Pick your box or somebody else will.
Most people you know don’t know what you do.
A tweet may give them an inkling, and a couple of Instagram posts may drop more clues:
- “He does the blogging.”
- “He populates web pages with words.”
- “On the weekends he does groundbreaking research in the field of robotic sock puppets.”
People glean from your socials a vague, imprecise impression, and we often hesitate to say definitively, “This is what I do.”
We don’t want to be pigeonholed, to be known for only one thing and to be constrained by it.
What if you want to try something new yet everyone already has you filed away in the “freelance writer” folder in their minds? Won’t picking a niche limit your options?
That reasoning would be sound if human beings were always logical.
But we freelancers have a couple of things working in our favor.
1) You can re-educate people.
Our memories leaks, so if you ever want to take your business a new direction, you can bet that some folks don’t remember much, if anything, about your last gig. Your folder is, more or less, empty.
People will remember the most recent thing you with which you identify, especially if you post often.
For example, I have been working on my first children’s book called Grabbling. (I am 99% finished, and am waiting for the printer to send me the digital proof. Once I approve it, we go to print.)
People whom I know from various seasons of my life will ask about the book even if they didn’t pre-order a copy or support the Kickstarter campaign.
My point is that other people skim your socials all the time. If you want to be known as a small business consultant instead of a freelance writer, then schedule a high volume of posts about how you’re helping clients grow their businesses (instead of what you’re learning about copywriting).
2) Picking a box makes you more memorable.
Identifying your generic skillset — “I am freelance writer” — helps people to put you in a specific box.
People will put you in a box regardless, so you’re better off choosing one for yourself than letting people pick for you—or worse, letting them relegate you to the default box, which has the label “I’m not quite sure.”
Most people who follow me on any of my socials know that I’m a freelancer who specializes in writing and marketing.
And if they hop over to Wunderbarworks.com, they learn that my target audience is tech consultants and SaaS companies.
Does that mean people in other industries don’t contact me?
No. I still get inquiries from business owners in a variety of industries.
For example, a nurse practitioner who runs an aesthetics center—think: Botox—filled out my new client questionnaire.
That’s the surprising thing about picking a box… You’d think that saying, “I help this specific group of people achieve these results in this area” would repel anyone who doesn’t fit the bill.
Sure, a select few picky individuals must have the preeminent expert in left-handed vampire movie reviews.
Other people simply don’t have the time to go on a hunt. They want an adult with a good track record and sensible ideas and non-noxious personality right now.
Once you pick a box, you will realize that the box contains irony. You define your work, your target clients, and the results in very specific terms.
Then, as you expose people to that positioning language, a curious thing happens: People typically remember the first thing and/or the last thing you said. In fact, scientists have given this “first and last” phenomenon a name: the “serial-position effect.”
Near the top of the WunderbarWorks.com Home page, I put this positioning statement: “Wunderbar helps consultants and tech companies grow their businesses, primarily with content marketing.”
Most of the people who get in touch want content marketing. About half of them fit inside my parameters (consultants and tech companies), and about half don’t.
Freelancers fear that, if they pick a box, they will miss out on good leads.
I would counter that you miss out on good leads when you don’t pick a box.
Without a box you’re too difficult to categorize and therefore hard to remember. New people and new ideas are stickier — that is, easier to remember — if we draw parallels between them and what we already know.
Grocery Stores vs. Chefs
Many freelancers make the mistake of positioning themselves like grocery stores. Freelancers sell ingredients the same way that grocery stores do.
An upscale grocery stores can sell you finely ground Italian flour and artisanal extra virgin olive oil and water from a remote, pristine aquifer.
Grocery stores create options, and most freelancers mistakenly believe that clients equate more options with more value. As a result, we emphasize variety and price.
But what if a hungry client wants the convenience of a done-for-you dinner?
“Don’t give me flour and oil options!” he says. “Serve me fresh, hand-made pasta.”
Freelancers should be taking cues from chef-driven bistro with pre-fixe menus, which take options away.
Be a chef.
By taking options away, you simplify the decision for the right clients.
Picking a box makes you more memorable, and taking options away makes you more valuable.
You won’t miss out on many projects, and besides, if you ever want to go a different direction or start a new business, you can re-educate your audience.
Do you want to be one of the first to know about my Freelancing Fundamentals course?
I’m finalizing the details with my team, and we plan to launch a beta version of the course with 100 freelancers.
If you’re wanting to level up your freelance business, then this course is for you. Click on this link to share your name and email address, and I’ll be sure you get first right of refusal.