Are Upwork and Other Freelance Job Platforms Killing Freelancers?

Once upon a time, businesses had a difficult time finding good B2B writers.

There was no web. No Google. No email.

It was all about good old-fashioned word of mouth.

Writers who had the initiative would do a bit of direct mail. Some would try their hand at cold calling. And a few would also network at professional industry events.

There was no efficient mechanism for finding a good writer. So there was a big divide between the service providers (writers) and the employers (clients).

Today, if you need a freelance writer or copywriter all you have to do is do a quick Google search. “B2B copywriter” generated 654,000 results when I tried this a minute ago. “B2B writer” generated 862,000.

Do the same search in Upwork, Guru and other similar sites and you’ll find thousands of hungry writers who ready to go.

So if I’m a B2B marketer and need a copywriter, I can now go from “need identification” to actually corresponding with (or talking to) four or five qualified writers in a matter of minutes.

Some freelancers view this as the commoditization of their craft. And in a way, they’re right. As a writer, it’s never been easier to set up shop and to be found.

So how can you possibly make a good income in this environment of intense global competition?

I have a couple of thoughts on that.

The People at Google Are Having Trouble!

First, understand that it doesn’t usually go that way. You’d be shocked to hear how many B2B marketers don’t even know where to go to find a good writer.

In a recent conversation with colleague Gordon Graham, he told me about his experience with Google a few years ago. Turns out when Google called him, they were elated. Because they were having trouble finding someone to write white papers and case studies.

Can you believe that?! We’re talking about Google here. The same people who own the search engine you and I use every day to find stuff!

And they were “having trouble” finding someone?

I’m actually not surprised. I’ve experienced the same thing when a prospect contacts me and I can’t take on the job. They seem lost, as if they were really counting on my saying “yes.” They’re not really sure where to keep looking. So I do my best to refer them to a trusted colleague.

Weird, right? You’d think they’d just hop on Google and find who they need.

So why don’t they?

clicktotweetJust because it’s never been easier to punch in “B2B writer” into Google, that doesn’t mean it’s easier to find the right copywriter for the job.

Here’s the second critical point:

In this environment, you must redefine what you do and what value you offer your clients.

clicktotweetWant to know what’s been commoditized in the world of freelance writing? It’s the words, NOT the work!

Don’t Be “That Guy”

If all you do is talk about your writing (how great it is … how it’s clear and compelling … and why a client needs great copy), you’re doing what everyone else is doing:

You’re focusing on the features of your work. The product.

But what if you talked more about the unique perspective you bring to the table?

By that I mean your experience writing in a certain field. Your background in the accounting industry. Your 12 years of bedside nursing. Your 22 years as a pilot for two major airlines. Your 15 years’ experience as a high school teacher.

Or even the two years you spent backpacking and working odd jobs in Spain and the South of France.

That’s hard to duplicate. Because you’ve just added your DNA to the discussion.

You’ve added your unique story.

The Shocking Reason Why Clients Hire Me

Want to know why prospective clients hire me? It’s not because I’m an amazing writer. Sure, I write well. But many of my colleagues are much stronger writers.

I’m also not that smart. (Just ask my wife!)

Prospects hire me because I “get it.” I’ve positioned myself as a seasoned software industry veteran. So I understand their industry. I understand their market and what they’re trying to accomplish.

And I have a solid grasp on the challenges they’re facing from a sales and marketing standpoint.

Yes, they care about my writing ability. But that’s not quite as important as being able to understand what they’re trying to accomplish with the white paper, case study, article or brochure in question.

I get them!

Who’s Your Doctor?

Here’s another way to look at it. Think about the best doctors you’ve seen in the past couple of years. Do you know where they went to school and how well they did on their board exams?

Do you know how technically proficient they are? How many research papers they’ve published?

I doubt it. You probably like them because they take the time to hear you out. Or when they suggest a course of action, they factor in your concerns and preferences into that plan.

Or they’re personable. Or they have a lot of patients who are like you (or with your condition), so you feel like they truly understand your situation.

