How to Get More Clients: Ignore Your Competition and Own Your Niche

How to Get More Clients: Ignore Your Competition and Own Your Niche

A lot of new freelance writers worry about being overshadowed by their competitors. Quotes like these are all too familiar (let me know if these sound like you, too):

  • “So-and-so’s been writing for Entrepreneur.com for like, three years. How will anyone think I’m credible if I don’t write for them, too?”
  • “I’ll never be able to charge as much as so-and-so because no one’s ever heard of me.”
  • “I can’t afford to market my business the way so-and-so does, so I’ll probably never be able to find enough clients.”

The thing is, if you expect your competitors to overshadow you, they will.

And the only way to stop that from happening is to quit stressing out about them, and focus instead on what makes your work unique and outstanding. After all, pending time fretting about your competition isn’t going to help you get more clients.

Once you know what makes your work unique and outstanding, promote the hell out of it.

I learned this lesson though a painful, business-crushing experience. Lucky for you, I was my own guinea pig and you get to learn from my case study.

How rebranding helped me crush my competition

My company used to operate as Write Ahead Consulting. The name was a little boring, corporate and formal, and so was my branding.

But my happiest clients knew working with me was anything but status quo: I’m a rule-breaker, I challenge my clients’ assumptions, and I push their boundaries to help them grow as people and entrepreneurs. I give them business plans they’ll actually use. I do most of my work in yoga pants, because I use Skype, not in-person coffee meetings. I’m a pot-stirrer who swears for dramatic effect.

That’s an approach to consulting that no other business plan writer or startup coach was using. The problem: no one could tell from my web site that I was doing it.

For a few years, I tried to put on the same uber-professional face of my competitors, worried clients would choose them over me if I didn’t appear as distinguished as they did. I went to stupid chamber of commerce events full of multi-level marketers and investment bankers who turned their noses up at me for being a solopreneur. I gave out business cards to everyone and only ended up on dozens of mailing lists of companies I would never work with.

I even made branded pens.

And it got me somewhere — to a profitable business — but it didn’t shake my competition off. I was still concerned that prospects would hire them over me.

Finally, I shook them off — by being like me, instead of like them. My brand needed to showcase who I was, rather than who I thought people wanted to see.

After rebranding as Renegade Planner in 2014, my ideal clients could see suits and ties weren’t part of my repertoire. New prospects were magnetized to my rebellious new brand, and I immediately began to attract more of the kinds of customers I wanted to work with. Prospects were finding me online and seeking me out through referrals; I no longer had to search for leads at networking events. My sales cycle shorted from a month to just a few days.

Competitors? What competitors?

4 steps to stop worrying about losing customers to the competition

Ready to stop judging yourself against your competitors?

Step 1: Stop trying to be a better version of your competitors

Mind your own business, find what makes you completely different, and celebrate it publicly.

When I meet a freelance writer and ask them what they do, most of them say, “I write things for small businesses.” If I can’t tell you apart from another freelance writer, I automatically expect your work to be boring.

But if you tell me something like, “I produce concise, impactful web copy for energy healers and yoga instructors,” then I know exactly what kind of work to expect from you. And  even if I don’t become your customer, I might refer another potential customer to you down the line.

Don’t be afraid to be specific about your specialty and your ideal client. Specifics can lead to great referrals.

Step 2: Find your own territory

Stop showing up everywhere your competitors are. Go where they aren’t — as long as your customer goes there too. Maybe that means a rebrand, or maybe it just means you can stop going to generic business networking meetings and show up in online forums instead. You could find yourself becoming the only expert in your field among a virtual ocean of people who desperately need you.

Instead of hanging out among your competitors, hang out among your customers. The writer in my example might find a lot of prospects at a yoga retreat, where there’s a very low chance of running into a competitor. A yoga retreat is no place for a strong business pitch, but you’re guaranteed to connect with a few people who will ask you what you do besides yoga. Tell them.

Step 3: Relax and let the money flow (I can hear that bubbling brook already…)

Step 4: Have a glass of wine, because that’s always step 4.

How is your work completely different from what your competitors produce? How can you use your awesomeness as an advantage over your competition?

Filed Under: Marketing
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12 comments

  • Great job on this post, Jessica. I particularly enjoyed this line: stop showing up everywhere your competitors are.

    I think it’s so easy to get sucked into the freelance vortex, where we only network with other writers, rather than connecting directly with the customers who keep us afloat.

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you Adam! And I think it’s something you have to check yourself on regularly, because the vortex is easy to fall back into. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • You speak clearly of a lesson it took me some time to learn, too. I’m an editor, and, I’m told, a good one. I had been doing freelance editing for a decade on a part-time basis before I decided to take the plunge and build a full-time business. At first, it was tempting to try to get ANY work that might be out there. Then, I realized that I have something rare to offer:

    My educational background (a Theology degree from Notre Dame and a Master of Divinity from a small ministry school), coupled with a dozen years in professional ministry, made me a perfect “fit” for projects related to spirituality. I had to find the right definition of “spirituality” to realize which clients and projects were right for me: not just explicitly religious works, but works related to the author’s sense of ultimate meaning. If your book is a how-to guide of how to make money dropshipping widgets, I’m probably not the editor for you. On the other hand, if your book is a passionate treatise on the focus you have found in your life (including a focus on building a dropshipping business), then I can help you make it the best it can be.

    A turning point for me was when, in the process of designing my logo, I adopted the motto, “Enhancing Spiritual Communication.”

    Authors, like freelance editors, must find their “motto,” even if it never ends up emblazoned across a logo on their business card. Know who you are, and I believe you will find that you know what you write. Knowing what you write is the first step toward finding the people who will pay you to write it.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editing and Author’s Coaching
    http://www.epiclesisconsulting.com

    • Jessica says:

      Oooh, I love your motto Trish! I stumbled upon mine completely by accident: “Business Plans for Non-Conformists”.

      Like you, I believe we all have something rare to offer – it can just take time to get really clear about what that is. Hmm…good topic for another post!

  • Jill says:

    Great article. Such a great reminder to just be yourself! It is so true, too, about thinking outside the box in terms of reaching clients. They usually aren’t at a chamber meeting 🙂 I’ve found most of my graphic designers and people I use because they are active commenters in facebook groups I’m in for bloggers. You just never know! Thanks for sharing.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks Jill! That’s right, they probably aren’t at a chamber meeting. And that reminds me that it’s not only competitors we tend to surround ourselves with, but also “complementary professionals” who might serve some of the same customers. The logic behind this is usually that it makes referrals possible, but it’s also not always the most direct route to our ideal clients, and therefore not something we want to rely on.

  • Jessica, thanks for the pep talk. Your article was a serendipitous reminder that gave me a needed, although gentle, kick in the pants.

    Great work!
    Susan Cruickshank

    • Jessica says:

      That’s excellent, Susan 🙂 What action did you take after you read the article? I’d love to know how you’re doing things differently.

  • Lizzie says:

    Brilliant post! Not just for writing but all other small business work. I particularly love step 4…I do that one regularly!

  • Gina Horkey says:

    Fun read, thanks Jessica. I especially am partial to step #4;-).

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