Earn More By Specializing
When it comes to writing, specializing in a specific area allows you to write more efficiently and knowledgeably, increasing your value as a writer. Brad applied it to his freelance writing career and was able to increase his rates, work with top clients, and propel his career forward.
In this episode, Daniel and Brad discuss the benefits of specialization as well as the correct way to go about it so you can charge higher rates and prove your worth to clients. They also tackle how to deal with bad clients and find good ones.
- The dangers of being a generalist and why Brad recommends that freelance writers find an area to specialize in.
- When it’s the right time to raise your rates and how to approach clients in a way that showcases your value.
- What to say and do when a client tries to take advantage of your services or delay payment.
All right. Welcome back to part two. My name is Daniel and this is Brad Smith with me. Once again.
Thank you Daniel. I’m looking forward to through a chapter two on specialization. Super enthralling topic that I’m sure everyone’s just dying on the edge of their seat to hear about.
Yeah, well, well you know as a writer like we talked about last time. I mean you get into the art of writing, right? That’s what you sort of, you see yourself as this amazing talented person. But the reality is the business aspects of THIS, especially as a freelance writer, if you want to get paid, you’ve got to know how to give value to the clients who want to pay you. And that’s something I’ve really learned from you is this idea of specialization. You know, starting to drill down into who are the people I can serve the best and how do they value me? So would you mind just from your experience, like how you learned about specialization and how that kind of played out in your own career?
Yeah, for sure. Definitely. So I resisted specializing for the longest time. Like most people I have A.D.D and I feel like I just want to do different projects and do different spaces and that’s fun to me. Like I like traveling. I like eating. I like technology. I like soccer. I like all these different things. Um, and so I graduated from college, joined a startup company. Then joined a travel company, then was doing some consulting freelance work with like a big media publication company. So I bounced around and then I, when I went self-employed, uh, I did the same approach I would take on like anyone who was willing to pay me initially. Because I didn’t really understand what I was doing and where my value lies. So I worked with everything, I’ve worked with law firms, insurance companies, travel companies, tech companies, uh, small, uh, pest control companies like you name it.
And I basically worked in those industries. To a degree that’s good cause you kind of learn different approaches and different spaces. But when it’s time to earn, there’s this expression like, when is it time to earn or learn? When it’s time to learn, you should do more things. When its time to earn, you should focus as much as possible. And so I resisted specializing literally for eight years. Broke for most of that eight years. And that’s not an accident. So once I started specializing somewhat by intention, somewhat by accident, all of a sudden I started getting a ton of referrals and people liked me more and my work became more well known. Uh, and it was like the gates opened up and I was like, I should have done this eight years ago when I first started cause it would’ve just made my life easier.
Yeah. Hindsight is 2020. Right. But well, what’s then the, what’s the danger of being a generalist? What’s the biggest problem with it, do you think?
Yeah. So the biggest danger is that in most fields, again applying this to freelance marketing, I mean, even actually in broader, if you think about it more broadly, like even in publishing, expert writers that get paid the most, even on like old school publishing deals. John Grisham writes like a very specific style and a very specific topic. Romance authors write romance like specific, they’re not writing a romance book one day and a sci-fi book the next day and this one the next day. And it’s actually very rare. And that’s because it’s really difficult to do in a crowded marketplace, which every marketplace is a, there’s no shortage of options. And so the most money is going to go to the people at the top of that field. That’s again, whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. This is my favorite example of like, is The Rock the best actor in the world?
Right? Of course not, but he’s the highest-paid. Why? Because he just does one type of movie and he just keeps doing it. And he sells movies. He sells tickets. And that’s for people in that field. That’s how they’re measured by selling tickets there. They’re not measured by like, you know, whatever Oscars, they’re not measured by Oscar nominations. You know, they’re measured by like selling big box office sellouts. That’s, how they’re measured. And so if you do that and you’re the best at it and you keep doing it and you develop like a, uh, a following, then you get paid the most. And that’s just again, how the world works.