Quick side story: Want to know how we picked our oldest son’s pediatrician? He was the first doctor to evaluate him after he was born. Came to see him 9 hours after my wife delivered him.

And for some reason we think it’s kind of cool that the first MD who evaluated him 13 years ago is the guy who still sees him every year for his annual examination.

Call it nostalgia. Call it laziness. I don’t know! But we always insist on this guy when scheduling that annual visit. Even if the appointment time is not convenient.

So, yeah. Once you know the doctor is qualified from a professional standpoint (he or she is board certified and has an existing practice with what appear to be happy patients), you’re factoring in other much more subjective criteria in your “hiring” decision.

And, by the way, I wasn’t much of an “expert” in software when I started out. When I launched my B2B copywriting business, I had only four years of experience in the high-tech industry.

That’s not much of a track record. But it was enough experience for me to craft a compelling message about why I was different from many other writers.

By the way, your “difference” doesn’t have to be industry related. It could be about experiences you’ve had in your personal life. Or about topics you know well.

Spent the past 15 years home-schooling your kids? Surely there’s a story there about your ability to grasp, distill and communicate information to a skeptical audience!

When you’re starting out, that story doesn’t need to convince IBM that you’re the right choice. It just needs to convince a handful of small clients to give you a shot. And you can build from there.

The moral of this story is simple. If you want to be in demand AND command high fees, start by communicating your true difference outside of the actual writing you do — and why that difference matters to the prospect.

Do that well and you’ll never be a commodity.

 

 

  • Raj Chander

    I agree Ed – every writer has some unique capability that they bring to the table. For me, it’s knowledge of B2B/inbound marketing. For others, it may be social media expertise, or a knowledge of a specific field or type of technical writing. I think our best bet is to emphasize what we do know, and what we can do better than anyone else, and really try to focus on building authority/a strong client base in that niche.

    Also, I noticed an error in a highly ironic location:

    “Sure, I write well. But many of my colleagues who are much stronger writers.”

    Thanks for your thoughts as always Ed, big fan of your writing and podcasts. Keep the insights coming!

    • Mr_Gone2Rio

      I think you mean “locution,” not “location,” Raj. Autocorrect problem?

      • Raj Chander

        No, I meant location. Read the sentence again. He included a fragment in a sentence talking about how some of his colleagues are stronger writers – hence the irony.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for the heads up! I actually had it proofread. But then I made additional edits later. Big mistake! (That’s where the typos came from.)

  • It’s an industry shift. Services like OneSpace (a much better choice than Upwork) are great for providing a relatively regular income (without the marketing hassle) for beginning writers and writers who are between gigs. But you use those services to pay the bills while you’re developing your more specialized writing services, and yes, you MUST define what makes you a standout that your prospective client simply can’t do without. Part of that can be, as Ed has shown here, creating your own platform. But a lot of it is also doing the hard work, learning what your clients will really need and how to show them you can provide them with tailored product.

    The biggest problem I see, typically, is writers who think of themselves as writers and not entrepreneurs. You gotta change that attitude or you’ll fail.

    • edgandia

      Great points, Jamie! And yes, nothing can replace the hard work. A lot of people miss that fundamental ingredient.

  • Katherine_Andes

    This is spot-on, Ed. People hire freelancers in many, many ways. I LOVED the Google story. Thanks!

    • edgandia

      Isn’t that story crazy? I’ve experienced this a few times before. But I loved the irony with Google. 🙂

  • Mysterious_Man

    IMO, no.

    Or at least, it’s not making things worse for ALL copywriters.

    I think the current market makes things better than ever for the best writers, but bad for mediocre ones.

    If you’re a mediocre writer it’s harder than ever to sell for premium prices because you have 1000x competitors.

    But if you’re a great writer, you get found all that much more frequently, as UpWork, Google, etc, reward writers who have great reviews, good testimonials, lots of mentions online, etc.

    In the past, it was a lot easier for so-so writers to rack up clients and out-earn better writers, just by constantly spamming proposals.

    Now there are more ways for clients to really tell who the good copywriters are.

