[The article below, beautifully blogged by Kate Hamill, captures the exact essence of not only how I present myself, but also how I train my students to market themselves as proofreaders: authenticity is the new professionalism. It doesn’t matter if you’re “only” selling something like proofreading. Be free. BE YOURSELF. Be human. Humans like to work with other humans. Why Being Weird Gets Me More Clients originally appeared on FreelancersUnion.org on October 21, 2014 — view the original article here. Enjoy!]
Why Being Weird Gets You More Clients
They pop up frequently – in brightly-colored banners on websites, in aggressive social media ads. Sometimes when I wait in line at Barnes and Noble, I catch them staring at me, glassy-eyed, from book covers.
They have power suits. They have perfectly coiffed hair. Their smiles are fixed. Their expressions are hungry.
They are… the Brand Mavens.
You know who I’m talking about. Brand Mavens are those peppy, cutthroat folks who talk almost exclusively in business-ese. They write urgent, vaguely condescending blogs and books that claim to reveal the “secrets to success”. They insist that to Get Ahead in this World, you have to aggressively market yourself as a nice, safe, tame product that appeals to the broadest swathe of humanity possible.
They probably start their mornings with a nice hot cup of coffee mixed with rocket fuel and the blood of innocents.
Okay, fine. I’m not being quite fair to the Brand Mavens. They’re only trying to make a buck out of the advice game, and some of them have perfectly sound advice to give about self-promotion (heck, even a blind squirrel finds some nuts). If you’re looking for tactics to aggressively market some carefully cultivated version of yourself, these people are good gurus to have.
But Brand Mavens so often insist on self-promotion for its own sake, implying that you are a hapless FOOL if you are not aggressively shoving a “brand” down potential clients’ throats. And worse, they often insist that you define your brand in the most homogenized, highly “saleable” way possible – in a manner that could never offend (or excite) anyone.
That. Is. Claptrap.
You can be yourself – your authentic self – and get more clients. You do not have to fit into some artificial mold to find freelance work. What’s more, if you can accept (and even amplify) your own weirdness, if you let your sense of humor leak through, if you try hard to pursue opportunities based on your authentic interests (and not some dubious expert’s marketing plan)… you will build stronger connections. You will gain better clients. You will enjoy your work more.
Ricky Gervais once shared some extremely good insights into this subject, which I will liberally quote here:
“… being original is often considered dangerous if you want huge mainstream success. It seems safer to make anodyne stuff that most people might consume without offense. Homogenized by committee and focus grouped to be like something else that was quite successful. The white sliced bread of art. This is indeed a reasonably safe approach but where’s the fun, apart from the commercial gain? … From my own experiences I’ve learned that quirky, different, fringe projects that may only be cult, often travel a lot better internationally. Mainstream comedians and TV shows that might be the biggest thing, on say, UK TV for a while, often don’t sell a sausage around the world. Comics selling out arenas in the UK often can’t sell a ticket in America or many other places. If you do something peculiar and remarkable it might not be for mass consumption in your own country but there are 7 billion people in the world. People everywhere in the world will recognize and appreciate its innovation. A world cult is many times bigger than a single country’s mainstream hit. So in the long run, being different can make commercial sense as well as artistic sense. And you’ll often hear the term ‘water cooler moment.’ The broadest, most inoffensive, mainstream hits are so often the least ‘talked about.’ They just happen and wash over a disconcerting majority once a week.”
Listen, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that your genuine “brand” – the slick, nasty little term for the encapsulation of your quirky, esoteric personality, your unique likes and dislikes, your skills and talents – is FAR MORE INTERESTING than any manufactured, safe “brand” that these Mavens would have you construct. Authenticity gets people’s attention. It’s genuine. It’s cool.
I have many eccentricities. Many of them would not be considered conventionally “saleable”. I have a rather dark sense of humor. I have three different careers, which I do more-or-less simultaneously. I am relaxed to the point of lassitude about logistical details. I like absurdity in all forms. I like collaborating more than controlling. I have a cynical streak, and when I! GET! EXCITED! I! TALK! LOUDLY!