Yeah. It’s almost like the difference between, you know, do you want to be the Daniel Day-Lewis who’s sort of the tortured Oscar winner versus Walker, you know, travels the world in private jets. I don’t know. I mean, it’s up to you. But yeah, one has definitely, they both specialize in their own way, but The Rock has definitely got his, you know, his audience tied down.
You can become the Daniel Day-Lewis in time. Yeah. It’s a lot harder to do that, to start with. This is my take on it. So it’s, it’s not easy to become The Rock, but it’s easier to be like The Rock and specialize and become more well known and then branch out. So, I mean, I’m making this up off top my head, but like Jim Carrey back in the day just did comedies and became the best at that. And then he started doing dramatic stuff and it was pretty good. It was like legit, it was good for him. Uh, but that wouldn’t have happened if at the beginning he was trying to just do like a scattered approach. He became really good at one thing and then branched out.
Yeah. Great example. There you go. Yeah. So now one thing I love that you say is there’s two ways to make more money as a writer. One is to write more and the other is to charge more. So can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Yes. Uh, again, very simple math. Like writers aren’t mathematicians. Um, there’s, there are only two ways in, in any field to make more money. Do you want to be an Uber driver? There are only two ways to make more money. You can drive more or you can charge more. And like Uber doesn’t give you the ability to charge more. They do, but they don’t. You could drive at peak times only. Um, I know a lot of people here in Denver who will drive like the suburbs to the airport cause it’s like an hour trip. And so they try to maximize, you know, whatever. That’s like a $50 trip, maybe 50, $70 a trip versus um, downtown on a Tuesday night when there’s not that many people and you’re just doing a couple like three block, $10 trips everywhere. Like your, your time, the amount you’re making per hour if you think about it that way isn’t as great.
So as a writer you can write faster and you can write more, which you should do. Like I think a lot of times writers are resistant. Again, they try to like over-intellectualize it. They try to overthink it. You, you should learn to write more and write faster, but you’re going to, you’re always going to cap out. So as an example, when I first started, I was writing maybe two articles a week and I was like, Oh, that’s exhausting. But then when I was trying to make more money and I was like, okay, well how do I get better at this? Specialization helps because you’re writing about the same topics all the time, so you’re not having to, like, your brain doesn’t switch so much. You’re able to, to more quickly get to the meat of an article or the meat of like an outline or whatever.
Um, because you’re always focused on one thing. So that was one thing, learning better approaches. So like how do you write a headline? There should be like four or five, you know, quote unquote templates that you use to write a headline. And again, if you specialize, it becomes even easier because you’re only writing on certain topics. And so you can always go back to the same four or five headline ideas and just kind of like, not regurgitate them but like keep using the same overall structure. So you start doing that and all of a sudden your writing time goes from um, I dunno, three days for one article to one day for an article to four hours for an article to two hours for an article. So I was doing, I got to the point where I was doing like 10 articles a week, 10 or 12 articles a week and these are all like 2000 words.
Yeah. Uh, not because I’m a genius. I just figured out how to get stuff done faster and still keep quality high. So then, but again, you’re still going to cap out like that’s so much writing. Even now our full-time writers at our company don’t do that. They do like half that. Literally half of what I just told you that I was doing, our full-time writers are expected to do. And so you’re always going to cap out. And so like you look at the other side of the equation and there’s only one other variable that you are going to push off as long as possible on touching because you’re going to fear rejection and you’re going to fear clients leaving you. Uh, and that’s raising your rates.
Yup. 100%.That’s so interesting because is it, is it the fear of rejection? I mean, I guess the answer is yes. You know, that’s the thing. That’s the thing that stops people from raising, their rates, they’re worried someone will stop hiring them. Right.
That’s probably the most part. Yeah, for sure. For the most part. Again, I think there’s always the question of like, is your stuff really good enough? And again, this will come in time as we like unpack all this, but is your, does your stuff aligned with the value of the client wants? Mm. And if it does, then the answers raise rates. Yeah. And they’ll still stick with you cause it’s like, okay, go try to find someone else then who you think is better or cheaper. You’re not going to find it. Like, uh, so it’s, you know, number one, are you really getting better? Are you really getting better? Is your product becoming a lot better and becoming higher value, more valuable in the marketplace? If so, then the only thing stopping you from raising rates is your own fear of success and failure and rejection.
