How to Get More Clients, Money, and Respect for Your Copywriting Business

image of hands on keyboard

You’re a hardworking copywriter who would like to get more clients. You meet a prospect — let’s call him Steve — at a networking event.

You get along pretty well, spending twenty minutes chatting about work, succulent plants, and the crazy behavior of three-year-old Cocker Spaniels.

As this happens, the filing clerk in Steve’s memory pulls out a crisp new index card and starts making notes. (This is a metaphorical file clerk, not an actual tiny person living in Steve’s brain.)

The filing clerk writes down your name and a few key details: you’re tallish, brown hair, married, love to water ski, have lots of plants, good sense of humor.

When you leave, Steve’s filing clerk decides where this card should be filed in Steve’s memory. Whether that card ends up in the right place (which means more business for you) or the wrong place (business disaster) is up to you.

Here’s what makes the difference.

1. Disaster.

Steve has no clear idea of what you do, so you get filed under Everyone I Have Ever Met.

This is a box the size of a cargo container and includes the index cards of everyone from the girl who stole his pencil in kindergarten to the barista who made his coffee this morning. You will never, ever be remembered if you get filed in there.

2. Obscurity.

Steve remembers you’re a copywriter, and so his filing clerk pops your card in the Copywriter box. This box is the size of a shoebox and contains almost a hundred cards.

Almost every time Steve accesses this information, he goes to the same half-dozen names he’s already familiar with. He’s not likely to ever think of you when he needs to hire, refer, or partner with a copywriter.

3. Memorability.

Steve remembers your copywriting specialty, and his filing clerk puts your card in a much smaller box. (In fact, he might have to create a new box just to file your card in.)

When he thinks about your specialty, your name might be the only one that he thinks of. Interestingly, you also now have a good chance of being remembered when he accesses the Copywriter box, too.

It’s time to get specific about what you do

Many professionals (not just writers, but also graphic designers, web developers, coaches, consultants) are afraid to specialize too much when it comes to their marketing, for fear that they’ll niche themelves into too small a space.

But small spaces are what you need! If you represent yourself in the most general terms (“I’m a copywriter,”) then you get filed with everyone else who has done the same thing. And that is a lot of people.

Remember how I said Steve will generally remember the same half-dozen copywriters over and over when he has need to think of one?

One or two of those may be important to him because they’re friends or family, or because they were the first copywriter he ever met. But most — maybe all — of the copywriters he remembers have specific memory boxes in Steve’s head.

Here are some of the copywriters Steve remembers and recommends:

  • the writer about sex and meaning
  • the gunslinger copywriter
  • the copywriter for equestrian businesses
  • the R&B-stylin’ copywriter

Those are small niches, no doubt about it. But Steve recommends those people often, and the general copywriters almost never.

The specialists have lots of hooks in his memory, and information with lots of hooks is the kind that gets recalled.

How do you make sure you’re memorable?

To be memorable, you need to be able to describe what you do in two or three core concepts.

The fancy word for these is schemas — concepts with loads of implicit meaning in them.

(Copywriter is a schema. It incorporates the ideas of being paid to write for a commercial aim, with the goal of using words to promote and persuade. That’s a lot of meaning in ten letters!)

If you’re a copywriter, you need an additional concept that will differentiate you from all the others. That differentiator can be:

Who you serve

  • You only work for physiotherapists.
  • All your clients are changing the world.
  • Your clients are blue-collar businesses.
  • You work with creative rebels.

How you work

  • You never offer revisions.
  • You offer unlimited revisions.
  • You collaborate with the business.
  • You bring cupcakes to client meetings.

Your unique flavor

  • You appeal to video gaming geeks.
  • You explain with hand puppets.
  • You’re fascinated with Shogunate-era Japan.
  • You also teach yoga.

Your values

  • You’re a Hasidic Jew, and your beliefs inform your work.
  • You despise debt and refuse to accept credit cards.
  • You never work on weekends.
  • You always work with sustainability in mind.

