

They can’t remember not being experts, so they end up writing over their customers’ heads. So my first step is to establish the audience’s knowledge level by asking questions like:

  • How would I know to use those search terms?
  • Does your ideal customer know products like yours exist and are trying to find the best fit?
  • Do they just know they have a problem they don’t know how to solve?

After establishing the audience’s knowledge level or where they are in the funnel, employ analogies, metaphors, and other storytelling devices. These techniques are great for making complex topics accessible and interesting.

Jenn: In your opinion, what is the most underestimated aspect of content strategy that businesses often overlook?

Patti: It’s important for marketers to understand their audience, especially their knowledge level. You don’t want to insult your customers’ intelligence, but you don’t want to talk over their heads, either.

Jenn: You’ve worked across various communities such as technology, business, and finance. Which community do you find most challenging as a freelance writer and why?

Patti: Probably emerging technologies. The people driving these transformative changes are so smart and focused on the world they’re creating that they sometimes forget the rest of us may still be in the “Huh?” stage.

I have to get them talking about their product in terms of “What job does this do?” Or, when it comes to gaming and entertainment, “Why should I be excited about this?” Not to mention, “Is there anything here I should be worried about?” but we’ll save that for another time!

Jenn: What role do you believe a freelance writer plays in shaping public understanding of complex business and technology issues?

Patti: We have the same questions prospective customers have, but we also have direct access to the source.  So, we act as a bridge between the people who know and the people who need to know.

Jenn: What trends or developments in content writing and strategy are you most excited about?

Patti: AI is a game changer, and I’m really excited to see how it all shakes out. The possibilities are unlimited, but there are also a lot of risks. Fortunately, there are already a number of global initiatives hard at work to ensure an AI-enabled future that works for everyone.

Jenn: Finally, for those interested in pursuing a career similar to yours, what skills and qualities do you believe are essential for success in freelance writing and content strategy?

Patti: Other than the fact that both require writing skills, they’re different but related. Freelance writers need to be able to follow directions, something I’m not always very good at! (I almost always have an opinion or suggestion!) Although it should go without saying, freelance writers need to meet deadlines. They also need to be able to follow a client’s requirements regarding voice, person, tone, SEO, word count, links, etc.

Content strategists need excellent writing skills, too, but they also need to thoroughly understand business. The KPIs might be different across industries, but every business has them! And every business has opportunities and risks. Understanding basic business concepts is what gives content strategists the chops to make suggestions instead of just writing from a content brief.

Work With Patti Podnar on nDash Today!

Do you have a project that aligns with Patti’s background? Check out her writer profile to see her work and how her experience can help level up your content strategy: Patti Podnar.