The student becomes the teacher.
The teacher becomes the student.
The freelancer becomes an idiot.*
Sometimes the world of freelance writing is so outward facing that you can forget things. In an effort to mould into whatever sort of writer the clients need, you can lose sight of your own business identity. When I agree to write a series of pieces for a business I want to get a clear sense of their perspective. This may involve a little unpaid research – and not just with Companies House. I’ll read their website, glance through some blog posts and see what one or two niche internet searches serve up.
Recently, I attended a business event because I thought it was time I networked face-to-face with potential clients and contacts in my region. I waited in line, notebook and business cards at the ready. I could get a lot of suits there, but that’s fine with me. I wore a suit regularly in London, back in the late 1980s (albeit with white trainers for a while, when I first got back from the US). There were one or two creative types too, judging by appearances.**
The line moves along and I get to the desk, where a bright-eyed young woman asks me which organisation I represent. I explain that I’m a freelance writer, as per my reply to the invitation. She looks confused and stalls. I wait, because I sometimes have that effect on people. She leans back and mutters to a colleague that I’m not on their list. Ho hum.
The colleague shrugs and suggests she just ‘puts me through’, as though I’m an item on a conveyor belt without a barcode. It is immediately apparent that I’m not one of the droids they’re looking for. No badge and lanyard for me, no sirree; instead, I’m ushered in like a junior school student allowed to attend a university lecture. This is what the grown-ups do.
I’m exaggerating a little, but that’s what it felt like. Things picked up a little inside the venue on account of:
a) The hot chocolate was pretty good and under £3.
b) They had free wifi, which meant I could keep in touch with existing clients and respond to requests for copywriting.
However, the exhibition stands confirmed my sense that I was at the wrong place. It was a good event, just not one for a business like mine. I bumped into a couple of other writers I knew, both of whom worked for organisations. Never one to miss an opportunity to try and learn something, I made time to take everything in and gave some though to the question that had nagged me since the hot chocolate (apart from: is it time for another hot chocolate): So what kind of business am I?
There’s a tendency to see the world of business as a series of straight lines – different sectors, different marketplaces and clearly defined identities. Fortunately, that’s not the case, but it is important to know which piece of ground you’re standing on at any given time.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell condensed some of the wisdom of the Upanishads into “Follow your bliss.” However, I’m also a great believer in the phrase: “If you always play to your strengths they’re the only ones you’ll ever have.” I’m biased though, because I wrote it.
|Market forces or the product of mixed messages?|
One can’t be prescriptive about how a brand is developed, but having a clear sense of who you are and what you do is as essential in business as it is in life. Unless you have that clarity, how can you expect to communicate it to others?
To help define your business brand, ask yourself some challenging questions.
– What do you do well, and what do you do not so well?
– What you are passionate about?
– What problem/s can you solve and for which sorts of client?
– How you make yourself distinct from the competition?
– Which areas you want to move into?
– What values are important to your business?
– What sort of work do you like doing?
I also think it’s important to own your business identity and to not expend energy trying to be all things to all people. For example, I recently walked away from a potential client because they wanted a cheaper deal and I heard myself say some magical words: “I don’t compete on price.”
*Or amnesiac, if I’m feeling generous.
** Which we all know not to do.