I once recorded a podcast episode with Seth Godin where we talked about storytelling — and he made a point I thought was fascinating.
Seth’s version of storytelling isn’t just crafting a plot in the traditional sense — the classic “The queen died, and then the king died of grief.”
He also looks at the implied stories in everything we do. We tell a business story with our tone of voice on a podcast, and the color choices on our website. Our pricing, our response time, our About Me page, our “Contact Me” form … they all come together to tell the story of your business.
Some businesses tell scary or ugly stories. A lot of businesses tell boring ones. Seth got me thinking about the elements that I believe tell a more inviting story for a writing business — the kind of story that attracts more terrific clients and better revenue.
If you’re a professional writer, of course you need to write well. But it isn’t just ability that makes a writer successful — it’s also wise positioning. It’s the implied story that your business tells.
Here are my thoughts on five “story elements” that help writers attract the right clients, at the right pricing, in the right numbers.
Story element #1: Your Voice
For any business, but particularly for a writer, the voice of your marketing is one of the most important story elements you have.
What does that look like on your site today? Do you sound stiff and formal, or loose and conversational? Like tends to attract like, and the personality you put into your writing voice will tend to attract those qualities in your clients.
Do the choices you’re making invite the kinds of clients you want?
Ask yourself what qualities your writing voice is conveying:
- Informally relaxed … or train wreck?
- Reassuringly professional … or uptight?
- Charmingly approachable … or sloppy?
- Attentively detail-oriented … or nit-picky?
- Creatively agile … or distracted?
These are always subjective. What might seem annoyingly uptight and controlling for me might feel appealingly detail-oriented to you.
Because you’re a pro, you have more control over your writing voice than regular people do. Use that skill to convey the kinds of qualities you want to see more of in your clients.
Story element #2: Your site
Prospects today don’t just want wordsmiths — they also want content strategists. (Whether or not that’s the phrase they would use.) Terrific clients want writers who understand how the web works today.
It’s hard to come across as informed and web-savvy when your site design looks 10 years out of date.
You don’t have to chase every design trend, but you do need your site to look current, uncluttered, and fresh.
Story element #3: Your Pricing
Price is one of the most powerful nonverbal elements of any business story.
- American Express tells a different story from Visa
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape tells a different story from Two-Buck Chuck
- Mercedes tells a different story from Kia
Now, Visa, Two-Buck Chuck, and Kia are all things that a lot of consumers choose and even like.
But trust me, you do not want to be the Two-Buck Chuck of copywriting.
When you sell services, you sell your time. Hours of your life — the one thing you can never get any more of. Selling those hours at a discount just doesn’t make sense.
Of course, if you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t expect to command the same rates as an experienced writer. That’s why your first priority is to work very hard to get very, very good, so you spend as little time in “Two-Buck Chuck” territory as possible.
Crummy clients want cheap writers to produce generic CRaP that, truthfully, no one particularly wants to read anyway.
Terrific clients want professional writers to produce wonderful words that delight and serve their customers.
Two very different stories. The second one is much more fun.
Story element #4: Your Specialization
This is where a lot of smart writers start when they’re thinking about their positioning — and it’s a great story element.
None of us is good at everything. What are you great at? What could you become great at?
When I was a freelancer, I specialized in email newsletters, autoresponders, and other content that nurtured relationships with prospects.
I’m really good at that kind of writing. I have a lot of experience with it, which allows me to work efficiently. I enjoy doing it. And clients wanted it. It was easy for clients to understand that I’d probably do a better job with relationship-building content than an unknown writer on Upwork would.
I found the intersection between what I liked to do, what clients wanted, and what I could produce efficiently and well.
Lots of wise freelancers focus on robust topical ecosystems, like healthcare or law or technology. They stay up to speed, so they can write with authority on those topics. And they command fees that are significantly higher than a “jack of all trades” writer can.
Story element #5: Your professionalism
This one is really old school … and really important.
When clients leave a query on your “Contact Us” form … do you get back to them? How long does it take you? Do you have a solid process to handle those inquiries?
Are you hitting your deadlines? Every time? Putting in as much thought and care for a client’s 50th piece with you as you did when you started working together?
Anyone who works with a lot of freelancers will tell you:
Reliability is an issue. When clients find a writer who does what she says she’s going to do, every time, it makes a major impact.
Respond to client inquiries quickly. (This alone will make a significant difference in your revenue over a year.) Follow up. Manage your deadlines.
No bandwidth for new clients right now? Set up a quick waiting list on your site. Add a simple autoresponder to let them know you’ll connect as soon as you have the time to give them your full professional attention.
When you want to attract and retain terrific clients, you need to take care of them like the treasures they are. It will get noticed.
Your writing can be seen as a commodity or as a valued service. The cool thing is — because you’re a professional wordsmith and you’re smart about marketing — you get to choose.