You may have heard of Gordon Graham, who is known in the trade as “That White Paper Guy.”
Gordon specializes in white papers — about 90% of the work he does is writing white papers for companies.
Being a B2B project specialist copywriter has worked well for Gordon. So, should you become a project specialist too?
Well, let me tell you a story about my experience in project specialties…
As you may know, I’m more of a generalist. My approach is to position myself as the go-to copywriter for the clients I work with. And as such, I like to be versatile.
I’m able to write a variety of marketing communications for a company. So if they need me to write their website and their emails, I can. If they need a white paper and case study, I can write those as well.
But I didn’t always take that approach. Years ago — probably 14 or 15 years ago — I decided I was going to be a project specialist and focus my business on writing annual reports.
Now, you may not think of annual reports as a project specialty since these days it really isn’t one. I don’t know very many writers who specialize in writing annual reports because they’re not the same type of project today as they were 15 years ago.
But back then, writing an annual report was a lucrative writing gig. Every year, companies would publish these thick glossy annual reports. And they would spend a fortune on them.
Annual reports could be as much as 100 pages long. They were like little books with top-shelf design. Companies wouldn’t mind dropping $5,000 to $10,000 on a writer to help them write their annual reports.
And so I jumped in for a few months and I found out that I really didn’t like it.
I got bored from writing one after another. It was taking me a long time to get enough traction in the market. There were many weeks where I didn’t have a gig writing an annual report. Fortunately, I still had some other copywriting gigs I was working on.
And also, I discovered that specializing in that area was a little like being a tax accountant.
When are tax accountants most busy? Well, they’re crazy busy in the spring because they’re doing taxes. Being an annual report writer back then was very similar.
Most companies have a year end of December 31st. So they would produce their annual reports in the spring. In the spring, I was crazy busy, and then not so busy the rest of the year.
So my adventure in becoming a project specialist ended. I went back to being a generalist and I was much happier.
But even though my adventure in specializing in one project type didn’t work out for me, it has worked out for many other copywriters.
I told you about Gordon Graham who specializes in white papers. There’s Casey Hibbard who specializes in case studies. There’s Michael Katz who for many years exclusively specialized in e-newsletters, although he’s recently branched out to other projects.
So there are many writers who have become very successful as project specialists. So this is something that could work out for you.
So let me see if I can help you answer that question. Should you become a project specialist?
What are the Best Types of Projects to Specialize in?
I mentioned white papers and case studies. You could also specialize in writing websites. There are copywriters who write websites and just focus in that area.
You could specialize in advertising, either online advertising or print advertising. You can specialize in writing e-newsletters like Michael Katz does. Or writing and managing blogs.
Social media is not such a specialty now as it once was when social media was brand-new. But still, managing a company’s social media is still a pretty good specialty for copywriters.
Videos are also a specialty. I know some copywriters who specialize in videos. Some of them join forces with a production company so they can offer full-service video production.
There are other projects you may be able to specialize in. But, the ones I mentioned are probably the top ones you’ll see.
Four Advantages of Becoming a Project Specialist
Why would you want to become a project specialist? Here are four advantages…
#1. Quickly Become a Well-Known Expert
When you’re a project specialist, you can become known as a top expert in your field very, very quickly. It’s like focusing on a niche market.
Because you’re narrowly focused, you could become known for your project type very quickly and therefore get more word-of-mouth business, which makes it easier to market yourself.
Let’s say you were going to specialize in B2B email campaigns. You write emails and perhaps the landing pages that go with the emails. You could become well-known in that one area very quickly.
And by the way, I know some copywriters who specialize just in emails. So you can become more successful very quickly.
#2. Improve Your Writing Skills Quickly
If all you’re doing is writing emails day in and day out, you’re going to get better very quickly, aren’t you?
That’s another benefit of focusing on one type of project. If all you’re doing is writing case studies, then after you’ve written your 50th case study, you’re going to be better than most generalist copywriters.
#3. Command Higher Rates
If you are the specialist in case studies, social media, or in writing B2B sales pages or websites, then you can expect to be able to charge a top fee.
In fact, prospective clients will expect to pay top fees because they’re dealing with a specialist.
It’s just like in the medical community where you pay a brain surgeon who’s a specialist a lot more than you pay a general practitioner.
The same thing goes here. If you’re a specialist in writing websites and you’re really good at it, you can expect to charge a top fee for your work.
#4. The Power of Repeat
Let’s say you’re writing websites or case studies over and over and over again. Well, obviously, you’re going to start getting really good, really fast.
