The Sarky Type – content with more bite
There’s a whole lotta talk around specialist vs generalist.

People getting heated about, wait for it, niching.

Who knew this could cause hot debate.

(Christ, I can’t talk, I’ll literally argue about anything.)

Those hostile to niching often describe themselves as generalists. Yeah, as you’d expect that sounds indistinct.

The reality is, we’re all niching

Let’s say you’re a virtual assistant offering general admin services within the education sector. I would describe that work as generalist but the industry, specialist. 

What about a technical SEO agency that works in many different sectors? The work is specialist but the industry is generalist.  

See what I mean?

People are niching without knowing they are. 

Yes, even those dyed-in-the-wool generalists who ‘work with everyone’.

They might well be offering an array of products to a multitude of rackets but there will be a commonality that links the clients they work with. 

And that thing is unwittingly their niche. 

Because, friends, they are absolutely not selling to everyone.

When I make an effort to get dolled up of an evening, coiffure my hair just so, It makes me feel good to know some humans appreciate my efforts.

Some tell me how nice I look, maybe they even chuckle at my jokes.

But not everyone.

For some people, I’m irritating. Perhaps my laugh is too loud (and weird) or maybe they just don’t like me.

That’s the exact same thing as your brand/business.

It doesn’t matter how universal you think it is, it isn’t.

So, what can become a niche? 

Anything, really.

Your business non-negotiables might be what repels some and attracts others.

Service terms, your process, your brand voice is beguiling a someone. But I’m sorry Liz, you’re not appealing to the entire world.

If you’ve done diddly-squat when it comes to cultivating a writing tone, you’re still giving off a vibe. If you’re a fluffy unicorn sort you will likely attract fluffy unicorn sorts. 

“But that’s just how I am with my clients, Sarah.”

Sure, and that’s cool but it still isn’t being all things to all people, Liz. 

And who the hell is Liz? No matter, I’m going with it. 

When Liz started her business, she never heard the term, niching. 

She got work from word of mouth.

Some clients turned out to be pretty decent but others she’d have gladly set fire to.

But now the market is fierce and Liz struggles to be for everyone. She’s not sure if she’s on foot or horseback and she does spend an awful lot of time dealing with dickheads.

My question for Liz would be what connects the clients you enjoy working with? 

I reckon those people all have something in common.

That’s a niche that is. 

Wanting to work with people who pay you upfront is a niche – I know, madness and who wouldn’t want that, right?

(Plenty… apparently.)

That doesn’t stop you from being flexible with the kind of work you offer nor does it restrict you to one sector.

We get bogged down with jargon, and marketing is like any other industry – full of (sh)it.

But without knowing who’s buying, selling what you do will be a ball-ache.

Building a business strategy with no clear idea on market is a f*cking nightmare. 

You can’t tailor content to a faceless, nondescript audience. 

So, yeah, specialist vs generalist is a nonsense.

But if you truly claim to work with anyone and everyone, that also includes shysters. 

“Of course I wouldn’t work with those people, Sarah!”

Then you have a niche, Liz. So stop being so bloody silly. 

The impact on SEO

I couldn’t begin to create content without a target market.

And not focusing on the work I like to do would be mental. This stuff is key to SEO and indeed, running a ruddy business. 

If I did insist on being a generalist (in every sense) then the only keywords I could realistically target would be ‘SEO content writer’ and ‘copywriter’.

There are two issues with that: 

  1. The chances of a prospect finding me are slim.
  2. If they do find me, I’m probably not what they’re looking for.

Let me explain.

Getting organic traffic for competitive keywords is hard.

The clue is in the name – there’s loads of competition for those words.

You won’t find me by googling ‘SEO content writer’.

And that’s cool because people searching that term don’t want what I offer.

(It usually means they want conventional and dull.)

I offer a service (business writing) to business misfits (brands that want non-conformist copy).

That’s it, simple as.

I didn’t come out in hives when I decided that. I simply chose the kind of work I enjoyed marginally more than other work. 

Another thing to consider: users searching on competitive keywords aren’t looking to hire or buy.

Why?

People get specific when they want to part with cash that’s why long-tail keywords are your friend. So, if you continue to be snooty about niching you’ll bugger up your SEO, actually your entire marketing strategy.

Don’t muddy the waters.

SEO content writing isn’t the only thing I offer but it is the thing I’m known for.

It’s confusing for people if you keep changing your offering. How else will they remember what it is you do?

