“I’m not like other writers”, you say with a smile… But how does a client know that?
With the pool of freelance writers ever-growing, it can sometimes feel like standing out from the crowd is impossible. After that first hurdle of getting a few clients, the next challenge freelancers face is “proving” they’re worthy of being hired in a saturated talent pool.
I’d like to challenge that limiting mindset, as well as provide some straight forward tips for pulling ahead of the pack and (almost) effortlessly getting more writing work.
The fact is, the vast majority of freelance writers are putting in just enough effort when securing client leads. They’re going on instinct and using outdated verbiage or sending templated responses to as many clients as possible.
They’re not actively strategizing or putting themselves in their ideal clients’ shoes, so they end up with pretty mediocre results.
It’s true that in any scenario, the large majority of people in a group will stay in the comfortable middle. This is basic human behavior, as challenging oneself and pushing past mediocre into excellence isn’t the norm. If it were, that level of excellence would them become the standard, and so on.
When it’s time to stand out, it’s a bit like the metaphor of the hikers who are being chased by a bear.
One hiker sees a bear and starts running away. The other shouts, “What are you doing?! You’ll never outrun the bear!”, to which the running hiker replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!”
Moral of the story? In our case, it’s that you don’t have to be the best of the best to stand out. You just have to pull ahead of others who aren’t currently bothering to step up their game.
This doesn’t mean those writers will never succeed (nor will they be eaten by a bear). It just means that, at this point in time, their lack of effort presents you with an opportunity to shine.
There are many ways to stand out from other freelance writers—and just picking one or two of them can be incredibly effective. Let’s explore them below!
1. Strengthen your niche
When it comes to being “the one” in a prospective client’s eyes, there’s no more powerful leverage than having a strong niche.
Having a clear and specific niche will solidify your expert status in a given field, whether you opt to focus on one industry or one kind of deliverable. The strongest niches are a combination of both.
For example, a “content writer” or “copywriter” is a lot less compelling to a pet care industry client than a “pet care content writer”, “pet training copywriter”, or “pet product description expert”.
These are random examples, but you can probably see how a client in that industry would move toward someone with “pet” in their title.
Your niche becomes your headline on your website and social profiles, so clients have an instant propensity toward you the moment your page loads. This makes you more prominent in search results when your target client is looking for a writer.
A strong niche means you narrow the pool of work you’re looking for, get familiar with brands, opportunities, and business trends in your industry, and strengthen your expert status over time.
It narrows your “competition”, allowing you to build a reputation for yourself apart from other writers in the same niche.
On top of making your client’s decision to work with you much easier, it also makes your career choices easier! Your niche informs everything you do, from the branding colors you’ve chosen for your website to what you write in your bio.
I could go on about this all day. Niches can ignite a stale career, define goals and strategies, and increase your visibility to a specific group of clients.
If you stay niche-less because you’re “doing fine as a generalist”, you could be missing out on more income, as well as that coveted expert status. Your rates are also limited to what other generalists are charging (because, why would a client pick you over another writer-of-all-trades?) and it’s harder for you to stand out.
As the old adage goes, when you try to reach everyone, you end up reaching no one.
Open a Google doc tab or get out a piece of paper. Experiment with narrowing down your niche. Can you narrow down your services? The industry you serve? The kind of client you seek? All three?
How specific can you get? Remember, your niche should be something you’re interested in, experienced in, and that’s part of a viable, growing industry.
What if you tested it out for a month or so? You can always pivot later.
2. Be more personable
This strategy is so straight forward that it’s frequently overlooked. Be more “human” in your interactions, to the best of your ability. In a world of spam and white noise, it’s refreshing to receive an email that doesn’t sound like it was written by AI.
Above, I mentioned that writers currently occupying the median are applying to work with templated responses. I see this a lot, but it’s the mere tip of he communication problem iceberg.
Hiring writers for my own projects has been one of the fastest ways I learned about what not to do when pursuing leads.
I’ve been called “Ma’am”, “Sir”, and “To whom this may concern” when my name is clearly displayed.
I’ve received canned messages addressed to other people where the writer didn’t bother to change the name or the job details.
I’ve had job description language awkwardly copied and pasted into a message back to me as if that would hypnotize me into hiring the writer.
I’ve had writers aggressively argue that they were right for the job after I politely declined to move forward with them.
I’ve received life stories, resumes, and bios copied and pasted from the writer’s website like a press release, never once mentioning the job at hand.
The list goes on…
It should go without saying that avoiding this behavior can set you way ahead.
There’s another kind of communication issue to tackle, though:
I also see writers who are otherwise eloquent and calm in day to day communications start to malfunction under the pressure of securing work.
Even the most warm, personable people seem to change into awkward robots when it’s time to submit a job proposal, reply to an opportunity listing, or pitch writing services.
I think this is because they’re stuck in a mentality of “asking for work” or feeling like they’re getting away with something if the client actually pays them for writing. This is a confidence issue, of course. It’s imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head.
