When I got the interview for one of my first writing jobs, I was over the moon. I spent days researching the company, the industry and where it was going. I stalked people at the company on LinkedIn and even managed to have a pre-interview coffee with a former employee, which gave me inside information on the role, the team, the politics of the company, and other useful tid bits that informed my questions for the interviewers.
On the day I did my hair, suited up and arrived at the building half an hour early. After taking a stroll and some deep breaths in the neighbouring park, I walked into reception with ten minutes to spare. At the interview I smiled a lot and was friendly, hitting it off with both interviewers. I answered questions about their company and products so easily that they were a little taken aback, was able to link both my experience and my future career plans to the role, and pulled out some clever questions to top it off. I thought I had it in the bag.
Then they asked me to submit a writing sample.
I panicked. Yes, I knew I could write, but this was an area I knew nothing about – an area where I had no prior writing experience.
So I headed back home to research. I went back to their website, their blog and past press releases. I looked for related industry articles and news pieces. I crafted a 350-word piece, but wasn’t certain if it was good enough. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if this was what they had in mind. I was tempted not to submit it.
What did I do? I revisited their existing material to make sure the tone was right and the information was correct. I had a couple of friends proofread. And then I attached a couple of pieces I’d written in the past which I hoped would help showcase my ability, versatility, and fit for their culture.
What happened? I got the job. I even managed to negotiate a higher salary.
Why most entrepreneurs don’t have the success they want…
The reason why most people don’t get the job is the same reason why most small businesses never enjoy the success they desire.
They are seen as commodities, and commodities are easily replaceable.
Take a bag of flour, for instance. Flour is readily available in every supermarket. Most people don’t care which brand of flour they get – they could substitute one for another, and they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
This means the price of flour is very low.
Now imagine being a hiring manager who is sifting through 250 cover letters for copywriters or accountants or graphic designers. With only ten seconds to look at each, they quickly start to feel interchangeable.
The same goes for your potential client, who types ‘Accountant’ or ‘Graphic Designer’ or ‘Life Coach’ into Google only to get over 100 million results.
With 100 million results to choose from, most people don’t care which accountant, designer or life coach they get. They become interchangeable, and when you are interchangeable your only option is to compete on price.
This isn’t news, and entrepreneurs around the globe are focusing on differentiation. The mistake they make is talking about the different features of their product or service. Flour might be gluten free or organic. You might offer cloud-based accounting or a flat-fee for tax returns.
The issue with this is that, while they set themselves apart from some of the other businesses in their field, they become a commodity in another category. To continue the flour example, the flour might rise to the heady heights of being an organic, gluten-free flour.
While the price might have gone up a little, this flour is still interchangeable with every other flour in the organic, gluten-free that category.
And if you don’t stand out in your field, so are you.
The key to decommoditisation
So how do you stand out in your field?
You need to do something different.
The issue is that most entrepreneurs understand this in theory, but in practice it’s difficult to implement. How can you do something different when everyone is telling you to do the same things? How can you do something different when everyone’s saying that your website, social media, Google AdWords or some new sales script is the key to achieving the success you want?
The key is to look at what everyone else in your field is not doing.
Why did I get the job? Because I stood out. When they asked me how much I knew about their industry, I was able to explain it clearly and credibly. By contrast, most interviewees (keeping in mind that this was a junior position) would have said something like, ‘I know a little,’ and waited for the interviewers to go into a more detailed explanation. When they asked me if I had any questions, I was able to ask about the relationships between the different teams I would be working with, as my sneaky pre-interview coffee date had given me some insight into the company’s political tensions. By contrast, most interviewees would have either said that they didn’t have questions, or asked something vague about training and start dates.
When they asked for a piece of writing, not only did I submit the requested piece, I also submitted two extra ones. These two extra pieces had nothing to do with their industry, but I chose them because I thought they were pretty well written, engaging and humorous, so it was a good way to share a bit more of my personality and writing style. By contrast, most interviewees would have just done what was expected.
That’s how I decommoditised myself – I stood out from all the other interchangeable copywriters, to the extent that I was offered the job within a few days and was even able to get a higher salary.
Now it’s your turn – think about what everyone else in your industry is doing to promote their products and services. Then ask yourself – how can you be different? How can you stop being interchangeable and become irreplaceable? How can you decommoditise yourself?