I was recently in a competitive situation for an editing job. A first-time author with a book contract was seeking an editor, and someone she trusted had recommended me.
She was also considering others.
Strange as it may seem, this doesn’t usually happen with me. Usually, people who pick me want me. And I flubbed it — I hadn’t clearly enough articulated what I do that’s different. My price was higher, and she was determining if there was any reason to pay extra for that.
In the process, I realized that I had to differentiate. So I did. This is what I wrote to her:
Here’s what you have to know about me.
For 20 years I worked with Forrester analysts, some of the smartest thinkers out there, on structuring their ideas and presenting them. There is a lot of pressure to get those ideas to be as powerful as possible. For my last 5 years there, I held the title of SVP of Idea Development — it was my job to make those ideas better through blunt, rigorous editing.
Most ex-analysts work in industry or become independent consultants. I’m the only one who works with authors. That’s because it’s what I love to do.
My first book (coauthored) sold 150,000 copies. The reason is that it clearly presented a useful and powerful set of ideas at exactly the moment people needed to hear them. I analyzed what worked in that book and have applied that to all my subsequent projects.
If you are looking for an editor, pick an editor. There are plenty of those, and many are excellent editors. They mostly concentrate on language.
If you are looking for someone who will give your ideas a thorough workout, fix where your structure is wrong, suggest changes that will make your language stronger, and cut text that’s not pulling its weight, that’s me. I don’t edit fiction. I don’t edit memoirs. I don’t edit narratives. I don’t edit “motivational” books. I only edit practical business books based on powerful ideas and case studies. That’s what I’m good at, and it’s why I charge more.
Do you think I got the job?
No. I didn’t. She picked someone else. And that’s okay.
But I’m still grateful, because it gave me a chance to write down what my differentiation is.
What makes you special?
This episode makes me want to challenge you. So here’s the situation: someone is going to pick you, or someone else, to do a job that you think you’d be the best at. The train is about to leave the station. What would you say?
“I’ve designed 116 infographics. I know what spreads. Some of them were shared over a million times. I’m fast and what I create looks great. Sure, there are lots of people who do infographics, but I know exactly how to take what you have to say and make it into something beautiful that people share a lot.”
“I pave driveways. There is a right and wrong way to do that. When I do it, rain won’t gather in puddles. It won’t wear out and need to be redone in two years. It will look as good then as it does now, and you will no longer have to worry about it. I’ve done so many now I can’t remember, and you can ask any one of the people I worked for to give a reference, because I know how to do this right.”
“I make ads. They’re funny. They’re effective. Maybe you’ll like my sense of humor, maybe you won’t. But the deal is, after I spend some time with you, I will come up with multiple ideas. They will not be things you have heard before. And I will execute them in a way that actually accomplishes your objectives. If you want boring focus-group tested concepts, go to the big guys. If you want original, come to me.”
(Yeah, I just made all of those up.)
Do those sound egotistical? I don’t think so. They sound confident.
They are people talking about what they do, and what they did.
They are honest.
They don’t worry about telling people what they don’t do. (You don’t want that work anyway, it will be tedious for you and the client won’t like it because it’s not what you’re good at.)
And they support appropriate pricing in a world filled with competition.
Do you know what you will say if someone asks you what your pitch is?
I’m looking at you. Suppose I want to either hire you or pick somebody else right now.
What are you going to say?
(Put your own pitch in the comments — I’ll tell you what I think of it.)