What Advertisers Can Teach You About Marketing Your Writing: 3 Success Tips

Carol Tice

by Jennifer Carsen

Regardless of what kind of writing you specialize in, there’s a lot to be learned from the world of advertising.

After all, if you can’t get your name out there, and convince potential clients that you’re the best person for the job, it doesn’t really matter how good a writer you are.

Here are three sure-fire ways to boost demand for your work:

1. Ask “What’s In It for Me?”

This is one of the very first things new marketers are taught: Your audience doesn’t care at all about you.

They care about themselves—their desires, needs, and problems. Accordingly, your website and other marketing materials should appeal to these instincts:

Bad: “I’ve been passionate about writing since the age of 3, armed with a wide-rule notebook and a blue crayon…”

Better: “My rewrite of your home page will highlight your company’s unique strengths and bring in valuable new leads for you.”

2. Target a highly specific niche

Gerber doesn’t advertise its strained peas on the front page of the New York Times. That would require wasting a whole lot of money to get in front of millions of people who have no interest in strained peas (i.e., people who don’t have small children at home).

Instead, they target markets aimed at new parents. Similarly, you should not try to be all things to all people on your writing website.

Highlight your specialties. You may feel that this limits your potential opportunities, but it actually has the opposite effect of attracting the exact people you want to write for.

Think of it this way: If you need heart surgery, and you have the choice of a heart specialist or a generalist who does just a few heart surgeries a year, who are you going to pick?

Bad: “If you need it written, I can write it!”

Better: “I specialize in writing blog posts and feature articles in the areas of food, fitness, and travel.”

3. Spotlight your testimonials

You can talk about how great you are all day long—but what’s really compelling is when other people talk about how great you are.

It’s pretty easy to get testimonials from previous clients. Assuming they were happy with your work, all you need to do is ask.

Testimonials are most effective when they’re specific and believable, so don’t try to clean up your clients’ words too much.

Also, if you’re just starting out, don’t forget that even non-paying clients can provide you with great testimonials—maybe you did a bang-up job on the flyer for your son’s school fundraiser, or a volunteer newsletter.

Bad: “I’ve been told I have a real way with words.”

Better: “The brochure Joan wrote for us led to a 4% increase in sales last month. We were thrilled with the finished product and found her very easy to work with.”As long as you make a consistent effort to focus on your clients’ needs, and demonstrate how you can effectively meet them, you’ll always have a steady flow of work.

What do you say on your writer website about your services? Leave us a URL so we can check it out.

Jennifer Carsen is a writer, blogger, and blog consultant who helps writers and other solo professionals build a following of raving fans. 


  1. Heiddi

    Hi Carol and Jennifer. Great post today. I struggle with all of this, but the biggest challenge is #2. I don’t have a clear definition of what I want to write about so everything else is on the back burner now. Again great post! Take care.

    • Jennifer Carsen

      Hi Heiddi–

      So glad you found the post helpful! I do agree that you’ll want to get even a rough sense of the type of writing you want to do before you go much further–you can always tweak it later on.

    • Jennifer Carsen

      Hi Mellissa–

      Thanks so much for your comment. I took a quick look at your site and here are a few thoughts:

      1. It’s not directly relevant to what I wrote in this post, but I’d suggest replacing your quill with a headshot of yourself. People really like seeing the faces of the folks they may be working with (Carol’s site is a good example–I’d know her face anywhere, even though we’ve never met in person!)

      2. I feel like the “hire me” is a little abrupt, coming as it does right on your homepage. We don’t know much about you yet at that point. I might change that link to some of your samples, or testimonials from other people who hired you and are thrilled they did.

      3. Another general observation–light text on a dark screen can be hard on the eyes; you may want to consider changing that, as writers’ websites are necessarily pretty text-heavy.

      Thanks again for your comment, and best of luck with your business!

      • Mellissa Thomas


        Thanks so much for taking the time to visit my site and provide your feedback. Looks like I’ve got some cleaning up to do. 🙂 I appreciate your help!

  2. Sunshine Stanfield

    Thanks for these great tips! I have recently discovered your blog, and really enjoy it. I am hoping to continue to improve as a writer, and find the best niche for me. I had a portfolio prominent on my site, but a large amount of my work has been ghostwriting and I can’t publish it on my site. I opted to make the testimonials more accessible.

