“Copywriting and direct marketing are a commodity business…”
I still remember when Perry Marshall made that assertion. I first heard him talk about it at a closed-door training session at Boardroom in 2013. Then he doubled down on the message in 2014, at The Titans of Direct Response.
His argument? The fundamental, base-level skills required for copy and direct response have become ubiquitous — they’re everywhere.
In some remote corner of the planet, there’s a kid whose family has survived on $1/day, who now knows the ins and outs of Scientific Advertising better than you do. If she can make $5/day writing ads, she’s rich.
Not only that, the direct response advantages of a decade or two prior — such as testing — are now built into nearly every tool marketers use.
Starting with AdWords, you didn’t need a great AdWords copywriter — you just needed to learn how to test messages.
If I taught him today, my 5th grader could be taught to run enough tests to figure out something that could boost response. You just have to learn the basic mechanics of testing, test a bunch of different messages (instead of a bunch of versions of the same message), and throw a test budget at it.
You could easily see…
2X, 5X, 10X the response, or more…
It doesn’t take an A-list copywriter. It just takes someone with very basic writing skills and not-terrible computer skills.
Likewise, if you’re just looking for test inputs, you can place lowball bids on freelance job sites, get dozens of tests for cheaper than I’d charge to write one, and run them all to find the one that would work for you.
This is only getting worse for copywriters.
I’ve had more than one reader forward me news articles about Artificial Intelligence copywriters.
It’s not enough that we’re competing with each other — and up-and-comers on every corner of the planet. Now we’re competing with computers that can generate 20,000 lines of reasonably-good short copy in a second. Not only that, this copy has passed the Turing test — meaning, humans can’t tell the difference between the AI-generated copy and copy written by humans.
Now, it’s not writing long-form big idea sales letters like I do — yet. But I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t at least consider the possibility that a feat like that isn’t far behind.
All of this is amplified on freelance job sites…
I don’t know that AI copywriters are getting gigs on freelancing sites like Upwork — yet.
But at the very least, when you put a listing there, you’re being compared against a long list of other freelancers. And among them is most certainly at least a handful of people who are happy to take work at what you’d consider to be a lowball or commodity price.
(And that’s being generous — the reality is you’re probably at least competing against a few copywriters who are working below what you reasonably consider a living wage.)
Which absolutely sucks for you.
Because for those clients where price is an important factor (NOTE: this is NOT all of them, see below), you’re immediately going to have to do something to offset that cost.
And that’s only likely getting worse — not better.
So — what do you do about that?
Today is Mailbox Monday…
… My weekly issue of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets dedicated to answering YOUR questions. About marketing, copywriting, business-building, freelancing and marketing careers, and more.
[Channeling my best Vanilla Ice…] If you’ve got a question, yo I’ll answer — check out this page where you can submit it.
Here’s today’s question…
I’ve been working as a freelance writer/copywriter for about 5 years now, and I’ve gotten all of my clients from Upwork or via word-of-mouth.
Because my rates have increased a lot in the past 5 years, I’ve essentially priced myself out of most of the opportunities on Upwork. So, my current goal is to pursue higher-paying assignments with clients who can easily afford me.
My question is … how can I find lucrative freelance writing jobs without relying on Upwork? Thanks!
First: make the decision…
Granted, I got started before those sites were what they are today.
But I’ve NEVER chosen to list my services there. And I’d strongly recommend you save any endorsements, etc., and then delete your profile.
If you’re listed there and a prospective client finds the page, you’re immediately pegged as a commodity copywriter.
And you’ll be treated like one.
Let’s take this away from copywriting completely.
Let’s talk about toilet paper.
I know — gross.
But stick with me for a second.
I’m pretty sure when our family buys toilet paper, we get a 12-pack of mega rolls with something like 200 sheets per roll for somewhere shy of $6. That’s something like a penny a wipe.
Now, if I wanted to offer a new wipe product, and I threw it on the shelf next to that toilet paper, I’d have to display some HUGE advantage to get more than maybe two pennies per wipe.
And yet, Dude Products sells flushable wet wipes marketed to men, from their website — and 144 total wipes are $15.99. Which works out to 11 cents per wipe.
It’s 11-TIMES as much. And a price I can pretty much guarantee they’d never get on the shelf next to the toilet paper.
Now let me take this a little further — because they did. You can actually get a box of 30 individually-wrapped travel wipes — so you’re never without them — for $9.99.
That’s 33 cents per wipe.