Yeah. So, so true. And I guess even more today that’s, that’s relevant because there are services like, you know, Upwork or Fiverr or one of, you know, these sort of like mills, if you like. Places where people can go and get cheap writing and then you’re kind of trying to, you know, do something that’s 10 times then or five times that. You think Oh no, they’re going to instantly compare it. Right. So that goes back to that idea of, you know, understanding the value underneath that you’re providing for the client. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Yeah, for sure. Uh, so yeah, like the short answer is you don’t compete with them at all. Like you just don’t even try. So, um, what does somebody get on Upwork or any of those places for, let’s say like $25 an article. Let’s start at the bottom. Like what is someone getting for that? They’re getting fairly generic, 300 to 500 words, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, probably some plagiarism. Like we test and we look for plagiarism and we vet dozens of writers every single month. And I’m telling you, it’s rampant. Like they’re just copying whatever is out there already. Even if they’re just rephrasing and regurgitating so it doesn’t show up on like an automated tool there. They’re plagiarizing. And so if that’s what a client values or if that’s what a client is okay accepting, but you don’t want to work with that client.
Like you need to run the other direction as quickly as possible. And then so for me, and for us it was like, okay, how do we keep going above and beyond? So at the very least, you could spend 10 extra minutes, run your article through Grammarly and catch most plagiarism and most spelling and grammatical errors. So already that’s, you know, that might take you 10 minutes, but let’s say to perceive value for the client that you could probably double your rate right there. If you just delivered 500 words that were succinct and there were no obvious issues or errors, you could probably charge $30 to $50 an article like overnight and it takes you 10 minutes and $100 of a Grammarly account and again choose your own tool. That’s not the important point here. The important point is like just taking that step, you know?
So then from there, so I work in the marketing space a lot so we work with a lot of other verticals. But like when I was freelance writing, I was all in the marketing space. So start looking at other places, other publications. What are they doing? Like they’re going, instead of writing generic 500 word kind of summaries, they’re showing you how to use this tool to do X, Y, Z. So I actually have, now I have to maybe add an hour of research cause I’m going to go into Google ad words. I’m going to show someone how to set up a Google ad words campaign and then I’m looking at some of the other content out there and I’m like, okay. They’re also adding screenshots, so I’ve got to start adding original screenshots to my stuff now. Not just stock photos but original screenshots.
So again, do the math. Between the research, the screenshots, Grammarly. Let’s say I’m adding an hour and a half to the time it takes me to produce an article, but I bet you you could go from then $50 bucks to a hundred bucks plus probably a hundred to $200 per article by adding an hour’s worth of time so that hourly rate only costs you whatever. Let’s say $10 $20 if you’re thinking of like your actual hourly rate based on how much you’re targeting, but perceived value to certain types of clients, you should now be able to go around and turn around and comfortably charge them $200 and say, here’s why you’re getting detailed and analysis. You’re getting a guarantee. There’s no plagiarism in this, so you can’t get sued by someone. You can start building the case for what value means to that client. And then you tie that directly to rates.
And so if someone doesn’t want to pay that rate you say, no problem, what are we going to start discounting over here or taking away bring the cost down. And it becomes a very simple conversation and again, very unemotional where it’s like, okay, Mr. client, here’s what I’m going to give you. Here’s what it costs. How does that sound? Yeah. And you phrase it open-ended so you’re not, you’re not fearing rejection. And they say, Oh, it’s a little on the high end. You say, no problem. Um, instead of 20 images, I can give you 10 images and we can bring the cost down, 50 bucks. So that worked for, you? Okay, cool. I’ll uh, I’ll mention two tools instead of 10 tools and we’ll bring the length down to 500 words from 1000 words, but it’s still going to be way better than that other stuff you can get. Um, and then you kind of find the middle ground. So this is about this, what I’m getting into here, maybe too much, is just about understanding what value is to your clients and what valuable content looks like what valuable writing and how and how you can, um, add a little bit over here to increase, you know, 10x over here.
