Message to Non-Native Writers: Market Yourself, Not Your Country

I just spent more than thirty minutes looking for an example to use in this post. The original plan was to take a comment or sales thread from a popular internet forum and point out some areas where the English phrasing could be improved to make this series a bit more “real-world”. I’ve abandoned that plan for the moment because I noticed a bigger problem for many of our writing friends who are not native speakers. They don’t appear to be wanted by those who seem to need them the most.

If I were up to doing real math after the week I’ve had, I’d estimate 90 percent of the writing threads in one large webmaster forum specifically requested ONLY native speakers. Irony of ironies, the majority of webmasters making the requests are not native speakers themselves. I gleaned though, from some of the discussions, that webmasters are hoping that hiring a native speaker will guarantee them quality articles since they can’t or won’t determine quality on their own – a loosely relevant term at best.

When I finished laughing at some of the crazy advice and rants all over the copywriting section of the board, I genuinely felt sorry for the non-native writers who are hanging out with their countrymen trying to get gigs on the forum. I thought I’d dedicate this week’s ESL post to those who are fighting against prejudice. My message? Market yourself, not your country.

When a potential webmaster client posts requirements, it’s similar to a company posting job requirements – it might say “required”, but really it’s more of a suggestion – everything is open to discussion.

I’m not saying you should misrepresent yourself, which is also apparently common on this particular forum, but that your nationality and first language shouldn’t factor into the discussion of ability or quality. If you can write what the client needs, make it clear. Personally, judging by the sheer number of “native speakers ONLY!!!!!!!” posts I saw, I’m thinking this is more of a bandwagon thing than an intelligence thing.

I have an added advantage of working with native English writers every day. In fact, I just graded a stack of papers by native writers. I can tell you that writing is not the same as forming sentences. Love ‘em all, but there are definitely some students who can write well and plenty more who can only form sentences to get a job done.

Having taught for almost ten years and spent more than seven years working at a university level, I can assure you that being a native speaker and having a college degree is not an indicator of writing ability. The percentage of those who can work a craft with words is far smaller than the population of college kids sitting in class looking to earn a bit on the side by putting words together.

Your job is not to apologize for living in a different country. Your job is not to explain your cost of living. Your job is certainly not to suck up to potential employers and degrade yourself by groveling for pennies cast your way in this writing world. Your job is to distinguish yourself and what you sell. Your job is to market yourself effectively for what you do – not what language you spoke first.

Start by selling yourself on your value – what do you do for your customers? Without necessarily bashing others, differentiate yourself with the value you provide, your experience, your knowledge and your professionalism.

Keep working on your language skills, but don’t apologize for where they are now. You are selling yourself as a service provider; your grasp of the language is a part of that service. It might give you a better idea of what market to work in, but your abilities land you jobs – not your country.

Quick tips for marketing yourself effectively:

- Demonstrate what you know by being active in the community you’re targeting. If you’re looking to work on some SEO articles and the like, hang out with the webmasters you’re working with.

- Learn all you can about the industry. Again, if you’re looking to work on SEO keyword materials, practice techniques with your own materials and websites and stay in touch with clients to see how your work was integrated into his or her optimization plans. Learn what works and what provides value. Be able to talk the talk and show real results.

- Sell your knowledge, not just your writing skills. You can specialize in a particular area, like software, or you can specialize in a type of writing, such as technical reviews or guides, but sell clients your knowledge and expertise in the area. Make it easy for the potential client to see how you would be an asset to his team in more ways than a wordsmith.

- Sell writing by writing. A one sentence response or a one line PM is not the way to demonstrate how well you write. If you’re selling writing abilities, demonstrate them. Use clean writing skills on forum posts and PMs. Make your blog comments shine as much as possible. Inject personality into your work. Write emails with real information about yourself and point potential clients to an online portfolio or website where he can see even more of your written work. Make your writing shine.

- Control the flow of personal information. If you dazzle the potential client with your knowledge base, your professionalism and your writing ability, it’s very likely he’ll forget he’s supposed to be dealing with native speakers ONLY!!!!!. If he does remember, and he wants to know if you are a native speaker, he might try to glean this information from your PayPal address, your name, your IP address or your portfolio.

