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To Go Big, Start Small: Focus to Build Your Copywriting Business

To Go Big, Start Small: Focus to Build Your Copywriting Business

June 24, 2021 | By Jen Phillips April | No Comments

Can you imagine trying to write a 500-word essay on the United States? What aspect of the United States? Where do you start? Where do you focus your efforts? There’s far too much ground to cover.

That’s the predicament of the professor and the student in Robert Pirsig’s 1974 classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. His student proposes a sweeping topic to write on, and then, no surprise, doesn’t know how to approach it.

He suggests she narrow it down to Bozeman, Montana. When that’s still too overwhelming, he suggests Main Street, and finally says, “Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick.”

The student ended up writing a 5,000-word essay.

I recently came across this tale — known in some circles as “Pirsig’s brick” — in my internet travels (I’ve forgotten where). So, of course, I googled it and found an excerpt from the book.

To me, it’s a perfect example of the power of constraints.

Whether you’re launching a freelance writing business or want to beat writer’s block, constraints can be your best friend.

That might sound a little odd and counterintuitive.

Many people think of constraints as something restrictive. Yet, restrictions help you focus and make progress.

Let’s apply this to a fledgling freelance business

You might think, “I can write about anything for anybody!”

This feeling is liberating. You can wallow in that expansive outlook. However, as soon as you try to write or do anything related to marketing your business, it immediately feels overwhelming.

It certainly did for me. In fact, I’m sure this thinking held me back and kept me from making faster progress in my business when I started.

However, the bills piled up, and I got tired of feeling like I was going nowhere. I decided the solution was to pick something. Anything. And lean into it.

A Sideways Step into Web Writing

I listened to a webinar with Rebecca Matter and Nick Usborne on social media management, and it lit me up. It was circa 2012, and I’d started attending local networking events. It was apparent the business owners I met were overwhelmed by social media. They didn’t know what to say, how often to post, where to post, or how to turn it into business.

I, however, had been active on forums (and building relationships online) long before Facebook, so I said I could help. Someone asked me if I’d give a series of classes on social media and offered to be my first student. So, I put together a four-week course, advertised it with a local group, and had eight paying students.

That led to social media management opportunities as well as web copy and blogging. Because it turns out, I had a Money-Making Website that brought in a ton of visitors every month. I could give a spur-of-the-moment talk on at any time. I helped those students see that social media related to everything else they did in their marketing.

That series of social media classes helped me launch my web writing business.

But it never would have happened if I hadn’t put constraints on myself. If I hadn’t said, “I just need to pick something and go.”

Constraints and Focus Can Help You Find Clients

In the book, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan ask an important question.

That question is, “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

In my case, I chose to focus on social media management (SMM) and teaching business owners about social media. I had a lot of experience, and people were asking me questions.

I gradually moved away from SMM and focused on blog and web content because I had expanded my experience with those things.

When I could say, “I write blog and web content that helps you get found and builds trust with your audience,” it was 100x easier to find clients than when I said, “I can write anything.”

I narrowed it down even further to focus on pets because I had a lot of experience in that market. Those constraints made it easier to build a list of prospects. Over time, I’ve expanded into other niches. Still, I’m far more focused on my prospecting because I know what type of experience I have to offer and the types of companies that tend to hire someone like me.

Sally Morem breaks Keller’s question down into three parts here.

Do you see how it’s so much easier to write if you have constraints?

The best part is those constraints aren’t forever.

They’re just for “right now.”

Like the student who can’t start writing because she has no starting point, constraints help you start and keep you going.

What do you think? What “right now” constraints will you put on yourself?

About the Author

Jen Phillips April

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