Category Archives: Defining Yourself

Seeing what’s really there

Quite a few writers look for magazines, publishers, websites that pay for content and the like when they look for opportunities to undertake paid writing work.

They define what they do as writing: writing features, writing stories, writing interviews and so on.

As a businessperson I define what I do as supporting customers.

Some of that support comes in the form of the written word. Some of it comes in other forms – lots of them.

There are individuals, businesses, public sector/government-funded agencies and similar types of organisation around which are looking for support, and people who can help them.

They are probably not looking for writers.

In many cases they won’t set much store on writing and the ability to write.

Never mind.

In the last week, if I defined myself as a writer, I would say I had been working on a number of writing projects. One of these focused on writing down what an organisation actually does. The task was to work with the organisation’s owner and to capture the essence of what that organisation sells and how it is perceived by its customers.

The writing part of the activity turned out to be two pages of text.

However, the customer didn’t pay for the writing of the text. She paid for the facilitation process. To her the writing was just part of that process and simply a record of what happened in our day long meeting.

Since I sell support in a variety of forms, and not copywriting services, the consultancy and facilitation activities were what went on the bill. It was still a writing task and one what was well paid.

Last week I also worked with a different organisation on a writing project. Its owner-manager wants to capitalise on its TQS success. (See my blog: Achieving the TQS to learn more about the Training Quality Standard.)

I talked with the managing director about the local newspapers and the types of story it runs. We role-played what the managing director would like to say to the editor of the business pages, if she had the chance to meet him.

We worked on the message, and her script, and I wrote it down. I also smartened the message up and made it more succinct and incisive. I offered to write a press release as well, but that offer was turned down, even though it would have been included in the fee I was charging.

Again, I was paid, but not as a writer. I don’t think the customer would have considered paying the fee I charge to someone who just did some writing.

The key point here is that if you’re a businessperson you’ll label what you do in terms which make sense to the customer and in terms of what the customer values. If you’re a writer you will label what I was doing as copywriting.

Both projects succeeded because of my writing skills. I really don’t mind that in both cases the customer placed a higher value on my other skills than on my writing skills.

There are many people out in the business world who think that writing is easy, and that it is something that people don’t expect to be paid well for doing. Yet, there are also lots of people out in the business world who need the support of people who can write well.

Writing well is at the heart of everything I do in my business, but I’m not a writer. There are good business reasons why I do not label myself in that way.

How do you define yourself?

What are the consequences of your choice in terms of how much you earn?

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Defining Yourself (4) – Define your brand.

Discussions about brands can cause people who prefer to define themselves as writers to panic.

They don’t want the spotlight on them. They want to stay in the background. They want to sit at their computers and produce text. They want to point people at the outputs of their endeavours and away from them.

“That’s okay, isn’t it?” They will ask – hoping to get the answer they want.

They won’t get it from me.

Successful businesses need successful brands. In fact, successful businesses are built on successful brands.

A brand is a promise. People know what they will get when they buy a brand. They seek out the brands they like and in doing so demonstrate loyalty to those brands.

In the case of creative individuals, when people buy, they are actually getting a tiny slice of the person who created the product as well as the product itself when they make their purchase.

That tiny slice of you is what makes you special. It’s what differentiates you from every one else. It’s this aspect of your work that you need to promote and to highlight.

You are doing yourself a disservice by trying to sink into the background and sell each item you produce as a commodity.

Guess what? People pay less for commodities than they pay for what they think is special.

If you have ever been in competition with lots of other people for the opportunity to write a feature, or to complete a piece of writing work, your output is being judged as a commodity. You could do the piece of work, so could lots of others.

Little wonder, then, that buyers look for the lowest price.

If people are buying a piece of writing from you as a commodity which they could get from other people, you definitely need to think about your brand.

When people buy from me – whether they are buying a handbook, a guide, a feature, a book idea or a training programme – they know they are buying an approach which makes difficult concepts easy to understand.