Because I’m open about these things – because I can laugh about them and acknowledge them to potential clients – I’ve found MORE work, not less. I find clients who really want a freelancer with a snarky sense of humor: someone who rolls with logistical changes, who pipes up in meetings, and who values flexibility. Because my “brand” is just me, and not some sanitized, trying-desperately-to-be-palatable version of myself, I get clients who actually want… me.
And that makes us both happy.
If you, too, find Brand Mavens to be terrifying – don’t let those overly hair-sprayed vampires get you down. When you market yourself, don’t try to please everyone BUT yourself. Be authentic, and try to make genuine connections with Your People. They’re the ones you really want to work with, anyway.
Your weird brand? Your mutant, strange, eccentric brand? People want it.
My friend, that weird is so sellable.
Yes! I always wonder what they are hiding under that slick veneer.
Right there with you!! My guess is uncertainty… do they know who they really are? And if so, why do they feel they need to hide that?
“My guess is uncertainty…” — could not agree more.
I’m so glad to hear this. I was always weird, so I’m very glad it’s now working for me!
I feel you on this too. They are truly the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing.
They definitely CAN be … it’s often they’ve bought into the idea of being a “BRAND” from someone else. They sell it hard, and people fall for it. Being a sheep as opposed to a wolf SOUNDS like it’d be pretty lame, but I certainly feel better as a sheep than a wolf … because I’m not hiding who I really am 🙂
This is encouraging to me because I will never be a “maven.” I would love to do freelance-only work, but am nervous about my ability to “sell” myself and my talents to prospective clients. I am definitely a little bit weird, though, so maybe I have a shot at this. 😉
You ABSOLUTELY DO! I always thought I sucked at selling. And if I do it “their” way, I DO suck. But if I have a high-quality product, like my proofreading services or the course, I don’t have to “sell hard” the way some people think is necessary. I am just honest, super forthcoming, quick to respond, and I always provide excellent customer service (without allowing people to bully me, as may be encouraged by people who subscribe to the idea of “the customer is always right”).
A lot of it, too, has to do with BELIEVING in yourself and your abilities. If you’re a proofreader, BELIEVE you are good at it. If you believe deep down you won’t succeed, you won’t succeed. If you’re new and not sure if you’re good, GET BETTER. Being cool with being you doesn’t exempt us from needing to improve/upgrade our skills as necessary, it just means we should be nice to ourselves and allow the real “us” to shine through when we go to market those skills 😀
This is super empowering! Much needed, and much appreciated!
I also find this news encouraging. I can’t be something I’m not. If I sell myself out that way I will regret it and never be truly happy because I would be living a lie. That is why I felt discouraged from going into my actual field of study (Interior Design), because of the importance that was placed on looking and acting a “certain way”. The “certain way” they wanted me to be in order to be “taken seriously” was just NOT me. So, it’s encouraging (and something of a relief) to be told here that it’s okay to be ME. Hallelujah!
YUP!! I feel ya there. I was in personal training, so you can imagine the kind of image expected of you in that regard 😉 Most people are cool with you being you, but there was still this general marketing image that was floating around that just made me feel inadequate or that I was doing something wrong by not buying into it! I know the message of loving your body is spreading and I am now an advocate for exercise NOT for weight loss but for feeling your best 🙂 I can definitely relate to the feeling of “relief” too … it just FEELS BETTER INSIDE to do things true to yourself instead of faking it. Faking it never feels good.
Thanks for the encouraging words, Caitlin. I am definitely confident in my proofing skills. I do all freelance work. My main job now is a contract proofing job that I do onsite. That work is drying up, though, so I am looking for something else. I am trying to decide if I want to pursue a “regular 9 to 5” job (so I can have some security as to how much I’ll earn each week, and also have benefits) or try to get more freelance and do all my work from home. I’ve had lots of turnover with freelance jobs lately, and hate the insecurity of not knowing how much (if any) money I’ll have coming in. I have two children and my family needs my income to get by. I am intrigued by the court reporter proofing because it sounds like it would be pretty steady if I get some regular clients.
