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How To Stop Being A Copycat Freelancer | Back To Basics

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In the latest installment of our Back to Basics series, we're diving headfirst into an often overlooked yet vital subject: carving out your unique niche as a freelancer. Today's exploration centers on what I term “The Copycat Freelancer” dilemma.
Don't get me wrong… I’m not here to criticize. Instead, I want to guide you past this hurdle that's probably been holding you back for years.
Imagine I asked you, ‘Why should a client choose you over your competitor?‘ What would your response be?
Most freelancers are stumped by that question, and if you're being honest with yourself, you probably aren’t doing anything unique that sets you apart.
The result? You end up competing on price alone, setting your rates based on what competitors are charging. Ultimately, it's a race to the bottom that builds zero client loyalty and makes your freelancing journey tougher than it needs to be.
In the episode, I delve deeper into the issue of differentiation and give you some help with carving out a unique place in your industry. Of course, this topic is nuanced, and there's a lot more to unpack.
In this episode you’ll discover:
  • Why a UVP is important to your business
  • The paperclip vs. the Prada bag
  • Having an outcome-focused business
  • How I got an unfair advantage (and you can, too)
  • Setting yourself up as a specialized business
  • Examples of well-differentiated businesses

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Brian's old band

[00:00:00] Brian: Welcome back to another episode of the six Figure Creative Podcast. I am your host, Brian Hood. This is your first time listening to the show. First of all, welcome. Glad to have you here. This is a podcast for creative freelancers who are trying to earn more money from their creative skills without selling their soul.

[00:00:12] Brian: That sounds like you. You're at the right place. You're a returning listener. Welcome back. Glad to have you. We are in the middle of our Back to Basic series. Nothing new here We are like nine episodes into this thing and this episode, I wanna tackle something that I think is a plague in the freelance community, and that is the plague of being a copycat freelancer.

[00:00:27] Brian: I want you to be honest with me. If I asked you why should someone hire you versus the competitor down the road, or the other fiver freelancer, Why should they hire you specifically? Most people would stare back at me with a blank face. They'd have no answer to that question.

[00:00:40] Brian: And that's because there's nothing unique about what you offer. You are a copycat freelancer. You are offering a service that I could go down the street to get from someone else.

[00:00:47] Brian: now I'm not here to shame you if you're a copycat freelancer, but I want to help you get past this massive roadblock that's holding you back from success as a freelancer.

[00:00:54] Brian: if you never break out of this, you're gonna be constantly hit with pricing objections all the time. People can't afford you, or you're too expensive.[00:01:00] And because of that, you're gonna be trying to compete on price, which means it's a race to the bottom. Just go look at anyone on fiber right now.

[00:01:05] Brian: You're gonna have little to no client loyalty because I could just literally go hire any other butt to put in the seat, and there's not much of a reason to keep going back to you. Even if I do hire you one time. And your marketing efforts, the series we're on right now, which is the basics of marketing.

[00:01:17] Brian: In this back to basic series, your marketing efforts are just gonna be ineffective, and I want you to think about this kind of mental exercise. It's a paperclip versus a Prada bag. if you were spending a lot of time, let's just say you're putting together a, a wonderfully, beautifully crafted marketing campaign for a Prada bag, and you put the same exact effort, energy, strategy behind promoting and marketing a paperclip.

[00:01:37] Brian: Which do you think is gonna be more effective? Paperclip versus Prada bag? The answer is obvious. A Prada bag is in higher demand. They're harder to find. They're generally more expensive, and so your marketing effort's gonna pay off versus a paperclip, which I can't think of many things that are more copycat than a paperclip.

[00:01:51] Brian: They're all the same. If I have one paperclip, it's just as good as the next paper clip. There's no differentiation between paperclips. So trying to market a single paperclip [00:02:00] versus a Prada bag is a different experience altogether. And whether or not that analogy really fits here, you get what I'm saying here.

[00:02:06] Brian: If we can create something that is truly unique about you, or at least differentiated, it's called your unique value proposition or your differentiator. There's a bunch of ways you can say this. If you can create something that's truly unique about you, you have something that's called a monopoly.

[00:02:19] Brian: If it's truly unique, it's a monopoly and there's a reason monopolies are illegal in the USA or they're supposed to be illegal, they're not really, we're not gonna get into that. But They're supposed to be illegal because when you are a monopoly, meaning you own one resource, you control that resource.

[00:02:33] Brian: It means you control the price of that resource and people can't get it anywhere else. So there's nothing to keep you from charging the absolute most possible for that resource because you're the only one that controls it. Just imagine if the entire world's internet was controlled by one mega corporation. Imagine what they would charge us just to access the internet. It would be insane. So in some cases, competition's great in cases like that, but in cases like freelancing, competition's not necessarily a good thing for us.