    As far as a niche, I don’t think that I’ve really found mine. I am just hungry and eager to do anything I can to be successful. I enjoy writing about travel, food, and people…..but I write what people pay me to write.

    Please check out my site http://www.sunshinewrites.com and let me know how you think I could improve the site/wording.

    Thank you so much!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Sunshine — I checked out your site, but I’m stopped by the first line “SunshineWrites is a professional company who…”

      Companies are not “who”s. People are who. Companies which or that.

      You seem like you’re doing a thing a lot of solopreneurs do, where they try to make it appear they are an agency with a big staff or something. They start talking about themselves in the third person.

      If it’s just you there behind the curtain, don’t do that. Be you. Show us a picture of you.

      Prospects will only be disappointed when they discover you are essentially lying on your site about who you are, what you do, and what you can deliver for them.

      • Jennifer Carsen

        Hi Sunshine–

        Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with Carol here–it can actually work to your advantage to be “just you” on your site, as you can be more personal. Potential clients will like knowing that they’re dealing with a real live person rather than a faceless (and, in this case, fictitious!) entity. Being a solo professional also allows you a degree of personalized service that simply can’t be matched by the bigger guys–so play to your strengths!

        • Sunshine Stanfield

          Thank you so much for your candid response! I really appreciated it! I agree that personalized service is much better. I, myself, prefer to work with REAL people… and I need to make sure my website is more ME and less of a storefront.

          I should’ve went with my gut.


      • Sunshine Stanfield

        Thank you so much for your honest response! I appreciate it. I really wanted it to be more personal, and was trying to balance it with being professional. When I created my website, I had a mentor who had suggested I write it like that. I never understood it. My picture is on the “About Me” page, but do you feel it should be on the first page?

        I will change that this evening!!

        I had started out with my blog at http://endlessdiscoveries.wordpress.com/ which is my personal travel blog for fun. I created a Facebook business pag (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sunshine-Writes/191333747633743) and a webpage. I am very new to all of this! I have been writing behind the scenes, and mostly ghostwriting website content.

        I appreciate your insights and value your opinion and experience.

        Thank you very much!!

        • Carol Tice

          I don’t equate lying about your business with being professional. To me, it’s the opposite.

          The thing is, there are just so many scams on the Internet. Every successful writer I know online is making money because they’re authentic and honest about who they are and what they can do. I don’t know who told you to pretend you’re an agency…but they suck. You can tell them I said. Pretending sucks online…perhaps even more than in real life.

          • Sunshine Stanfield

            I agree that they suck!! I actually ended up having nothing, but issues with that individual in the end. I have always been a real person in real life, and I dislike fake people. I don’t want to be considered one of them. That is actually a huge dig to me personally.

            I appreciate that you pointed out that my site is presenting a ‘fake’ image, because I can change that!!

            Thank you.

          • Sunshine Stanfield

            I tried to take your advice and change my main landing page, and I re-wrote my ‘about me’ page in my own voice.

            If you have a chance…could you look at it and tell me if it’s better? I really want to put my best foot forward here, and portray the true me. My heart and my talent both have been the reason I have achieved so much up until now. I do not ever want to lose my identity behind false pretenses!! That is NOT who I am.

            Thank you so much for your time!!

          • Jennifer Carsen

            Hi Sunshine–

            Looks good! I would suggest changing “Sunshine Writes is my professional writing business” to more of an introduction, eg, “I’m Sunshine Stanfield, and I provide high quality…” Because you have such an unusual first name (again, an asset here!), I think that will lead people into who you are and what you do a little more smoothly. Also, it’s clear from your subhead–High Quality Writing Services For the Busy Professional–that you’re running a professional writing business, so that part is already established.

          • Sunshine Stanfield

            Thank you Jennifer! I will change that right away! I am always looking for ways to improve, and it’s hard to weed through all the good and bad advice out there. Just working on finding my little niche in the writing world!

            Thank you again!!

          • Sunshine Stanfield

            I just thought of one more question! My portfolio is kind of awful on my page, because it doesn’t really have that much of my paid work on there. I have done quite a bit of ghostwriting, and am wondering how I can incorporate that into my portfolio?

          • Carol Tice

            Unless you signed a nondisclosure, just put it up under a heading that says ghostwriting, ideally paired with testimonials from those clients.

            Even if you did sign an ND, just ask the client if you can use it purely on your writing site as a sample. Often, they’ll agree. People understand you gotta eat.

            I had one client where I blacked out all references to their name and then posted it so people could see the copy…another possibility.

