#070: The ‘Rock Star’ Myth + Why You Should NOT Diversify

Today’s show is about two topics that didn’t warrant their own episodes:

  • Why you must be careful when emulating the “rock stars” in our business
  • Why you should NOT diversify too much in terms of the services you offer

I’m also going to introduce a somewhat “silent” co-host of this show (someone you might have heard a few times before). I’ll tell you about two upcoming industry events you may want to check out. And I’ll explain how you can be a part of a future episode of this podcast.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Topic #1: The Rock Star Myth

When you think of successful entrepreneurs, whom do you think of?

  • Steve Jobs?
  • Michael Dell?
  • Richard Branson?
  • Arianna Huffington?
  • Oprah?

What do these people have in common? They’re all “extremes.” They’re not just successful, they achieved uncommon success. I’m talking about the top 0.1% in their respective fields—a serious “outlier.”

Unfortunately, many freelancers look at the extremes and automatically assume that this is the only opportunity or goal.

Extreme people tend to make the best gurus, because what they’ve accomplished is so great—or the ideas they’ve implemented are so extreme—that they have no problem establishing authority. Plus, their examples are very easy to dissect and study.

This is true in every field. Examples:

  • Clark Howard (radio personality)
  • Tim Ferriss (author of The Four-Hour Workweek)

But the problem is that these extremes also promote (often unintentionally) binary thinking—the idea that you’re either a failure or a huge success. There’s nothing in the middle.

In other words:

  • If you can’t make $500k+ a year, you haven’t “made it”
  • If you can’t earn 6 figures working 4 hours/week and traveling the world…
  • If you can’t get $8,000 for a white paper…
  • If you can’t build a small agency of writers…
  • If you haven’t developed the next BIG thing…

That’s flawed and dangerous thinking!

    • For every Steve Jobs (the extreme situation in one industry), there are thousands of other successful “points” on that same continuum between where you are and where Jobs was at the end of his life.
    • Each of these individuals followed a very personal and unique path that simply cannot be duplicated. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a specific person at that moment in time. And because you’re NOT that person and you were NOT in that specific place at that particular time, you can’t replicate it.
    • There are dozens of great opportunities coming to you every year—each of which could help you achieve amazing success. Trouble is, we don’t see them. Or we ignore them (because we have blind spots).

–Native Americans couldn’t see Columbus’ ships because they had never seen naval ships before.

–Me’en people of Ethiopia couldn’t process the two-dimensional image of a photograph because they had never seen a photograph before.

–South Pacific islanders didn’t believe that the buffalo in the horizon were buffalo. They thought they were ants because they had never before seen open spaces of that magnitude.

  • Wishing and dreaming we could be a Steve Jobs or some copywriting superstar from the 1980s blinds us further. Keeps us from seeing the REAL opportunities in front of us—the ones that we can actually capitalize on today (the ones that were meant for us!).

My advice:

  1. Define what you want—and define it in detail.
  2. Ask yourself WHY you want it. What’s really driving you? Make sure it’s not just the money.
  3. Don’t compare! That “thing” was someone else’s dream. Are you living your own dream … or someone else’s version of it?
  4. Recognize that there’s always a tradeoff! (Sorry, but it’s true!)
  5. Use the extreme examples to better see the core lesson behind the example (to see what’s possible, how they got there, what they learned)
  6. Extrapolate what the extreme person did and use that to design your plan
  7. Recognize your progress by looking back every once in a while (where were you in your business one year ago?)
  8. Try to be more mindful of what’s in front of you today. Realize and accept the fact that there are amazing opportunities all around you. You don’t have to try and replicate someone else’s huge success. Instead, find your own! And when you think of an idea or possibility, try not to dismiss it too quickly.

Topic #2: Don’t Dabble In a Lot of Things

In talking with a lot of freelance writers and copywriters, I’m also seeing a strong tendency to want to dabble in a lot of different things.


  • “I’m mainly doing websites, but I’d like to become a video sales letter specialist as well. And maybe even start an autoresponder service…”
  • “I’d like to go after small local businesses, as well as the education market, and natural health companies. Oh, and I also want to offer white paper writing services!”

