Freelance Writers: Why Should People Care About You?

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on November 13, 2012 in Marketing
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By: Joshua Danton Boyd

In the popular TV show Rome, the character Titus Pullo reassures the young Gaius Octavian Caesar that to be a middling swordsman is better than nothing. Caesar is quick to respond.

“There you are wrong. The graveyards are full of middling swordsmen. Best not to be a swordsman at all than a middling swordsman.”

This might be a slight extreme of course, but being in the middle of your industry is not a great thing. Sure, it might bring you some work, but will it be as fulfilling as being at the top of your field and getting those truly great projects and positions? Being sat in the middle will only grind you down until you become disillusioned with the unchallenging work and unsatisfying pay. So, how do you get to the top where you deserve to be?

Be Original and Innovative

It is often suggested that you should be creative to succeed. This, unfortunately, is just not enough. Anyone can be creative and even when they’re skilled it still doesn’t mean you’ll stand out. There are thousands of talented writers out there all battling for the same jobs. Being good at what you do does not make you stand out unfortunately.

To get noticed you need to be coming up with new solutions to old problems, new interpretations of old concepts and new ways to get better results. If you do one project that both goes against the accepted norm and is successful, you’ll gain more recognition than 50 jobs well done in the usual way. As you’ll probably know, your reputation and how far it spreads will have the biggest influence and effect on your success.

Show Off Your Knowledge


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As with a lot of cases, to build your reputation you need work and to get work you need a reputation. It’s an annoying catch-22 which usually means having to work for free to build up a portfolio. This is obviously something no one likes doing. There is another option that can help to speed this process along so you can stop doing unpaid work and get to the good stuff.

If someone has a problem that needs fixing they find an expert to advise them. You need to become that expert. The Internet has allowed pretty much everyone to give their two-cents on any article and blog post that is ever published online. Everyone is also able to set up their own blog to give their opinions. If you get out there with all of your valuable knowledge by writing guests posts, commenting on blogs and writing your own you will start to be known as an expert of your industry. With this will come great recommendations, word of mouth spread and some decent work.

Show Your Skills

Every job you take has the potential to be the best thing in your portfolio. It can be easy sometimes to just do some mediocre work for a simple job. All you want to do is get it out of the way, get paid and find something interesting. It’s perfectly natural to think like that, but why not instead take this opportunity to show off your skills and do something different.

To give you some inspiration, check out this website. Something that looks great and interesting all for the sake of a simple stats and news site. The developer who made this knew exactly what he was doing and the fact this site went viral meant he was sure to have gotten plenty of work after. The more pieces in your portfolio which show originality and a huge talent the better.

Who would ever want to be a middling swordsman?

About the Author

Joshua Danton Boyd is a copywriter for Crunch accounting and a regular contributor to Freelance Advisor. You can find more of Josh’s posts or connect with him on Google+.

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8 Comments

  1. John Soares November 13, 2012 Reply

    I’m a big fan of the Rome series and I vividly remember the “middling swordsman” scene.

    This is similar to the 80-20 rule: 20% of the top writers will make 80% of the money. Or more.

    PS: see Steven Saylor’s mystery novels about the end of the Roman Republic.

    • Joshua Danton Boyd November 13, 2012 Reply

      Exactly my point John!

      I think to really make a proper go of things you have to rise very near the top.

  2. Chimezirim Odimba November 14, 2012 Reply

    I’d like to add: Show them how you can help them increase their bottom line. This is usually the single factor that sways business owners the most: An assurance that what you deliver will bring them profits many times over. Think about it: That’s why sales copywriters can command fees as high as $10k.

    • Jennifer Mattern November 14, 2012 Reply

      Excellent point. I’d take a little bit further even and say “show them how you can help them reach their business goals.” Sometimes that’s increased sales or profits like you mention. But those aren’t the only reasons companies will pay top dollar for the best writers. For example, PR writers (who take on news releases, company profiles, media advisories, speech writing, writing PSA scripts, etc.) also command top dollar, and their work has nothing to do with profits. It has to do with the company’s or organization’s image — something that’s extremely valuable to smart business owners.

  3. Randy November 15, 2012 Reply

    So whats the difference between writing for free to build your portfolio and doing guest posts and commenting on blogs (also for free)?
    Randy recently posted…How can you vote for a Mormon???My Profile

    • Jennifer Mattern November 15, 2012 Reply

      There’s a pretty big difference Randy. I know we’ve covered it in more depth in the past here, so I’ll just try to summarize.

      Free portfolio pieces — The people you write for are otherwise prospective clients. The work you do for them could have (and often should have) fallen within your billable hours. When you work for prospective clients for free, you also let other prospective clients know that they can pressure you to work for less. Clients talk within their own networks, and whether we want it to or not, prices they’ve paid (or not paid) can come up before you get a referral out of the deal.

      Guest posts & comments — This has nothing to do with your billable hours as a freelancer. It’s a marketing tactic and should be worked into your marketing plan and done during non-billable working hours. It should never take away time that’s supposed to go to paying clients. The bloggers you guest post for are usually in your professional network, which means two things — it’s also a good networking technique, and those people were probably never your target market in the first place. So writing a guest post for them doesn’t directly influence what others in your target market are willing to pay. Most marketing for writers will involve some level of writing. You just have to know when to swap your “writer” hat for your “marketing” hat. All of the writing you do isn’t created equal in that sense.

      If you really must do something for free for a portfolio piece, you can write your own material (marketing copy, your own blog posts, etc.). Or you should consider writing for free for a nonprofit. Even then though, most are potential paying clients, so I’d suggest only working for them for free if it’s a cause you deeply care about or an organization you already support in some way.

  4. Marshall Hasz November 17, 2012 Reply

    In regards to the part about being original and innovative, I think that it is very important to be innovative in the ways you seek out your customers. The thing that I have in mind when I am trying to make an impression on the largest audience possible is…..am I even starting in the right place? I believe that all freelancers need to make sure that they are not only WRITING in a way that stands out and makes an impression…but they need to be REACHING OUT to potential customers in new and innovative ways as well. And I would like to mention that micro freelancing marketplaces seem to be a fantastic way to start small…build a customer base and a following as well as a great reputation…and THEN you will have the armor required to take on the bigger jobs.

  5. SpringBrett November 18, 2012 Reply

    Hey. Good post. But we can’t all be at the top. Actually there wouldn’t be a top without us middling swordsmen. How do you really spot real brilliance from all the impersonators.

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