For years, it was the same conversation:
Person: “So what do you do for a living?”
Me: “I’m a freelance writer. I write web pages and help companies sell more online.”
Person: “Like a designer?”
Me: “No, I’m not a designer. I do the writing.”
Person: “Oh, so you’re a content writer?”
Me (in my head): Hold on a second while I strangle you.
It’s not like there’s anything inherently wrong with the term content writer. I think it accurately describes what most of us do as freelance writers who work for businesses—more accurately than almost any other label.
But there’s a stigma that associated with content writing, and it’s not a good one. It’s a stigma that’s cheap, uneducated, and lowly; one that says your work is easy and mindless. And, to me, it’s an insult. I mean, I just wish I could have seen the reactions of people who messaged me on LinkedIn asking me to churn out 50 pages of SEO content in two weeks at $10 a page—”It’s $500! That’s more or less your rent payment, right?” (Wrong.)—when I told them: “Sure, no problem, but there’s a questionnaire process I go through with each of my clients first that’ll take a week, and you’ll have to increase your budget a bit, because instead of $10 per page, I charge $597 if you purchase three or more.”
What I’d have loved to say was: No, I’m not desperate for a quick $500, and I certainly don’t think churning out 50 pages of SEO content within a week sounds like my idea of fun. And yes, I do have standards for the kind of work I take on. But, at the same time, I realized I couldn’t fully blame the people who were insulting me like this. They likely had no idea their communications were offensive—they were just trying to figure out where I fit in their view of the content creation economy. Beyond that, I realized that the way I was describing my work was more than likely triggering them to think and act this way.
So I set out to figure out the best way to present what I did (which was, in fact, writing content) without giving people this impression that I was some sort of commodity they could just hire on UpWork. To that end, I started playing around with new terminology. I tried “copywriter” instead of “freelance writer” for a while, but quickly realized that just gave me the same results i was getting before. (Because really, outside of our industry, no one knows the difference between content and copy.)
Then I tacked on marketing consult, so my title became “Copywriter and Marketing Consultant.” It fit with my background as a marketer in my previous career, and added some heft and value to my title. And you know what? It kind of worked.
People either saw or heard the marketing consultant aspect and were suddenly much less likely to assume I’d jump at the chance to write $10 SEO pages for them. My new title implied that I had a lot of back-end, high-level knowledge—the kind you get from years of experience before you can become a true consultant—and a lot of those problems, frustrations, and desires to strangle innocent people vanished. Suddenly, I had a title that the vast majority of “business people” knew they should take seriously, and it went without saying that my expertise wasn’t just something they could just order from some freelancer platform and be done with it.
After that, I got more successful at booking clients at higher rates. People knew I knew what I was talking about when it came to marketing, and they actively sought—and paid for—my advice. It was great. Honestly, I’d suggest that every single one of you freelance writers out there figure out a way to work the term “consultant” into your title somewhere. If marketing isn’t your thing, maybe you could try “Writer and Independent Business Consultant,” or maybe you’re more along the lines of a “Copywriter and Health Services Industry Consultant,” if that’s the industry you serve with your copywriting.
You’ll be floored at what that change does for you.
Adding marketing consultant to my title was a major game changer in my freelance writing business. But now I’m at it again.
I’ve been exceedingly happy with where that last positioning tweak took me, so, like any good overachiever, I want more. I want to market myself to more exclusive clients, have more premium offerings, *cough* make more money *cough*, and enjoy my work even more than I already do.
So about a month ago, I changed my title from “Copywriter and Marketing Consultant” to “Brand Message Consultant.” I also stopped referring to my business as a copywriting business, and instead starting calling it a brand consulting agency. Those seemed like big shoes to fill at first, but I realized that with the work I do helping companies uncover their voices, set up proper online funnels, and sell more, it truly feels like the perfect fit. And as soon as I stepped into my new title, I started noticing a difference again in how I was perceived by others, how seriously they took me, and, in turn, how much they were willing to pay me.
If you’re tired of the way people make assumptions about what you do because you tell them you’re a freelance writer, just give yourself a promotion.
You’re your own boss. You can do that. The money to reflect that promotion might not be there in the instant of the title change, but it will come. Plus, you’ll have way fewer frustrating conversations—which is always a win in my book.