Yes, definitely. Yeah, no, I love that mindset. Just you know, you’re not just giving up straight away. You’re like, okay, well let’s find, let me, let me look at a way to quantify the value a little bit clearer.
Yup, sure. And stuff I talked about, like again, writers don’t always think this way cause they’re not like, they’re not thinking what does a business have to lose if they plagiarize someone’s content. Yes. Like we work with this one enterprise client and we just signed this very detailed contract and a clause in there that was very specific was around plagiarism because I can tell you if the pieces we are producing for them had plagiarism, they would be in hot water and therefore we would be in hot water. Like they could just sue us out of existence basically. Cause they are a very large company and we are not. So again, writers don’t think about that, but that’s like, that’s critical to any business is plagiarism and it even affects other things that we don’t need to get into like SEO and whatever. But it’s like that risk for most clients, most legitimate clients. And if they don’t care about that, then again, that’s probably a sign they’re not a good client.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that, and that leads me to something too, is you know, some people sort of see the writing is an expense whereas some see it as an investment, right? And I guess that’s what you’ve got to start to assess that client then mentality towards you, I guess.
Yep. Yeah, for sure. It’s tricky, like in the beginning, you’ve got to take what you can get. You know, you’ve got to get, you’ve got to prioritize cash, you’ve got to get job paying jobs. Overtime, you should maybe start churning some of those clients purposefully. So you should start figuring out how do I raise rates? How do I build value? Um, and then, and we’ll, we’ll touch on that piece in a minute. But it’s like at a certain point you’re going to tap out or you should in terms of paying work. So when that happens, you got to figure out how you’re going to free up more time. But the point is, what is a good client to you? Like a good client is easy to work with. They’re smart, they don’t micromanage you, they pay you on time. They don’t hassle you or nickel and dime you.
Like I can guarantee you every conversation I’ve ever had that starts with like, Oh you guys are too expensive or um, you know, we want to pick you because, but, but you guys are charging way too much. Uh, it’s probably not going to be a good client. Because they’re focused on the wrong thing. They’re focused on content and writing as an expense on their P and L not an investment as an asset on the balance sheets. Like it’s a very different mindset so in accounting terms, an expense, you’re going to drive down the cost as much as possible cause you don’t want – it’s something that’s taking away from you. It’s a commodity. It’s the Upwork content. It’s the cheap content writing services out there that are just going to do the most basic, bare minimum, average junk possible.
Because people don’t want, they have this artificial number in their head. They don’t want to spend over whatever, $50 an article or whatever and it’s all made up. It’s completely in their head. It’s not your fault. That’s the other thing. It’s not a reflection of the writer if the client is dumb or doesn’t know what they’re doing. And so if we’re freelance writing, especially in the business spaces, content is very much an asset because it powers everything, it powers every single marketing and sales initiative. It’s very much an asset on the balance sheet and if that’s the case, then the type of clients that you seek and how you want to align your services are the people who are going to be viewing what you do as an investment and are willing to invest money even if it means a little bit of a premium because they know a year now their investment is going to pay off 10 times versus the person who just thought of it as an expense or a commodity, who’s, you know, probably not going to see any ROI to be honest.
Yeah. That’s so, so true. And it just takes time to see that, I guess as a professional, you know, to see the difference. You’ve got to read the signs early, right?
Yeah, and you learn that over time. It’s stuff you just gotta it comes back to step one that we talked about last episode. You gotta talk to more people like that. The faster you talk to more people and weed through bad clients, the faster you learn how to read through the lines a little bit or what people are saying and hear how they’re saying it. And your brain immediately tells you good client, bad client. But the only way to learn that and to do that is just to talk to more people. So you’ve got to talk to more people. You can’t just think that like the one first opportunity that comes your way is going to be it, you know?
