The Freelance Copywriter’s Unfair Marketing Advantage

Unfair

This week we’ve been focusing on the business of freelance copywriting. There are two good reasons for that.

First of all, the demand for quality online content and copy that converts has exploded in the last several years. And that demand will only grow.

That means a lot of opportunity for freelance copywriters.

It also means copywriters have an unfair advantage when it comes to marketing themselves. Why?

Because it’s content marketing in all its creative expressions that works online. Marry that with a persuasive landing page to close the deal, and it’s clear that it’s the copywriters who are in the driver’s seat.

Because you have talent that’s in demand. And every business seeking to effectively market online needs that talent.

Only problem is, you’re all competing against each other.

Which is a fairly common marketing problem for freelancers, small business, and big business alike. Every business has to differentiate itself and communicate the benefits of being the choice over the other guy.

But copywriters are skilled in solving that problem, right? It’s your function.

Have you solved that problem for yourself?

Dare to Be Different

One thing every copywriter needs to understand is how to develop and communicate a unique selling proposition. Whether positioning or purple cow, differentiating the client’s offer in a unique and valuable way is critical to winning copy.

Shouldn’t you do the same for your business?

Look, Michel Fortin can position himself simply as “copywriter” because he’s a well-established badass. He commands premium fees, and likely turns away more business than he accepts.

If you’re not at that point yet, a little unique positioning is just what the doctor ordered. Your business may not be sick yet, but you’re hardly in a defensible market position. And if you’re just starting out, here’s your opportunity to start out right.

Ever since I chose to become unemployable in 1998, I’ve been an initial nobody in a succession of industries filled with well-established badasses. Law, real estate, software, even this very blog… each time I was starting from scratch competing against those already at it.

I succeeded in each instance because I focused intensely on serving a different need in a different way, and then effectively communicating and demonstrating that difference.

Dare to be different, and you’ll be a badass in a league of your own.

Writing is a Feature, Not a Benefit

Another thing every copywriter knows is that brains crave benefits. And yet, when it comes to marketing themselves, many freelance copywriters seem to focus only on their writing, which like it or not, is a feature of your service, not the desired benefit.

It’s no secret that writing tends to be undervalued by many of the people who seek to hire you. Maybe it’s because any literate person can write to some degree, so perhaps they think it’s simply an hour or two of putting some words down on paper. What’s so hard about that?

We writers know that’s not true.

Good writing is hard. Great writing is even tougher.

The answer, however, is not to change how the client thinks, because that rarely works. At least not at the initial stage of the relationship.

The key is to start emphasizing the benefits clients are really after, not the feature that brings about the benefits. Because if a client could achieve his desired benefit without your writing, he would.

What are you really selling?

Think about that for a bit. Tomorrow, we’ll reveal the second reason we’ve been focusing on freelance writing this week.

Do you have the The Freelance “X” Factor that leads to a lucrative copywriting business? Click here to find out!

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and co-founder of DIY Themes, creator of the innovative Thesis Theme for WordPress. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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  1. The thing that Freelance Copywriters do wrong, that I don’t do…is suggest that the business is about a relationship. because of Ferris/Gerber/Whoever…there’s this (dumb) idea that you can put up a website + autoresponders + moneyclose…and make a fortune.

    Yeah, you can.

    Or, you can serve people & enhance your local business. That’s sustainable, permanently.

    Hiring a copywriter is not gonna be a magic bullet. Can’t be. Getting the customer to move belly to belly…you guys are responsible with that message, but so many aren’t and that frustrates the crud out of me.

  2. Derek Halpern :

    Hi Brian, I’m sure you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but for those of you who havent, I’ll excerpt Wikipedia:

    “The Dunning-Kruger effect is an example of cognitive bias in which “…people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it”

    And that’s why people think writing is easy. Because they “think” they can do it. However, they’re not qualified to make that assumption.

    This also applies to blogging, social media, chess, poker, Othello, and all other things that are “a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.” Just because you know how to move the pieces doesn’t mean you should become a freelancing consultant.

  3. Nice one Derek, that’s exactly right.

    It’s the old “80% of people think they are better than average drivers,” which is not only statistically impossible, it demonstrates we are biased in favor of our own abilities and biased against the abilities of others.

