Who is your right customer?

I got a rejection today. A customer emdash had pitched to chose a competitor instead. The differentiator was price. The competitor had quoted almost half of what we’d quoted. It is not a price I could match, even if I tried.

As an entrepreneur or a freelancer, this is a problem you’ll face with every single client.

When I began my career as a freelancer, I took up work at any price. Rs. 1 a word, Rs. 2 a word, Rs. 2000 for a blog post, whatever I got. My singular logic was that I didn’t have any ‘cost’. Any money is more money than I had the previous day. But the thing is, competing on price is a race to the bottom.

Clients put exactly as much value on my work as I did. A 1000-word article for 2000 bucks is worth only so much to them. Obviously, I had to raise my rates. But my existing customers aren’t going to miraculously pay 5x my current rates. What I needed was new customers. In finding them, I’ve built for myself a checklist in identifying the right customer.

An emdash customer is one who:

  • Understands the value of content and writing: I steadfastly stay away from anyone who says, “I can write myself, but don’t have the time” or “we don’t need content, our product sells itself”. Anyone who isn’t convinced that the work I do is valuable to them isn’t an emdash customer.

  • Never decides before testing: Nearly every customer I’ve written a trial assignment for has bought from me at my price. At emdash, we write B2B enterprise tech content. It requires specialist skills. A customer who isn’t willing to put that to test perhaps doesn’t see the value in specialisation.

  • Thinks about distribution: We write content. Which means we do one part of a multi-stage marketing activity. While creating the content is most people’s biggest challenge, it’s not the only one that needs solving. A customer who has a clear idea of how the content is going to be used — and is willing to discuss it with us — is more likely to appreciate its value.

  • Knows that content needs to come from business: Most marketing teams think writers can make things up by reading on the Internet. Well, we can. But how would we make your content different from the next guy’s if we don’t know you? A customer who keeps business and content separated might not be able to tell unique stories, and therefore not see value.

The biggest demand of being a freelancer or a small business owner is to be able to confidently tell who’s right and who’s not. And believing every single day that there are enough customers in the world who are right for you.