    UpWork does suck though. I’m on the platform, but I depend on it less and less every day.

    • edgandia

      Great point! I agree.

  • Rob Lindsay

    Ed. That’s nice, but that isn’t my problem. My problem is finding companies that actually have a need for my services. I’m in the same field as you are (high-tech copywriting). I have no problem distinguishing myself based on my 15 years experience in high-tech writing. I can often make connections with companies based on having done writing for one of their competitors (i.e. if it’s a “Big Data” company, I tell them that I’ve written for IBM Analytics, and can show them samples). I tell people that I can help their companies to “bring in new customers and increase sales and revenue with dynamic marketing materials.”

    The problem is, there seems to be a disconnect between making contacts and actually getting work. I hear two things from my clients, “We like your samples,” and “We don’t have anything for you right now.” And they never have anything for you *ever.* Or if they do, it’s usually a one-time project, and then they never need you again.

    You and other writers keep insisting the work is out there. I’m following YOUR methods (i.e. warm email prospecting), but not seeing a lot of results from it. You say it’s hard for marketers to find copywriters, but I think it’s harder for copywriters to find marketers who need their services.

    • Chris Delker

      One more insistent writer here: The work IS out there. I’m in my 4th year of full-time freelancing, and I’m having no trouble finding work – work that pays well (I’m also in the field of high-tech B2B). That’s not to say that it’s easy finding clients, or that it doesn’t take continuous effort. But my experience is that plenty of companies need what we’re offering. (And yes, I often get the impression from new clients that they’ve had some trouble finding someone to competently fill that need.)

      • Rob Lindsay

        Uhh, that’s great. Could you tell me what you’re doing that I’m not? Or why I keep going through “feast or famine” periods where I can’t find enough clients to keep me going?

        • Chris Delker

          Rob, I don’t know what you’re doing, of course. And I don’t know how long you’ve been doing it (as a freelancer, that is). My own experience is that it takes some time to build some momentum.

          But I’ve experimented with most of the commonly recommended marketing methodologies, including cold-calling and warm email marketing. Cold-calling was a waste of time and effort (I’m probably really bad at it). I didn’t do great with warm email marketing, either. I’ve achieved my best results with direct mail, and that is now my primary outreach tool.

          I’ve certainly experienced some feast-and-famine cycles. I think it’s inevitable for most freelancers. And I know that going through that can be very discouraging – enough so that I, too, have wondered at times if the work is really out there…as ALL those writers and coaches insisted. I know now that it is.

          Though it may seem now as if you’re struggling to achieve a goal that doesn’t exist, I’m one more voice chiming in to say that the goal does exist, and it is achievable.

          • Rob Lindsay

            I’ve been struggling to achieve this goal for the past 15 years. It’s not the method of contact that seems to be the problem. It’s the fact that the people and companies I make connections with almost never have any work for you.

            As far as “feast or famine” periods go, the last one nearly killed me, physically and financially. I wish someone would tell me how to avoid those periods and keep a steady stream of work coming. But people like Ed won’t do that unless you pay them a substantial amount of money, which I don’t have.

          • edgandia

            Rob — I appreciate where you’re coming from, and I know firsthand the pain that comes from either trying to land that first client (which took me forever to land) … or trying to end a very long dry spell. I had one in 2008 that nearly took me out.

            However, the problem is that no one here can give you a simple answer. It’s like calling up your mechanic and telling him that your car won’t start. He can’t tell you what the problem might be without asking you a few questions. And even then he’s going to want to see the car and run diagnostics on it.

            To run diagnostics on your freelance business would take time and expertise, both of which I charge for. That’s my livelihood. And yes, I charge high fees for my coaching because I help my clients get good results.

            As others have said, the work IS out there. You don’t have to take my word for it, and I’m not going to try to convince you of that. But in my experience, when someone is not landing enough work it’s because of one or more of the following reasons:

            * Not enough effort prospecting and marketing
            * Applying the wrong strategies
            * Poor positioning
            * Ineffective communication of your positioning
            * Approaching the wrong types of prospects
            * Ineffective qualification, pricing and sales process
            * Poor selling skills on the first prospect conversation
            * Below average writing skills
            * The wrong mindset

            There are others, but these show up over and over again.

