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?

Just 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.

Want 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.