And here’s the kicker. That’s NOT 33-times as expensive as the alternative. It’s INFINITELY more expensive than the other option you have when using a public restroom — which is the FREE toilet paper that’s provided.
Now, toilet paper is a commodity business.
Dude Wipes refused to be commoditized.
And so they can charge anywhere from 11-times to infinite-times as much by refusing to categorize themselves with the other solutions to the — ahem — wiping problem.
How do you do that as a copywriter?
Create a core offer…
This is what my training, The Copywriter’s Roadmap To Building A Core Offer, is all about.
(It’s a better deal when you get it in The Freelance Copywriter’s Independence Package.)
Basically, find a group of very specific prospective clients with a very specific marketing problem you can solve, with copywriting and related skills.
Define your unique and proprietary solution to that problem, and create a productized or packaged version of your services at a price point that works for you (and them, based on value delivered).
Then, go to those prospects, show them you understand the problem and have a proven solution, and make your offer.
When you’re on the freelance sites, you’re basically in a long line of people all saying, “Will write for food.”
Having a core offer and making it to good prospective clients changes EVERYTHING about your value proposition, etc.
Once you’re clear on what problem you can solve, how, and what that package looks like, there’s a lot of directions you can take it…
Build a reputation though other methods…
One of the major values of those freelance sites is that they help to build your reputation.
You get a long line of completed projects, and the stats and feedback lend credibility.
That’s hard to break away from.
But you can get credibility and reputation in lots of other ways.
Speak. Be interviewed on podcasts. Create videos relevant to your expertise. Write a book.
And on, and on.
Don’t expect any one of these to be magic (just like Upwork and other freelance gig sites aren’t magic either).
But if you approach a client with a book about how to solve their problem, and you’re the author, and that book also directs them back to you as the person who can solve the problem for them…
You’re about 95% of the way to the sale, if they’re a decent prospect.
Choose your clients and proactively approach them…
I’ve written about this before. Here’s the latest more in-depth article.
Make a Dream 100 list. An ideal client list.
Pick the clients you’d like to work with, who you believe have the means to pay you what you want to earn. Who would benefit tremendously from your Core Offer.
Make that list, and make contact with them.
Introduce yourself. Then be pleasantly persistent.
Always offering value. And always making it clear that you can provide even more value by working with them.
Be present, and be positive.
It will turn into work.
Do it long enough, and you’ll work with most of the clients on your list.
It’s about conscious choice. Rather than waiting for them to come to you.
Of course, you can do this in other ways…
Develop your personal lead generation system…
If you do want to go broader or you’re offering a service that requires a ton of clients, you have to get good at attracting and converting leads.
So you need to replace the freelance job sites with your own personal lead generation system.
Which means you need to have a way to put the promise of your core offer in front of a lot of ideal prospects.
And for those with immediate interest, you need a way for them to engage and get to know you a little bit.
And for those who are moving toward being a warm prospect, a way to reach out and schedule a call.
And for those, a consultative selling process for speaking with them, determining fit, and making an offer.
And then for fulfilling on what you sell them.
It’s basically what the freelance job sites do. Except by moving your system off Upwork or whatever other site (and positioning your Core Offer as unique), you’re no longer playing the commodity copywriter game.
And if you figure out how to do this with paid advertising, this basic process is very scalable.
Of course, you can go the other direction entirely…
Quit the traditional freelance game…
This is growing more and more common among skilled copywriters. And I think it will only grow more so.
Even if you don’t take a traditional 9-to-5 job…
Even if you’re still working remote…
It might be a smart idea to hunker down with one or a handful of really good clients, and go deep.
Do more with fewer clients.
Serve them on a deeper level.
Let the relationship develop.
Find really good clients who are willing to invest in you, knowing that’s an investment in themselves.
The transactional nature of freelance sites pretty much preempt this. In fact, they explicitly bar clients from reaching out to their freelancers outside of their platform.
But if you have another way of speaking with your best prospects (see the above) and you make it clear you’re looking for a long-term relationship based on maximizing mutual value, you may find very willing partners.
You just have to be clear about what you want and don’t want. And be forward about that.
You have the hardest part done with…
Frankly, the number of questions I get about getting your first client is sometimes exhausting.
Having a work history and understanding how the business works puts you way ahead of those people.
Having done a ton of projects, you’ve probably developed 1,000 skills that make you an asset.
The question is, how are YOU going to shape the rest of your career?
Once you get really intentional about that (using whatever advice above feels most relevant) and start taking action, you will experience breakthroughs.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,