            I don’t know if any of these apply to you, but thought they might be helpful as you work to get out of your current situation.

          • Rob Lindsay

            Well, then, I have a problem, Ed, because I could never afford your coaching fees. If I could, I wouldn’t need you, because that would mean my freelance business was doing fine and I was earning enough to pay my bills, plus have enough left over for coaching. But unless you’re willing to take very small installment payments until I can get my business back in order, I doubt I’ll be able to break out of this hole any time soon.

            I’ll say this much. I’m using the strategies that you, Steve Slaunwhite, and others have advocated (i.e. in “The Wealthy Freelancer,” and in your white papers and podcasts). I’m targeting the markets (i.e. high-tech) that you insist are full of prospects looking for copywriters. But I’m not seeing good results. So either I’m applying them wrong, or there’s some market or new method of prospecting and finding customers that you haven’t told me about.

          • edgandia

            Rob — The solution to your problem doesn’t lie in hiring me as your coach. And I’m not replying to you in an effort to recruit you as a client or to convince you that I’m right and you’re wrong.

            But I’ll leave you with this…

            When in doubt (or when you don’t know what else to do), just keep knocking on doors.

            I don’t know if you have children. I have two of them. I love them more than anything in this world. And if one of them was gravely ill, guess how many “doors” I would knock on to try to find a cure?

            I would do whatever it took to heal him. I would do everything within my power to get an appointment with the best specialists. I would travel wherever I needed to. I would research night and day for ideas. I would talk to hundreds of people, looking for answers. I would be the most resourceful person in the world.

            Because I had to.

            I don’t know how badly you want this. And I don’t know why it’s much harder for some people than it is for others. You’re right, it’s not fair.

            All I know is that there’s always a solution. And at the end of the day, it comes down to what you’re willing to do… and how hard you’re willing to try — even if that effort seems ridiculous or unfair.

          • Rob Lindsay

            That’s an inspiring message, Ed — and you’ll forgive me if I sound a bit cynical, but the problem is that I *am* “knocking on doors” every day. I’m “knocking on doors” using the methods you advocate (i.e. warm email prospecting). And I’m making contacts with people.

            Once I make those contacts, I try to unobtrusively check back with them — through my monthly eNewsletter, and occasional emails and voice mail messages — without being too much of a pest.

            My problem is, I’m not finding a high market demand for my copywriting services, even though people like you insist the demand is out there. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying, if the demand is out there, where is it? And why can’t I find it, even when I’m looking in the sectors (high-tech) that you insist are profitable?

            I’m sure you love your children. But if you knocked on the doors of several doctors, and they all said, “I could probably cure your child with a quick diagnosis, but I won’t do it unless you pay me first.” — how would you feel?

            And how would you feel about it if you had already paid these doctors, they had given you prescriptions which you were following, and those prescriptions weren’t working. You’d start to wonder if those doctors really knew what they were talking about, wouldn’t you?

            That’s how *I* feel, Ed. I’m following the strategies that you, Steve Slaunwhite, and other copywriting gurus advocate (and which I’ve paid for by buying your books and home study courses). And I’m looking for work in the markets you insist are profitable. But it’s still not working for me.

            I’m not blaming you for my lack of success, because the methods I’ve learned from you DO work (i.e. warm email prospecting works for making contacts). But there seems to be a disconnect between what I’ve learned from you and finding the success that you promise is out there. And I can’t seem to figure out how to bridge that gap.

          • Rob, I’ve read this entire thread, and I understand your frustration.

            I don’t think Ed or any other coach is steering you wrong. I do believe there’s a huge demand for copywriting services.

            With all due respect, I think the disconnect is at the point of contact. You’re doing the marketing and putting in the work. It isn’t that the prospecting or marketing methods aren’t working.

            You’re not converting conversations to clients. That’s a selling problem, and the excuses and objections you’re hearing aren’t legitimate.

