Not winning contracts?

Be that special snowflake. Really.

One of the toughest parts of being a freelancer is “landing” — that is, getting that first assignment that gets you on the radar. No matter how good you are or how polished your resume is, you still face the harsh reality that you have a ton of competition out there.

To give you some idea: When I advertise my workshops for freelancers, I have an email that gets sent out to a few hundred writers in the St. Louis area alone. That’s a lot of people all hoping to win the same gigs.

The best (and frankly, the most ethical) thing to do is find ways to differentiate yourself. The trouble is, this is a lot harder than it sounds at first.

Differentiating yourself is not easy.

The very first thing we do in my LAUNCH workshop is an exercise to prove how difficult differentiation is.

Before the workshop, I ask everyone to spend some time thinking about their strengths, their talents, and their offerings — basically, anything that would make them a valuable resource for a client.

Then I have each person read their list in turn. As they read, I write each item on the board. I then ask the group: “Who had this on their list, too?” If at least one other person had that skill or strength on their list, I put a line through the item and continue.

Guess what happens by the end of the activity? I have a white board filled with what people “offer” — a good 30 or so strengths, skills, and services, perhaps — and about 25 of those have been crossed out because someone else in the room offered that as well.

Which means that those writers are not really that different after all.

If you’re not different, you’re competing on personality and price.

When your resume looks the same as the next 20 writers a client will see, your ability to win contracts will come down to personality and price.

You don’t want to sell on personality alone, because that is too random and unreliable a base on which to build a business.

And you don’t want to sell on price, because that’s how you end up broke and working the swing shift at Starbucks. (That’s not a bad gig, mind you. But it’s probably not where your talents nor your dreams lie.)

So what can be done?

First, you might want to do this exercise with some other writers you know. If your skills and talents sound the same, it’s time to revisit what makes you truly different.

Second, start asking “why” questions. Potential clients will often ask what you can do, but you need to communicate why what you do is important, and how it’s important to them. For example, maybe you are a writer and editor who can boast incredible attention to detail. That’s a great attribute; it doesn’t come naturally to most people. (I have to work hard at it. And I still routinely fail!)

OK, so you have great attention to detail. Who cares? Here’s who: Companies that care about how professional they look and sound in their communications. This is especially true for companies that care about word of mouth, or for companies in highly regulated industries (finance, anyone?).

Finally, think of the tasks you do that others find frustrating, irksome, or just not worth their time. Then think about what would make someone want to pay someone else to do those tasks. Love reading technical papers and blog posts, then summarizing them for the everyday reader? People will pay you to do that for their blog. Can you grind through a government RFP and not feel like gouging your eyes out afterward? Yeah, people will pay you a lot to write those for them.

If you want more ideas on how to differentiate yourself, I’m happy to help. And if you’re interested in that LAUNCH workshop I mentioned, add yourself to my subscription list for updates (and the occasional advice).


Brandon is experienced copywriter and content specialist living in St. Louis, MO. His main job is writing regular content for a number of industries and advising on all matters related to marketing; his passion, however, is providing workshops for writers and freelancers so they can grow their business. More information about these workshops and his company can be found at www.wordshaveimpact.com.