When it comes to adding a new service, specialty or target market, it should be a combination of theory and practice. By that I mean a combination of things that interest you (from a conceptual standpoint) AND where you’re getting some sort of traction or interest.

Also, it’s usually best to let these things find YOU rather than you finding (or declaring) them. I’ve rarely seen a successful freelancer get that way because they designed something that materialized exactly in the way they envisioned it.

Bottom line: you’re going to pivot—and often many times. So be open and ready, because your business will evolve many times.


  • Me (I started with direct response and ended up writing content)
  • Pete Savage (from B2B copywriting to training freelancers, and back to B2B but now through his own boutique agency)
  • Casey Demchak (medical devices, authors/speakers/coaches, key message platforms)

Two Upcoming Events You Should Check Out

I’m speaking at two events in the next few months…

#1: The 2015 HOW Live Conference + Creative Business Conference is happening on May 4th through the 8th in Chicago.

I’m going to be there, and I’ll be speaking on warm email prospecting strategies. (Would love to meet you there if you decide to go!)

This is the premier freelancer and creative business events of the year. You’ll get tactical information you can immediately put to use. Plus inspiration from the brightest minds and biggest brands, timely explorations of trends and technology, and a healthy dose of camaraderie and connection with your fellow creatives.

  • GREAT place to meet potential design partners!
  • GREAT place to meet potential agency clients!

As a listener of Smarter Freelancing you can enjoy 10% off your registration when you enter discount code FREEACADEMY15 upon checkout. (There are multiple registration options to choose from.)

To learn more or to register, visit www.HowDesignLive.com.

#2: Independent Worforce Summit.
This event was just moved to July 29th and 30th (originally in March).

This one is more for those who are thinking about going solo.

I’ll be moderating a panel on how much you can charge as an independent professional. I’m also a panelist in a session on time management and work-life balance strategies.

The Independent Workforce Summit: http://independentworkforcesummit.com

You can get an additional 10 percent discount by entering Ed’s discount code when you register: TDIFA10.


I think it’s about time I introduced you to someone who’s been part of this show since day one. She’s definitely a behind-the-scenes kind of gal, but you can feel her presence in just about every episode.

I’m talking, of course, about my dog Roxy. Roxy is a rescue dog. She’s a scrappy, furry mutt and a very loyal companion. Unfortunately, she barks constantly! You can often hear her in the background of many episodes.

Here she is sitting on my reading chair. 😉

Invitation to Come on Show

In my recent listener survey you indicated that you wanted me to publish more free content on how to:

  • Get better clients
  • Land more profitable work
  • Create passive income

If you have something interesting to share in one of those areas, I’d love to hear from you! Especially if you have a side business or passive income stream that’s doing relatively well. I’d love to have you on the show if it makes sense.

Also, if you know of someone you think would make a great guest for the show, please let me know. I’m always open to guest ideas.

Just shoot me an email here: ed at b2blauncher dot com.

  • This is an excellent post and good advice. I wish I had it when I first began down the path of the freelance writer in 2008.

    I think so many of us have put pressure on ourselves to earn $500k or more per year because we’re constantly reminded of others who’ve done so, e.g., Steve Jobs and Oprah. If we don’t earn that much, it’s almost as if we’re shamed because of it. However, there’s no shame in doing the best you can. And… sometimes, you do have to be in the right place at the right time to connect with the right people who can help you reach your goals.

    P.S. It’s nice to know that you rescued Roxy. I’m heavily involved in my local animal shelter, from online marketing to fundraising (new for me this year).

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Amandah! Preach!! 😉

      And, yes, Roxy is a sweetheart. SO glad we rescued her. With so many homeless pets out there, I wouldn’t even consider going anywhere else (we’re going to adopt another rescue this year).

      Thanks for serving all those loving yet neglected animals. You have a big heart. 🙂

      • Thanks Ed!

        I love marketing and PR and communications; I’m happy to help the Parma Animal Shelter and community. 🙂

  • Liz Skewes

    If there is one place I do not want to be at the end of my life it is at the same place Steve Jobs was at the end of his!

