Are you making this career-killing freelance mistake?

January 8, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Freelancing 

Freelancing is a seat-of-the pants operation. You can buy a dozen ebooks and attend every freelance seminar that comes along. But in the end, you have to figure out how to make it work for you.

And you’re going to make mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

Fortunately, most of those mistakes are little ones, such as buying the wrong printer or under-pricing a project.

But there’s one mistake you don’t want to make, because it’s a doozy. In fact, it can be a freelance career killer. Yes, you can recover from it if you discover it soon enough. But it’s better to avoid it altogether because of the misery it brings.

What is this deadly freelance mistake? It’s all about how you answer a simple question: As a freelance copywriter, do you sell a product or sell a service?

The wrong answer will lead you down a difficult career path. It will get you involved with the wrong clients, create the wrong kind of reputation, destroy your self-confidence, and crush your paycheck.

Here’s the wrong answer: sell a product.

This is what many people have in mind when they consider freelancing. Just as many writers sell “products” such as short stories, poems, or articles for publication, they think commercial copywriting works the same way.

I’m not talking about selling actual products, such as how-to books or videos, which many writers do for a side income. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m talking about the mindset many writers have when they get into writing business materials for clients, such as sales letters, brochures, web pages, white papers, etc.

Thinking of this kind of freelancing as “selling a product” puts you in the position of a “worker” beneath a “boss” who hires you. You’re like an employee who just happens to work outside the client’s office.

Selling a product means you will probably spend too much time thinking about your “job” and too little time thinking about the client and his or her needs, which is bad for any kind of business, freelance or otherwise.

Just as magazine editors see writers as a dime a dozen and offer low pay for various editorial products, certain business clients can see you in the same way. “Just” a writer. Someone to arrange words for a low paycheck.

Now here’s the right answer: sell a service.

This is a more professional and profitable way to freelance. Selling a service means that while the deliverable part of your work may be several pages of copy, the words are not what your work is really about. In the business world, your work is about helping your client achieve a goal.

If you’re a freelance writer and an insurance company hires you to write copy for a brochure, it’s not the brochure itself that the company really wants. The brochure is just a tool the company’s agents will use to get customers. So your job is really about helping your client get more customers.

The brochure copy you deliver is a means to an end. Nearly anyone can write copy. But if you show that you’re someone who can see the bigger picture and help the business acquire clients and increase their profits, you become a valuable business partner.

See the difference? If you’re producing a product, you’re just one of millions of writers who sell words. If you’re selling a service, you’re more like a business consultant, a rain-maker. The difference is not just in the way you approach your work, it’s also in the way people will see you. It will affect the quality of your clients, the character of your reputation, the growth of your self-confidence, and the level of your fees.

The more you can help clients accomplish goals and achieve dreams, the more professional and indispensable you will be.

You’re not “just a writer.” You are a salesman whose tools just happen to be words. You make ideas clear. You persuade people and motivate them to take action. You sell your expertise, not your time. You work “with” clients, not for them. You are a necessity, not a commodity.

So how do YOU answer the question? Are you selling a product or a service?

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on Are you making this career-killing freelance mistake?

  1. Dava on Jan 8th, 2010 1:14 pm
  2. Thanks! This whole post was like a little boost for my ego – just like knowing the right answer when the teacher asked a question in school.

    I have written a little for sites like Textbroker, where my writing was certainly a product, but even then I often established a relationship (of sorts) with the clients and became a service provider.

  3. Rick M on Jan 8th, 2010 4:15 pm
  4. Excellent post. I’ve honestly never thought about whether or not I am selling a product or a service, but when you asked the question the first thing that came to my mind was “a service.” I’m glad I was right!

    Showing clients that you’re not just writing words, but how those words help their business and making an honest effort to improve their company goes a long way.

    I just found this blog today, and I’m happy I did. Great stuff!
    .-= Rick M’s last blog … How Web Content Writing Attracts Visitors =-.

    [...] a look at this recent article from Dean Rieck, evangelizing the service term. The author goes so far as to say that telling people you provide a [...]

    [...] Are You Making This Career-Killing Freelance Writing Mistake? at ProCopyTips [...]

  5. Cathy on Jul 25th, 2011 1:45 am
  6. It makes so much sense, yet I never really thought about it. It will take some time for that to digest…off to ponder. :)