    Using that argument with a client, however, is a quick way to get canned. Better to take a different approach. ;)

  4. Heh, I was just observing this morning how many freelance writers respond to Linkedin questions about blogging or writing by basically stating, “Hey, I write too. Here’s my website for you to read.”

    No up-front attempt at demonstrating their copywriting finesse, their strategic value, their expertise or even a POV about their chosen profession. Just a long string of identical invitations to “check my writing out.”

    Inre benefits: Anyone who graduated High School can write. It’s a commodity. So good luck pitching your writing as a high-value asset, even if you’ve freelanced for years for Fortune 500 companies.

    What I pitch changes, but it usually involves something that prospects can’t possibly provide for themselves. That can something as concrete as a specialty writing about cleantech, or as abstract as peace of mind.

  5. Excellent write up.

    I would like to see some article that gives some hard stats or numbers on how much of feature writing versus benefit writing is appropriate

    Perhaps it is co-incidental but this week I will also be focusing on the same topics in my blog.

    Good Job Brian!

  6. I read the Dare To Be Different section and just kept thinking of Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction when the guy was looking for his wallet.

  7. In my opinion, for a freelancer, other than being good with writing, they need to exploit their marketing and advertising perspective as well. You can be a good writer but to sell newsletter, landing pages copies and business plans you need to have a know-how in marketing angles as well.

    And I believe that is the reason why most of the freelance writers fail in securing projects due to their aloofness from the marketing perspective.

  8. Great point! And the best way to position yourself and to differentiate yourself from the crowd, to build your brand and your authority is to showcase your ability and skills by for example writing a blog.

    It will introduce your ideas / skills to potential clients and will let you charge premium because of the brand you have built.

  9. Hi Brian,

    I get what you’re saying and it makes perfect sense. I guess my question is, how do I differentiate myself? Is it a Ka-POW landing site, replete with whistles and bells? Is it a bold, in-your-face statement above the fold?

    I understand the importance of being different, I’m just not certain how to accomplish that. I know that my writing style is unique and so far my clients have been happy, but I don’t know how to translate that success.

    Thanks for the thought provoke!

    George

  10. Last time I checked, the 3rd Tribe has members but no clubhouse…yet!

  11. To Derek’s point about the Dunning-Kruger effect (and Brian’s response),

    First, excellent perpective, and a great argument for why freelancers should actively research and study their profession. As individuals, we can’t always see what we can’t see, which is why conversations like this are so helpful.

    Second, on a similar note: It’s safe to say, the Dunning-Kruger effect is also evident when many freelance writers try to market themselves. Yes, making 500 cold calls will bring in new business. But writers who can cultivate and then articulate a unique selling proposition above and beyond their writing will save themselves a lot of time, effort and frustration.

    Unfortunately, this realization is not easily intuited on a metacognitive level, which is why I think may writers view self-marketing as a grindingly difficult process.

  12. But for @#$%’s sake, don’t “tell” the world how you’re different: show it. The evidence, revealed in your work, should be so clear it’s unmistakable. But if that difference is merely something in a positioning statement (“I’m the kick ass copywriter!”), then it’s merely a boast. And would-be clients assign you a position themselves: clown.

  13. Jonathan, absolutely! Demonstrate the difference, don’t claim it.

  14. A rare incoherent article from copyblogger. Not to mention somewhat self-congratulatory.

    Here’s the view from the buyer’s side:

    1. Only a small fraction of copywriting needs to be kick-ass creative (memorable tag-line level). A slightly larger fraction needs that less-common-than-you-think skill: straight, to the point, professional copy (tech writing for instance). The rest is rightly viewed as commodity stuff that requires only basic intelligence and a decent college education.

    2. I would disagree entirely with your idea that all copywriters need to market themselves with individual USPs. I’d like to find a firm that maintains a stable of highly competent “commodity” copywriters who can reliably deliver perfect-the-first-time copy for a large variety of well-defined tasks. This will serve 80% of the needs. The other 20% of the market: yes, it should organize itself around individual stars with their individual brands.

    Much as this audience may dislike hearing this, I think the future for the basics may be in online markets. Yes it is unpleasant to have to play in the masses at eLance etc., and slowly build up a reputation hoping to exit the market at the “top” of the premium range, but the economy needs this structure.

    In its absence, here is what happens: a lot of buyers, frustrated by the difficulty in finding quality basic writing end up doing the job themselves, thereby misallocating resources that should be doing things like engineering, programming, finance or people management.