            I would focus less on marketing and more on improving your sales skills. If you can, listen to a copywriter who’s good in these situations, or at the very least, get some feedback on your own sales conversations. Sometimes a few small tweaks can make a big difference.

            If you’re a good writer and enjoy the work, hang in there and work on this part of the process. Best wishes.

          • Rob Lindsay

            Steve, can you suggest a copywriter who’s good at sales skills that I can listen to? Seriously, I’d like to be able to sell people on my copywriting skills and experience a bit more effectively.

          • edgandia

            Rob — I agree with Steve. But I’d also add that positioning (which I mentioned earlier in the thread) is absolutely key. Great salesmanship requires solid positioning and copy that communicates that positioning clearly on your website. Without it, your sales process won’t be nearly as effective.

            I also wanted to make an observation here. I’m quickly getting the impression that you have made up your mind about the state of freelance writing / copywriting. You’re not looking for answers as much as you’re looking for someone to prove you wrong. Several people (myself included) have offered ideas, but you’re directly or indirectly shooting them down.

            With all due respect, that’s not the mindset that’s going to help you find the solutions you need.

            I know what you want: You want someone to tell you exactly where to go and what to do, step by step. Unfortunately, this is not the right forum for that kind of advice. The solution to your problem is not something anyone can provide you in the comments area of a blog.

          • Rob Lindsay

            Ed. It’s not that I’m “shooting down” your ideas. What I’m saying is, “Yes, I’m doing what you suggest. But it’s not working for me. If this idea works for you, why isn’t it working for me? I’d really like to know!”

            And yes, there are some ideas here that I haven’t tried (or ideas that I haven’t been able to try, due to a lack of money). For example, at the moment, I’m in the process of finally getting myself a new web site and rebranding my business. I haven’t been able to do that for many years. So your advice about positioning yourself with your web site copy is relevant.

            And you’re right that I’m looking for someone to “prove me wrong.” After years of taking advice, reading books and articles, and taking courses from copywriting gurus like you, and achieving only middling success, I’ve reached the point where I’m starting to think you really *can’t* make a decent living as a freelance copywriter.

            Now, I *want* to be proven wrong in that assumption! I want to prove *myself* wrong, because I really do enjoy copywriting, and would like it if I could make a good living at it. I don’t blame you, Ed, or anyone else for my lack of success. But I’d like to be able to identify the place where I’m doing it wrong, and take whatever steps are needed to do it right.

            But as you say, the comment areas of a blog is not a place where I can get that solution. Some of the comments here have helped. But I’m still stuck trying to identify those areas where I’m failing, and trying to figure out how to correct them.

          • david hands

            Hello Rob

            I’ve read the whole thread and I think there’s something missing.

            Somewhat like you I’ve been trying to make writing work for me as a business. I know I can write reasonably well, I’ve had articles published and been paid for them so writing isn’t the issue.

            Selling? I’ve been involved, rather unsuccessfully, in sales and marketing for about 20 years. People like me as someone to discuss issues with but success in sales? No, not really.

            For me it has been about the way I see myself. Because I grew up with a very deep sense of unworthiness my success at anything has been limited. Today, this is the first time I’ve felt able to respond to someone’s comment or request. What’s making the difference for me is the use of an audio program called Innapeace. I’ve tried other programs without success but this one is really shifting some stuff for me. And it isn’t expensive either. Put Innapeace (spell it with an a) into Google and it’ll come up on the first page.

            Good luck (but then we make our own luck)
            David Hands

          • Rob Lindsay

            Thanks, David…but no thanks. My problem is not that I feel I’m unworthy. After 15 years as a high-tech copywriter, I’m confident that I can do any copywriting job given to me. I’ve proved it time and again with clients like Dell, IBM, Cisco, McKesson, VMWare, etc.

            My problem is, I’m worthy of work, but can’t find it. I’m putting my name out there with confidence, but I’m not finding the demand for my services that Ed and others insist is out there. And I don’t know how to avoid these long “famine” periods where I can’t find any work. If we make our own luck, as you say, I don’t know what technique to use to make it.

