Not Winning Contracts?

Be That Special Snowflake. Really.

One of the toughest parts of being a freelancer is “landing”– that is, getting that first assignment that gets you on people’s radar. No matter how good you are or how polished your resume is, you will still face the harsh reality that there is a ton of competition out there.

To give you some idea: When I advertise my workshops for freelancers, I have an email that gets sent out to a few hundred freelance writers in the St. Louis area alone. That’s a lot of people all hoping to win the same gigs.

So what can you do? The best (and frankly, the most ethical) thing to do is find ways to differentiate yourself. Trouble is, doing so is a lot harder than it at first sounds.

Here’s How I Know

I mentioned above that I run workshops for freelancers. The very first thing we do in my LAUNCH workshop is an exercise to prove how difficult differentiation is. Here’s how it goes:

Before the workshop, I ask everyone to spend some time thinking about their strengths, their talents, and their offerings – basically, anything that would make them a valuable resource for a client.

Then, in the workshop, I have each person read their list in turn. As they read, I write each item on the board. I then ask the group: “Who had this on their list, too?” If at least one other person had that skill or strength on their list, I put a line through the item and continue on.

Guess what happens by the end of the activity? I have a white board utterly filled with what people “offer.” A good 30 or so strengths, skills, and services, perhaps. And about 25 of those have been lined out because someone else in the room offered that as well.

Which means that those writers are not really that different, after all.

If You’re Not Different, You’re Competing on Personality and Price

When your resume looks the same as the next 20 writers a client will see, your ability to win contracts will come down to two things: Personality, and price.

You don’t want to sell on personality alone, because that is too random and unreliable a base on which to build a business.

And you definitely don’t want to sell on price, because that’s how you end up broke and working the swing shift at Starbucks. (That’s not a bad gig, mind you. But it’s probably not where your talents nor your dreams lie.)

So What Can Be Done?

Good question – What can you do? First, you might want to do this exercise with some other writers you know. If your skills and talents sound the same, it’s time to revisit what truly makes you different.

Second, start asking “why” questions. Clients will often ask what you can do; but you need to communicate why what you do is important, and important to them. For example, maybe you are a writer and editor who can boast incredible attention to detail. That’s a great attribute: It doesn’t come naturally to most people. (I for one, have to work very, very hard at it. And I still routinely fail!)

OK, so you have great attention to detail. Who cares? Here’s who: Companies who care about how professional they look and sound in their communications. This is especially true for companies that care about word of mouth, or for companies in highly regulated industries (finance, anyone?). If you want a great example, ask me sometime to tell you the story of the nursery school that lost 14+ potential clients because of one word on their website.

Finally, think of the things you do that others find frustrating, or irksome, or just not worth their time. Then think about what would make someone want to pay someone else to do those things. Love reading technical papers and blog posts, then summarizing them for the everyday reader? People will pay you to do that for their blog. Can you grind through a government RFP and not feel like gouging your eyes afterwards? Yeah, people will pay you a lot to write those for them.

If you want more ideas on how to differentiate yourself, I’m happy to help. And if you’re interested in that LAUNCH workshop I mentioned, add yourself to my subscription list for updates (and the occasional advice).

Brandon is experienced copywriter and content specialist living in St. Louis, MO. His main job is writing regular content for a number of industries and advising on all matters related to marketing; his passion, however, is providing workshops for writers and freelancers so they can grow their business. More information about these workshops and his company can be found at