    One part of being realistic is to realize that like it or not, writing is not as specialized and protected an industry as, say, neurosurgery. There are hundreds of thousands of very good writers out there who identify themselves primarily with other professions (lawyers, engineers, doctors, managers…). All these people can pinch-hit in writing and get the job done 80% of the time. Your challenge as a group is to a) Make sure you get the other 20% where the amateurs would be over-reaching, b) Organize the supply of the other 80% of writing capability in a way that finding and hiring it is cheaper than doing it by misallocation of other talents.

    Venkat

  15. @Tumblemoose (and others with the same question), we’ve got some stuff coming up for ya. :)

  16. @Venkat, while you outline some good issues from the client side, from the writer’s side, participating in that kind of commodity economy doesn’t make a lot of sense. Especially when there are other options.

    Just because most jobs can be done competently by someone on Elance (assuming that’s true, perhaps it is) doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for freelance writers to get most of their work on Elance.

    In other words, what the economy needs is one thing; what an individual writer needs (and can attain) is something different. It’s almost never a good idea for the smaller business to try and capture low-paying “Wal*Mart” clients.

  17. …writing is not as specialized and protected an industry as, say, neurosurgery.

    Venkat, with that statement, you actually restate my point while contradicting yourself. This is why copywriters *do* have reposition themselves as “something else” unless they want to battle it out on price and remain under-appreciated.

    You seem to be saying that not all freelance writers need to pursue this approach. You’re right… only the ones who want to make a lot of money do.

  18. Venkat,

    From a writer’s standpoint, e-lance is like a reverse auction where the prices always go down for the writer. I view this post as a means for writers to reverse this bottom-feeder model.

    Furthermore, those that use e-lance use it because they don’t know what “gets the job done.” So, how do you know that “80% of good writers get the job done”?

  19. I remembered being struck by a comment of Venkat’s from earlier this week, so I looked it up. Quoting from it:

    I don’t want to hire a writer. Talented, stand-out, sticky or whatever. I want to hire a full, closed-loop marketer. Somebody who is not only a good writer with a large creative space in his/her head to come up with lots of ideas, but the end-to-end marketing brains to assess the results from analytics/feedback, see what catches fire, and what does not, course-correct (major/minor), rinse and repeat. I’d like to pay for results rather than clever wordplay.

    This point was made in yesterday’s killers vs. poets post. That’s almost the whole story, but it goes beyond that. I think the market for pure writing/copy functionalists is going to end.

    So in that light, he may mean that if a writer is just going to put words together, without expanding what s/he has to offer the client, The Elance-type sites are the most realistic marketplace.

    And I think that’s probably right 90% of the time.

  20. Venkat,

    I didn’t mean to sound confrontational with the last comment, so let me restate what I said another way.

    If a writer follows copyblogger advice, they should be able to bring in more money for their client, thereby offsetting any increase in price the client may have to pay for this non-elance writer. It’s a win-win situation for both.

  21. I want to hire a full, closed-loop marketer.

    That’s right, Sonia… I spoke to you about that comment on the phone. He was the first one to get what we’re really getting at.

    Venkat, stick with us… you’ll find that we’re actually on the same page. :)

  22. Wow, looks like I stirred the pot a bit there :)

    The 2 comments I’d like to call out and respond to are from Sonia and Shane.

    It isn’t true that online markets are ALWAYS a race to the bottom. It was true in the past with an older generation of technology. I research these markets, and the truth is that the dynamics are rather like new TV channels: start commodity (i.e., Seinfeld reruns, like CW, with price competition as the main dynamic), and then as your reputation/star-rating system gains credibility and statistical significance, the market tends to develop its own hierarchy (like HBO went from others’ movies to original productions etc.). Good marketplace platforms foster emergence of a commodity Walmart bottom and a premium top. The overall market may have prices going up or down in different segments, and the overall market may also see provider hourly rate inflation or depression. In recent years, some newer markets have seen gradual inflation of provider hourly rates.

    A related point is this: great, top10% writers and copywriters will always be in a suppliers market, and it is only a matter of time before they are recognized. But the overall market is less lopsided. That means you cannot defy the laws of economics simply because they offend your sensibilities. If writing is the only marketable skill you have, and you don’t have the chops to break into the top 10%, but you still love what you do and want to make a living from it, you don’t have a choice but to compete in the undifferentiated commodity base. It can be quite satisfying if you don’t want the egoistic cachet of a personal brand. There are people who get a kick out of being the “unknown ebay millionaire.”

