Wednesday, March 6, 2013

“What’s Your Specialty?”

When I’m talking to potential clients, I am sometimes asked, “Do you have a specialty?” I used to grapple with how to answer. My career as a freelance writer/editor began after full-time administrative-type stints in pest control, insurance, a trade association for commercial contractors, and the non-profit sector. In the past 18 years, I’ve written and edited for magazine publishers, designers, ad agencies, a sales training research firm, and even a charter school principal. No two have had the same needs, style, or goals.

A specialty? Apparently not. 

Wait – not so fast. After this many years of working with so many different kinds of people and businesses, I’ve come to realize that I do indeed have a specialty. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Content. Meaning.  Communication. 

I learn about what my clients need to say and I help them say it in writing, in a clear, straightforward way. Sometimes my understanding of the subject is based on something as simple as a phone conversation, with me listening and asking questions. Other times, I am asked to extract a cohesive message from existing materials that need to be adapted or updated to another format. Often, I am given something that is already written and asked to improve it. What’s the common thread here? Someone wants to communicate something, and I facilitate the process and the message.

I am reminded of my first conversation about four years ago with my current hair stylist. I wanted her to put some highlights in, and harking back to some bad experiences I’d had with other hairdressers, I started telling her what products she should use and not use. She stopped me cold. “You just tell me what you want your hair to look like,” she said. “Let me figure out how we can get you there.” In this case, my “specialty” may have been my own hair, but she was able to draw upon a wealth of experience in all kinds of hair and hair products to help me achieve the look I wanted. I put myself in Lynda’s capable hands and she has come through for me every time.

So if we’re talking about a writing project, I urge you not to focus the conversation on what I may already know about your specialty, but instead on where you need to go. Then, when the time comes, I’ll embrace your subject whatever it may be, make it my own, and help you create a message that speaks (or sings or whispers or roars) to your audience.

That's my specialty.

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