All of these positions can be described in two or three words, from copywriter for physios to eco-friendly copywriter. And all of them are specific enough to be filed in a quite small and memorable filing box.

There are two ways to get this wrong.

Choosing the wrong differentiator.

The differentiator you choose should provide more meaning about you and why your services are valuable.

If you’re the teapot-collecting copywriter, what does that say about you, and why it’s worthwhile for me to hire you? Not a lot. Lion-hunting copywriter, however, tells me a lot about you and whether we’ll work well together.

Your differentiator also needs to be consistent with your values and style of work. If you’re a hugs-and-puppies copywriter, then you shouldn’t offer high-pressure services that are inconsistent with your brand.

Too many ideas.

You can only use two concepts, maybe three. (Anarchist country-and-western copywriter is an entirely different animal than either of those differentiators separately.)

There are no two or three concepts that can describe you in all your wonderful complexity, and it’s tempting to add more nuance and dimension by including more ideas. Resist the urge.

Simple sticks. Complicated gets forgotten.

Choose something that is representative of who you are. People will learn more about the specifics when they get to know you, but in order to get to know you they have to remember you.

It’s your turn.

Right now, can you describe what you do in two (maybe three) simple concepts without being Yet Another Such-and-such?

I’ll be hanging out in the comments if you want some help clarifying your core concepts.

About the Author: Catherine Caine spends her days helping world-changers create marketing from their magnificence. She guarantees epiphanies within 15 minutes in her free 30-minute Marketing Check-up, or your money back.

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  1. I think you raise some great points that can apply to any profession, not just copywriting. No matter what you do, you have to stand out from the crowd. What makes you special and valuable to prospective clients? I think you’re right that people are afraid to segment themselves too far, but staying generic doesn’t get you anywhere either.

    • It’s natural to resist niching because we think, “I can’t afford to chase anyone away right now.” But you need to focus in some way to reduce that pool of competitors, otherwise you’re always chasing the same customers every other fish in your pond is chasing.

    • Seems like a lot of bloggers fall into this trap as well … especially those blogging about blogging or making money online.

      Think back to your days in high school … when it was all about being different from everyone else. Same story, bigger playing field.

      Diversification makes you memorable.

    • It’s definitely the same for everyone, no matter what business you’re in… I certainly wouldn’t do well if I was just another marketer. :)

  2. Catherine:

    Everyone once in a while, Copyblogger does an article that applies to a particular reader. In this case, today’s post covers my concerns. Thanks for the good tips.

    Randy

  3. Catherine, I love your voice and the way you laid out your ideas. That makes you remarkable and someone to remember.

    Several posts on “changing the world” have challenged me to rethink that phrase. It was interesting that you used this phrase a couple times to describe what you do. It will all come together eventually, or not!

    Thanks.

    • Hello Mary!

      Generally I talk about changing A world… in my work I revolutionise people’s businesses to bring in more cash and more joy, and that quite simply changes their lives. (And therefore their client’s lives. And their family’s. Thus, one world is changed.)

      I know other people who use it as shorthand for “doing meaningful work that leaves the world better off”.

      Good luck with finding your own definition!

      Catherine

  4. This has started me thinking… would the same tips work when promoting a website?
    For example, my website is geared to baby boomer women. I only post well written informative articles. I refuse unrelated links to poor quality websites and keep my advertising to a minimum. Get the idea?

    When I describe my site, I sometimes get caught in the details eg. we have an audio version of all of our articles and they can be translated into several languages, etc.

    Should I keep my description to 2 or 3 key points?

    Many thanks for any help you can offer.

    • While we wait for Catherine’s response, I’ll chime in and say absolutely, these same principles apply to blogs, businesses of various kinds, websites, etc.

      Specifically, I think pulling your site “big idea” down to 2 or max 3 points will help you a lot.

    • Heck yes! Don’t tell me about the details of HOW you deliver your amazingness, tell me in a few words WHY it’s going to rock my world.