    It is all very well to add a differentiated coat of paint, but if you don’t ACTUALLY have a differentiated competency, there is no point competing through differentiation. In writing, that may mean becoming a skilled tweeter, or (as with me) developing a reputation for skill in the 2000+ word range in “in-depth” blogging. Or other core competencies.

    To compete you have to keep 2 realities in mind:

    1. Comparative advantage: an MD (Oliver Sacks, say) may be a great writer, but it isn’t the best use of his time to be composing, say, sales emails. He should be doing medicine and writing specialized stuff using his medical expertise (as he does). You, as copywriter can do his copywriting for him even if in principle he could do it better himself. That’s David Ricardo for you. There is no shame in this. Letting a false “amateur/professional” distinction distract you from opportunities for professional growth is silly. Writing is one of those skills where customers often outsource for comparative advantage, not absolute.

    2. Recognize that in the WOM, relationship-marketing world, brand and clearly-articulated differentiation in landing pages matter less as you acquire repeat customers. On well-run online marketplaces (and without), it is possible to not have an explicit branding etc. and develop a loyal customer base simply through referrals and repeat business. Climbing the ratings ladder in thriving online marketplaces is a great way to do that. I know this through direct evidence (the top rated people on some markets turn away most new offers and are actually building virtual companies by managing the work of lesser rated climbers… without thinking too much about branding and landing pages etc.).

    In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Web technology researcher at Xerox, working on both “writing” and “marketplace” technologies, and I can’t elaborate on some of my points as much as I’d like to due to IP reasons :)

    Venkat

  23. Interesting analysis, Venkat. Thanks for the insight.

    But your argument puts freelancers in the position of relying on third-party applications and marketplaces when a demonstration of their skill via content marketing would also produce an asset for them. The former approach is not necessary, and the latter is way more profitable.

    Using sites like eLance is akin to being someone else’s user-generated content, a la publishing on Facebook. Demonstrating your skills with content on a blog in conjunction with social networking and news sites builds an asset that can lead to other opportunities, such as speaking, training and information products, among others.

    I’m not at all surprised you work for Xerox. The way you think is very pro-corporate-enterprise, with the traditional view that the little guy must rely on the big guys for a platform. I’m more into enabling the little guy to create outsized returns with a platform of his or her own. ;)

  24. LOL! You can’t win. Within Xerox, I get both my tomatoes and praise for being all about finding ways to play in the brave new long-tail economy, catering to the need of free agents and SMBs etc. Much of my work focuses on getting Xerox to help out the “little guy” rather than devoting all of our resources to the big enterprise clients. And here you are calling me out as an enterprise apologist!

    The important thing is that big corporation/little guy is a false dichotomy here, as is personal-brand/commodity. There are fortunes to be made in all four quadrants of the 2×2 I imply here.

    And yes, I absolutely do believe in mutual interdependence and symbiosis between big and small, branded and commodity. You make writing on Facebook sound like the worst fate on earth. The truth is whether you are fulfilled in your work or make money has little or nothing to do, at a fundamental level, with the superficial conditions around your work (big/small corporation, commodity market vs. unique player…, dependent on big platforms/digital survivalist with your own cabin-in-the-woods server).

    So if this is true, why do so many people conflate “happiness” with “f**-you money” free-agency? My answer would take 10,000 words, since I am long-winded, but Hugh McLeod brilliantly articulates the same philosophy with his pithy cartoons and one-liners (and his book, “Ignore Everybody.”) Railing against corporations or large faceless platforms is a case of rosy-eyed romanticism. These things are here to stay, and have their own romance, if only you know how to look at them artistically :)

    Venkat

    p.s. Can’t resist a dig. I like this site, and I use Thesis for my blog, but Automattic (WordPress) is now a major corporation. Most Linux development is funded by the likes of IBM. You need the server farms of Google and Amazon to drive traffic to “little guys” and help them make money. Most of the PC technology technology that is fueling this “great new liberation” of the creative class was created at the big, bad corporations (Xerox, Apple, Microsoft, IBM). You really think all these great achievements could have happened if people working in large, faceless corporations weren’t finding ways to enjoy themselves, self-actualize, etc.?

