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  • Don’t Be Everything to Everyone

    Yesterday, while out with friends, I ended up talking to a young guy who is trying to break into the copywriting field. “What kind of writing do you want to do?” I asked him, trying to get a sense so I could give him useful advice. “What’s your focus?”

    “I don’t know,” he told me. “I’ll do anything. I just want to get started.”

    “That’s your problem right there,” I blurted out, not even stopping to consider that he might not be interested in “how to get a writing gig” advice at 11:30pm on a Saturday night. But I’ve been there and I know.

    2080809787_5637e4743cWhen you’re just starting out in a field, you want so badly to get hired that you will do anything for anyone who will hire you. If you’re a copywriter, you’ll write radio ads, or press releases or blog posts or articles. You’ll even spend hours applying to every project posted on websites like Elance.com. If anyone has any writing needs, you can fill them! Right?

    Except that doesn’t work. It actually hurts your chances of getting work.

    (This isn’t just a problem writers face, by the way. Anyone who is trying to break into a new field has probably faced this issue.)

    Won’t you rule out potential opportunities?

    The main reason it’s hard when you’re a jack-of-all-trades is that it’s nearly impossible to find clients. That sounds so counter-intuitive… isn’t it better to keep your options open so that you don’t accidentally rule out a potential client?

    What happens though is that you make it less likely that you’ll connect with someone who wants to hire you.

    283989913_4928348820This happens for a couple reasons. First of all, when you’re completely unfocused, you don’t know where to look for potential clients. On the other hand, if you’re a copywriter who focuses specifically on (e.g) small to mid-sized companies who are looking to get into Business-to-Consumer (B2C) social media, it’s relatively easy to find companies that could hire you. All you need to do is find events and associations that will attract people from those small to mid-sized companies.

    Or, if you use a sales tool, you can find a list of companies that fit your parameters and then find out if they could be a potential client by checking out their website.

    It’s a lot easier to start with a small, focused list of potential clients (and expand it later), than to not know where to start. Or worse, to start with a list of all the local companies and to weed out the bad fits by contacting every single one of them. (It’s very depressing to hear “No” all the time when you’re starting out.)

    The watered down effect

    2682157559_7e47ae178cSecondly, when you insist that you can do anything, people don’t think you’re very good at what they want you to do.

    I saw this demonstrated really well in a product my mom reviewed for her blog. It was a small, portable projector that (according to the press release), could be perfect for businesspeople, teachers, home theaters, kids playing video games, etc, etc! But those are all really different environments, and it’s physically impossible for a product to be the best when it’s designed to be used in many different ways.

    Companies don’t want to hire someone who is only marginal at a job. And they’re not stupid. They know that a person who spends 30 hours a week writing press releases will do a much better job on their press release than someone who regularly writes in 24 different writing styles.

    Anything, anyone or anybody

    Finally, it looks desperate when you insist that you’ll do anything (anything at all!) if they just hire you. Desperate is bad because it tells a potential client that no one else is hiring you. If no one else is hiring you, why would they take the risk? (See the thought process on this?)

    There’s a lot of power in looking a potential client straight in the eye and calmly saying, “I work specifically with (size or industry) companies who want to accomplish (a goal) through (a writing medium).” That says to the potential employer that you’re a professional, that you specialize in a certain type of work, and that you’re busy enough to be able to focus on a certain topic.

    Choosing to focus in on specific companies is a scary decision because it closes the door on potential deals. But it will actually make you far more likely to succeed than if you leave all your options open.


    Katie Konrath writes about creativity, innovation and “ideas so fresh… they should be slapped!” at www.getFreshMinds.com.


    Katie works with Fortune 500 companies to help them generate new ideas based on consumer insights at leading innovation company www.IdeasToGo.com. She’s worked with creativity guru Edward de Bono and uncovered new ideas across North America and Europe. Prior to that, she earned a Masters degree in Creativity and Innovation from the Institute for the Design and Development of Thinking in Malta, was certified as a Lateral Thinking trainer, and studied at the TRIZ Institute in St Petersburg, Russia. She writes the leading innovation blog, GetFreshMinds.com.

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    10 comments on “Don’t Be Everything to Everyone
    1. avatar
      Mohammed says:


      Another great tip! I always advised jobseekers to keep their resume, cover letter, speech pitch and any other marketing documents direct towards employer with their true capabilities and pretending to be the next IRONMAN.

      Thank You!

    2. avatar
      Alan Brown says:

      Touchdowns can only happen when you go deep. They take infinitely longer when you zig zag.

    3. avatar

      Thanks Katie. A very useful message.

      Here are my takeaways: F.O.C.U.S. – Find One Choice U can Stick with.

      Cheers, Robin

    4. avatar

      Amen! I just had one of my students make this mistake last week. He explained that he wanted to be a chameleon and fit into any situation at work. He wants to be everything to everyone.

      I loved your “watered down’ metaphor. I’ve used the concepts of “all-purpose” and “one size fits all” to illustrate your point. I think Bill Cosby said that he didn’t have the key to success but the sure way to fail is to try to please everyone.

    5. avatar
      yinka olaito says:

      You are very correct. Only that fear and despiration to be hired make many go along that line of thought

    6. avatar
      Scott Gould says:

      @Robin – love your FOCUS idea – find on choice u can sitck

      Much needed points . It is so easy to get emotional about everyone else who is doing so well that you want to join their niche. Build up your own!

    7. avatar

      I encounter this a lot in my blogging, speaking, and coaching. You need a certain level of focus to find something – but not so overfocused you cause your plan to fall apart by a death of a thousand cuts.

      One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard was in the Pierson method – you need to be able to sum yourself up in a sentance, sum yourself up in an elevator pitch, and actually have a list of companies you want to work for and know WHY. It’s a very focus-building exercise.

    8. avatar

      As I’ve been working through this dilemma myself (for starting out in copywriting, no less) I’ve found an additional benefit to focus. Mental peace.

      Slowly all of those “how about?” voices are quieting down as I’m concentrating instead on making my web presence and my skills and what I’m promising match each other. I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do there. Nothing represents exactly what I mean quite yet, but less mental noise is also making it easier to get more done more quickly.

    9. avatar

      Katie, you have made a great point. I see this all the time with my clients. They “just want a job”, but yet there isn’t a focus to base the resume, so I have to work with the client on a focus.

      Employers can afford to be picky in this job market, so having a clear focus can put you ahead of the competition.

      Great post, thanks.

      Erin Kennedy
      Professional Resume Services

    10. avatar

      Very relevant article. In my experience it also depends on what the person wants to do and what their abilities are. The guy to whom you refer in the article could perhaps focus on a few different copywriting areas; problem was perhaps created because he had no real idea what he wanted to do, hadn’t undertaken sufficient research into his options and had no plan. Kind of left him floating out there in no-mans land. In this environment let’s just say that’s not the way to get ahead.

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