      What’s the transformation you create for those baby boomers?

  5. Great article! I’ve struggled with that problem – trying to please a wide range of potential clients. Good advice to follow.

  6. LOL! Those are some great tips for differentiating yourself in your marketplace. :)

    Having your own style that stands out makes your customers happy.

  7. I love this concept but agree that it is scary to take this plunge. I wrestled with my branding over at Tiny Business, Mighty Profits and have had to force myself back to my niche several times. I can vouch for its effectiveness!

    Thanks for writing this Catherine!

  8. Thanks so much for this great post, Catherine! I’ve only recently turned my attention to how I can create a better “referral engine” for my business and the points you make are very helpful.

    I was also recently inspired by a suggestion from John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing in an interview with Chris Brogan for Third Tribe: John encourages business owners to create the “Perfect Intro Tool”.

    I’m excited about it because it will make it infinitely easier for someone to remember me and my business if I actually hand over a card rather than rely on an “inner file clerk” to remember the salient information.

    Here’s what he suggests go on the tool (perhaps an 81/2 x 5 1/2 card):

    How to Refer Stacey Curnow, CNM, MSN – Midwife for Your Life

    I want you to know that I understand the trust you place in me when you offer a referral and because of that, I want to demonstrate my appreciation by giving you a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant of your choice when your referral becomes a client. I hope this document serves as a helpful guide when you refer me.

    How Would You Spot My Ideal Client?

    They are women in their 40’s and 50’s who primarily identify as a mother. Their children have either left home, or will in the next few years. They are now interested in pursuing creative dreams and goals separate from mothering.

    They Say Things Like:

    “I feel lost. I need more clarity and help to figure out what I really want to do.”

    “I know I’ve got something really big inside me (like a book, a blog, a business), but I just don’t know how to get it out.”

    “Maybe I’ll just never get to do [something big and creative] (like be an artist, write a book, start a yoga practice). No one would read/listen/care, anyway.”

    How To Best Communicate What I Do

    Stacey shows you how to take the seemingly insurmountable goal and break it into smaller, manageable pieces.

    She has created two signature systems: The Multi-Passion Mama Productivity System and Create the Conditions for a Life You Love.

    Her clients get proven, extremely specific, step-by-step processes for getting more clarity on their dreams and serious traction on their goals.

    What to Do Next

    Please encourage the prospective client to email me at Stacey (at) midiwfeforyourlife.com or phone (828) 484-1308 ,and I’ll be happy to connect with her. I have a quick “check-in system” that helps me identify very quickly if we would be a good match for working together.

    Alternatively, a great way to sample my work is by subscribing to the Special Delivery eZine, my weekly email newsletter. It’s free and in it I share stories and articles that are filled with tips, tools, and techniques I use to create an authentic and happy life. You can let the prospective client know they can sign up at http://www.staceycurnow.com/blog/hello-and-welcome/

    What Others Are Saying about Stacey

    “The personal coaching you offer is nothing short of amazing. You encourage me and hold me accountable. You have helped me accomplish dreams that I had all but given up on.” Liz Curtin, New York, NY

    “The tools Stacey has given me have worked in all areas of my life from work to family relationships.” Laura Reeth, Raleigh, NC

    “The investment in myself is totally worth it.” Colleen Fleming, Portland, OR

    Again, I’ve just started playing with this idea, so my card isn’t “done” yet. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on it, Catherine! Thanks again for a great post!

    • Wow! Not only was this a great post in general but Stacey’s response was worth it’s weight in gold. The referral profile is exactly what I need to implement. I get a lot of slightly off referrals – this will eliminate that.

      Thanks for the great post Catherine!

    • Hi Stacey,

      I just road-tested your referral profile by reading then wandering off to read four other aticles – you know, simulating the distracted conditions you’ll get in real life.

      When I came back I remembered: “Stacey. She’s nice? Midwife something.”

      Reading it through carefully – probably more so than most people will – my summary was “freeing empty-nester creativity”. Did I get it that time?

