In a little over four years as a freelancer, I’ve written about every conceivable kind of product and service, from high street brands to niche B2B products. In that time I’ve developed a very simple approach: discover what’s special about the product and find a way to explain this to the customer in a tone of voice that resonates. It doesn’t matter what I’m selling. The formula is always the same.
One thing I have noticed, however, is that like attracts like. Once I put some work I did for a South London estate agent in my portfolio, I started getting a lot more calls from estate agents. When I focused on big brands, more brands started calling. Even simple things like putting a picture of myself in a suit on the homepage got B2B enquiries ringing off the hook.
For me, the best thing about freelancing is being my own boss. Next to that, the best thing is not having to do the same old job every day. Today I might be at home writing SEO copy for a B2B telecoms firm. Tomorrow I might be in a swish London agency concepting for an ad campaign. Every day is different and brings new challenges.
Most freelancers are like me. We’re guns for hire and we’ll write about anything, anywhere our laptops take us. We follow the money. We follow the work.
But there’s a special breed of freelancer out there. The specialist.
The specialist is no ordinary gunslinger. He’s a lean, mean S.O.B. and he hits his target every time. He might specialise in one particular field of copywriting, such as SEO. Or he might target just one sector, such as medical, telecoms, or charity, knowing his market inside out.
Practice makes perfect. The truth is specialists are better at what they do because they do it a lot. This enables them to command a higher premium for doing so, as well as having the advantage of being more in demand, not just because they’re better — because they’re seen as more dedicated.
I’ve written on my blog that people expect copywriters to be passionate about the things they write about. I can’t for the life of me think why. You’d be pretty worried if your plumber was passionate about U-bends — for most of us, a job’s a job. But because most clients believe words are more persuasive if they’re written by someone who truly believes in the product, specialists are more in demand. “I’ve been writing about medical supplies all my life! Yes, I’m as passionate about stairlifts as you!”
How, when, and where should I specialise?
Perhaps the thought of writing about medical supplies until you’re wizened and grey fills you with a nameless dread. It certainly does me.
So is it best to choose a specialty early and stick to it? I don’t think so. You learn a lot by writing for different industries and develop a much more analytical mind. More importantly, you learn more about what you’re interested in. After four years, I’m slowly finding my niche. It’s B2C, it’s conceptual, it’s digital. But I’m glad I can write about a ton of other products in a myriad of different styles, too.
As I hurtle towards my fifth year as a freelancer at what feels like supersonic speed, I feel the time has come to decide where I want to be. As a specialist, I could command much more money, develop longer and more fruitful client relationships, and really start honing my skills.
On the other hand, I love going to bed each new day never knowing what tomorrow will bring. Freelancers tend to be free-wheeling types by nature, and it takes a very special type of person to be able to give that up.
Do I have what it takes to become a specialist? I don’t know. But I’m glad I’ve had the experience working on a wide variety of projects. It may look tempting, but like marriage, specialise too early at your peril. You never know what’s round the corner.
Don’t settle for anything less than your true love.
When did you decide to settle down and quit fooling around with other tones of voice? Or are you still on the scene, taking home a new client every day? Comments welcome.