[00:02:57] Brian: So what can we do to become a monopoly? Now, [00:03:00] becoming a true monopoly in freelancing is incredibly rare. So think about it like, how can we become more monopoly, more unique, more differentiated?

[00:03:07] Brian: If you can do this, you will ethically eliminate your competition or at least reduce the effects of your competition on you. It'll increase the demand of your services.

[00:03:15] Brian: You can generally charge more because you can do value-based pricing, which we talked about in a previous episode.

[00:03:20] Brian: If you go back to episode 2 57 where we're talking about pricing for freelancers, that was some one of the things we discussed on there. And then finally, you're gonna get more referrals because you do the specific thing and you might be one of the few options they have to do that specific thing. So when someone needs that specific thing done, they're gonna go to you or they're gonna refer you to others.

[00:03:36] Brian: So before I get into, how can we create something unique about yourself? We'll call it right now, we're gonna, create a unique value proposition. Before we do that, let's talk about the wrong way to do it. At least in my opinion, I am a podcaster. I get to state my opinion with with no one to challenge me.

[00:03:49] Brian: Right now. It's the power I have the wrong way is to just throw money at the problem. And I see this a lot in gear heavy niches. So I come from the audio niche. So the music production, and this is, rampant in our community where people [00:04:00] just think if they want to become unique or differentiated or stand out from the crowd, they're gonna.

[00:04:05] Brian: Spend a ton of money on better equipment, better gear, build out our beautiful recording facility. With a high lease, you're gonna have really high overhead. and it's the same in video by the way, people do this with video gear all the time. The problem with this approach is that every single thing you spend money on is going to increase your overhead or decrease how much is sitting in the bank in your emergency fund.

[00:04:24] Brian: There's a lot of negatives that come along with this approach, but I'm not saying you should never invest into gear. That's not my, thought process here. It's just not the way you should look at trying to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Use a gear as an enhancement for what is already unique about you.

[00:04:36] Brian: If you take that approach, you're gonna be much better off.

[00:04:39] Brian: so the first thing to discuss here when it comes to creating a unique value proposition as a freelancer and stop being a copycat freelancer is to make sure you are, your services are results oriented.

[00:04:48] Brian: Where outcome focused. Go back to episode 256, where I talked about the three levels of service. If you wanna know more about what this means, But when your outcome focused as a freelancer, you and your clients' goals [00:05:00] are aligned. you typically have to have a few more skills than the things that you've inherently learned because you again, go back to that episode if you wanna learn more about this, but typically as freelancers, we only focus on the skills and the things we're interested in.

[00:05:10] Brian: We're very selfish like that, and not really what our clients want. So rarely will you naturally have a skillset that is perfectly aligned with what your client wants.

[00:05:18] Brian: So now you need to think through what skills do I need to obtain to help my client get what they want? If you start to ask that question and genuinely think about it and genuinely look at the skills you would need to help your client get the outcome that they want,

[00:05:30] Brian: this is a great way to start differentiating yourself from all the other freelancers that are out there.

[00:05:35] Brian: The next part of this process is looking to other industries for inspiration. so in the software world and pretty much every other market, there's something called product market fit. Whenever you've found a product market fit, you means you have a product that has matched a market and that market wants that product.

[00:05:50] Brian: What can inevitably happen whenever you have someone investing a bunch of money into building software, for example, and it never achieves product market fit? That just means that they never really found a [00:06:00] market that really wanted that product, and those usually end up folding or being absorbed by another company or just going outta business, bankruptcy, whatever.

[00:06:06] Brian: Most freelancers never think about product market fit. another way of looking at product market fit as a freelancer is skills niche match. What are the most valuable skills that you have right now? And who would find those skills most valuable?

[00:06:20] Brian: So just to give you some examples here. I talk about podcast production all the time on the show. I like to pick on our podcast editor, Leland. Thanks for editing this. If you offer podcast production services and we look at all the skills that involves, which I'm not gonna get into that, but that's the skillset we have.

[00:06:33] Brian: What market is going to be the best match for this?

[00:06:36] Brian: and there's a few categories you could look at here. One is underserved markets. What markets just don't have services specializing in that market?

[00:06:43] Brian: For podcast production. I don't know the exact answer to this, but it could be something like an unsexy niche like life insurance. If a life insurance agent wanted to launch a podcast, that's probably not a niche that people are clamoring to get to, so it could be an underserved market.

[00:06:56] Brian: I'm not saying that is one. I'm just saying that could be an underserved market. The next area to look [00:07:00] at is markets with budgets or clients with budgets. This is another area that freelancers tend to mess up. They end up working with people that are just like them. And most freelancers are creatives.

[00:07:08] Brian: When they're just starting out and they're just learning the skillset, they tend to hang out with other broke creatives. So you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with. So if that's the niche you fall into is other broke creatives or other people that run in those same circles, it's gonna be hard to really get momentum going enough to be able to reinvest in your business, reinvest in your skillset, get to bigger and better clients.