You’re going to develop systems and an approach that allows you to do that work very quickly. You’re going to become very productive and very fast. It’s going to become fun and easy for you.
If you’re specializing in case studies, your first case study is going to take you a long time. But you might be able to knock off your 50th case study in three or four hours.
And it’s going to be great because you’re so productive at it. Because you’re charging the same top rate, you’re going to be much more profitable.
Four Disadvantages of Becoming a Project Specialist
But what’s the downside of focusing on a project specialty and being a project specialist?
#1. Specialists Need More Clients
If you’re a generalist and you’re writing everything for a company, you only really need three to five good clients to fill your schedule with all the work you can handle.
But let’s say you’re focusing on just writing white papers. Well, you’re going to need a lot more clients in order to fill your schedule because you may land one client, and write a white paper for that client.
And then they may not need another white paper for another few months or even a year. You’re going to have to find another client, right?
So if you’re going to focus on case studies or white papers or websites or social media, you’re going to need a lot more clients. You’re going to have to attract a lot of leads and take on new clients consistently. This means you’re going to have to do more marketing and self-promotion.
#2. Getting Established Takes Longer
If you’re starting from scratch in your copywriting business and you’re a generalist, you could land two or three clients fairly quickly.
And boom, your business is off and running.
But it takes longer if you’re going to be a project specialist to get off the ground, and get established with enough clients to keep you busy.
It’s a longer road, but it may be worth it for you because you may love working on a particular type of project.
#3. Writing the Same Kind of Project May Lead to Boredom
I really liked writing annual reports 15 years ago. And while I didn’t get bored during that few months, but I could see myself getting bored writing the same project all the time.
So you’ve got to be careful. If you’re going to be a project specialist, you’re going to be primarily writing the same type of project over and over and over again. You might get bored.
Now, I’ve spoken to other project specialists. I know Casey Hibbard, for example, has written over a thousand case studies. She doesn’t get bored. She just loves it.
The same thing with Gordon Graham with white papers and many other project specialists I’ve spoken with — they don’t get bored.
#4. Demand for Your Specialty May Change
Let’s say, for example, you are a B2B direct-mail copywriter. Fifteen years ago, I was writing a lot of B2B direct mail.
Well, guess what happened?
A lot of direct-mail campaigns went online and companies started to shrink their budget in the area of direct mail. So being a direct-mail project specialist exclusively was getting tough to do because companies weren’t spending as much money on direct mail.
So you might be a project specialist and then 10 years down the road you’re established with this type of project, but nobody wants it anymore. Or maybe there’s a lot of competition or it doesn’t pay as well anymore.
How Do You Decide If Becoming a Project Specialist is Right for You
Well, let me give you some criteria to help you decide…
Do You Already Have Experience with That Specialty?
Let’s say you’ve written a few case studies or you’ve taken on a few blog writing and management projects or you handle social media for a couple of companies and you really like it.
If you have some experience, then yes, it might make sense for you to specialize in that project if you like it.
The reason is that you’re already doing it. So you know that you like it. You know what you’re getting into.
It’s very difficult to decide to be a case study writer if you’ve never written case studies before. You should write a couple professionally before you make that decision. You’ve got to know what you’re getting yourself into.
What’s the Demand for This Type of Project?
You want to make sure there’s a demand for those types of project specialists. Now, there’s a demand for white paper writers and website writers. And companies are looking for specialists in those areas.
But what if you want to specialize in sell sheets? A sell sheet is a type of brochure. Should you be the sell sheet specialist?
Honestly, I doubt that would work because companies aren’t really looking for specialists in those areas.
Yes, they want sell sheets well written. But it’s a little like finding a specialist to put a splint on your broken toe. Usually, most people will trust their general practitioner to do that for them.
They don’t want to spend the money or go to a specialist in order to fix their broken toe.
The companies aren’t looking for a specialist in sell sheets. They are for other categories, but not for sell sheets.
So you want to make sure there’s a demand for the project you want to specialize in and that companies are looking for specialists in those areas.
Do You Enjoy Working on Those Projects?
You’ve got to want to get up in the morning and work on those types of projects all day long. You want to make sure you like it because you’re going to be doing a lot of this type of work.
Are You Willing to Put in the Time to Become a Project Specialist?
And finally, if you’re going to be a project specialist, you have to be willing to give it time. As I said, it takes longer to be successful as a project specialist.
And you’ve got to know it’s a longer road. So if you can afford to give it time, then it might make sense for you to be a project specialist.
So I hope that helps you answer the question of whether you should be a project specialist.
Are you considering specializing in a B2B project? Let me know in the comments below.