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.
When 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.
This 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
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.