Imagine you’re buying something on Amazon. Let’s say you want a new computer mouse. You narrow it down to a handful of options based on price, design and compatibility. Narrowing the search down from 100 to ten was easy. But choosing one mouse from ten is difficult. That’s because these ten mice are so similar. No mouse sticks out to you. One may have a longer battery life. One may be a few dollars cheaper. But it’s pretty much a dead heat!

This is why shopping can be frustrating. So frustrating at times, we don’t buy a mouse at all.

But then you realize one mouse has been named the best mouse for fighting carpal tunnel by a major medical organization. Bam. You buy it. It offers a unique value proposition.

A lot can be learned from this process.

As a freelancer, you’re the mouse. There are 100 other mice out there. Getting in the top ten isn’t too difficult if you’re good. Your prices must be competitive, you must prove you can do the work, you must be pleasant to deal with. But being in the top ten doesn’t mean you have a job. There’s often only a job for the best. Why are you the best? What is your unique value add proposition?

I’m a personal finance freelance writer. My unique value add is that I scored in the 98th percentile on the writing portion of the ACT CAAP test. That’s basically saying I’m a better writer than 98% of the college-aged students who opted to take the test. Though 2% of them are better writers than I am. But of that 2%, how many are freelance writers? And how many of those specialize in personal finance? How many of those are willing to hustle like I am? Probably no one. That’s why saying I scored in the 98th percentile of arguably the most important writing test in the country is my unique value add proposition.

Whenever you pitch, ask yourself, “Why would they want to hire me?” Have a reason. A good reason.

If you can provide a good reason, the work will be available to you. People want the best. It’s not even a matter of marketing yourself or being the best looking or being the best connected. As Bill Gates would say, Content is King. Meaning, the actual work you provide is what matters. That should be your focus. At the end of the day, everything else is just noise. Value add in the area that matters.

Can you still sell mice without a unique value add? Sure. But the sales won’t be as great and each sale will require much more effort. If you want to live the dream of a freelancer, set a high hourly rate, offering a value add is really the only way. It’s like being a sales person. It’s easy if the product sells itself. Yes, you can still sell mice without a unique value add. But it’s a challenge.

What a Unique Value Add Looks Like:

  • The client must desire it naturally. (Convincing them can be difficult and is usually no fun.)
  • It must be real. (Saying you’re a ‘hard worker, goal-oriented, detail-oriented’ is worthless. Every freelancer can say those things.)
  • You must deliver.

It’s Important

If you ever want to know how important this is, create a job on a website like Freelancer. Watch the applications start flowing. After an hour of sifting through them, you’ll be begging for someone to differentiate themselves.

When you’re the one being hired, you must always find a way to stand out.

Good luck!


William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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