Shayla Price Shows How Practice Leads to Results
Freelance content marketers face rejection daily. Not to mention uncertain work prospects and lumpy cash flow.
The only solution, then, is to keep moving forward. To pitch, come up with new ideas, and take the next step right in front of you. It’s this deliberate practice that leads to results.
Shayla Price knows this better than anyone else. Because she’s done it professionally for years. She did it after graduating law school, and even before that in high school.
Here’s a glimpse of her journey from “Scholarship Queen” to attorney to highly sought-after content marketer.
Becoming the Scholarship Queen
Before she was a content marketer papering the interwebs of Entrepreneur and The Huffington Post (or HuffPost as the kids call it these days), and before she was a licensed attorney in two states (we’ll get to that in a minute)…
Shayla Price was the Scholarship Queen.
Seriously. Check out Google’s recommended searches:
“Marketing came natural for me,” Shayla explained in our recent interview. “As a child I was always trying to figure out why we do what we do. I kept asking questions to learn more.”
That early inkling of persistence has paid off. Time and time again.
Shayla’s parents made it crystal clear: If you don’t have the money for college, you’re not going.
Most teens wouldn’t get over that major hurdle. Most would use it as a convenient excuse to skip college entirely or to saddle up student loans to become another statistic. But Shayla’s not most.
In high school, years before graduation, she was already ahead of the game.
Shayla was staying up late, analyzing how other students successfully received scholarships. She looked at what organizations they joined and then joined them. She looked at what qualifications they had and set out to get the same.
At first, her family didn’t understand what she was doing. “What are you doing on the computer all day?” they’d ask.
Keep in mind: these were the dial-up days. If someone called their home, the connection was busy. One night, when Shayla was up late researching, her brother’s car broke down. “He called but it wouldn’t go through, so my brother had to call someone else just to get help. After that, we got a service where I could see the incoming phone call on my computer screen,” she quipped.
Applying for scholarships was, in many ways, the beginning of Shayla’s marketing career. The process required research, understanding different audiences, positioning ideas, and writing great copy. Her hard work eventually paid off, to the tune of $100,000 in scholarship money. Which is pretty damn good for most.
But again, not in this case.
Shayla’s dad’s words rang in her ears, “That’s great. But now what are you going to do?”
So she pitched the story to Teen People. Then wrote a book titled The Scholarship Search about her experience and organized a one-woman book tour across the country.
Even her college’s PR department was impressed, asking her: “How did you manage to get into Teen People?”
All of that marketing genius happened, and Shayla still planned to major in accounting until a smart counselor intervened. Once they heard about her scholarship winnings and national magazine coverage, they told her, “You don’t need to be in accounting; you need to be in marketing.”
Shayla’s burgeoning influencer status as a scholarship expert drew attention.
The owner of ProgressiveU.org, a high school and college site where kids could blog about what they were working on, reached out. The org had a scholarship program and wanted help driving traffic to its website.”
So Shayla started working remote—before it was cool—while in college. “I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time,” she joked. But she had a stipend every month for blogging, talking to students, and driving people to the scholarship program.
(Sounds a lot like content marketing. Before it was popular.)
But Shayla was also interested in “saving the world” at that time. She loved non-profit work (a passion she got from her mom) and wanted to help organizations build better strategies to serve the community.
So she did what any entrepreneurial, marketing undergrad would do next went to law school.
A marketer who can practice law. Not a lawyer who practices marketing.
Shayla says law school built up her mental stamina. Her intention was never to practice per se (despite being licensed to practice in both Florida and Missouri). But instead she was interested in the journey. Law school refined her analytical thinking and provided her with a strong “foundation to solve complex problems.”
All the while, Shayla wrote.
She wrote for her high school newspaper years prior. She wrote essays worth hundreds of thousands in scholarship money. She wrote in college. And then she wrote a lot in law school (was even hired as a teaching assistant for legal writing).
And this formal process ingrained a rigorous work ethic that still guides her to this day.
For example, in law school, students practice “issue spotting.” Basically you had to figure out what the problem was, what rules are held to be true, how to go about analyzing these issues, and then draw conclusions based on the facts.
And that’s exactly how she approaches each individual piece of content today.
A day in the life of an expert content marketer
Shayla writes in the mornings.
She blocks out enough time to eliminate distractions and move the big rocks first.
This approach allows her to triage multiple articles at once, since she “doesn’t want to be stuck on one post.” For example, if she has four articles in a single week, she does all of the research at once. She lists out bullet points (not always in sequential order), and constantly asks herself, “How can this be better?” Then she’ll write all of the intros and all of the conclusions at the same time—this multi-article approach helps Shayla to consistently come up with fresh ideas for each.
Afternoons are reserved for calls, meetings, and personal stuff. This includes pitching new clients too. “I’ll set everything up in Gmail, so it’s ready to be emailed later. But I’ll usually wait for 2-3 days to see if I can improve them.”
The rest of the time, her mind is working in the background. “My brain doesn’t stop. I’ll be constantly thinking of new ideas while in the shower, driving, or watching TV.” Shayla even gains inspiration from Lowe’s. Yes, the hardware & furniture store. Since Shayla and her husband bought a house recently, her hubs is constantly running to the store to pick up renovation materials. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had the best experience with the company—their online and offline experiences don’t connect, to say the least. But Shayla picks his brain to learn from the brand’s mistakes.
This natural inquiry is a normal part of Shayla’s day-to-day. It’s been with her since her childhood, and it’s also the result of years spent identifying key issues, researching audiences, pitching people new ideas, and then writing to justify that standpoint.
Why practice makes results
Shayla graduated law school in the heart of the Great Recession. But instead of justifiably sitting around and complaining, she hustled. She spent the next few years volunteering and freelancing. She cultivated her natural curiosity by always taking the next step in front of her. She wanted experience “no matter how it came.”
Once again, dad’s words came to mind:
“So what are you going to do? You got all those scholarships, but what’s next?”
So she wrote. She managed writers. She even worked as an Executive Director at a nonprofit. It wasn’t until about two years ago that she came to understand this formal, tech content marketing thing.
True to form, she replied, “This is something new. Let me figure it out.”
She earned a HubSpot inbound certification. One of her first gigs was with Kissmetrics (“I didn’t even know they were a big player in the industry.”)
Sounds lucky, right? Crazy fortuitous.
Except it’s anything but.
“Practicing something will have some type of result. No effort goes unnoticed. You just have to do something,” is Shayla’s view. “It’s easy to not want to put in the effort because we think we won’t get the results we’re looking for. Fear gets in the way a lot of times.”
How do we overcome this fear? Change our mindset. Overcome inaction. “Just because a colleague or editor doesn’t like this idea or headline today, doesn’t mean it’s worthless. So take those ideas one publication turned down and use it for another one. The work isn’t devalued. It might just be the wrong audience.” In other words, practice your segmentation.
Shayla has freelanced for most of the past ten years. And as anyone who’s ever freelanced can tell you, the work is rarely stable. It’s not like solid employment that you can bank on every two weeks. Her deliberate practice has been the secret to her success. “If I keep moving forward, it puts me in the right position. Every action is going to produce something in the future. Even if it’s sometime later and not today. You don’t know what opportunities will open up.”
It’s this discipline of practice that’s led from one open door to another. A gamification piece on ConversionXL. Connecting with influencers like Sujan Patel. And even this people profile. “When I wrote for Autopilot, I didn’t know this interview would happen.” Ha! We didn’t either. But Shayla’s practice led to this result—the next step.