What Freelance Writers Can Learn From the World’s Best Restaurant

Carol Tice

By Ed Gandia

Bern’s Steakhouse is by far my favorite restaurant anywhere.

I’m not alone. John Mariani, one of America’s top food critics, has called this Tampa, Fla. steakhouse “the most remarkable restaurant in the entire world.”

Why is Bern’s so special?

There are many reasons. First, Bern’s is an institution. It’s an old-school steakhouse that’s been around since the mid-1950s. The décor is tacky and a bit overdone, which gives the place some real character.

Service is top-notch. Waiters train for a year before they can serve you on their own. They truly know their stuff.

Bern’s steaks are perfectly aged. And the restaurant spares no expense to bring you the best, freshest ingredients from all over the world.

And the wine … oh, boy! 6,500 different selections. Hundreds of thousands of bottles. Tons of rarities that have been perfectly stored in Bern’s private cellar for decades. Insane.

Then there’s the dessert room, which is another experience in and of itself. Last time I visited, Bern’s had more than 50 different desserts, hundreds of dessert wines and dozens of coffees from around the world. And you get your own private, enclosed booth where you can choose from a variety of music channels or a live piano.

It’s no surprise that the first thing you read when you go to the Bern’s Steakhouse website is “We do things differently here.”

They really do. That’s why you’ll drop $300 (or more) for dinner when you go there. It’s a lot of money. But it’s a wonderful experience you don’t soon forget!

There’s an important lesson here for freelancers and all solo practitioners:

Bern’s truly knows what they stand for. They’re very clear about this — and they don’t make excuses.

They don’t apologize for selling red meat. Or for being expensive. Or for selling bottles of wine that cost more than a monthly car payment.

Bern’s is Bern’s. Their customers qualify themselves. That’s the way they want it.

And that’s incredibly smart, because ANY business that tries to be all things to all people will eventually fail.

That’s true whether you own a steakhouse … or a freelance business.

You see, as a freelance professional, your most valuable nonrenewable resource is your time. That’s why you should always strive to maximize the income you earn for every hour you put into your business.

A big part of doing this well is to be very, very clear about what you’re all about: on your website, in your marketing materials, and in your conversations with prospects and referral sources.

It’s about being perfectly clear on what services you offer. Why you’re different. What kind of clients you can help. What kind of organizations you can’t help.

It’s about taking a stand and not trying to be all things to all people.

Because the clearer you are about what you’re all about, the easier it will get for you. You’ll start attracting more prospects who have prequalified themselves. Which means you won’t have to spend as much time trying to persuade those who don’t “get it.”

And that means more time for billable work. More time to work on making your solo business more profitable. More time for fun activities outside of work.

How do you increase the chances that most of the prospects who contact you have prequalified themselves? Here are six ideas:

  1. Make sure that your marketing materials (including your website) are written for prospects who already understand the value of hiring a professional freelance writer. Don’t try to sell the value of quality copy or content. There are enough prospects who already hire freelancers in your profession to waste time on those who don’t.
  2. Take a stand — be clear about the type of work you do and don’t do, as well as the type of clients you work with (and those you can’t help).
  3. Be explicit about what makes you different. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.
  4. Make it clear, implicitly or explicitly, that you’re not the cheapest service provider in town (or online).
  5. Develop a specialty and communicate why you’re the obvious choice for that type of work or for that industry. Everything else being equal, clients would rather work with someone who already “gets” their industry, customers or readership.
  6. Add credibility elements to support your claims, such as clips, testimonials, client lists, success stories, awards and so on.

Helping prospects qualify themselves before they contact you is a smart business practice. Your prospects will appreciate your clarity, honesty and professionalism. You’ll end up with clients who are a better fit for you, don’t shop your fees around and give you more work.

And you’ll almost always boost your income for every hour you invest in your business.

So don’t be afraid. Take a stand. Be selective. Be like Bern’s.

You owe it to your prospects. And you owe it to yourself!

What makes you special? Tell us in the comments below.



  1. Gail Overstreet

    Well said: “…Which means you won’t have to spend as much time trying to persuade those who don’t “get it.” ”

    One can waste a ton of time just on this aspect of freelancing! This post was just what the doctor ordered for me today, as I was struggling with this “persuasion” issue yet again…habits can be hard to break sometimes.


    • Ed Gandia

      Thaks, Gail! Great to hear it resonated with you. 😉

  2. Erica

    Thank you so much for this article. It’s what I needed to hear. I’ve only recently made the jump to freelance copywriting and am realizing how easy it is to get lost when I haven’t figured out who I’m targeted or how. Now having read this and yesterday’s article about figuring out who my ideal client is, I’m starting to identify key areas for improvement to my professional website. It could be a lot more focused. And in all honesty, so can I.

    Thank you. I’m bookmarking this post.

    • Ed Gandia

      Thanks for checking out the post, Erica. Good to hear this got you thinking in the right direction.

  3. Ruan

    Thanks for this article. When I just read the previous article and made a shift in my mind about whom I want to target, this article came as a welcome companion to that.

    I will need to sit down and clear up for myself what I am all about, what I want from my freelancing career and how I would like to help those that need the help and define exactly whom those people are.

    You helped me a great deal in reaching this point where I have to analyse this important aspect of my business, thanks for that!

    • Ed Gandia

      Ruan – Take your time with this exercise. I’ve found that these answers don’t usually come overnight. They can, but the best answers take a bit longer. Let the question simmer in your mind for a few days and see what turns up. Good luck with the process!

  4. Laura Spencer

    Great points Ed,

    But they are also so easy to forget.

