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Why the Best Writers Aren’t Always the Most Successful…

Have you ever noticed that the really marvelous writers — the ones who think carefully about every word, who can make you laugh or cry or sing with their writing — aren’t always the ones who see the most success?

You read their work and you just feel good. And then you find out that they’re having a tough time swinging the rent every month, never mind their health insurance payment.

There are a lot of factors that can come together to cause that.

Luck is one of them. Luck is a real thing — some people have more access to opportunities than others, based on things they have no control over.

But since luck (if it’s really luck) isn’t something we can influence, we might as well think about what we can control.

So let’s get into that.

Success is a skill

There’s a saying in certain corners of the kettlebell world: “Strength is a skill.”

That doesn’t mean physical strength has no genetic component — it does. And it doesn’t mean practice isn’t important — you’ve got to pick things up and put them down to get stronger.

But getting stronger is also about understanding strength.

Get good advice, steer clear of junk science, put the right amount of work in (overtraining won’t help you), and you’ll become strong.

And in my observation, success works in a similar way.

Not everyone can be a billionaire or a movie star or an elite athlete. But pretty much any working writer can focus on a few habits that will help them find interesting projects, cool clients, and better, more reliable income.

Before I get into the habits, let’s talk about a particularly awful piece of advice that I’ve seen some copywriting “experts” claim.

Please don’t believe this terrible advice

Some people claim that the answer to “Why do some really good writers have a hard time finding success?” is that “Writing ability isn’t important to a professional writer.”

This is like saying that possessing muscle fibers isn’t important to a strength athlete.

Every successful professional writer arranges words to create a desired effect.

Not all of it will be lapidary prose suitable for The New Yorker.

That doesn’t mean that good writing doesn’t matter. It means there are a lot of different kinds of good writing.

Weak, lazy, and sloppy writing don’t work for marketing content in 2018.

Maybe they did, at some point, in a limited way. But they don’t now. There’s too much good material out there, and too many demands on our audience’s attention.

With that out of the way, let’s get into these success habits.

Success habit #1: Focus on what clients want to buy

There is a half-grain of truth in the statement that “writing quality doesn’t matter for pros.” Because the reality is:

Clients don’t always give a damn about how good a writer you are.

However, and this is important:

Clients also don’t always understand what goes into a successful piece of writing.

They don’t realize that your well-chosen analogy is there to create an emotional context that will generate more sales.

They don’t realize that when you select a particular tone and set of phrases for your writing, it’s to continue an internal conversation that their customers are having.

You need to be able to deliver good writing — writing that creates the desired effect for the result you’re looking for.

But when you talk to potential clients, you’re going to talk about what they actually want — business results.

Your care and skill with words are the feature. Their improved sales, customer engagement, SEO, advertising ROI, and other results are the benefit.

Sell the benefit. Only mention the feature to show them how you’re going to deliver that benefit.

Success habit #2: Package yourself wisely

Every good marketer knows that packaging is critical.

The package makes a promise about the contents.

And one of the most important messages conveyed by packaging is price.

It’s why HBO uses the tagline, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.”

For Americans, TV belongs (admittedly less and less, today) to the category of “free things.”

HBO’s tagline sets the context to put its premium programming in the category of “affordable indulgences.”

Once you learn about content strategy and how to deliver client results, you’re not just a “writer.” You’re a content strategist or content marketing consultant.

Now … will you necessarily lead with that wording? Not always. That depends on your client and what they’re looking for. For many, “writer” will still be your job description.

But that “content strategist” positioning will inform your website design, your marketing materials, your bio, your proposals, and your client conversations.

It’s the job of your marketing to make sure that no potential client ever mistakes you for the penny-a-word freelancers who could come to mind when they hear the word writer.

Success habit #3: Prospect consistently and thoughtfully

This can be a scary one.

Even if you deliver incredible client results and you’ve positioned yourself in the category of “things clients will pay good rates for,” you’ll still need to reach out to potential clients.

You can wait for them to come to you, and some will.

But if you want excellent clients, with healthy budgets and interesting projects, you’ll want to do the choosing.

Don’t wait for the knock on the door. Be the one who knocks.