[00:07:27] Brian: You're starting from a really bad spot. If you can really focus on clients with budgets. It's a great way to utilize your skillset in a better way. An example of podcast production is working with business owners versus hobbyists. So if I am a podcast producer, I could go to a bunch of bros who are launching a podcast that's a comedy podcast, that's just them shooting the in their basement for fun.

[00:07:49] Brian: might be entertaining, but it's probably not gonna be very successful. And they probably don't have budgets because it's just three friends a podcast together. Which is the story of many podcasts and those never go anywhere. Whereas [00:08:00] if you take those exact same skillset as a podcast producer and bring it over to a, niche or a market with a budget, all of a sudden they usually have more things going for them.

[00:08:08] Brian: Like If I help a business launch a podcast, They may have things like an email list. They may have marketing budgets. They may have a team. They may have resources that, again, the three bros in their basement doing a comedy podcast probably don't have

[00:08:20] Brian: And the third area to look if you're trying to get product market fit or skills, niche match is markets where you have an unfair advantage. This is how I got my start. I had an unfair advantage in one specific niche, and that was the heavy metal music community. Hear me out here. So back in my previous life, I played drums and I was the songwriter for a relatively popular metal core band from like 2004 till the end of 2008.

[00:08:44] Brian: If you wanna look 'em up, they're called my chosen, my bride. Surprisingly, they're still on tour right now.

[00:08:48] Brian: and when things came to an end with that band, I launched my studio in 2009. I had an unfair advantage in that market, even though they didn't really have budgets. It was kind of underserved at that time especially, and I had an unfair [00:09:00] advantage. So that was the niche I went after for my music studio.

[00:09:02] Brian: I recorded heavy metal bands and I built my entire career from that. And I was making multiple six figures a year, producing and mixing heavy metal music, which sounds bizarre, but that was a market that was a underserved, and b, I had an unfair advantage in it.

[00:09:14] Brian: And that leads me to kind of the final piece here is to specialize. If you're trying to not be a copycat, specialize in the narrower, the better in most cases. And here's why. When you're a freelancer, you can only take on so many projects. Depending on what you're doing with clients and how long it takes to do a project, most people could probably only take two to maybe up to 10 clients a month.

[00:09:33] Brian: That's like 25 to a hundred clients a year. There are very few niches that are too small to serve that sort of client flow.

[00:09:39] Brian: And when you start narrow, it's much easier to gain traction in a small pond versus trying to boil the ocean. Think about how much power it takes to boil the ocean versus a small pot of water. Furthermore, which I never used that word I, just wanna use that word today. Furthermore, if you do truly saturate that market and you can't get more clients, because it's too small of a market, it is much easier to expand from the small market[00:10:00] try to start in the larger market from scratch.

[00:10:03] Brian: So those are the, some of the things to look at when it comes to creating your unique differentiator as a freelancer. And I have some example, unique value propositions to go over. And I wanna talk through each of these cuz I think it's gonna really illustrate the point for this entire episode so far.

[00:10:15] Brian: So I want everyone listening or watching right now to create your own unique value proposition.

[00:10:19] Brian: If you're watching on YouTube right now, leave a comment under this video following this template and lemme know what yours is, and I'll leave a comment with my thoughts on whether it's good or not. Or you can just say, don't gimme your thoughts, Brian, and I'll just go read it and not say anything. template is I help Avatar. So that's your ideal client. Or your niche. I help avatar achieve desire, buy unique differentiator. I'm gonna go through some examples here. So first thing is, let's go through a web designer. A web designer, very saturated niche. you wanna talk about button seat jobs? I can go on fiber right now in higher web designer on pretty much any website building platform.

[00:10:51] Brian: There is Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, whatever, Webflow. The sky's the limit. There's people that can design beautiful looking websites on pretty much any platform. It's [00:11:00] really hard to differentiate. Or is it here is one of my clients. this is not the official unique value proposition of her, but this is the one I kind of came up with when prepping this episode that illustrates the point.

[00:11:08] Brian: I help SAS companies. That's software as a service. That's the avatar. I helped software as a service companies increase their mrr, so Mr. R's monthly recurring revenue. That's the desire that they have. I help SaaS companies increase their Mr. R by creating a beautiful conversion focused website. That's a differentiator.

[00:11:25] Brian: Conversion focused. Any great designer with an eye can create a beautiful website, but is that the outcome that they want? Do companies hire designers to create beautiful websites? Typically, no. That's not their end result. No one's like God. Now I have a website. That's the goal I set out for when I launched this business.

[00:11:42] Brian: That's not the goal they had. The goal was to. Get clients or get customers or increase their income as a business. That's the business's goal. So she's aligned her skillset. Now she's had to maybe acquire a few extra skills to be more conversion focused, but now she's separated herself from the pack because she is A, focused on a specific [00:12:00] niche, and B, increase her skillset to align with what the client wants.