          • David Pederson

            This has been a good conversation. I like raw, unpolished, honesty. And Ed’s analogy to bringing his own child back to health is exactly the right way to complete this thread.

            When I separate my career from myself I can see it more clearly and figure out how to help it. And you’re right, it is worth the frantic search, as if it were my child.

            Thanks!

          • edgandia

            I agree, David! That’s why I don’t like censoring comments. As long as the conversation remains civil, I’m all for keeping it real. 🙂

  • I love this article! Some writers work so hard to prove that there are no jobs, or that they can’t find any jobs rather than move forward. You can’t expect Ed or anyone else to help you fight for your limitations. Freelancing is the kind of work where there will be dry spells — even after being in the game for years. The freelancers I know who are successful at freelancing survive the dry spells by having other businesses. We need to stop approaching our freelancing work as a job and start creating businesses around our expertise. Creating multiple income streams is the only way to survive those freelancing dry spells.

    • edgandia

      Well said, Halona!

    • Rob Lindsay

      So what you’re saying Hanola is that freelancers should expect to starve once in a while? That dry spells are all part of the game? Well, I really wish Ed and the other “gurus” of B2B copywriting had been a little more honest about that, because they’ve been telling us for years that B2B copywriting is a great way to make a living.

      They should have said, “It’s a great way to make a living…sometimes. But you should expect to go through 3-6 month periods where you can’t find any work, and can’t pay your bills. We do occasional copywriting, but the truth is, we really make the bulk of our money doing other things, like teaching copywriting skills.”

      BTW, I’ve never tried to “prove that there are no jobs.” What I’ve been asking is, if companies are looking desperately for freelance copywriters, as Ed claims they are, why can’t I find these companies? I’m asking that literally, as in what am I doing wrong? I’d really like to know.

      • edgandia

        Robert…

        #1: You’re not going to find too many other teachers and coaches in this biz who are as upfront about the challenges of freelancing as I am. If there’s something the bulk of my readers and listeners agree about is that I always tell it like it is. The good the bad and the ugly. Obviously you haven’t been following my stuff or you would know this. (And that’s OK, I’m just saying.)

        #2: I’ve addressed your question below, under your original thread. Please take a look and you’ll see that I’ve given you a detailed answer.

        #3: Please keep this discussion civil. Otherwise I’m going to remove your comments.

  • Christiane Marshall

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I read another article on the topic yesterday and it was mainly a history of Upwork and Elance and oDesk and how bad the platform is now for writers. You elaborated on best practice!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for reading, Christiane. 🙂

  • Robyn Conti

    Thanks for the great post Ed! Good to know we’re not being commoditized out of the opportunity to work with excellent clients. This is a positive, encouraging post, and I agree, differentiating yourself by letting clients know your unique value proposition is what it’s all about. Glad you shared this!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for reading, Robyn! Glad you found it helpful.

  • Michael

    I have freelanced for 20 years–a few years before UpWork, et al. 🙂 In that span, I have ridden the freelancing rollercoaster through at least three lows. But thanks to Ed’s 2X project (a sizable but valuable investment), I realized that I was missing a niche that was right in front of my nose. Twenty years ago, I left a writing position in corporate communications for an electric utility. Then a few years ago, I became passionately interested in sustainability and clean energy technology. With 2X, I stumbled back on my niche: writing for the burgeoning client base of clean energy companies. Now that I am targeting clean-energy prospects, I have focused my marketing yet broadened my geographic market to the entire country. I have recently added clients in four different states outside of my own metro area.

    By the way, I have tried UpWork, just for the hell of it. So far, I’m not impressed. Even with filtered searches, there is a lot of chaff to separate from the wheat.

    • edgandia

      So great to see your continued success, Michael!

  • Clarke

    There are two ways of looking at the problem. Either you’re a “freelance” copywriter looking for paid work or seeking a job as an employee (quite frankly, in some ways and situations, there’s not a lot of difference…

    Or you’re a business owner whose business is an enterprise selling copywriting services, in which case you have a marketing problem.