You don’t need to hide your background, but you can control the information by sharing what is pertinent. If you’re asked, you might reply with “I’ve been speaking English since I was five years old and writing in English professionally for more than ten years.” If that doesn’t shut them up, move on.

Speaking of moving on, you might be wondering why you’d even bother with potential customers who slap “native speaker” on anything they post. The choice is yours, of course, if you want to work in the webmaster community where this sort of thing has become so rampant. Personally, l like webmasters (especially misguided ones) and find most of this native stuff is a produce of a sheep mentality. It’s surprisingly easy to change the mind of someone who didn’t really know how to make up his mind in the first place, mind you.

I also like to assume that job descriptions are guidelines at best, with slightly-lost potential clients just waiting to be given the answers. Personally, I’ve been successful at talking my way into all kinds of jobs, and very few of them appeared to be perfect matches if you’d gone by the requirements alone. I wish you the same luck – not that you should need it when you can sell yourself.

Profile image for Rebecca Garland
Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

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7 thoughts on “Message to Non-Native Writers: Market Yourself, Not Your Country”

  1. Being an alien English writer, all that I can say is… God Bless you & yours. You’ve written about a sensitive topic, which might irritate many a raw nerve. However, by belling the cat you’ve done something that was long overdue.

    If you’ve seen my posts in the forums, you might have noticed that I try to help others and this is exactly what you have done a million times over. As of yet, nobody has bothered to leave a reply over here, or in the forums, yet, I feel that sooner or later, many will. Your post has provided me with just the inspiration that is required to expand this topic further. Cheers. 🙂

  2. You know, I’ve never liked the “native English speaker” requests on said forum. In the end, that doesn’t matter as long as the writer can do the job well. On the other hand, I think it would be smarter for some of these clients to request country-specific writers. It’s not all about the writing ability of the contractor. There are legal implications to hiring overseas too. And what a lot of these buyers fear isn’t necessarily poor writing skills but rather that the really low priced writers stereotypically from country A, B, and C will steal the work of others and rewrite it. In those cases what they really should be doing is seeking writers in either their own country or countries with compatible copyright laws so they can actually hold the writers accountable if that kind of theft does take place. Sadly I see that side of the issue ignored on both sides. All things are not equal, even if writing ability might be. Copyright law and contract law also play significant roles in these relationships. By no means am I against working with international clients or hiring internationally — I’ve done both. But both sides need to be sensitive to these kinds of things, why stereotypes exist, and then work around them to get what they really want and need individually.

    • I strongly considered including that part of the argument here – about legalities and such, especially since so many of those looking for “native writers” are actually from the countries they are shunning in the posts. I’m glad you brought that point up though – it’s definitely a part of the picture. I thought I’d hit this one from the highest levels – I don’t hear much about non-native writers being excluded because they don’t have a W-9 on file, at least on that particular forum.

  3. AMEN. Thank you for writing this. It might sound like sour grapes, but I tend not to apply for the jobs that ask for “native English writers/speakers”. Almost all my clients are from “native English” countries, whereas I’m not, and I prefer to let my writing to the talking. In any case, part of my loin-girding process when it comes to such jobs is to remind myself that English is my first language anyway (such brave words!) 😀

  4. I certainly agree! I live in New Zealand, and there’s a lot of companies who requires their potential candidates to be NATIVE ENGLISH speakers (doesn’t matter what job it is); mind you New Zealand attracts a lot of migrants from NON native English speaking countries… so how can they land a job if the NZ employers are being critical???

  5. Thanks for the post.
    You’ve written right from my heart. I’m one of the struggling non native writers and I can attest to the fact that it gets on someone’s nerves to lose a gig, not because they lack the skills, but because they aren’t right with the “virtual immigration office”. With posts like this one, I can at least see some light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Hi James. I certainly hope those situations are the exception rather than the rule for you. While there are some legal and contractual reasons some clients only hire within their home countries, there’s no reason we can’t work across borders in most cases these days (most of my own clients are actually based outside the US). Hang in there. There are plenty of open-minded clients out there. 🙂


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