  25. Really fascinating stuff, thanks for the good conversation, Venkat.

    I would argue about brand–I believe that repeat and referral business are all about brand. Not brand in terms of a tag line or a particular graphic look and feel, but brand in the Seth Godin definition of “a promise made over time.”

    If I’m reading you correctly, you’re saying that fake differentiation and putting things in a shiny new bottle doesn’t get you very far. I agree with that to a point. In fact, many customers are quite receptive to shiny new bottles. :) But true differentiation beats fake differentiation every time.

  26. Sonia: Halleluejah! Convergence is in sight :) Some important differences probably remain in our respective positions, but those are of the sort that only the future will resolve.

    My last epic comment seems to be in moderation limbo for whatever reason. I oughta curb my Homeric instincts. But then, as I once remarked on a panel discussion with unusually pithy co-panelists, brevity is not the soul of my wit.

    Venkat

  27. Very fascinating indeed. Could you ask Venkat to write a full blown post on his stance?

  28. Sonia, I’m going to respectfully disagree with your statement that, “true differentiation beats fake differentiation every time.” And totally agree that many customers are quite receptive to shiny new bottles.

    “We’re #2 we try harder,” was the famous Avis slogan and differentiator. They were #5, they became #2 very quickly by making that “fake” differentiation.

    As to Brian’s point that writers must differentiate themselves I am in total agreement and disagree with some of Venkat’s argument. Venkat’s argument almost sounds like, “better to be a mediocre, competent, journeyman technical writer than a flashy, differentiated benefit driven, customer oriented, bad-ass money making, fully booked up, Gary Halbert type writer.” Perhaps I exagerate, but not by much. A top internet marketer writer did a split test, #1 offer was dry, no hype, lots of facts and features and some benefits, sales was 10%. Offer #2 was the traditional super hyped, “Who else wants…” OVER the Top!, colored type, insane use of exclamation points, SUPER HYPE, sales was 25%.

    Is that disapointing? Perhaps it’s just human nature and we need to acknowledge that.

    Data Stained Wretches, (no Google results for the previous 3 words, 93,000 for Ink Stained Wretches, that’s funny) throw off the chains of identicalness, Differentiate Yourself.

    Thanks.

  29. Tony, sure, but Gary Halbert was booked through infinity because he was better than anyone at what he did. He did a superb job marketing himself and he did a superb job for his clients. My vote is to actually get better and to pour yourself into a dazzlingly shiny new bottle.

    I once heard Gary Bencivenga say that “a gifted product beats a gifted pen.” In other words, a superior product that’s in line with what the customer wants is just flat out easier to sell.

    I agree with that (like I’m going to disagree with Gary Bencivenga, right?), but I also know that nothing sells itself. When we have a superior product, we have to pair it with superior marketing.

    @Venkat, laughing. That happens to me all the time–I think there’s some comment algorithm that throws us into limbo when our comments turn into sagas.

    I like the idea of Venkat doing a post on this. Except I think it would be a series of posts, there are a lot of issues getting tossed around.

  30. Venkat, final rebuttal in a welcome and intelligent debate:

    1. You say – “There are fortunes to be made in all four quadrants of the 2×2 I imply here.”

    The only fortune being made from eLance is by eLance.

    2. You say – “Railing against corporations or large faceless platforms is a case of rosy-eyed romanticism.”

    I don’t rail against corporations. I’m simply encouraging certain people to avoid being the unnecessary pawn of one.

    I use Facebook and Twitter to promote and increase the value of my own intellectual property assets. People who *only* use Facebook and Twitter do not.

    Empowering others to be entrepreneurs instead of co-dependent hacks is neither rage nor romanticism. It’s providing good value to others that provides a good return to us.

    3. You quote Hugh MacLeod in support of the assertion above.

    I know Hugh personally, and Hugh would prefer to drive a spike through his eye than to pimp himself on eLance. He differentiated himself long ago, however, so he’s in no danger of suffering the spike.

    Bad example, my friend. ;)

    I’ve already conceded my approach isn’t for everyone (no good approach is). So no worries… eLance will be filled with writers duking it out for table scraps for quite some time.