      • Hi Catherine,

        I look at the guide as a relationship building tool – something I would give to the women in my networking group or to other people who express an interest in my work and a willingness to help me build my practice.

        It’s hard to imagine any “one-off” exchange resulting in a referral that would lead to a prospective client investing in my services – but I ask for a pretty significant investment.

        What I also love about the tool is that I can encourage my peers and colleagues to use the framework to allow me to be more effective in referring clients to them. Win/Win!

  9. I too have been wary of specializing even though I feel it’s a good idea. I’ve made efforts to stick out in other ways.

    I used to send 50′s Rock In Roll CDs to new clients. That let me stick out in their mind a bit. I like Gary Vaynerchuk’s tale of sending one of his customers a Jay Cutler jersey after reading he was a fan through his Twitter feed. That will never be forgotten!

    • You do have to be careful that what you ties to your core values and the benefits you provide, otherwise it quickly becomes a gimmick.

      Why 50′s rock and roll?

      • Why 50′s Rock n Roll? Because it wasn’t well thought out. :) It did work in some ways and it appeared to correlate with more referrals. But I like Gary Vaynerchuk’s example better – as it was something the customer was interested rather than myself.

  10. Hi Catherine, great insight. It is target marketing all the way, online and offline. This has been one of the hardest things for me to act on, and it is for all of my clients. But, it is also th key to success. What a great insight to bring this fully into your personal contacts.

  11. I just listened to Shaune Clarke interview Ryan Healy on this topic of networking at events!

    Awesomeness to be had in that interview.

    But the real awesomeness comes in the coaching program where Shaune spends something like 4 hours going through the importance of having your own USP that resonates with the audience you’d be a perfect fit for. Shaune’s big on the premise that there’s 3-4 perfect clients out there for everyone and that 3-4 good clients who are marketing machines can keep you busy for a long, long time.

    Catherine has shared some advice in this post for doing this and for any copywriter’s who are info junkies and are looking for even more specific help on narrowing down this topic, I can’t recommend Shaune Clarke’s coaching program highly enough.

  12. It’s all about good service at the end of the day. If you provide quality copyrighting skills then you’ll definitely get money & some referrals from clients.

  13. Wonderful, clear and most of all right-on advice, Catherine. It makes such sense, but is sooooo scary when you feel like you need every nibble that comes your way. I’ve been saying I’m a copywriter for “people doing the right thing” (i.e. socially responsible businesses, people who make things people actually need, etc.), but I can justify almost anything, so when I’m worrying about my bank account, my essence gets diluted. You’ve inspired me to think more deeply about this. Thanks.

    • Yes you MUST MUST MUST be brave and resist the sorta-kindas. It’s hard, but your business will grow so much faster when you stick with it and resist the moaning wails from your bank account. :)

  14. I love your opening analogy Catherine! The memorability part really speaks to me! Thank you for the reminder.

  15. Finally something new I havent heard before. I am a copywriter specializing in the interior design field and when I mention that most people think fluff and dont take it seriously even though I keep quite busy and at least make enough to pay the bills. (fortunately I dont have a lot of bills!) Any advice on a better “schema” that will at least make people respect what I do even if they dont hire me? BTW…thanks for a great article.

    • Thanks Diane,

      Firstly I wouldn’t bother too much – the people who don’t respect your work are the kind who wouldn’t hire you anyway. It’s the ones who WOULD who matter.

      I don’t think I could improve on “copywriter for the interior design industry”! It’s very very clear on who you work with, and it gives me some thoughts on how you’d be likely to do it, too: everything thoughtfully placed and harmonious.

  16. This is a great exercise for us entrepreneurs who also write our own copy. Easier said than done!

    Kay, here’s me:

    Life design coach for quietly rebellious writers and artists

  17. I really like this entry! How does it apply to one just starting out in copywriting? Do you suggest just taking personality attributes as part of your concept?

