Got this email from a reader in Canada a few weeks back:
Writers in my market are noticing a trend towards clients hiring low-cost writers, mostly journalism students from the local college. Journalism has been pretty much wiped out here so there’s been a huge increase in these writers. We’ve also noticed several big clients are now offering minimum wage for copywriting positions. So there’s pressure.
A few of us “senior” writers have been talking about collaborating on some sort of marketing strategy based on selling a higher-quality writing service. The general idea is not to compete directly against the will-write-for-food crowd, but to become the go-to writers for clients by offering a consistent, professional and accountable service.
I’ve partnered with another writer to offer this service to a client whose reputation may have suffered some by hiring cheap writers. What we’re seeing with these cases are things like websites with glaring typos, businesses with poor Google results, etc. Are the clients noticing this? Maybe. Is it damaging their reputation in the marketplace? Probably.
While this idea of ours looks positive, the question is this: Do you know of anyone else who has tried this strategy, and have you seen what works and what doesn’t?
At first blush, a little disturbing, but I’m not at all sure we’re comparing apples to apples. Here’s my thinking on this…
I haven’t been seeing this trend personally, but I’m sure it’s happening. The key question: What sorts of copywriting projects are these writers being asked to do?
I ask this because a journalism student from a local college will, in no way shape or form, know their way around good, effective marketing copywriting.
And hiring cheap writers will reliably yield the unreliability he mentions. I can certainly see cheaper freelancers being able to write passable-looking “content” like white papers, case studies, blog posts, etc.—given their more “article” nature.
Commercial Writers Do It Better
Needless to say, a copywriting pro would render those content projects far better, while their versions of ads, direct mail, brochures, landing pages, etc., will be infinitely better, more effective, and far more likely to pay for themselves many times over, than anything a cheaper writer might deliver.
It’d be interesting to get into the heads of these writing buyers. Maybe they know they’ll be trading off some quality for the lower wages paid. But they’d only do that if they truly believed that what these bargain-basement scribes deliver is all they really need.
Don’t Know Good Writing (or Writers)
After all, these clients have already proven they don’t understand the value professional writers bring, so they’re just as unlikely to be able to recognize good writing when they see it, and be happier with inferior stuff.
In the long run, I suspect those same clients, if they start seeing that they’re losing out to companies who are investing more money in writers better equipped to deliver effective content—and general marketing copywriting—may end up doing the same themselves.
In answer to his specific question, I wrote:
If you feel you and your compadres ARE stronger marketing copywriters, that’s probably your best pitch. Yes, I’d also play the reliability, accountability and detailed-oriented (i.e., clean, error-free copy) cards, but I wouldn’t lead with those: Even though they’re exceptionally important, they sound a bit thin, compared to the effective marketing-copy angle.
That should have them thinking that they’re potentially losing far more money in sales, than they’re saving by hiring cheaper writers. And heck, why not make that part of your pitch?
Back to School?
Bottom line, If your prospecting hasn’t turned up enough “good” clients (i.e., those who understand the value people like us bring, and are willing to pay well for it)—and they’re certainly out there—you might need to do more educating of those clients who think, “Anyone can write.”
In many cases, clients don’t even realize there are writers like us (i.e., marketing copywriters). They just need a writer, and if they don’t have success with lower-budget ones, they’ll find a “better writer”—i.e., a more experienced journalist-type writer.
Let ‘Em Know Our Kind Exists
So, the marketing we do for our practices not only lets the world know that we—in particular—are out there, but just as importantly, that marketing copywriters like us, very different from the typical “freelance writer”—are out there.
Have you noticed this trend in your market?
In your experience, do clients realize there are marketing copywriters out there, not just journalist-style “freelance writers”?
In your experience, do the prospects and clients you cross paths with know the difference a good marketing copywriter, and know what quality marketing writing looks like?
Ever had a client who just didn’t get what a good writer could offer, and your amazing copy rocked their world, and gave them a new appreciation for folks like us?
How are your marketing-writing chops? Not sure? If you’re ready to BE sure, and truly separate yourself from the writing masses, check out my (rapidly-filling) Well-Fed Group Coaching series focused on “craft” and starting October 18. Full details and testimonials HERE.
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So, I’m in the midst of series #5 of my commercial freelancing group coaching program (as I write this) – geared towards business copywriters just starting out. Not surprisingly, one of the BIG bugaboo issues for newbies is “niche.” Seems you can’t spit these days without hitting a guru or two who’ll adamantly assert, chopping the air for emphasis, that you absolutely, positively must differentiate yourself in the marketplace by way of a well-delineated niche.
If you don’t, they’ll continue, you’re on a one-way road to professional oblivion (with financial ruin swiftly on its heels). So many new copywriters agonize over this one, so afraid to hang out a shingle without a laser-specific professional focus. Sorry, but as an across-the-board strategy, I don’t buy it.
(Note: we did touch on this subject a year or so ago in the Generalist vs. Specialist debate, but I’m taking a bit of a different spin here, and looking for slightly different input from you experienced folks).
Here’s my take: If you have a well-defined niche you can pursue, by virtue of past career experience, track record or education, by all means, go for it. Having a niche absolutely can set you apart – AND earn you more money. Even if you don’t have a big portfolio of work in, say, Industry A, if you know all about Industry A by virtue of 10-20 years in the business, you’ll be attractive to writing buyers in that industry (who’ll translate that experience into “minimal learning curve”…).
Even if you hate the field in which you’ve spent a decade or two, if you’re trying to get started as a commercial copywriter, I’d still recommend you leverage that experience out of the gate. You don’t have to write about it forever, but it’d be nuts to not parlay that into work until you get established.
Remember, even if you don’t love your industry any more as a field to work in, writing about that field from the comfort of your home in your sweats is a whole other ballgame from having to go to work every day (i.e., commute, endless meetings, office politics) in that same field in a job you loathe.
But what if you don’t have a 10-20-year track record in some field? Listening to the experts, you still need to create a niche. But what niche? Pull one from thin air? Flip a coin? Declare yourself an expert on X, but without the background, training or samples to back it up? What’re you going to say if someone asks for those samples? I’m afraid I just don’t see a whole lot of sense in that approach. If a niche isn’t occurring naturally to you, it’s probably not there, so don’t force it.
So, Plan B is to build your business sans niche as a generalist. Something I’ve been doing for 17 years, incidentally. Sure, I had a sales/marketing background, and I did make sure people knew that, but most of the projects we commercial writers do are marketing-oriented anyway, so is that a clearly defined niche? Debatable.
Sure, it’ll be tougher with little to leverage. But, if the alternative is touting yourself as an authority in an arena where you’re really not, I say the anxiety level with that scenario will likely top that of someone going niche-less. And in the latter situation, if you’re a really good writer and go out of your way to be overly professional, reliable and easy-to-work with, those things will set you apart (assuming you’re reaching enough people with your marketing efforts).
What’s your take on niche?
How important do you feel having a niche is for someone starting out?
Did you have a niche when you began? If not, how did your story unfold?
Do you feel strong writing skills, professionalism and reliability can be a “niche” of sorts (given how relatively rare they are)?