  3. Sharon Gibson

    I like the way you write Jennifer. Your blog post is well organized and clear with examples. You said some familiar themes, a little different and they hit home in a fresh way to me. Good job!
    My website is: http://www.15minutewriter.com I’d love to know what you think.

    • Jennifer Carsen

      Hi Sharon–

      Thanks for your comment–so glad you found the post useful! I took a quick look at your site, and I think it’s got a lot going for it: readable, uncluttered design; a clear call to action (the sign-up request in the right sidebar); and a fantastic, memorable name. Best of luck with your business!

      • Sharon Gibson

        Thank you much Jennifer! Those are encouraging words coming from you with your expertise. I signed up to receive more good content from you. 🙂

        • Jennifer Carsen

          Thanks so much, Sharon! Appreciate your interest and look forward to having you aboard.

  4. Carolyn

    This is definitely a great post for new writers out there. It just means that they should know better and don’t just jump into something that they are not sure of. I really learn a lot on your blog and I even ask my friends to check your blog too. Hope to read more good stuff here in the long run. 🙂 Keep it up! 🙂

  5. Sylvia

    After reading this blog post I have concluded that my site may be the perfect example of what not to do. Yikes! Any specific suggestions for improvement?

    Thank you!

    • Carol Tice

      Your About page is pretty strong, but your home page makes you look like a scam, with the 3 columns stuffed full of SEO keyword headlines. Take a look at this landing page from one of our Den members, and how simple and personal it is for an idea of what makes an impactful website for solo writing pros: http://oscarhalpert.com/

      I think you need to pick one or two key phrases you want to rank for, instead of trying to game the search engines and rank for every writing-related term under the sun.

      • Jennifer Carsen

        Hi Sylvia–

        I think Carol’s advice is right on point. SEO can be a helpful tool, but it’s important to remember that ultimately your website needs to appeal to real people–the ones who can actually hire and pay you!–and not just search engines. Also, I find with your home page that there’s no one focal point–it’s difficult to know where to look, or what to read first. Clearing out some of the keyword lists will help, and after that I’d try to really figure out what you want people to DO when they come to your site (look at your clips? Sign up for your ezine?) and make that the focus of the page. Good luck!

      • Sylvia

        Thank you Carol and Jennifer for the very specific advice. What looks like key word stuffed headlines for the purspose of SEO, is actually the WordPress design’s tag words placement. They put it at the top of the post. It’s one thing I hated about the design but I liked the 3 magazine style column so I could showcase the different services. It does look like a mish mash though.

        Also, as much as I hate the tags at the top, my site is ranking on pages 1 and 2 of a google search for a couple of keyword terms. And I got two paid writing assignments this week from these searches (for letter writing)!

        So, I think I’ll have to think about how to improve the site without losing my ranking. Thank you again. I am learning so much from your blogs.

        • Carol Tice

          I’d be curious about what sort of rates you got for writing a letter…I think the style and presentation of this site says “low-paying gigs” to me. You’re getting found…but what are you getting offered off this site?

          • Sylvia

            The rates are disclosed on the site in the Rates page. $40 for a letter. These were a letter of complaint and a letter of persuasion (personal). What is your opinion of that rate?

          • Carol Tice

            If you can live off that, then you’re great.

            As I think I said above in the comments, I don’t take assignments under $400. Doing a lot of tiny one-off projects, it’s very hard to earn a living. Maybe if it’s a part time thing, it works.

          • Sylvia

            No, I can’t live on $40. My niche will be business plan writing. I have a page devoted to that and I’m on page 2 in Google for “affordable business plans”. The starting rate for that is $499. But the letter writing and other odd assignments will be filler. That’s the plan anyway.
            Thanks again for your input.

          • Carol Tice

            Speaking as a longtime business reporter who has worked with many startups and read many business plans…writing a business plan is something that should cost several thousand dollars, at least, depending on how much of the research end they want you to do and how complex it is. This is a document they can use to leverage millions of dollars of investment money from investors, and as such it is a complex document and specialized, highly paid work ordinarily.

            I think if you have experience in this niche — and by experience I mean you’ve done it once before — you’re selling yourself very short with your pricing.

