About 20 years ago, I used to sell high end stereos. Across the street in our small city was another high end stereo store.
The first time their sales manager walked in the door and started talking with our sales manager like they were good friends, I was surprised. After the guy left, I asked my manager why he was so friendly with the competition.
“He’s not the competition,” he said.
“How do you figure?” I asked.
“Because our competition is the Big Box store a few few miles away.”
He explained that our high end stereo store, whose low end components were a $400 Yamaha receiver and a small pair of $300 speakers, appealed to audiophiles and people who could appreciate the quality of a really good stereo system. The store across the street sold different brand names, but equally high quality.
Big Box, however, sold $179 receivers and giant speakers for $120 a pair. (To put it in perspective, you could walk out with a $12,000 system from our store; the most you could spend at Big Box was about $800.)
They were our real competition, because we had to convince the price shoppers who showed up on a Saturday that there truly was a difference in the sound quality between ours and Big Box’s, and that the bouncy lights on the front of the cheap stereo didn’t actually do anything for the sound quality. (You wouldn’t believe how many people I tried to talk out of the bouncy lights.)
They didn’t hear the difference. They believed a stereo was a stereo, and while, yes, ours was very good, they could get a whole stereo with bouncy lights for a fraction of the price we wanted for an average receiver. Of course, they were disappointed when they got home, and they realized the music just didn’t sound as good as it did in our store.
It’s the same problem we writers face. Too many times, we talk to potential blogging clients who think writing is writing. They’ve found a writer who will work at a fraction of our price — sure they live in another part of the world, and English is their third or fourth language, but, you know, they charge a lot less — or their nephew got an A on his senior English paper, and knows a lot about the Internet, and he’s going to do the whole project for $75 and a Starbucks gift card.
Our biggest competition isn’t other writers, it’s people who think that writing is writing. That stringing coherent sentences together is so easy, a monkey can do it. After all, they reason, we learned it in high school, so how hard can it be?
Recently, I was talking to Paul D’Andrea, a professional photographer friend, who said he faces the same thing. Despite the years of study and practice, and the thousands of dollars of equipment he carts around his biggest competition is not another equally good photographer. It’s the guy with a $200 digital camera or the latest and greatest mobile phone. (Paul took the leaf photo in this post. You can’t do that with a cell phone.)
After all, they reason, you just point and shoot. Don’t cut off the heads, crank up the flash, and hit the little button with your right index finger. How hard can it be?
I may have a decent camera, but I realize that even Paul’s “average” work has a level of mastery I’ll never achieve. If I ever want good photos, I need someone like Paul. And if someone wants good writing, they can’t just hire a college senior and expect expert-level writing.
Unfortunately for writers, while the Internet has made it possible to reach more customers from a wider base, it’s also created a problem for us. Now anyone with a laptop and a rudimentary command of the English language can hang out a shingle and call themselves a writer.
If you want to demonstrate your writing ability, you need high-quality samples, strong testimonials, and be able to demonstrate how your writing has succeeded and benefitted your clients. Be able to measure ROI, sales, and even regular readership. Show search engine placement and rankings. List writing awards. And most importantly, show whether businesses have made money by working with you.
Look, anyone can take pictures with even the crappiest cameras. Anyone can write copy with a laptop and an 8th grade education. That doesn’t mean it’s any good. Sadly, it also doesn’t mean that people will recognize its lack of quality either.
It’s going to take some work on your part, writers and photographers, to educate your potential clients as to why all writing isn’t the same, why your work is better than everyone else’s, and why you’re worth the higher price tag.
Photo credit: Paul D’Andrea (Flickr)