    It’s a great tactic (and saves a lot of time) to target only those clients who will view you as a professional writer.

    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Laura —

      Right on…I know so many freelancers who complain about their long ramp with clients where they have to explain what the value would be of hiring a freelancer. That’s a signal that you’re targeting the wrong kind of client.

      You want clients who already GET the value of using freelancers. Ideally, they’ve already used them so you don’t have to train them up on how it works. 😉

    • Ed Gandia

      Thank YOU, Laura! Means a ton coming from you. 😉

  5. Damien

    This post really resonated with me for a couple of reasons. First – it reminded me of Seth Godin’s discussion of Sripraphai Thai restaurant in Queens during a recent episode of his new podcast. That restaurant also makes it clear it’s not for everyone and makes no apologies for being what it is. As a result it has consistently been an unlikely entry in New York’s top restaurant guides.

    Secondly, the part about not trying to sell people on the advantages of hiring a writer in the first place is great advice. So many people – not just writers – misunderstand the type of people who will be visiting their website and how they will be getting there. If you are in a specific niche (e.g. writing) then people already know the value of your services, and if they don’t, then you’re not going to convince them with a visit to your website! So it’s great advice to not waste space preaching to the choir and instead using the space on convincing people who already know the value you can offer and rather want reasons to choose you over the next guy/gal.

    • Ed Gandia

      Damien – Now I’m curious! I’ll have to check that Godin podcast. Thanks for the heads-up. And thanks for your feedback. Good to hear this was helpful.

  6. Lucy Smith

    So true, and SO easy to forget! And isn’t it always the ones who you’ve got to convince that are the hardest to work with?

  7. Amandah

    Will there be a replay of the webinar? I’m in Ohio and we haven’t had power since Monday at 8:30 pm. No one realizes how hard Ohio got hit in addition to the East Coast. I’m at the library, but I need to get back home because my uncle brought us a generator yesterday, and today he’ll try t hook up our furnace so we can have heat. Thank God for the electricians in my family. 🙂

    • Carol Tice

      Yow – sorry to hear about the power! We were down for 3 hrs on Monday only. Thankfully we’re set up to function without power here with our woodstove for cooking and heating (though obviously that doesn’t get the writing filed)…

      Yeah, if your on any one of my lists the replay should come your way in the next several days.

  8. Ernie Zelinski

    I am going to challenge you on your take on Bern’s Steakhouse, particularly the steaks they serve and their great wine, and how this relates to the writing business. What a bunch of crap!

    I am not a freelance writer per se, but I am a writer and I have my clients and target market that I serve well and who provide me with a great income for the great content that I create.

    You say, “That’s why you’ll drop $300 (or more) for dinner when you go there. It’s a lot of money. But it’s a wonderful experience you don’t soon forget!”

    So, B.F.D.

    I can take you to a Greek restaurant in Vancouver where they serve steak on pitta for $9.95 (topped with great mushrooms and interrupted with great french fries) that you won’t soon forget. On Tuesdays, some weeks, the restaurant has a New York steak special for $7.95.

    During the last week, I was in a Las Vegas restaurant where I paid $26.95 for a steak and where I happened to meet Wayne Newton (that’s another story in itself).

    Guess what? I ate only half the steak. What a big disppointment aside from meeting the gracious Wayne Newton!

    When I got back to my hometown, I told a friend about the experience. He pointed out, “But Ernie, you were in the United States, where the steak comes from corn-fed cattle. In Vancouver, the steak comes from Alberta (my home province) cattle which are grain fed. Of course, the $9.95 steak or the $7.95 New York steak at Stepho’s in Vancouver is going to be much, much better of a deal than the $26.95 steak in Las Vegas.

    Incidentally, Stepho’s in Vancouver has been around for 22 years and there are lineups every night, sometimes a block long. As Jack Canfield says, “Results don’t lie.”

    Regarding the wine, this is a bunch of crap too. Studies have shown that in blind-fold tests people generally can’t tell the difference between expensive wines and inexpensive wines that cost less than $10 a bottle.

    In short, I am amazed by the amount of pretence and general crap that people cite, not so much in the restaurant business, but in the writing and publishing business.

    And if you think that I am someone who doesn’t know the book business, you are wrong. I know just a bit about it. I have been self-publishing since 1989, long before the so-called trendy and cool people (who I find revolting) started calling it the “indie revolution” ( I find this revolting too). Have you ever noticed how the vast majority of trendy and cool people are broke and will continue to be broke? Even more important, they are in denial about this big-time.

    For the record, my 15 books have sold over 750,000 copies worldwide. I have 111 book deals with publishers around the world, with my books having been published in 29 countries in 22 languages. These book deals have been negotiated without the use of a North American literary agent. Check out my websites and you will see that all of them are very unprofessional. This, I can say: Regardless of how unprofessional I am, I will outperform over 99.9 percent of authors, regardless of how professional they are.

    And I don’t need a high-end steak house as a reference point.

    The key: Common sense along with inspired action will outperform intellectual absurdity along with false hope every day of the year.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Prosperity Life Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 165,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Carol Tice

      Sounds like you’ve clearly qualified yourself out as not a Bern’s customer, Ernie. Sort of proves Ed’s point.

      That doesn’t mean other people don’t enjoy luxury dining. I’d say Bern’s success testifies to that.

      Congrats on the books success —

  9. Kevin Carlton

    This whole idea of offering a niche service also applies to SEO.

    It’s far better to be on the first page of search engine results for one very clear, specialised and specific service than be hidden away on page 25 amongst of sea of competitors all selling the same general service.

    You might not then be the ideal fit for everyone, but at least you’re guaranteed to be pretty well perfect for others.

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