    To solve them from either side, start with the head-trash problem between you ears, which is primarily anchored in your self-worth and the way you were conditioned from childhood to conform to *others’* expectations — whether it’s teachers in school, employers/bosses, or others who have some *opinion* of you which may or may not be anything resembling what you think it is.

    But there’s one key approach that consistently works for those who use it, and it’s called *positioning*.

    How you position yourself in comparison with others will significantly, if not completely control how others perceive you. If you present yourself in a way that makes you the obvious, best choice beside all the others out there doing the same stuff, leaving the prospect wanting you instead of the others, you can dominate, and you don’t even need samples.

    I got a phone call one day from a man who had been referred to me by another writer. We talked for three hours about his busienss and what he needed. An hour after we finished, I had the full payment for my entire (substantial) fee, up-front, and funds fully available. A turn-key, first-class, special report delivered in one piece with no hassle.

    If you’re having challenges, to find solutions (and causes), take a strong look at yourself and what you offer — from the PROSPECT’S point of view, not yours. It’s hard, but you’ll get to the truth much sooner.

    • edgandia

      Great point about positioning. I agree that positioning is key. It’s the other element needed in the sales equations.

  • Mpho Blompie Nkadimeng

    It’s even worse for African writers. I have to use an alias because many employers think anyone outside the US and UK is just a level above illiterate. I have written for GAP, Sears, Nike and plenty of high profile clients. Yet, I approach them as a niche writer and they seem almost disgusted that some of their best copy was written by me. Freelancing can be very lucrative as long as nobody knows where you are really from. Sad but true.

    • edgandia

      Obviously you’re a good writer. So I’m sorry to hear this. But good to see that you’re working around it.

  • Elizabeth Farr

    Great article again, Ed! You’re spot on about the experience we bring to the table, and about our unique slant on life. Sure, there are prospects out there who just want the cheapest solution. I see the same thing in the accounting industry. But the way to rise above being a commodity is to focus on the value we can bring to the client. To be committed to more than just writing good copy, but making a difference in their business. To find the magical that can transform their business, even in just a little way. This isn’t easy, but oh, so worth it.

    And everyone has something unique to contribute. In the words of John Carlton, “Don’t be afraid to let your freak flag fly!”

    • edgandia

      Fly that flag, Liz! Lol! Thanks for your comment. 🙂

  • What can I say…you always say the right and most logical and motivating thing. Your simple approach takes the intimidation out of the competition stats
    Thank you.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Alia!

  • Jonathan Lee

    First, there is no doubt that sites like Upwork and Freelancer.com are hurting (though likely not killing) freelancers. They are certainly the fastest way to participate in the commoditization of your craft. The proverbial ‘race to the bottom’ is in full swing here.

    Sites like flexjobs.com are perhaps just a little better, because there is at least a certain sense that some vetting has occurred. You’re paying a small monthly fee for this convenience, but it could be argued that the enhanced quality of potential employers justifies that.

    Having said that, commoditization is happening anyway — despite positioning or most any other tactic. Want to be the freelance writer specializing in health care? You’ll likely also need to be the freelance writer specializing in health care that’s willing to under bid other writers that have positioned themselves the same way.

    Not trying to bring anyone down. Just keeping it real.

    Interpersonal skills? Yes, they are important. VERY important. But they factor in more in CLOSING business than getting in the door. Getting in the door, in my experience anyway, is becoming more and more about pricing — even away from Upwork, because prospects have already been exposed to its influence.

    • edgandia

      You make a great point, but I disagree that pricing is quickly moving to the top of the priority list for clients. When you’re in a business that depends on bringing in hundreds or thousands of customers every year, yes — pricing and commoditization are big issues.

      But when you’re selling custom, high-end services (essentially a made-to-order products, which is what most of us provide), pricing is not near the top of the list. Especially if your craft is highly creative and/or requires excellent communications skills — either because you’re communicating abstract ideas and concepts with the client, or because you’re actually IN the communications biz (copywriters, content marketers, etc.).