    • Great question, Angie! You can definitely start with aspects of your personality, but you can also choose based on who you’d most like to work with, or something that reflects your goals for your business.

    • I also found that it can take some time. You create a position for yourself that feels pretty good, then six months later you realize that the real gold is in some subset of that, or a branch off of it.

      You don’t want to reinvent yourself every few weeks, but I do think it can take some time to settle in to the right position.

  18. Good advice Catherine! I’ve definitely noted this blog for a daily read… been a while since I’ve come a good blog I enjoyed reading, especially on copywriting! :)

  19. I’ve been in business for a year, and have struggled with telling people what I do. If I write copy for websites, blogs adn marketing and sales collateral, I’m stumped as to how to describe myself.

    • Well, is there a particular industry you do it for? (Or would like to?)

      Or a certain personality type that you like best? (Woo-woo, super-logical, creative?)

      Or an important value you’d want to create more of? (More scientists getting the word out on the amazing work they’re doing?)

  20. Standing out in the crowd by showing our unique values will help you to get more clients in any kinda businesses, because people always love creativity and uniqueness.

  21. Great article! I once worked with a photographer who shared some valuable wisdom with me at the start of my career. He used to take every project that came along because he was afraid to turn away work (aren’t we all). He found himself competing on price, working longer hours but not making much to show for it. Eventually he learned to turn away half the projects that came along that weren’t a good fit or looked like prospects that would turn into trouble clients. The clients he retained got more of his time and better work. He also increased his fees to what he was worth, and stopped competing on price. He and his clients were happy with the results, and his overall income increased while his stress decreased. Those words of wisdom have stuck with me over the years, but it’s still hard to turn away a potential customer!

    I’m a seasoned web developer freelancing as “Ty the Web Guy.” It took a long time for me to get comfortable with that title because it seems cheesy and a bit egotistical. But it turned out to be memorable and identifies me, my light-hearted personality and what I do for a living. I’ve been surprised at how well-received it is among prospects. Now, after reading this article, I’m working on a couple more concepts to further differentiate me from all the other web-hacks out there. Catherine, thanks for sharing this valuable strategy with us!

  22. Hey Catherine, great post! This is really great information. I really would like to apply this to what I’m doing now, especially because I’m just starting up. But when trying to define myself, my website, and my writing and editing business, I’m having a bit of a struggle. I’m new in the business, and I’m young. I’ve noticed that marketing with my age entices people through curiosity and perhaps a bit of amazement that I’m doing so much even though I am only seventeen. However, I feel that this could potentially make me appear less credible overall. Any advice?
    Thanks!
    -Rachel

    • Ohhh, GREAT question. I think the best line to take is to describe yourself as a prodigy, and THEN provide buttloads of proof that you know your stuff: testimonials, lists of books you’ve read, case studies, posts that make me say HELL YES, interviews…

      The only thing I really need to trust is that you can deliver the result I want. If you prove that, I don’t care if you’re three years old. :)

  23. A good and useful post. Thank you. I have also struggled with the differentiation issue. I’m not calling myself a copywriter anymore. I’m a professional writer and I’m an alchemist. My company, Lucid Content, helps marketing professionals transform the everyday world of features and benefits and business language into clear, passionate, creative expression. How? We ask deep probing questions to excavate the truth about what your business really means — to you and to the people who need you. We work in technology, education, health care and the arts.

  24. John Frizzera :

    I have been kicking this around all day, and here’s what I have “Professional writer servicing white collar businesses with a blue collar work ethic.”

    Thoughts? I’m thinking too wordy. Professional writer is definitely staying.

    • I don’t understand the blue collar work ethic vs. white collar. Do you imply blue collar has a better work ethic? But that means you’re insulting your white collar clients? Or is it the other way around? I’m confused…and I think Catherine would say, “Can you bring that down onto three words?” ;-)

      • John Frizzera :

        Ty – good point. How about “Hard working writer” I want to convey the traditional work ethic of the blue collar with the corporate image of the white collar. I’m thinking it’s too much to convey in 3 words. Professional writer and storyteller might be the way i go.