Yeah. And that really goes back to like you’re saying, being an optimist, having that abundance sort of mentality, that’s really, really important. Really good.
It’s not easy when you’re broke too, is the only other thing I’ll say, cause I’ve been broke.
When you’re broke and so you just gotta work through it, you know what I mean? There’s no other, there’s no other pearl of wisdom that I can give you, other than you just have to figure out how to get through the lean time and make it work and hustle and do whatever you need to to get through it. Um, but you have to like keep that mindset going otherwise you’d never break through the glass ceiling, so to speak.
Yeah, yeah. So true. But it builds momentum over time too. That’s another valuable part of it as you, as you grow. Yeah, definitely. So then, um, last question on this point and you kind of sort of covered it in like about what good clients are how do you know when you should let go of a client, when, when’s that time?
Yeah, definitely. Number one when you’ve outgrown them. So as you hopefully continually level up your ability and your value and your offerings, your rates should increase month after month, year after year. Like it should never stop. I’m not saying to ever raise rates in month one and then stop. So what happens is after a year of doing that, you’re still gonna have clients who are paying you $50 an article and they’re probably nice people and you like them. So you don’t want to jack the rates on them and everything, but your new clients are paying you $500 an article and then it gets to a point where you’re busy and you’re like, I just can’t justify this anymore. So you give them the option of like, Hey, I love working with you. It’s been great. I’ve kept you at our grandfather rates my legacy rates for however long.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, like I’m getting really busy like I’m continually trying to get up my stuff better. But that means starting, you know, three months from now or starting next month if you want to continue working together, I’m going to have to raise rates to this new level. If you’re not okay with that, I totally respect that. I’m going to help you find someone else at these other rates that I’ve worked with previously or that I’d recommend. And it keeps it very civil because you’re, you’re still trying to help this person, but you’ve got, you’ve outgrown them and you can’t keep beating a dead horse, so to speak. You can’t keep prolonging the inevitable. The other thing is bad clients. So if people pay you late, if they jerk you around on payments and if there are legitimate things that happen and it’s one time, then that’s life, right?
Like we, we get this, we tell writers we’re going to pay them a certain way. Um, and then we have them like hounding us and it’s like, well you didn’t, you didn’t follow the directions or instructions for how to get paid and when you’re getting paid. So it’s like when that starts happening, that starts to aggravate the client cause it’s like, Hey, this is, these are what we agreed to. Don’t start coming back here and like trying to change, you know, change it on me now. Um, but there’s always going to be issues. We have clients pay us late all the time. It sucks. It’s unfortunate. If it’s a onetime thing, we work with them on it. Like, it’s no big deal. If it’s a continual thing, they’re a bad client. Cause what it says, money to me is a sign of respect.
So, and again, this goes back to Good Fellows. Like if someone’s not paying you or if they’re jerking your payment or if they’re trying to discount your payment, they’re not respecting you. Yeah. And so you need to be, you need to take the power back because I think too many freelancers in general, not just writers, but too many freelancers in general feel powerless. Because they don’t have the abundance mindset and because they’re not doing this other stuff, that’s the other key. They’re not getting better. Like they, we have writers we work with who are older, let’s say, uh, and they feel that they should be paid a certain rate, but we look at their work and it’s like, your stuff hasn’t improved in 20 years. So you have experience, but you’re not getting better. And so that’s not, I’m not going to pay a premium for that.
You’ve got to be working to have a pipeline. You’ve got to have potential clients coming in next month, a month after you gotta be improving your services, improving your writing, improving what you’re doing. And then you need to take the power back and say F-you, I’m not going continue working with you so other, so I’m going to hold back your content until you pay your bill. And if you don’t pay your bill by X date, I’m going to sell your content to your competitor for a discount. You got to get like, you’ve got to get this in your mind. Like you’ve got to get gangster about it. Like this is real. I got to pay for my family. Like my wife doesn’t care if you’re on vacation. I got to pay for food for my kids and my wife. So F you. If you don’t have your estimate to me by this date, I’m going to sell it to the competitor and I’m going to give them a discount on it and I’m going to like write another blog post about how much you suck or whatever.
