Bottle your brilliance. Get more copywriting clients

Anna McLoughlin

Inkspiller: Helping agencies bottle their brilliance

The sad fact about copywriters and creatives is that we’re not always that good at doing for ourselves what we do so well for our clients.

We’re especially guilty of neglecting our own websites. We procrastinate about improving them – for months or even years – then rush and bang something out that’s full of industry cliches.

Too many agency websites talk about creating ‘experiences’.

Too many freelance copywriters state they’re ‘all about the words’.

Far too many firms say ‘we do digital’ (when digital is just expected).

Unfortunately, while still true and still important, these things just aren’t meaningful enough to attract clients, and they don’t differentiate your business.

And that, my friends, is a bit of a problem in a world where our work is becoming increasingly commodified and the pesky robots are after our jobs.

To stand out, you have to stand for something

Many of us get our clients through word of mouth, so we don’t feel as if we need to concern ourselves with outreach, marketing or the headspin that is brand positioning.

But what happens if your network changes? If your clients move work in-house? Or, if there’s another godawful global crisis? You might find yourself in urgent need of new clients and you will need a strong proposition to attract them.

As Up To The Light’s ‘What Clients Think’ report states, “Clients like to quickly identify an agency’s core competency. With so many agencies offering so many services, this can be difficult. Nailing and articulating how and where you excel is crucial.”

While you may not consider yourself a copywriting agency, you’re also selling a creative service, and prospective clients will be looking for evidence of your core strengths.

Another quote from the report reinforces this: “In our interviews, clients tend to talk about agencies in terms of core competencies – They’re weaker strategically, they excel at digital, we go to them when we need real creativity”.

In the same way, they prefer agency websites that lead them very quickly to what the agency is best at. This may be a particular service or discipline but it could also be an overarching approach. However one defines it, the agency has to stand for something.”

One important way to stand out is to pick the areas you excel at and make them the foundation of your positioning, your messaging and your marketing. To help you along the way, this article will walk you through the 5 basic ways of doing this and some simple exercises that will help you articulate why your work matters.

5 ways to bottle your brilliance

None of these 5 positioning tactics will be new to you, but you’re probably overlooking 1 or 2 of them. As I walk you through each one, try to notice which one jumps out at you and lights you up. That’s a strong clue for how you can start to stand out.

1. Who

There’s no getting around it. The easiest way to bottle your brilliance is to get crystal clear on your target audience. There are many, many reasons for this. It instantly gives you a hook and makes you stand out.

It makes you more relevant to the right people. It allows you to zero in on your client’s challenges and become the go-to person for solving them. You and I both know this! But we also know it’s not so easy to do in practice. 

Almost everyone enjoys variety and doesn’t want to rule any kind of client or project out completely. But if you don’t, you just blend in with the sea of sameness and weaken the impact of any marketing or outreach you do.

Chances are, you might already have a natural niche without realising it. Think back to your favourite and most profitable clients or areas of interest – what do they have in common? Are they B2B or B2C? Are they in the charity sector? Fashion? Health and wellness? Tech? Travel?

This bit is important; not only is it crucial to work with businesses you’re enthusiastic about, but it’s pretty important that you pick a target audience that can actually afford to pay you.

And remember, this is just about marketing, positioning and perception. It’s not about what you do behind the scenes, who you work with or what you bill for. Trust me, just because you’ve niched in one area doesn’t mean other amazing clients won’t find you. They will. And just because you get known for one thing, doesn’t mean you can’t sell other things.

The point is, you can still work with everyone but simply niche your marketing. And it’s perfectly acceptable to switch tactics if one niche isn’t working out as you hoped. Contrary to what we often think, people (especially prospective clients) are not out there examining your every move and there is no such thing as the positioning police.

For more thoughts on niching, check out my video: To Niche or Not to Niche?

