If you want to move beyond low paying freelance writing jobs, you need a solid marketing strategy. Where many writers go wrong is putting all of their attention on marketing tactics -- using social networks, guest posting, or writing query letters for example.
While tactics are important, you can never use them to their full potential if you don't have an underlying strategy and marketing message. That's where one of your most fundamental marketing tools comes into play -- your USP.
What is a USP?
Your USP ("unique selling proposition," sometimes referred to as a "unique selling position" or "unique selling point") is the reason a client should not only hire you, but pay you what you think your services are worth. Think of it this way: What differentiates you from the competition?
What Makes Up a USP?
Your USP can involve any number of things that set you apart from your competition. Here are some things that can play a part:
- Your specialized credentials in a niche or industry
- The overall quality or style of your work (if different than what's offered in competing services)
- Your experience with a certain type of client (small businesses, corporate clients, intermediary firms, CEOs, celebrities, introverts, nerds, athletes, etc. -- the more specific, the more unique you become)
- "Extras" you might include that similar providers don't
A Note on Pricing as a USP
While being the least expensive option can attract clients, anyone with an ounce of marketing sense will tell you that you should never market services on price. It may work as a USP for products. Look at Walmart. But you're not Walmart. You're not offering products. You can't manufacture something cheaper. You can't buy in bulk for resale. And you only have a limited number of hours per day that can be allotted to providing a service.
Freelance writers who market primarily on low prices don't tend to last long. They can't meet their income goals in the long term. Or they find that once they've set their reputation as a "cheap" provider, it can be difficult-to-impossible to move beyond that image when they are ready to start charging rates in line with other professionals.
Don't do it. There's no good excuse. And don't make the common mistake of thinking you should start extremely low when you're new, and you'll drastically increase rates later. It often doesn't work out that way because you have to start over, building an entirely new image and portfolio and targeting a completely different market.
If low pricing is the only type of value you can provide, start by changing that.
USP Example: Freelance Blogging
One of the services I offer is freelance blogging. You've probably seen people advertising blog posts at rates like $5 per 500-word article. On some freelance bidding sites, writers often bid much less than that. So why is it that my clients are willing to pay me 50-60 times more than that for a similar-length blog post (and much more for longer ones)? I have a solid USP, and I can back it up.
I specialize in business-related blog content (not just writing about business-related topics, but blogging for business purposes such as being part of a larger PR plan). My background tells prospective clients I know what I'm doing.
I have a decade of experience with business-oriented blogging, and more in business-related writing overall. I have a degree in public relations. I ran a small PR firm for several years where I was one of the earlier specialists in online PR and social media (including using blogging for PR purposes, especially with small businesses). That means I have more experience in this particular type of blogging than the vast majority of freelance bloggers they'll come across.
Those things come at a premium. Throw in solid references, the fact that my own blog (where they often find me) ranks highly in search engines and shows them I understand SEO, and the fact that I run a broader small / online business of my own (the types of clients I target), and it's not difficult to show clients that I bring more to their business than any $5 content writer they can find.
My PR and social media marketing background also give me an edge in helping clients find value from their blogging efforts. It goes beyond monetizing individual posts. It's about building long-term relationships and a brand image -- things that are often far more valuable (and which affect sales indirectly).
The same background helped my PR firm, and later my PR writing services. I catered to a niche market no one else was specializing in at the time -- small online businesses and web-based solopreneurs. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is an important part of your USP. And later it's all about "being first" -- having more experience than your competition.
I also took a very bold approach, calling out bullshit in the PR industry on a regular basis (things others were too afraid to be the first to say). Where others in my specialty area backed down, I was one of few who stepped up. Clients noticed. And they loved what they saw. That's what it's all about.
What's Your USP?
The factors I've mentioned here aren't the only considerations when crafting your USP. In the end, it's all about your story. You don't have to come right out and say "here's my USP." But get the important points across in your overall marketing copy if you want to persuade prospects to hire you.
What sets you apart from countless other freelance writers vying for the same gigs? Can you specialize, if you're not already? If you already specialize, can you narrow down your target clients to an under-served market? Can you improve your credentials?
Can you think of benefits your writing would have for clients that similar writers aren't offering (or mentioning in their marketing copy)? Can you offer something extra (like a free report or consulting related to the writing you're providing)?
If nothing makes you the best choice in the eyes of your prospects, you need to change that. Start by overhauling your USP.
This post was originally published on March 1, 2009. It was updated February 2015 in response to a reader question about unique selling propositions, asked by Alicia Rades.