  31. What is it you are selling?

    Well said. That’s really the $64,000 question. If you asked 1000 employees at a big corporation what their company sold, I bet you’d get 100 different answers, if not more. Why? Because it’s never been defined and communicated. In this case, we’re talking about a company of one (you, or me), but the same rule applies: you need that definition. What benefit do you provide your audience? What is your elevator pitch?

    We all probably need to polish that apple.

  32. Venkat,

    Anybody that has enough writing chops to make me read one of their 2000-word blog posts on container ships (and like it) has my respect. I really don’t think we’re too far off—just coming from different perspectives.

    I see guest posts coming from you soon.

  33. Brian:

    Heh!

    I agree Hugh himself would likely react to eLance as you said. But his writing has a curious level of pragmatism about the real economy and the artistic legitimacy of “day” jobs. I love his “sex and money” theory for instance, and he talks about the naive romanticism around the ideal of quitting your day job. But perhaps you are right; I found his hierarchy cartoon (sociopath on top, clueless in middle, loser at bottom) hilarious, but also not “true” in the sense of not representing the true self-perception and real value of people who choose to stay in the “bottom.” The sociopath entrepreneur leader needs the enlightened follower to succeed.

    You may have misunderstood my position somewhat. I think we both agree that not everybody can or should be an entreprenur or differentiated. Where we differ is in the perception of what it means to not be differentiated. I think a lot of happy people with an identity of “team player” in larger groups would take umbrage at your description of their work identity as “co-dependent hacks.” Many have positive self-images as being part of a beautiful orchestra, where their individual voices don’t stand out, and that’s okay; they get their whuffie from being part of a greater reality.

    I learned this the hard way because I, (like you, I suspect) am something of an individualist sociopath, have done the startup thing, and am mostly regarded as an “intrapreneur” at work (I realized I was too lazy to be a true untethered “entrepreneur”). I made the mistake of believing for too long that people who didn’t think like me must be miserable losers, huddling in unwashed masses. Wrong. They subsume their identity within the group because it is a legitimate path to self-actualized existence. And people like you and me wouldn’t be able to do without people like them.

    Perhaps artistic fields that disproportionately reward individual talent lead to this bias (writing is one), but think in the context of fields where deep, tight collaboration is how value gets created. I am an aerospace engineer by training, and though a few sociopath leaders are needed, nothing like the Boeing 747 or space shuttle could have gotten built without the existence of people happy to self-actualize in co-dependent, communal ways. Rabid individualism would have made those great achievements impossible.

    Venkat

  34. Off-Topic:

    Well, at 17 I feel entirely too young and under-educated for this conversation, haha. I commend you guys on making content so addictive I actually read all of the comments. I think I burned a good 45 minutes…

    I think it would be awesome if Venkat wrote a guest post. It’s really awesome to see such involved and informative comments when most people I encounter write “i like this post” or “i disagree” and move on. Nice job dude.

    On-Topic:

    I met an aspiring freelance writer who charged $0.001 per word. Since that’s a fraction of a penny, I was flabbergasted. This guy was probably on the “commodity” end, but still, he should at least make enough money to complete an entire…well…penny.

    It’s true, writers tend to romanticize writing, and when a client asks “isn’t it easier to rewrite something?” I have to stop myself from explaining how a re-write is even harder (to me), because you now have to frame someone else’s intentions with your own language and style. It’s like music – interpretation is everything.

    I’ve tried websites such as Elance, and I have to say, I hate their “bidding” preference. I also do freelance design and in that community there is a lot of talk about “no speculative works” and how contests are dangerous, yet I see no real argument for this among the writing community…

    Then again this is like the only established writing blog I know of…

    Nevertheless, people would, of course, see design as something that is harder to create, because it has a “face.” A visual concept that can be seen and admired. If you hear about amazing writing, it’s like an act of Cthulu (I refrain from referencing dietys for my own welfare) – noticeably effective yet commonly understandable…so people come up with a scientific explanation that reduces it to the common…thus…”anybody can write.”

    And anybody can, but not everybody should. So how do you make yourself different when everyone thinks of you mostly as a time saver?

    I personally play into that. I save time. I write fast. I do my research and I spellcheck. I spend more time thinking than writing. And those are my features…

    My benefits are my customer service, and how I handle myself, and my natural ability to come up with oddly sensical ideas (why blogger are like rugs?).

    Okay this comment got way longer than I thought it would. Thanks for the great post!