I mean, maybe don’t go to those lengths, you know what I mean? You need to have a backbone and a sense of like, uh, you need to know when to stand up for yourself. And when to call bull crap on the relationship when you feel like you’re being taken advantage of. And again, too many people don’t do that and then you don’t get respected. So inversely real quickly, we vet tons of writers all the time. Now we say in our job board ads, we’re looking for experienced writers in these spaces because we’re going to pay them a lot of money. Like that’s what experience means. It means we’re going to pay you a lot of money if you actually have experience in these spaces. We get writers all the time though, who quote us stuff that’s like half of what we think this should be quoting us.
So they’re not quoting us enough. And that’s a red flag to us cause we’re trying, we’re trying to work with big clients. We’re trying to produce like really high-quality stuff. If someone’s quoting less, if they don’t have their own, uh, idea of where they sit in the marketplace and what they should be charging. Don’t be crazy and charge you know, twice as much as everyone else. But if you don’t understand what your value is and you’re charging too little, that’s a huge red flags to clients too. So it’s about understanding like who, like what writers kind of respect themselves and understand that they’re like I’m an expert at this. This is what I charge. If it’s not good for you, no problem. I’ve got 10 other clients waiting to take up my services.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, knowing you a little bit so you can do that in a nice way. You don’t have to be a Good Fellows, you know, mobster or whatever you, you can still do it in a polite professional way. But I’m going to quote Dr. Phil here. I think he said you teach people how to treat you right.
It’s a two-way street. I joke that some clients we get, we work with really good clients now. So it’s not as much of an issue, but especially in the early days, you’re working with smaller clients. A lot of clients aren’t as experienced with working with vendors or freelancers. Uh, you have to treat them like a puppy. You have to tell them how to work on your terms. Right. Um, and that’s not always possible. If it’s a huge company and if they’re smart, then you just get in line. You do what they want. Um, but if they email you at 9:00 PM and you respond at 9:30 PM, that tells them that your time management doesn’t matter and that you, and that your family doesn’t matter. You just are going to work for them and they’re going to be like, you’re going to be like their employee. And so therefore they’re going to email you on the weekends and expect an answer. And so it’s all about those little things about setting these boundaries and then being consistent with them, uh, and, and having the self-confidence to be able to do that.
Yeah, absolutely. Very cool. Well, thank you. That’s great insights on specialization. A lot of things I need to think about as well as a professional writer. And I know it’s gonna be valuable for anyone listening. So next time when we come back, I know we’re going to talk a little bit more about the idea of actually getting paid. You know the process of how to set that up. So you get paid either in advance or you know, you’re basically charging the client your billing names so you’re not kind of chasing money and things like that. And also some mindsets around how to grow the amount you’re getting paid. So thank you again for this great session in terms of the insights and we’ll chat again soon.
Perfect. Can’t wait for it. Thanks.
The change that specialization brought to Brad’s writing career. (01:47)
When it’s time to learn, you should do more things. When its time to earn, you should focus as much as possible. And so I resisted specializing literally for eight years. Broke for most of that eight years. And that’s not an accident. Once I started specializing somewhat by intention, somewhat by accident, all of a sudden I started getting a ton of referrals and people liked me more and my work became more well known.
How embracing specialization opens up doors for increased earning potential. (06:44)
But then when I was trying to make more money and I was like, okay, well how do I get better at this? Specialization helps because you’re writing about the same topics all the time, so you’re not having to, like, your brain doesn’t switch so much. You’re able to more quickly get to the meat of an article or the meat of an outline or whatever because you’re always focused on one thing.
The client mindset to look for and the ones to avoid. (17:34)
the type of clients that you seek and how you want to align your services are the people who are going to be viewing what you do as an investment and are willing to invest money even if it means a little bit of a premium because they know a year now their investment is going to pay off 10 times versus the person who just thought of it as an expense or a commodity, who’s, you know, probably not going to see any ROI to be honest.
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