          • Sylvia

            Ah, well now you’re speaking MY language. I DO have experience writing many business plans. I also wrote a how-to manual “You Can Write Your Own Successful Business Plan” several years ago. I also have direct experience with loan officers and SBA reps, all of whom preferred my concise 20 page plans over the overblown, overly detailed plans (the $2000 plans). While you were reporting on business, I was living it as a business owner. I also spent many years advising entrepreneurs on business start ups. Most entrepreneurs don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a business plan. That’s where I come in. I know how to write excellent bp’s following the preferred SBA format (including financials). And there is no reason to charge an arm and a leg.

            I’ve been around the block once or twice gaining experience in the corporate world and as a business owner. This all sidetracked me from the writing career I should have pursued. Now it’s time for me to do what I truly love. Write for a living.

            I know your intention is to help writers get away from the cheapening of the industry. I cringe and want to scream when I see ‘writers’ take $3 and $5 for a blog post or an article. But I believe my rates are fair and reasonable.

          • Jennifer Carsen

            I know nothing about business plan writing specifically, but I would add that anytime you position yourself on the basis of price – which you’re doing with “affordable business plans” – you are going to attract clients who are looking at price, not value, and those are nearly always the most difficult people to work with.

          • Sylvia

            Eww. Good point. Something to think about.

  6. Josh Monen

    Hi Jennifer, thanks for sharing this. It reminded me to do some spring cleaning on my site. When it comes to writing copy for my clients I have no problem focusing on benefits instead of features. But I think it’s harder to take an objective look at something that I’m so emotionally attached to. That’s why it’s nice to have a community like the one Carol started. Thank you both! And yes, I’m open to suggestions about my site.

    • Jennifer Carsen

      Hi Josh-

      Thanks for your comment! I took a look at your site, and I think it’s a nice, clean, simple design–it’s instantly clear who you are and what type of writing you do. The photo is a nice touch, too. I also like that your body copy starts with “You” rather than “I”–that helps to draw people in. Also, I very much agree that objectivity is much harder when it’s your own site–excellent point there!

  7. Diane

    Awesome post. I think I have found a niche and am working toward only writing for it and have a few testimonials up but sometimes the “what’s in it for me” is a little difficult because my niche is not easy to get into.

    • Jennifer Carsen

      Thanks for the comment, Diane. What’s your specific niche? You have a lot of “What I can do for you” statements on your home page, which is great, but it’s not clear to me exactly who you’re trying to target.

  8. Jean

    Thanks for this post. I sometimes get the reaction that people don’t know exactly what I do when thet visit my site. Jean

    • Jennifer Carsen

      Hi Jean–

      Thanks so much for your comment. I don’t know if this applies to you, but oftentimes when people come away from sites without a clear sense of their direction, it’s because the people who created the sites aren’t entirely sure themselves! Sometimes it can be helpful to think in terms of the problem you’re trying to solve. For example, most people don’t get up in the morning and think, “I sure would like to have a comfortable and self-nurturing relationship with food,” but something more along the lines of “Why can’t I stop stuffing myself with these @#%&! Hershey Bars?”

  9. MeganWrites Media

    Great tips! I definitely need to work on this for my website. I’d love for someone to check it out and give me some tips! I recently changed the look of it but could use some feedback on the content.

    • Jennifer Carsen

      Hi Megan–

      Thanks for your comment! I like the design of your site; very clean and readable. On your home page, you mention specializing in the wedding industry (a nice, claimable niche), but on the “about” page (nice pic, by the way) that’s a little buried and you come across as more of a generalist. I would also say you should get really clear on who your blog posts are written for (potential clients? Other writers?) and keep that consistent. Best wishes!

      • MeganWrites Media

        Thanks, Jennifer! I am a generalist in the sense that I offer a number of services, but work frequently with wedding pros in a variety of services and want to market to them alongside my other clients. Perhaps I need to step up a separate site for that. What are your thoughts?

        • Jennifer Carsen

          I think weddings are such a specific, searchable niche that I’d probably set up a separate site. At the very least a separate, dedicated page on your existing site, but a separate site really sends the message that you are a specialist in this area.

  10. Janine Boldrin

    I’ve recently redesigned my site and would love some feedback. I think I have to improve on my testimonials. With transitioning to a new design, I’ve had a little bit of a learning curve on how to update and add, but I think I’m finally at a point to add more (if necessary). I try to keep current articles posted – – which reminds me, I need to update my clips page again! Thanks for the look….

    • Carol Tice

      That’s quite a nice site you’ve got there, Janine! And an interesting writing niche.

