#133: How to Stand Out and Thrive in an Increasingly Competitive Freelance Marketplace

Freelancing continues to grow like crazy.

More and more professionals are choosing to leave traditional employment for a more flexible work arrangement.

And platforms like Upwork have enabled millions to offer their talents to anyone around the globe.

So you have to wonder…

Is this influx of new freelancers making it harder to command professional-level fees?

The short answer: yes! But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doomed to work for less.

The key to maintaining and growing your income as a freelancer is to be very deliberate about how you differentiate yourself. And that’s the topic of this week’s episode.

My guest is freelance copywriter and business coach Steve Roller. Steve is the author of the upcoming book The Freelancer Manifesto: 11 Big Ideas to Stand Out and Thrive in the New Economy.

And in this interview, he shares several smart ways you can differentiate yourself in this increasingly competitive marketplace.

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 to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Steve Roller has worked as fulltime copywriter since 2009. He works with a variety of clients, including an accounting firm, a fitness studio chain and many one-off projects.

Increasingly, Steve also helps other copywriters figure out where they fit in the world of freelance copywriting.

What aspects of the evolving freelance landscape fascinate you the most?

A growing portion of the workforce is moving into the freelance economy. Steve loves the idea that the gig economy is open to anyone who’s willing to work hard. It has a low barrier to entry and can work for people as those in mid- or late-career as well as those just starting out.

Freelancers have the opportunity to arrange their work around their lifestyle. They can choose where to live. They can take more and longer vacations with their families because they can bring their work with them.

Is the growing freelance economy making it harder to differentiate ourselves and earn a great living?

Yes. It’s making it much tougher—if you look and sound like everyone else.

We may think we’ve carved out a copywriting niche. But to many clients, we all look the same.

The same problem applies to freelance designers, photographers, website builders, coaches, speakers, etc.

On the frontend, we’re oversimplifying things by saying that anyone can do it. But on the backend, we’re overcomplicating things with complex and expensive marketing systems.

On the backend, we can still keep things simple. Make a list. Connect with people in a genuine way. Have real conversations. We’re in service-based businesses. We still need to talk to clients to get them on board

Today, the freelance world has lots of competition. Which is why you need to do things differently.

You’ve identified 11 ideas for standing out in this new world of work. Can you discuss some of them?

1. Become an idea generator. Our job is to help people solve problems. Give them your ideas—and give away for free. Take on a natural role as an advisor. Throw out ideas. “Hey, have you ever thought about doing this…?”

Being an idea generator is a great way to stand out in the competitive freelance world.

To generate ideas, you have to stay on top of things in your field. Your prospects are busy  running their businesses and don’t have time to do this themselves.

This concept is described in Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. With the internet, you have a global workforce that’s willing to provide services anywhere in the world. One way to compete with that is by becoming an idea generator.

2. Stay under the radar. We have a habit of advertising what we’re doing to everyone. We identify a new niche or marketing system and then broadcast it, not just to our clients, but to our peers and competitors.

It’s great to share ideas. But stay under the radar until you’ve developed them yourself. Share them with your clients, of course, but don’t broadcast them. Protect your good ideas.

3. Get good at a few key soft skills. We all have to master the hard skills related to our craft, such as copywriting, selling, marketing and networking. But we also need to cultivate a few key soft skills, some of which include:

We tend to overemphasize the importance of hard skills and neglect these soft skills. Many of the most successful copywriters aren’t the best copywriters. But they score high in some of the softer skills.

4. Say yes to opportunities. Be willing to stretch yourself and step out of your comfort zone. Connect with bigger people. Aim for bigger projects. Speak to groups of people. Host a live event. Write a book. Any of these things will help you stand out.

Many of us say no to these opportunities because we don’t feel ready—but it comes down to fear. Remember: The first time we do anything we don’t have much experience.

When you stretch yourself, that becomes your new normal. What used to scare you becomes commonplace.

You’re a seasoned traveler. Do you have any big travel plans coming up?

Steve will be attending a retreat in Vermont this year. He’s also going to Israel with his wife next April. Next summer, he’ll return to Ecuador and spend a good part of the summer there. When there, he’ll be hosting a tour for other people who want to experience Ecuador.

Learn more about how Steve manages to mix work and world travel in an earlier podcast episode.

Tell us about your book

Steve’s book is The Freelancer Manifesto: 11 Big Ideas to Stand Out and Thrive in the New Economy. It’s aimed at freelancers of all types to help them stand out in this crazy world.

His book covers the reality of freelancing—good and bad. He also provides strategies and tactics you can use to stand out and take your business to the next level.