Monday, May 5, 2008

What Makes You Unique?

I can't do things by halves. I planned to redo my blog and migrate it to my website. Instead I've entered into an attempt to redo my entire website, again, to make it more effective. And I've been thinking about how I want to define my business--and about my USP.

If you're a freelancer, you know what a USP is. You probably also know that it can help your business to have one, as well as the businesses of your clients. But how many of us actually have one? Looking around at the websites of some of my fellow writers, I've noticed that many of us don't really have a clearly communicated USP--and we're writers.

For us, finding a USP is often difficult--and I think the reason for that is your USP has to be something beyond what you really feel you're good at. For us, that's writing. We all love writing. We all know we're good at it. But it doesn't make an effective USP--because every single other writer out there claims to be good at writing. True, not everyone is. But if you've been in business for any length of time, chances are you can hold your own.

So how do you find a USP for your business? Here are some ideas I'm wrestling with:

Your experience. If you have experience in an industry, that will naturally set you apart from other writers who don't when it comes to certain projects. I've won projects because of my experience in education, the arts, and modeling. If you have twenty years of experience in the aviation industry, you're more likely to be hired by airlines large and small than someone without that experience. In addition, people with former sales careers also have a leg up on the rest of us when it comes to experience that sets you apart.

Your education. Especially in technical fields, your education can set you apart as well. Not to generalize, but in my experience many people I've met who are brilliant at science aren't the best writers. f you have a degree in engineering and can write coherently, you definitely set yourself apart.

What you're good at. Do you love writing taglines and headlines more than the rest of the copy? Or maybe you're really great at breaking complex technical topics down into concepts anyone can understand. All of those are skills that set you apart from your peers.

The type of writing you tend to do. While I've done all sorts of projects, for the past year or so most of my projects have been for web writing of one kind or another. I've got a lot of regular clients who design websites for clients of their own, run SEO companies, affiliate and e-commerce businesses. These people need website copy, SEO copy, and more. Because of my experience, I've picked up quite a bit on writing SEO-optimized copy. (Granted, I don't always follow that knowledge on my blog--notice I haven't really linked out to anyone on this post!). I'm considering marketing myself as an SEO-savvy web writer. If you find yourself handling a certain kind of project often, you can definitely use that as your USP.

A good USP can take some time to develop. It's a process, and it may take you months or even years to figure out your true strengths as a copywriter--and how to market those to clients. I'm not quite ready to settle on mine yet--but I'm hoping to by the end of the year. I know that when I do, my marketing materials will be much stronger.


Susan Johnston Taylor said...

Jennifer, this is something I struggle with, too. On the one hand, you want to play up your strengths. But on the other hand, you don't want to your USP to be so specific that it rules out other opportunities.

For instance, I love writing lifestyle pieces. I've done a lot of them, but I realize that I need some copywriting work to balance them out, since magazines and websites can be slow paying (and difficult to work with sometimes). Right now my website is more focused on the career/lifestyle angle, but I'm trying to find a happy balance.

Lillie Ammann said...

This hit home with me. I know what my USP is: I help self-publishing authors write, edit, publish, and market their books. I do a lot of things for individual clients in a niche market. But my Web site doesn't reflect that. I've been needing to update my site for a zillion years or so--somehow client projects always come first. Maybe your post will help motivate me.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I do have an engineering degree and I do write coherently. I really can't imagine doing it any other way. However it has been my experience with other engineers that both do not exist to the extent they should be. The inability to communicate your ideas regardless of your profession is a limitation. The excuse that you're an engineer or have a technical background is a lame excuse. I wrote specifications and gave them to a technical writer with little or no corrections. The other extreme was a co-worker who would complain the same technical writer was somehow not correctly interpreting his submission to her. It was not a very productive relationship as you can imagine. So now you know that even though I'm not a writer I still have to be(at least to some degree).

Chris Ming said...

Jennifer - my USP is something I'll definitely keep in mind as I start my freelance writing career, thanks for posting.

I'm glad I ran into this post now. I feel like since I'm starting out, I'll be able to really shape my business around what I can sell/provide, as well as my end goals.

Anonymous said...

There is an old business adage, "get big, get niche or get out", that probably applies to freelance copy writing as much as it applies to any other business model.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for writing this post. I really need to work on this as well.

As Susan said above, I fear pushing away job opportunities that don't exactly fit into my USP... any suggestions on that?

Jennifer Williamson said...

I think it's definitely a balancing act until you settle on one thing. My general idea on that, right now, is not to push away different types of work until I'm so in demand and have so much regular work in my niche that taking another type of project would mean turning away something easier and more lucrative in my niche. Until you get to that point, though, I think you should definitely take whatever comes along--but emphasize your experience in your chosen niche in your marketing materials and make a special point of marketing to companies that would hire you for those types of projects.