So before you shout loud and proud “I’m a generalist!” have a good think, then ask yourself, are you?

No seriously, are you really?

Is your business a bit of a maverick? Need some hilarious rebellious copy? Hit that button.

Ooh get me, sounding all salty and putting off potential clients. 

You may be wondering what’s crawled up my backside this time – Christ, how long have you got? 

Metaphorically speaking, obvs. 

Hear me out

You might not agree with what I have to say (I can live with that) but before you throw the freelancer’s code of conduct at me, read this instalment of Who’s Pissed On Her Cornflakes Now?

I know a few business writers.

I like ’em.

And a couple of them are, in my opinion, exceptional but some do make me worry. 

Why do I worry, I hear you ask?

Well, I sometimes wonder how the hell they cope with the crippling anxiety they seem to experience every time they deal with a client.

One business writer, in particular, made me worry recently.

They were “anxiously” waiting for a client update about a motherload of rewrites – worst still it was via a video call. 

Because normal phone calls are so 2019. And sending revisions by email sounds way too efficient.

I know, that all seems like pretty standard practice for writers, I mean, yeah, for some.

But it made me think about the power dynamic between freelancer and client and it reminded me of the similar dynamic between an employee and employer.

Don’t get me wrong

I get it.

I’m always a little nervy when a client reads my efforts for the first time.

Anyone who gives a shit about providing quality work feels that twinge because you want them to love it. You want it to be exactly what they expected – if not more, more is always nice. 

But this writer didn’t sound like the mistress of her own destiny to me, and what really struck fear into my black heart was the word, ‘collaboration’. 

This freelancing copywriter viewed her work as something that she and her client would produce together

That sounds nice, doesn’t it?

That sounds just like the sort of cosy, matey approach we all seem to be striving for.

Sounds super friendly and fluffy, smells like social selling, no?

This individual was keen to develop that kind of client-contractor culture. The last thing she wanted to do was be viewed as “off-putting”.

Because having boundaries might be perceived as inflexible and disagreeable. Kay.

Do you know what the word collaboration says to me?

In this context at least, it says that this creative thinks her clients have the same level of knowledge and expertise as she does.

It implies they’re just as qualified to pass judgement on content, sales copy, and anything else this writer provides.

If that’s true, why would they hire her to do the job? They could save some cash and do it themselves.

Lemme backtrack a little.

My initial client email through to briefing is a collaboration of sorts.

We’re working together to get the best outcome. But then I crack on with the business of writing business-based content.

That client will get one shot on the first draft to give me their feedback.

They are welcome to tell me that something needs a little tweak, and off I go, gladly tweaking. I make those revisions then it’s off to the proofreader. Voila! Finished, brilliant copy.

But at no point will I take content writing advice from a client. They either trust me, or they don’t.

Thankfully that kind of bollocks only happened once. The copy in question became so generic and cliched, I finally had to wash my hands of it. 

(Wash my hands of it. Sometimes a cliche is acceptable. That’s probably more of an idiom. Never mind.)

I’m never going to anxiously wait for a client video call

The potential clients I have attracted, always know exactly what they’re getting when they choose to work with me.

They come to me for specific reasons so they’re never surprised by the work I produce.

I deal with one point of contact and that same person has done a jolly good job at providing all the right information at the briefing stage.

Also, I don’t do client calls. I’ve never enjoyed chatting on the phone so there is no reason why I would offer that in my own business.

Incidentally, If you find yourself in the position of never-ending revisions, your client qualification process is fucking terrible. 

(And so is your briefing stage.)

You likely aren’t clear on the kind of person you want to work with (which should be as familiar to you as your own arse crack).

Personally, I don’t give a rams’ testicle what business my customers are in but I appreciate some services are industry lead.

I’ve said it before, my perfect potential clients are a personality type. 

Let’s pretend you want to attract no-nonsense, professional (decent) people who take your time and specialism seriously. How do you think you could achieve that?

By being that person in your own business. 

You’ll be less likely to attract the kind of idiots who want to waste your time (or treat you like shit).

You’ve heard it a million times before: you get treated how you allow yourself to be treated.

And you better believe it. 

If you’re uncertain about your abilities, if you don’t have any Ts and Cs, and if you’re afraid to set boundaries, you will get the shoddiest of clients.

My clients pay my rates and accept my terms and creative process. If a few potential clients find all that too much to bear, we don’t work together. It really is that simple.