And it may even be resistance trying to protect you from new opportunities.
This has happened to the best of us, but it’s behavior that’s hurting your odds at impressing potential clients.
To overcome it, try this: Shift your head space from “person who needs work” to freelance business owner. This puts you on a level playing field with the client, and you don’t feel like you’re asking them for a favor by hiring you.
Instead, you’re showing up as a writing service provider who has value to infuse into their business (and their bottom line). When you’re a solution to their problem, you stop feeling like you need to slide into their inbox, awkwardly convincing them you’re worth hiring.
Open up the past few proposals and emails you’ve sent to potential clients. Where could you have been more personable? Where did you maybe sound a little desperate or off-putting?
Did you ramble on about yourself without focusing on the client? Did you use cliche phrases or make arbitrary claims?
Take some notes for your the next time you reach out to leads. Remember to keep yourself on the same mental playing field as your client.
Think, act, and communicate like a freelance business owner who’s trustworthy and friendly.
3. Raise your rates
Be honest: Does the thought of raising your rates make you nervous? Does it make you feel audacious? Did you read this title and think, “Yeah, sure, I’ll raise my rates and get even less work!”
If so, you’re not alone. But stay with me.
Offering “competitive” rates isn’t always the best way to catch a clients eye. If you’re charging too little for your writing services right now, you may have positioned yourself as a low-cost, low-value freelancer.
Just like the generalist without a niche, the writer offering “competitive” race-to-the-bottom rates is actually sending out all the wrong signals.
Lower rates can land you in a category in the client’s mind that simply says “this writer is cheap”. Wouldn’t you rather be placed in the “this writer is high-quality and I trust them” category?
While this isn’t 100% fool proof, you can examine this pricing model in many different industries and find that a higher price is typically indicative of better service or goods.
From cars to shoes to medical care, if something is more expensive, we expect the quality to be higher.
And “better quality” is definitely the category you want to position yourself in as a writer. Not “the cheapest”.
Of course, this is a holistic strategy. Raising your rates is a smoother process when your niche is solid, your communication is personable, and you create a high-quality impression.
I know that money can be a nervous topic, but focus instead on the service you’re providing. Writing excellent copy and content that generates sales is no simple task. And effective writing has the power to generate a lot of money.
Your services are increasing your client’s bottom line—and you’re also a pleasure to work with. The vast majority of quality clients will be happy to invest in you.
When you do run into clients who scoff at your rates, you might feel a pang of “Oh no, they’ve found me out!” but in reality, you probably don’t want to work with that client anyway.
And if you do go too far and set your rates too high for your current level of value, you can always adjust them once you gain that clarity.
Whatever you do, don’t reduce your perceived value with those race-to-the-bottom rates.
Open up your rate sheet or wherever you keep track of your rates… and increase them! Consider your income goals and how much you’re aiming to make this month/quarter/year.
Commit to these new rates and muster up that confidence. Prepare yourself to discuss these rates with future leads.
You can also raise existing client fees, especially if you’ve been working with them for a while and they’ve seen your value.
If they ask why, simply let them know that you’ve reviewed and adjusted your rates based on the value of your services. That’s it! You don’t owe them any further explanation.
If they refuse to work with you at the new rate, they’re no longer your ideal client, are they?
4. Edit your portfolio
Samples are a powerful tool, but they can create overwhelm for clients too. Are yours helpful and self-explanatory, or frustrating and time-consuming?
To understand this, we’ll try a little exercise. It’s time to put yourself in their shoes… as usual. 😉
It’s the end of a work day and you remember that you need to hire a copywriter for your new email sequence. You post a listing on Upwork and/or Linkedin.
Before you’ve even made a cup of coffee, the waterfall of messages pours in, so do links to websites and portfolios galore.
When you return to your inbox in the morning, there are 50-100 messages.
You read the first few in full and click on the website links provided, scrolling and clicking until you find their “Email Samples” page.
By the 10th email, though, you’re tired of reading. Everyone’s basically making the same claims about being experienced and easy to work with. Everyone’s including a link to the homepage of their website, and you’re hunting through them to find the right samples.
You’re seeing samples of all kinds: copy and content for virtually all marketing platforms.
Finally, you open an email where the freelancer has linked you to a PDF. It’s a document they made just for you and uploaded to their own website for you to view. It’s a compilation of their email samples, all relevant to the project you’re hiring for.
It becomes immediately obvious that they are the person for the job. At this point, their rate almost doesn’t matter. They’ve made it easy for you to say “yes!”
Get the picture?
Assume that your clients are leading busy lives, even before they embark on the often stressful process of hiring someone online. When they get overwhelmed by your correspondence, they might just hit “delete” and move on.
Do whatever you can to make the process easier for them.
Look at the samples in your portfolio. How easy would it be to link your ideal client to exactly what they want to see?
Can you add tags and filters so only a specific type of sample shows up? Or create PDFs or Google Drive folders with samples by category, style?