2. What

As the ‘What Clients Think’ report shows, articulating what you do best is one of the boxes new potential clients want to tick – and quickly. In the same way as narrowing down on a client niche, you’ll gain far more traction as a specialist than a generalist. Because let’s face it, it’s hard to be full service in a world that moves this fast.

Maybe your strength is UX copywriting? Or perhaps it’s clever conversion copy or email campaigns? Maybe you’re amazing at honing in on brand personality and tone of voice?

Again, if you’re struggling to narrow down on what you do best, think back to the projects where you felt most in the zone. What comes naturally to you? What gives you joy and feels the most like play? Where do you offer the most value and drive the best results?

That last part is important. Nobody is ever buying ‘UX copy’ or ‘tone of voice’ – don’t take your eyes off the fact that what clients buy is having their problem solved, not necessarily the way you solve it.

In other words:

  • What’s the ultimate destination your clients are really aiming for?
  • What transformation are they seeking, for their project but also for themselves?
  • What can they be, do or have after they’ve worked with you?

Sell what you’re great at – but sell the dream too. 

3. How

How you work and your approach to working with clients is one of the most challenging things to nail down and articulate but can often be why clients choose to work with you.

Some copywriters are intentionally collaborative and consultative. Some are all about efficiency,  more ‘bish, bash, bosh’ or ‘get in, get out, get paid’. Some are driven by creativity, others are more scientific. Some love long copy, others short.

How you work is often driven by your values, which we’ll come on to later.

For now, think about how you do what you do:

  • How do you like working with clients?
  • How do you make their job easier?
  • What proven processes or frameworks do you follow?
  • What’s unique about your approach?

Having a process and being able to talk about it, matters. It can add a tremendous amount of value. It shows you care and really helps articulate your difference. For more on how you work, check out my video: T’aint what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

4. Why – or why not

Think about your favourite brands, thought leaders and artists; chances are they have strong opinions, and they aren’t afraid to share them. People buy your why and your mission; however, they also buy what you’re NOT and what you actively fight against.

Interestingly, the ‘What Clients Think’ report found that 68% of winning pitch presentations went against the brief in some way. Turns out, clients love it when you have the confidence to point out pitfalls, to question and to challenge them.

Positioning yourself around what you stand for but equally what you stand against is a strong way to differentiate yourself and become more memorable.

Maybe you hate boring cliche-ridden copy? Maybe you won’t work with unethical companies? Maybe you refuse to work 9-5, or only work a 4-day week? Don’t be afraid to be different or say what you believe in. Some will hate it, but the right clients won’t.

5. You!

Personal chemistry can be critical in the business of copywriting. Clients will hire you because they like you! People work with people, right? But that goes both ways – work is way more fun when you work with lovely people. So it’s better to position yourself in a way that’s authentic to you and helps attract like-minded clients who you’ll get on with.

I know it’s hard when your diary looks empty, but where possible, try to be discerning with the clients you take on. Ask yourself, ‘would I go for a drink with this person?’ and if you would, it’s likely the start of a great working relationship. 

In brand positioning terms, we all work best with people who share our values. Understanding and expressing your values is a pivotal piece of bottling your brilliance because it informs your tone of voice, how you work and who you work with.

Put it together in a core message

Once you’ve worked through all these elements, see which speaks to you loudest or engages you the most. This is going to be a meaningful way your business can stand out.

When you have your 5 key elements, you’ll bring them all together into a positioning statement that says what you do, who you do it for and what they can expect as a result. All expressed in a way that reflects your personality and values. 

And yes, this can be as hard as it sounds. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. Messaging has the word ‘mess’ in it for a good reason.

It’s rarely ever done – it naturally evolves and needs revisiting regularly. But it is non-negotiable. To attract ideal clients, juicy projects and charge high-end prices, you have to act like the meaningful brand that you really are. 

And hopefully, in the process of bottling your brilliance, you’ll uncover and start to believe in what makes you special. After all, healthy self-belief is often the missing secret ingredient for both branding and business success. 

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