[00:12:03] Brian: It cannot overstate how important this is. It's relatively simple, but most people don't do this work.

[00:12:08] Brian: And for those who don't understand what a conversion focused website is, that just means when someone comes to your website, they take the next action you want them to take in a SaaS company's case, it's a free trial. Sign up for the free trial for someone like a freelancer. Your goal is for people to fill out your court request form or to book a discovery call with you, whatever it is.

[00:12:24] Brian: More people taking that next step. Requires something called conversion rate optimization, and that's the skillset that most designers don't have. Most designers can create beautiful sites that convert horribly, and that's what my client is avoiding here, is being lumped in with those beautiful but horribly converting websites.

[00:12:40] Brian: Instead, she is creating beautiful and high converting websites for her clients.

[00:12:44] Brian: Next is a podcast producer example. I already kind of went over one of these, but I'm just gonna go over this. I help insurance agents, that's the avatar, build their personal brand and authority by launching a podcast. Now, a couple things here. This one is really not a great one because launching a podcast isn't [00:13:00] really any unique differentiator.

[00:13:01] Brian: But this one would be successful simply because it's likely an underserved market. Like I said earlier, insurance agents are honestly a commoditized service themselves. Because I can go call another insurance agent down the road, or I can Google an insurance agent right now if I'm looking for one.

[00:13:15] Brian: They are struggling from the exact same thing I'm discussing in this episode. So how do they help elevate themselves and stand out? It's through building. A personal brand and authority in their niche. And so by focusing on that for the client, I've now differentiated myself in an underserved market and I'm helping them stand out.

[00:13:31] Brian: So this is a bit meta, so I'm gonna move on. But, But that's one example for a podcast producer. another one. This is an interesting one. didn't know we had these people listening to us, but I just took on a new client. She starts this week, but she is a home organizer. So for those who have seen things like the home edit, again, that's a niche I was not specifically targeting for this podcast, but people in that niche listen to us. So if you're another kind of home editor or home organizer gimme a shout out somewhere.

[00:13:51] Brian: But here is an example of this, and this, again, not great, but it's, better than most people would think through these sorts of things. I help busy moms create a sense of [00:14:00] peace and calm by organizing their homes. Again, not perfect, but it is helping you think through the avatar and the thing that they want.

[00:14:07] Brian: The avatar is busy moms, and the thing that they want is creating a sense of peace and calm by organizing their homes.

[00:14:14] Brian: Again, this is just one I came up with in about three minutes, so these aren't perfect, but it gives you a, an illustration of how to craft these. And then the final one is just coming from my background in music production. This is for music producers out there. An example. One is I help female singer songwriters, so that's the avatar.

[00:14:28] Brian: Female singer, songwriters, stand out from the crowd and grow their following. that's a skillset, you're probably gonna have to add some skills to if you're trying to actually help them grow their following. But that's the thing that they want.

[00:14:37] Brian: help female singers when I stand out from the crowd and grow their following by producing and releasing singles. Now, this is an approach that. Most people don't, even need to understand, but generally speaking, to keep up momentum as a, singer songwriter or a musician requires putting out more regular singles and then kind of bunching those up into eps or LPs or whatever.

[00:14:55] Brian: this is not a perfect one, but it is an example of focusing on a niche, them with a thing that they [00:15:00] actually want. And really the big thing here is producing and releasing singles. So the releasing part is the part that most artists don't know what the hell they're doing with. Most producers don't have the skillset to help them with that.

[00:15:09] Brian: So I have a bunch of clients that are in this area right here that are increasing their skillset in those other areas to help their clients get what they want so that they're more outcome focused. So those are my examples. Honestly, I really, this is a really difficult thing to work through if you're freelancer just sitting, listening to an episode like this and trying to map out all of these sorts of thoughts and ideas and getting 'em on a paper.

[00:15:26] Brian: And then, is this a good idea or a bad idea?

[00:15:28] Brian: You typically need to be able to bounce ideas off of people. So I recommend either one of two things. One is find someone to help fan of the show, if you have friends that listen to this podcast, find them, or if you want our personal help, you can go to six figure creative.com/coaching and you can apply to work with us and we will work with you through this exercise and beyond to build a client acquisition machine.

[00:15:48] Brian: Cause this is one of the first things you need if you're gonna get clients. We want to be marketing a Prada bag. Not a paperclip. If you come to me as a paperclip, we've gotta transform you into a Prada bag. Terrible analogy, but I hope you get the point. Again, you can go to six figure creative.com. [00:16:00] That's the number six figure creative.com/coaching to check out more about our coaching program and apply there. So that is it for this episode. Until next time, goodbye and thank you so much for listening to the six Figure Creative Podcast.

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