Good! I am glad to hear you’re confident in your skills. It’s true the 9-to-5 has its security perks (well, unless you get fired, as was my case ;-)). I do find it very rewarding to do work with repeat, regular clients, which was a big, humongous reason I have stuck with working with court reporters over other types of freelance work I’ve attempted. It takes work to get those initial clients, but once you’ve won them over, they can be very loyal. It’s a supportive partnership.
Thanks, as always, Caitlin, for keeping it real and letting your freak flag fly! Your transparency and genuineness are part of the reason I believed your life story and enrolled in your course. I continue to be jazzed and encouraged by your posts every day. Keep it up!
I will, Keisha!!! Thank YOU for your encouragement and support 🙂
Ha! Did you purposely describe me when you were describing yourself up there? Very freeing to know that you don’t have to be a certain way to do this job.
SWEET, SWEET freedom!
Thank you so much for reposting this article. I am in the process of wanting to make the transition into full-time proofreading and resume writing, and one of my (many!) fears is that I want to make my business way more (gasp!) personable than I should. For me, it wouldn’t just be a job; it would be my way of helping others in their lives. It’s nice to know that my voice just may be heard. 🙂
You’re very welcome!! Personality sells. The assurance a client has when they e-mail or call you that you’ll ACTUALLY ANSWER, and do so in a timely manner, is invaluable 🙂 Becoming a proofreader is about so much more than just wearing a hat or a putting a sign on the door. It’s about actually letting your skills and passions become part of you 🙂
Uuhh …. I can’t get over that “overly hair-sprayed vampires” …. LOL! …. I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Boy! She does have a dark sense of humor indeed. LOL!
It is so refreshing to see someone that is open and honest.
😀 Thanks, Patricia!
Laughed out loud at the ‘even a blind squirrel finds some nuts” remark – yes, it’s true – most people just want an authentic human connection with others, regardless of the situation. Thanks!
I had to come back here and read this again. I sometimes feel my approach is looked down on by my peers, and I was starting to feel like maybe I was being a little silly. But *This* article reinforces my need to be me and be a little quirky, no matter what other people in my field think. Let that freak flag fly, baby! Thanks!
YEAH! Let it fly 😀 I have to re-read this one on a regular basis!!
This speaks to exactly WHY i was drawn to you, Caitlin!! Your authenticity shines through in all of your writing. I can feel your honesty, your warmth, your kindness, and your silliness (which I LOVE by the way)! I recently signed up for your free 7 day course, which was filled with plenty of things to read, watch and think about. I am ready for the next step, and will be signing up for the Jumpstart Program this week to hold me over while I save for the Intensive Program. I can’t get enough!! Thank you!
Thanks for your kind words, Terry!! Looking forward to having you on board 😀
Ha! This is awesome! And very encouraging to me. I have a weird sense of humor and a pretty eclectic skill set and background. Good to know that is a marketing asset rather than a hindrance. I’ve tried being someone I wasn’t before and it didn’t make for long term success. It was also incredibly tiring and drained the life out of me. Looking forward to more learning!
Caitlyn you know how to naturally be an encouragement to others with your honesty and openness. I am glad to have come across your Web-site, thanks to Crystal Paine of MoneySavingMom.com, whom I have come to trust, because of her integrity. Thank you for being you.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Darlene! I agree — Crystal is really amazing!
Oh, this is absolute balm to a weary deeply and profoundly odd soul.
Embrace it!! 🙂
This part was very interesting. I didn’t realize how much you need to sell yourself to get a job proofreading. I am not a social person. I would enjoy reading all day by myself and let life go right by me. I love finding the mistakes when reading. I just don’t know if I could “sell myself”. As you can probably tell, I do not converse well with others. I have dreamed about doing this kind of work for years. I really don’t want to pass this up because, “I’m an Introvert”.
You’re not the only student who has had this concern! I am NOT a salesperson by any means, so I was nervous about this, too, when I was a student. It’s important to find a marketing avenue that best fits your personality. This helps keep your marketing genuine, which really makes a huge impact. I, personally, like to connect with people in a more genuine, personal environment so I can feel comfortable being myself and offering my services. Reporters really respond well to someone who is a real person. 🙂 Hope this helps!
