Competition. It’s something I’ve said doesn’t exist in freelance writing. We have colleagues, some of whom actually share the same specialty or niche, but since there is a seemingly limitless supply of work for the actively marketing/networking freelancer, that shouldn’t matter. It hasn’t in my orbit, and I know at least three other writers who specialize in one of my niche areas.
So competition? Bah.
Then this post came in from Jake Poinier. Jake, a.k.a. Doctor Freelance, is a long-time writing chum and a veteran editor and media relations wonk who knows what he’s talking about. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of talking shop with him over coffee (I have), he’s just a damn nice guy who understands his profession.
He’s also a guy who just changed this writer’s mind about competition. Jake’s perspective has uncovered, at least for me, the real reason why job posters state such awful rates.
Writer’s Worth: What’s Wrong with Competition?
By Jake Poinier
What’s the negative trait that all four of these freelance business development strategies have in common?
- Job lists/job boards
- Freelance bidding sites (e.g., Upwork)
- Classified ads (e.g., Craigslist)
- LinkedIn ProFinder
If you guessed “low rates,” you’re close. But that’s actually an effect, not a cause. The more accurate answer is this: You’re competing directly against other freelancers and the prospective client holds all of the cards.
You have no way to know who else is seeking those same jobs or what their skills are. The end result is that competition effectively drives prices down. Your skills and experience, and the value you provide, simply aren’t as important as the rate you propose based on scant and perhaps misleading information about the project.
Beyond that, there are potential red flags, too. Think about who might be using these methods to hire freelancers: 1) a lazy client who can’t be bothered to find a professional freelancer through their business networks; 2) an inexperienced client who hasn’t worked with freelancers before and is going to require lots of handholding; or 3) a bottom-feeding client who’s purely interested in getting the lowest price rather than quality. (LinkedIn ProFinder is arguably a higher-quality audience, but the same hazards still apply.)
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here. It’s A-OK to have those audiences as a slice of your freelance business strategy pie. If they’re the primary or only targets of your energy, however, youÕre going to suffer frequent freelance famine syndrome and substandard pay.
Go Where the Competition Ain’t
Make no mistake, I’m as competitive as they come. But I want to compete on my terms, not someone else’s. Contrast the list at the top of the page with this one:
- Letters of introduction
- Email campaigns/direct mail
- Networking (peers, local business associations/chambers of commerce)
The common theme here is obvious: There’s time, energy, research, follow-up, and maybe some light schmoozing involved. You need to be targeted about whom you approach and how you do it. You’re not just throwing strings of spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.
But the benefits are huge: YouÕre almost certainly competing in a category of one. That increases your ability to stand out as a unique business. It shows a prospective client you know how to hustle as well as how to write. With a conversation initiated, you can get a sense of the client’s needs and style, which is impossible in a blind response to a job posting. Add it all up, and you have far more leverage to define the pricing and terms of an eventual deal.
Jake Poinier blogs on a wide range of freelance topics at DoctorFreelance.com and is the author of The Science, Art and Voodoo of Freelance Pricing and Getting Paid. HeÕll follow you back on Twitter at @DrFreelance
Writers, how worried are you about competition from other freelancers?
What advice can you give writers who are stuck in the job board, passive approach to finding clients?