Know the clients you DON’T want to work with. 

I hope your content, pricing, and process is repelling those you can’t stand.

You see, being off-putting to some people is just as important as attracting the right people. And actually, you’ll never find the perfect clients without doing that.

If you’re placing the demands of your prospects before your own, stop it. It’s servile and not befitting a business owner.

Are you a no-nonsense business type? Do you need some brilliant content/copy? Do you accept that my service comes at a premium? Do you value a direct and transparent approach?

Excellent, get in touch.

It’s a metaphor. There is a connection between how you learn to write business content and psychopathy, I promise.

Do you ever read something and think, I’m sorry, what? I don’t just mean this post title but other stuff, on the socials and the like?

Sure you do.

Before I go into one, it’s right to acknowledge that different methods exist when it comes to writing business content. We’re entitled to voice our opinions on how to get from A to B with our copy (even if some of those opinions are bullshit).

We sure as hell won’t always agree.

Marketing shmarketing

You’ll watch marketing people play certain phrases on repeat, often without much thought as to what they really mean.

So, when I read a post that suggests the word ‘arduous’ is difficult to understand and that we should only use simple language to reach a broader audience, I’m like, what the actual fuck?

Who’s deciding this simple language?

Do we contact a local authority? Are we talking pre-schoolers or people who have learned English as a foreign language? I have many questions.

It was further suggested that people who use fancy words were snooty, only doing so to impress. Some might be I guess but I’m still reeling over the fact that ‘arduous’ is considered a fancy word.

Reeling is probably also out.

Jesus, I’m going to have to go through my entire blog – again.

Another stand-out example of fancy words was ‘irregardless’ and I must confess, I agree. Why use, ‘irregardless’ when ‘regardless’ will do.

Didn’t that become a word because so many people used it wrongly? Ah, the evolution of language.

The gist (is gist ok?) of said social media post was that you shouldn’t use words in your copy that you wouldn’t use in conversation.

The implication, (I looked for synonyms for ‘implication’ and they were all just as fancy. I also looked at synonyms for ‘synonym’ and they didn’t have one) that no one uses ‘arduous’ in a convo was hysterical (funny) to me. And only a person like Stephen Fry would dare to drop that doozy in casual chat.

I’ve been known to use ‘arduous’ out with friends and they didn’t once look at me blank or call me a fucking show off.

“Sales copy should be easy to understand”

Yes, excellent, why add obstacles in the way of people buying your shit.

Sales copy should certainly be clear in terms of what you’re asking of your audience. But that has nothing to do with using child-like language, remember, we’re also encouraged to ‘know our audience’.

You might agree that business content should be simple (by whose standards – I dunno) personally, I think that advice is whack.

A broader audience is you trying to sell to everyone.

Avoid broad appeal like a child would Rolf Harris

For example, competitive (broad) keywords attract more traffic but they convert to fewer sales. People get specific when they decide to buy. Having more eyes on your stuff is pointless if they don’t want it. Increased traffic is only great when it’s the right kind.

More on that here.

Learn to write business content like a psycho

Write without care or conscience to those who hate your copy.

Learn to write business content like a psychopath

They are dead to you.

And psychopath killers have a specific group of people they like to murder. They really know their target market.

I don’t want to attract people who think ‘arduous’ is a fancy word.

The words I use in my business content come naturally to me, that’s my writing (and speaking) style. It attracts my kind of people – educated, smart, immature, business owners who love sarky humour and swearing. My website is geared to those personality traits.

That doesn’t mean the organisations I work with always want those things for their business, it simply means they want to work with a like-minded individual, and one they’re going to enjoy the process with.

Use the right language for your audience

This also applies to jargon.

Unless you’re trying to reach a market outside your field, go ahead and use industry-based terms. Your content is for people who understand, not the great unwashed.

Your sales copy shouldn’t be universal

If I start to dumb down my content there might be other aspects of it that I feel I should change.

Some folks don’t get (or like) my jokes.

And most people would prefer I avoid naughty words. My cultural references alienate certain generations (for example, not everyone knows who Rolf Harris is).

If you start to strip your content down, trying to please more people, in fear of losing a lead, you’ll remove the things that make it unique. You’ll end up sounding like everyone else, not just in your industry but in business. And why would you want that? Stand out, irregardless of what the majority think.

Too lazy to learn to write your own business content? Want someone else to do it? Hit the button.