I’m so glad this was re-posted, as I wasn’t part of the PA community when it was last posted. I’m very happy to hear this from another voice-though I love Caitlin’s, it’s great to know others are of the same mind-set. I do have some quirks and traits that are not mainstream, but have wondered if they will hurt me or help me when it’s time to go out on my own. What a relief to know that the genuine, authentic me does not have to hide! Thanks Caitlin, for sharing Kate’s great article with us.
Thank you! I get so sick of this whole branding thing, wnich mostly has sounded to me like creating a new, non-authentic self to sell to people you don’t really want to be around. To quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” Thanks for the confirmation!
Thank You Caitlin for sharing these great ideas with us.
Life can be very serious and it’s good to know that
“being weird” can help us in our proofreading.
I am really enjoying the 7 day course. I can’t wait
until tomorrow’s lesson.
Ah, yes, the plastic people. I can’t abide them.
This article has been most encouraging, as I can only stifle my sense of humor for so long.
This was awesome. I’ve been working for a content mill for a few months now, and I’ve been looking to branch out from it. But, I didn’t want to become one of the run-of-the-mill writers. I think its extremely important to be courageous and authentic in this line of work.
You’re right, Melisha! Standing out is a GOOD thing…for the right reasons, of course, teehee! 😉
I am afraid to market myself out there. But I know if I do make any mistakes, I’m only human. I am really enjoying the 7 day course. Looking forward to tomorrow.
I wear yoga pants and t-shirts with logos and sayings on them; I have long, gray hair that I don’t color (or cut!), and I don’t wear makeup except for very special occasions. Very rarely do I wear jewelry anymore since it was all stolen during a housebreak, and the replacement jewelry is fake/cheap! I live alone, and talk too loudly. I put myself out there. If someone doesn’t like me, oh well. 🙂
Wish I could give you a big high five! This is awesome.
I have corresponded with you 2 or 3 times and feel like I know you! I am disabled and one thing I may not have mentioned is that I only need to make about $200 a week. Because my level of pain varies, and our need is only for that much, does that actually work against me? Would a client turn away from me because I may not be able to take in as much repeat business as they would prefer? I trust that made sense.
Not if you just had one client and could handle their repeat business 🙂 Find one client that doesn’t cause you to overdo it and has about that much work per week, and you’re golden! Now: Shift your focus away from getting clients. That’s the easy part 🙂 Learning how to make those clients happy is the hard part!!
THANK YOU! I’ve always felt so bloody small reading those nut jobs’ advice. It’s like trying to emulate the popular kids back in high school. Someone should tell them there IS no magic bullet.
This article makes perfect sense to me. I have a difficult time trying to fit into others’ ideas of normal. I know who I am, what I like, and what I have to offer. I find it condescending and insulting when a person assumes that they know what I want to hear. It gives the impression that they think they can say whatever they want, and I won’t be smart enough to know that I’m being presented a phony package. I do not want to be that kind of person in either my personal or professional life.
It’s very encouraging to learn that I will be able to successfully market “myself” as a proofreader. I’ll be so happy to have the freedom of working from home as an independent contract and also doing that without pretending to be someone else. I can hardly wait to get started!
I’m learning so much from your seven day course. Thank you for the links with additional information. I would have no idea how to market myself. I look forward to learning more!
I love this article! “Coffee mixed with rocket fuel and the blood of innocents.” Too funny. I embrace my weirdness and individuality!
Well i like the test you have . I am dyslexic. So i find mistake really easy but not so good at spelling and grammar. Hahaha. I have just retired due to a back injury . Need to replace income and be free to travel . So far i enjoy the seven day only on 3 going to four. Thank you for instructions.
Thanks for the feedback, Rose! I’m glad you’re enjoying the intro course. I hope it helps you to decide if this niche is a good fit for you. 🙂
“Overly hair-sprayed vampires” that “start their mornings with a nice hot cup of coffee mixed with rocket fuel and the blood of innocents” – that reminds me of my worst nightmare – dishonest car salespeople! ? Let me explain!