  35. “I get what you’re saying and it makes perfect sense. I guess my question is, how do I differentiate myself?”

    Be the best in your field. If you’re not really good at whatever you want to make money doing, you’re not going to make much money at it. The people who are making a lot of money online, as far as I can see, are doing 99% of ‘it’ really well (‘it’ being high quality content and product creation, and marketing, what else is there really?).

  36. Well express post! It is so important to know your strengths and the aspects of your talent that makes you stand out from the others. With this in mind, it won’t be long till people start recognising a person for the excellent writer they are.

  37. Heh,

    It may sound easy and makes sense to focus on benefits and not features, but I always seem to get in a jam there ending up on focusing on neither, lol.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Igor

  38. I think a key point in differentiating yourself is to identify a niche market on which to focus (at least at first). To say you are a freelance writer and leave it at that, is pretty vague. There are a zillion “freelance writers”, so why would a particular company hire YOU? A niche market doesn’t necessarily have to limit what you do, it just puts a focus on it. A niche can be huge, but can give you the angle to pitch yourself as a specialist in a particular area, be it technology, fashion, advertising, etc. What kind of writer are you, what appeals to you, what interests you, what areas of expertise do you have? Answer these questions and you’ll find what makes you stand out from the pack and what makes you and your particular talent marketable.

  39. Derek,
    I agree with you completely. This applies to really any creative field…especially now when everything is so technology based. Anyone who learns how to use Illustrator thinks they are now a designer, anyone who learns html and flash thinks they are now a web designer, anyone with an idea for a product thinks they are a brand. It’s so beyond learning the technique of using tools. I know how to hit a nail with a hammer, but I’d never call myself a carpenter. Creative tools without art and intuition are useless.

  40. Wow Brian, thanks for pointing the benefit-feature difference for writing. My writing skills are under appreciated by my former boss, but I realize now that I can’t change their minds about writing, but if I had emphasized on the benefit, things would have been different. Thanks!

  41. Was so caught up in my thread yesterday that I overlooked this other interesting thread in the comments.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect is problematic outside its narrow academic scope, since it relies on relative perceptions of self/other skills with respect to a ground truth defined by an “expert” determined aptitude test (eg. logic, reasoning…).

    Move to the real world, and all the problems with IQ tests reappear (i.e. low correlation with real-world metrics of success). So, any version of the DK experiment for writing would rely on a “standardized” creative writing aptitude test. Reliable for grammar, unreliable for any subjective attribute. Who will be the priest who will create the ground-truth aptitude test? William Safire? Strunk and White’s descendants? Seth Godin? Chip and Dan Heath? Some schmuck who can’t string a sentence together but manages to somehow get tens of thousands of RSS subscribers?

    So a “better at tests” copywriter may not write as effective (in impact) copy in the real world (“Made to Stick” made a version of this point: the kids who came up with “sticky” ideas weren’t always the usual suspects who were good in more measurable/testable forms). Add to that the fact that “real world” impact metrics like traffic or conversions, often necessarily confound several contributing variables (quality of product, quality of copy, size of market, market landscape, luck).

    Not to say D-K is irrelevant here, but you should be cautious about applying it in a nuanced way to something like writing.

  42. Momblebee,

    Well, said and you echoed my thoughts exactly. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to find your niche, find your specialty and find your market. And once you’ve done that, don’t just shout it from the highest rooftop, but dig deep into the trenches and prove it. Maybe then, you’ll get noticed.

    Furthermore, good copywriters aren’t just writers and that is where many misconceptions fester. Good copywriters are marketers, business people and creative directors. They see more than just words. They see a bigger picture and know how to make it all work together. And if it’s not working, they know how to fix it.

    Excellent post and excellent, thought provoking discussion.

  43. I have done a lot of copywriting but never really made a lot of cash from it.

    I really didn’t market myself the way you are describing though. Basically once I figured out that I had a certain skill in writing I did it for myself first, and then I started to develop other skills that frankly were and still are more in demand and pay more.

    With the economy in the shape it is in now, at least in my company, top copywriting is the first to go, we’ll get one of the employees who still have a job here to do it, and keep it in house. Unfortunate but that is the way it is.

    Top copywriting is definately worth its weight in gold, don’t get me wrong, its just a challenge to position yourself in the marketplace in the right way.