Specialist or generalist: which type of copywriter is right for your business?

Posted on , by Sarah Townsend in Blog, Freelance work, Marketing tips no comments
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A tweet from Alasdair Murray – who describes himself as ‘the recruitment copywriter’ – got me thinking.

Specialist copywriter vs generalist copywriter: which is best?

To niche or not to niche. It’s one of the biggest considerations for anyone getting started in copywriting – and equally important for any business choosing the right marketing copywriter to work with.

“Do I specialise in one area or industry?” asks the aspiring copywriter.

“Do I need a specialist in my industry?” asks the business owner.

In the 19 years that I’ve worked as a freelance copywriter, two questions crop up with predictable regularity: “How did you get started?” and “Do you specialise?”.

My answer to the latter is yes. I specialise in writing clever copy that helps businesses become more successful.

Cheating, right?

You were expecting me to say, “Yes. I specialise in travel/engineering/unicorn maintenance*” *delete as appropriate

To answer the first question… (stay tuned – it’s relevant)

I started my career in financial services marketing. I wrote shiny brochures for new investment products, leaflets about mortality and morbidity to help advisers sell more life assurance, and pension marketing messages about the cost of delay.

Did this early career choice make me want to specialise as a financial services copywriter?

Did it heck.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved my job. Really. Bloody. Loved it.

Nothing to do with swanky lunches in Canary Wharf with Ogilvy & Mather (as they were back then) or the glamour *cough* of art directing photo shoots for those investment brochures.

(Okay, maybe a smidge. I mourn those days. Today’s corporate entertaining is a one-shot skinny latté at my gym.)

That job was just about the best start I could have had to my copywriting career. In my opinion, real-world, earn-your-stripes commercial experience backed up by on-the-job training beats the pants off academic study – but each to their own.

To the matter in hand…

If you’re an aspiring freelance copywriter…

(Business owner looking to hire the right copywriter? You can skip this bit.)

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether or not you should specialise.

If you’ve spent your career working in a particular industry and you still enjoy it, you may well want to stay there.

It’s where you’ve made connections, where you’ve built up your experience, and where you really know your stuff.

For you, writing about your specialism is second nature. You know it all already.

Decision made.

But wait…

For me, the best thing about working across a wide range of industries is the variety.

No two jobs are the same.

I don’t spend my days trying to come up with ingenious new ways to sell the same product or service.

Every project is a fresh opportunity to understand a new market’s challenges, audience and opportunities. Every job is as exciting and different as the last. It’s often a steep learning curve, but my god it’s rewarding.

Nineteen years into my freelance career and I love this job even more than when I started.

Would I be saying that if I’d specialised? I don’t know.

If you’re struggling to decide, trust your gut instinct and try not to overthink it.

What’s the worst that can happen? You set yourself up as a specialist cupcake copywriter, or the authority on orthopaedics and it doesn’t work? Onwards and upwards.

Don’t wait to perfect your idea – start from where you are, and give it your best shot. You can always revisit and refine later. (That’s a whole other blog post…)

Let me know how you get on.

If you’re a business owner choosing a copywriter…

One of the best things about working with someone who doesn’t specialise in your industry is that they don’t specialise in your industry.

Sorry?

It’s simple. Writing copy that sells involves understanding what makes your business special, and what makes your customers tick.

A specialist already knows this. They’ve written this stuff many times – heck, they may even work for your biggest competitor.

A non-specialist makes no assumptions. They see things with fresh eyes and the same curiosity your potential customer has when they first stumble across your business.

They ask the right questions to find out how your business works, the problems you solve for your customers, and what makes your product or service better than the competition.

I may not be familiar with your industry. I may not have written a website for one of your competitors. But you bet your life that what I write for you will be fresh, and relevant, and incisive.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that what all businesses want?

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In the interests of fairness and balance, here’s the view from the other side of the fence, written by the aforementioned recruitment copywriter, Alasdair Murray.

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