The next time you’re sending samples of your work, consider how you can get them the exact information the client wants. Make it easy for them to say “yes!”
5. Cover your bases
I see many confused and frustrated freelancers throw their hands up, claiming nothing they’re doing is working. Upon further investigation, it’s evident that they haven’t “put their ducks in a row”.
Are you trying to skip a few steps on your way to freelance success?
I applaud your bravery and action taking, but if your method isn’t working, it might be time to get back to basics.
Hacking your way to a freelance career is a popular topic, but I believe you’ll give yourself a higher chance of success if you’ve covered all of your bases.
You have the chance to build a strong foundation that can support your career-building efforts. I outline these steps in the “Prep” and “Presence” sections of my signature 5-P method.
Prep includes things like deciding a viable niche, outlining your rates, services, and policies.
Presence includes creating your website, social profiles, and participating in industry discussions (on Linkedin and elsewhere) to get your foot in the door.
I’ve had countless people argue with me about this, because it’s “still possible” to get a client without a website (et al). But why be unprepared? It only takes an afternoon to set up a simple website.
In one day you could create a fully-realized online presence for yourself.
Then, if your prospective client does care about those things, you’re ready with them.
And again, if the way you’ve been doing things isn’t working in a long-term, sustainable way, why not try this out?
Read Freelance Writing 101: The Beginner’s Checklist (A.K.A. Everything You Need to Get Your First Client) and take action on the steps.
If you’re confused about tech or setting things up, advocate for your own skill set! Google it up. This stuff is not hard to figure out and the video tutorials out there will walk you through everything second-by-second. What a time to be alive!
If you’re confuse about strategy, figuring out your niche, or you’re running into mental blocks, come hang out with us in the Freelance Writing Cafe Facebook group. We’re here for you!
6. Release your scarcity mindset
This may be one of the most notorious, yet mysterious reasons freelancers aren’t hitting their goals. Is it happening to you, too?
When is the last time you checked in with your mindset? When is the last time you took stock of the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing when pursuing client leads and pitching writing services?
Are you hopeful? Nervous? Confident? Exhausted? Maybe even jaded?
Here’s why it matters:
You attach a little bit of your energy to everything you create, whether you’re making a cup of coffee or writing an email. When it comes to the latter, negative thought patterns could be seeping into your correspondence.
Feelings of “I don’t believe this proposal is going to work”, “I don’t believe I’m worth the rate I’m asking”, or “Ugh, I have to pay the rent!” could be written between the lines.
A scarcity-based thought pattern would be “There are so many freelancers and only so much work—I’d better get this client or I’m screwed!”
This kind of thinking subconsciously influences the language we use and how we come across.
A client reading your email might feel put-off by that energy and, without even knowing why, simply want to delete it or decline your offer. And when you’re trying to forge new working relationships online, someone feeling put off is all it takes to lose an opportunity.
A common cause of a scarcity mindset is the “ex-employee, desperate for work” vibe that tends to creep in when we don’t own our independence.
We forget to show up as business owners who’ve taken the reins on our own lives, and we slip into a helpless, frantic energy that does anything but serve us.
You’re not to be blamed for this! It’s no small task to embrace a confident, calm mindset that’s centered around abundance. But it is essential that you work on it.
If your emails are an unprofessional woe-is-me cringe-fest, you’ll have a hard time getting those contracts signed and deposits paid.
To remedy this, you have to put some serious faith in yourself, in the universe, and the sprawling web of opportunities that are out there.
Regardless of how many freelance writers exist, you’re a unique, high-value service provider who is worth the investment. Cement this in your mind. Write it on a post-it note.
If you don’t believe in yourself, how can a complete stranger on the internet be expected to?
There’s more than enough work to go around, even if the number of freelancers keeps growing. And it will! So it’s a good idea to get on the abundance mindset train now and start standing out as a confident freelancer who brings good vibes to every collaboration.
As I mentioned at the top of this post, standing out from other writers doesn’t mean you’re pushing them down or “stepping on them” to get ahead.
There will always be a pool of freelancers who, for one reason or another, are exhibiting mediocre behavior. Those will always be the majority. Some will graduate out of that zone, some will drop down into it. The median is always in flux.
So we’re not judging other writers who are at different places in their journeys.
If more freelance writers read this post and put in strategic effort to stand out, then the entire “medium” will shift upward on a curve and the standards will be raised.
Once the standards are raised, so are the expectations, and so is the income. Just something to think about!
Remember, there will always be someone who seems more advanced than you—and someone who seems less advanced than you. Such is the nature of the universe. It’s all about balance. So don’t become obsessed with being #1. Instead, focus on that ideal client and building that ideal life for yourself.
Focus on offering awesome services and making clients’ lives easier. Focus on running your freelance business like a boss, and you will stand out to the right people.
Do you have any tips for struggling freelance writers? Need a little extra support getting your first client? Come hang out in the Freelance Writing Cafe Facebook group. You’ll find like-minded freelance writers at every experience level who have insight to share.