    • edgandia

      So true! That’s one thing I didn’t mention — that some of these people are/where not as great as you’d think (at least in their personal lives). Jobs as an a$$. Others have sold their souls.

      I’m not saying to be super-successful you have to be a miserable and dishonest person. In fact, I hate it when the media and other groups promote that idea — that financially successful people got to where they are by cheating, lying or screwing people over. In most cases, that’s simply not true.

      I’m just suggesting that we don’t always see the bigger story when we look up to someone who’s accomplished a great deal in business.

  • Ted Goldwyn

    Ed, another excellent podcast! You make some great points- as a new freelance copywriter, I have been surprised by the level of hero-worship in this industry. I also don’t think the emphasis on earning a “6-figure income” (or similar dollar-based measure of success) is necessarily healthy. I understand the need to set business goals especially when starting out, but having worked in the corporate world for 25 years, the one thing no one ever talked about was how much you earn. The focus on such arbitrary benchmarks takes away from what’s truly important: having pride in your work and serving your clients. If you focus on those two things the $$s will come.

    • edgandia

      Agreed, Ted! I’m guilty of using the “6-figure” idea in my show intro and marketing materials, but I’m also quick to qualify that with other critical factors. To me, it’s about taking a balanced approach, with $$ being something that can feed and enable other aspirations and pursuits. What that $ figure is, however, is completely relative. So I agree with you that putting an absolute number to it is a bit silly.

      Your point about doing amazing work for your clients and pride in your work is dead on.

      Thanks for listening — and thanks for your comment!

  • This was a great podcast, Ed. I find this incredibly relevant, because I’ve realized that freelancing is a lot like losing weight. What works for someone else will probably never work for you, and you have to figure out what works for your body. And once you accept that, you can find yourself loving the process of finding out what works for you. Right now, my business is nowhere where I want it … But I’m getting a feel for the rhythm and finding what works for me, and I LOVE that.

    • Also, I would add it’s weird to realize that Bob Bly started copywriting before I was born?

      • edgandia

        That’s a great analogy, Jessica. Very true. You have to find the ideas and approaches that work for you. Although I will say that just because a strategy or approach feels uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s not for you. The challenge is figuring out which things are just uncomfortable at first vs. things that are not going to work for you because of your values, personality, etc.

  • chris weigl

    Ed, You brought something up that I never realized how it made me feel. I have also received e-mails from successful business owners talking about their trips to exotic lands. I would always think to myself “Must be nice.” But then later in the day, or maybe even a few days later, I would remember that so and so was in Bali or India and then I would feel bad because I did not have that option to travel.
    And yes, it’s true, it’s self-destructive to compare yourself to others and wish you could have their life. We are all on our own journey, and this is what makes us who we are. Thanks for the insights.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Chris! Great to hear this episode made you more aware of this. I think it happens a lot, but most of us are not aware this is going on at a subconscious level.

      I think it’s really cool when people go on exciting trips and share their experiences. But I know that I also have to be extra careful NOT to compare, because I’m very much prone to doing that.

  • Eileen Coale

    Great podcast, Ed. I’d like to toss another idea into the discussion. It’s that not only should we be wary of the “rock star” copywriters, but also the “rock star” clients. In the world of direct response, there are some clients whom copywriters think would be great to get on their client list. The reality is, they’re not. I recently did some work for arguably THE biggest gorilla in the direct response business (despite being cautioned about it by some colleagues) and it was disappointing experience. Rock star clients seem to have a bad case of “Disney-itis” and want even experienced CWs to work on spec for them. (No, I did not. At least I got paid pretty well for my troubles.) The few times I’ve worked with these big name direct response marketers, my experience has been uniformly bad. Yet, my other direct response clients are thrilled with my work. I can earn easier, faster, bigger, and much more satisfying money by working for the companies which are not nearly as well known. It took me waaay too long to learn this lesson, but I won’t make that mistake again.

    • edgandia

      That’s a GREAT point, Eileen! I’ve had a similar experience. For years, I earned a great living in this biz working with clients few people have heard of. But they were amazing to work with! Then I did some work for big name in the software industry, and they were a serious PITA.

      Disney-itis (love that term!) is very common with these folks. Thanks for your comment and insight here. Good stuff.