        • Ah, but professional writer and storyteller is still a pretty big box to be filed in. As opposed to:

          Grease monkey copywriter
          Copywriter with a tool belt
          Git-’er-done copywriter
          Elbow grease copywriter…

          • John Frizzera :

            Hard hammerin’ copywriter
            The hard scrabble scribe (I kid)
            Hard writing hired gun

            Copywriter with a pro pen

      • I love how you’re quoting me, Ty. :)

  25. John Frizzera :

    another one i had was “Professional Writer, Storyteller” I constantly tell my clients that everyone loves a good story. I help them tell their story. Does that sound too generic?

  26. I have struggled with this, as you know.

    I am beginning to think that I work for people who are great at technical/logical/rational things but slightly bad with people. Fluffy thinking for the left-brained. Communication skills for XKCD fans. Although, I’m not entirely sure whether it’s because I hang out with lots of scientists, or whether there’s some deep attraction going on there. It’s just that I often feel like I’m a graphic designer explaining my loose human approach to Captain Spock.

    • If you would be happy always working with those people, then it’s a great idea. Especially “Communication skills for XKCD fans.” I’d remember that for sure.

  27. Being memorable has been easy for me… apart from my “normal” business ventures… I’m also a professional wrestler. I don’t tell everyone that, but the few who do hear it or figure it out on their own DEFINITELY remember it! See http://perryvonvicious.com for my wrestling info. It’s funny stuff to most, and fun stuff for the rest.

    • Dave, you’re AMAZING! I always wanted to hire a web developer than could moonsault from the top rope!

      Why do you not talk about it more?

      (P.S. The Triple H sign made me snort out loud.)

  28. Fantastic Post! and I just LOVE the values part!

    “You’re a Hasidic Jew, and your beliefs inform your work.”

    Do I know you?

    :)

  29. This was a timely post for me, Catherine, thanks! I’ve just decided to refocus my blog ( I got lost somewhere between the starting line and now ) and I’ve been feeling twinges of guilt about *all* the people who will be left high and dry by the change.

    Reminds me of a saying: “Try to catch all the fish, and you’ll end up with an empty net…”

    • I’ve found the best solution is to focus on “Who would get the most out of what I have to offer?” Smaller group, but MUCH more powerful.

      Best of luck!

  30. Catherine,

    This article is timely for me. I’ve been mustering up the courage to take a leap for some time now and have decided to go for it. I hope to capitalize on a combination of scientific expertise with an ability to identify and communicate value in emerging technologies and innovative programs- I am a PhD who can communicate to all audiences about science. But I’m particularly interested in promoting research and technology in the early stage space, as funding is scarce for high risk projects. I’m compiling a marketing strategy and realized that I was indeed trying to cover all bases in terms of the types of communications I am able to provide- to see which clients will bite. Now I see the value in sticking to a niche- “I sell science”- too vague? Thanks! -V

    • I think “I sell science” is an amazing identifier! Memorable, specific (you’re not selling shoes, you’re not doing R&D) and alliterative, which must be bonus points. :)

  31. Remarkable works! Let me check How I work? Yes some revisions found. Thanks for tips.

  32. I am not a copywriter AT ALL, but reading this article made me kind of (oops, sorry, but old habits die hard) want to BE one. As a retired teacher and soon-to-leave-the-closet writer, I look forward to reading much more of your work!

  33. The day after I read this I met another designer. She said, “I do graphic design for environmental sciences.” We were on a nature hike, she picked up two new clients, and I remembered her. Of course I was just a graphic designer so I went into box one.

    Thanks for this article. As I think about trying to catch everyone, I am left wondering about how many new clients could I handle anyway?

  34. This is an excellent article! Thank you so much for sharing. I have always been a big promoter of copywriters choosing a niche — I think you articulated the difference between choosing a differentiator that works for you rather than choosing one just to choose one perfectly.
    Thanks!
    Kelly Robbins