My husband is a car salesperson. But, more importantly, he is an HONEST car salesperson! He did not just trip into success because he is honest, though. He quit his first job after getting written up for refusing to back another salesperson up on their lie. His second attempt resulted in being fired for not “properly” up-selling. His honesty led the customer to decide against costly upgrades to his vehicle. Now, in his third and final attempt, his current boss EXPECTS honesty and transparency with everyone they deal with! Now he loves work and says it really is his dream job!
I cannot imagine doing business any other way. I have a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. I am definitely my own person! I have a positive outlook on life, most of the time! Life is too short to be a lemming – and besides, I can’t swim! ?
Thank you for throwing this in as part of today’s lessons! I thought that since this is all about dealing with LEGAL documents, I would have to pretend to be a stuffy office lady!
I loved this article! I am a firm believer in letting the freak flag fly. Your vibe attracts your tribe. In the past I have tried to “fit in” and all I found was myself around people I didn’t really connect with or wasn’t comfortable to be with. It makes so much sense to apply this in the work world as well. Thanks for including this in the lesson today 🙂
Love authenticity. I am about to retire after many years of work in a corporate environment and look forward to building a brand that is authentic rather politically correct.
Now THAT'S what i'm talkin bout!
To me, the ‘brand people’ are just carbon copies of one another. It’s great to pop in a comment or phrase to shake them up a bit . ‘Light bulb’
I am a "worrier" and always worry if I may sound silly or stupid, and tend to worry about what people think. I am already worrying about how I would be able to sell myself in order to get freelance work, as I can be very much of an introvert, yet I do have confidence that my work is 100%
Great read! Thank you Caitlin for sharing it with the group.
I'm very laid back myself but have great work ethic. Excited to get this proof reading party started!
That is truly one very uplifting and inspiring article! Thank you!!!! It just shows I’m never too old to actually ‘hear’ what I secretly knew but was afraid to do!!!!
Love this post. I too am nervous about selling my services but I enjoy collaborating. I want to be known as my authentic self and am now looking forward to the challenge, with a little help from yourselves
I really needed to read this. I have often thought about this career, but then I would think it's probably only for formal, businessy (I know, not a real word!) type of people. So maybe I can do it!
Yup! I have so agonized about offending that I have literally washed my personality away. I'm getting it back!
Thank you for having my back!
“ They probably start their mornings with a nice hot cup of coffee mixed with rocket fuel and the blood of innocents.”
I paused…pondered…then laughed. So I think this is the best statement I’ve heard in a long time. I’m actually going to print it and have it in my office.
It will remind me of who I don’t wish to be. It will also remind me they are out there so I need to get my rear in gear.
Love it! My weird, snarky (at times) self is sellable! Yes! Thank-you! 🙂
Wow! Just Wow!
I thought that I was the only strange, crazy woman around who gains the attention of others through laughter and craziness.
I don't sugar coat or lie, I have no filter and am brutally honest!
I am Me and don't pretend to be anyone else. It is quiet refreshing to know that I am not alone.
“When you market yourself, Don’t try to please everyone BUT yourself.” Great points.! Excellent advice. Authentic!!
Well, I bet you don't talk louder that I do when I'm excited! 🙂
I do need some assistance being quirky!
I am learning so much already. Proofreading covers more than I imagine. Sounds good to me
My wife is always telling me that I’m weird. So, I have already embraced my weirdness. I try to see the humor in everything. Hopefully, my situation will help make my business successful.
I am so glad I read "Why Being Weird Gets You More Clients. I have for so long buried my true self. To find that thru proofreading, and being able to market my eccentricities as a positive thing, is like lifting 100 lbs. off my shoulders. I have quite the eclectic personality, laugh at someone's dry sense of humor, when most just look at such as "what???" I tend to break out in song when someone is talking about something because of a certain word said or quote something from a movie when looking at an expression on someone's face. I to tend to get a little loud when I get excited. The more I am reading about proofreading the more I am convinced that this is the avenue for me.