      I did a whole show explaining why I believe this to be the case: http://b2blauncher.com/episode9/

      • Jonathan Lee

        I did listen, and it was a very well-presented episode. All of your content is well-presented. And again, I’m sure it may seem that I am just injecting needless negative into what should be an inherently positive conversation. I’m just not convinced that specialization alone overcomes commoditization, based on a fairly sizable amount of empirical evidence.

        • edgandia

          I don’t think you’re being negative at all. On the contrary, Jonathan — you have obviously given this a lot of thought.

          But just to clarify, I didn’t say that specialization alone is going to solve the problem. I merely suggested that strong and clear positioning is a huge first step. And because we don’t need to bring in that many clients every year to make a good income, it’s OK if 99% of prospects don’t connect with that positioning.

          • Jonathan Lee

            That, of course, is assuming that these are ongoing, retainer-based clients. Many, many opportunities don’t lend themselves to such a situation. And yet even so, closing 1% of the prospects I’ve marketed to would be great, but not indicative of what I’ve experienced.

  • Jacqui

    If this is answered in a different article, I apologize and would love the link. That said, here is my question: what if you don’t have a business specialty?

    My work history will show you that I am a great generalist, but the longest I have stayed in a single business industry was 3 years and the last time I worked in that field was a decade ago. I don’t have a college degree. Most of the last 9 years has been spent writing for places like content mills before I finally said the miserable pay wasn’t worth the hassle and stopped altogether to take care of my family a few years back.

    I don’t mean this as a complaint or a way to say my life sucks (I actually like my life a lot!) But as someone trying to basically start fresh, how do you set yourself apart in the business world when you have no specific niche?

    • Victoria Ipri

      Good question, Jacqui, and a position many freelancers find themselves in. Based on Ed’s guidance, I would suggest using this “weakness” to your advantage, turning it around into a strength. “Where others may specialize, leaving your business out in the cold, I generalize…” You could talk about how your superb research skills translate to your ability to write on a wide variety of topics. Talk about your tenacity in completing assignments. Share bullets on some recent types of diverse assignments to give the prospect the flavor of your abilities. Get testimonials from customers who will allow you to use their name and company name to prove your point.

      There definitely are clients out there who need a generalist…but you’ve got to let them know you exist. One of the best ways to do so is with a strong LinkedIn profile. Prospects ARE looking for you using the LinkedIn search engine, so be there when they are searching and land some new work!

      • edgandia

        Great point about the LinkedIn profile, Victoria!

    • edgandia

      Hi Jacqui, good question! Your core differentiators don’t have to be about an industry or vertical market. In fact, very often they shouldn’t be. As I mentioned above, you can focus on other attributes that make you different. I gave the example of the mom who spent the past 15 years home-schooling her kids, and how “surely there’s a story
      there about your ability to grasp, distill and communicate information
      to a skeptical audience!” when you’ve experienced something like this.

      Ilise Benun and I also have a more detailed discussion on the many different ways you can focus your positioning here: http://www.b2blauncher.com/episode80

      I would check that out. Some great stuff in there. 🙂

  • Victoria Ipri

    Great stuff as always, Ed. I’ve reposted to The Confident Copywriter group with credit to you. Thanks!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for sharing it, Victoria! 😉

  • JR

    Your article validated what I have already written on my website for freelance writing services. So, thank you for letting me know I’m on the right track.

  • Scot Martin

    Did you swipe my “15 years as a high school teacher” from my website? I appreciate that you emphasize that we don’t have to have an extensive background in a subject. That’s why I like case studies; I learn while I’m working.

  • gordongraham

    I believe writing is like any other marketplace. Some clients shop on price, some shop on quality, some on reliability, some on status, and so on. Any client going to Upwork to find writers is CLEARLY shopping on price. So if you’re looking to Upwork for gigs, don’t be disappointed if you don’t get high rates.

    I think what Ed is saying is every writer can position ourselves to appeal to a certain type of client. For example, “reliable” means meeting your deadlines with something the client can use. You don’t have to be brilliant. You just have to show up, like Woody Allen says. That puts you way ahead of many writers on Upwork, who can’t even provide any content the client can use… according to some of my contacts who tried it.