      Just one comment I’d make is it’s very hard to contact you through this site, as all you have is a fill-in contact form. How often do you like to fill those out, and how confident are you when you do that someone will really respond? Yeah. Me too.

      What you want to do is kill that contact tab and get a real email — and ideally phone — into your sidebar there, so it’s visible on every page.

      • Janine Boldrin

        Thanks Carol! Definitely! I never thought of adding an email address to the sidebar for each page. I’ll do that this afternoon. And thanks for taking the time to look at the site. I’ve enjoyed following you on Twitter, plus I get a lot of great info. I can put into action from your blog.

        • Jennifer Carsen

          Hi Janine–

          I took a look at your site as well, and I don’t really have anything to add beyond what Carol’s already said–I love how narrow your niche is; that’s a great strength you can use in your marketing (not to mention your SEO efforts).

  11. Amruta Marwah

    Hi Carol and Jennifer,

    I have been following your blogs and tweets and the advice you extend really helps with writing and organizing my thoughts and my blog better.

    I have a major problem though, that I haven’t found my niche yet. I like science blogging and that is something new I am trying, but I started off just blogging about random stuff. I like to write about a variety of topics, and am still not sure if I have a niche area. Although, I have been contributing to some dailies in India about cultural differences in US and India, but that is not something I write all the time.

    If you could please take a look at my blog, and give feedback, that would be great. Also, if you find time to read the blogs, and think that I could have an underlying niche, please guide me with respect to that.

    Any other suggestions and recommendations are more than welcome. Hearing form professionals and experts like both of you really pushes amateurs like me, towards improvement.

    Thank you for your time,

    • Carol Tice

      The thing about using your blog as a writing sample, Amruta, is that all prospective clients want to see you understand niche blogging. For good-paying work, it’s all niche writing, not “write about whatever you want.” So they want to see you can develop and execute many posts on the same topic.

      You can certainly pick a niche — just pick one! Science is certainly a great niche area. If you have some knowledge in that area.

      Just know that ultimately, which niche you blog on isn’t that important — I’ve gotten gigs blogging about surety bonds off my writing blog, for instance. You can show your topic expertise in other work samples you’ve done, and your blogging expertise on your blog…if that makes sense.

      Pick a topic you’re passionate about and can see yourself developing many post topics for…and maybe one you could develop or sell products in in future, so that the blog might become its own income stream.

      I see in your bio you’re a microbiologist! You should GO for the science niche in writing…it’s a good paying one.

      • Amruta Marwah

        Thank you for your suggestions and advice, Carol. It will definitely help me with working devotedly towards finding my specific niche in science. Your expert advice about science blogging will surely provide me with the confidence to venture into this area.
        As for the topic expertise and blogging expertise, did you mean that, maybe I could have topics within my blog and then write more posts about certain topics?
        Also, about developing or selling products on the blog, I am not sure how that would work for a science blog.

        If it is not too much to ask, could you please take a look at my science blog, and see if something like that would help me be better at niche blogging. I am still working on finding better sources for material, so there is not a lot of content on it yet.

        Looking forward to your suggestions,

        Thank you again for your time,

        • Carol Tice

          Hi Amruta —

          If you want a lot of advice on your blog, I recommend joining A-List Blogger Club …they are the headquarters for that sort of thing. You can read about my great experience there on that link.

          What I was saying is just pick one niche and blog on it. You don’t need to have a bunch of sub-blogs on different topics. It’s hard enough keeping up one blog, I say!

          • Amruta Marwah

            Thanks Carol for the great suggestion! I will check out the A-list Blogger Club to improvise on my blogging skills.
            And I completely agree about keeping up one blog being more than enough 🙂

            Thank you for your valuable advice,

          • Jennifer Carsen

            Hi Amruta–

            Thanks for inviting us to check out your site. I agree with Carol that it’s important to just go ahead and pick a niche–you can always change it later if you want. Also, in the beginning stages of blogging, it’s putting the cart before the horse to worry too much about how you’re going to monetize it. (If you’re really intent on making money online, there are easier and faster ways to go about it.) Find something you really love writing about first, and then go from there. Also, I would remove the creative commons and no-copy mentions from your sidebar–they add clutter and don’t serve any real purpose (they also contradict each other to some extent, as the creative commons encourages sharing, while “no copy” does not!). Good luck with your blog!

  12. Sara

    wow. awesome blog site .. never seen such blog .. thanks a lot for sharing such a unique stuff ….


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