That’s what I do. I take complex ideas and make them easy for people to understand and to work with.

Now, think about this with regard to your own work.

Why are people coming to you? What are they buying from you? (Why are they coming to you rather than to anyone else?)

Work out the answer and start to define your brand. It will help your business, if you do.

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Defining Yourself (3) Why do you write?

This is a question you have probably asked yourself – and answered – a number of times. Most writers have. It’s an important question, a question that deserves a great deal of consideration.

At the heart of the question is the issue of purpose, the purpose of your writing. Fundamentally, when you write, are you an entertainer or an educator?

Don’t answer immediately. It’s worth taking time to think about your answer.

If you’re an entertainer first, you’ll be drawn to particular types of writing. You might choose to write fiction. You might focus on consumer and leisure magazines. You could be drawn to humour or plays. There will be any number of different directions for you to choose.

If, at the root of things, you’re an educator, then you are set to travel down a different path.

Business and trade journals are likely areas of interest for you. Educational writing could be of interest, as could be the whole area of personal development and self-help literature. You may find yourself writing handbooks, instruction manuals and design frameworks.

You may find yourself writing in contexts that pay you but where the customer does not publish your work in the conventional sense.

Of course, you can educate as well as entertain.

You can entertain as well as educate.

However, the way you view the key purpose of your work will shape what you write and for whom you write.

It will also help to define your writing voice.

So keep asking yourself the question: why, exactly, do you write?

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Defining yourself (2) Who do you write for?

It’s a question worth spending some time thinking about.

Most people who write do so first for themselves. They write for enjoyment and for any number of other reasons.

There’s nothing wrong with writing for yourself, if you’re prepared to accept that you might be writing for an audience of one.

If you aim to earn money from your writing, then you need to think differently. You need to think first about the people who are going to pay you. You need to make sure you write for them.

Many writers, and especially those who are likely to be both disappointed and frustrated in their efforts to achieve some form of commercial success, write for themselves and then look for a market where people’s tastes are in tune with their own. They hope that somehow there will be an opportunity to make a sale to these like-minded people.

A businessperson who writes looks for an appropriate market first.

A businessperson who writes will define an appropriate market as a market that will pay for the work he or she produces.

Only then will the businessperson who writes think about what to write.

It’s a good discipline to adopt.

It’s a discipline that will focus the mind very effectively.

It will help the business orientated person to find out where the opportunities lie in terms of fiction and non-fiction, in terms of business and professional magazines and consumer magazines and in terms of unpublished, but paid, opportunities to write.

If you want to follow a different path, one which is dictated by your interests and enthusiasms, that’s your choice.

However, if that is the choice you make, you need also to consider how committed you are to writing commercially and earning money from your writing skills. The two may not be compatible.

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Defining Yourself (1) – What do you do?

If you’ve ever attended a small business networking event, you’ll know that this is a question you will be asked again and again.

It’s a good question.

Most small businesses and solopreneurs struggle to come up with the answer.

You might think you know. You might be impatient to give the answer, and to say: “I write.”

If that’s what you’re thinking you need to take things a lot further.

You need to think about one key question when you consider what you actually do.

What benefits do you deliver to your readers?

What does any reader gain by giving up his or her time – and maybe some money – to read your article, your book, your story … whatever you write?

Do you know the answer?
(You can’t say you do if you are just using your own perceptions to give you your response, or if you are confident you know how people ought to respond to your work.)
How do you know how people respond, if you think you know?
How many people have confirmed to you that you really know what impact you are actually creating?

Start talking to anyone who reads what you write to find out the answers.

Work out what, exactly, you do for your readers.

Forget the content of your work. Focus on the results your work delivers to the people who read your output . . . and just accept that the person answering the question is right. He or she knows the impact you create.

Your readers know best what your writing does, or doesn’t do, for them.

They are the ones who will tell you what you really do.

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