Let’s start at the very beginning

I was born in 1997…just kidding, we don’t need to start at the very beginning. We can skip to the end of 2020. I had just seen an ad on Instagram that piqued my interest. It was from a company called Sarah Turner Agency, and it was offering a course called Write Your Way to Freedom. 

Write? Freedom? I loved writing, and I was looking for more freedom! You see, I had been working a 9-5 job, and even though I was working remotely, I still felt like my time wasn’t my own. So, I clicked on the link, signed up for the free masterclass, and then…I did nothing for a long time.

Let’s skip ahead even more to July 2021. I finally decided I was going to do something with that free masterclass I signed up for. I watched all the videos, took rigorous notes, and decided that I wanted to do something a little different than writing. I decided that I wanted to be an editor. Specifically, I wanted to be an editor for scientific professionals like researchers, professors, and other scientific writers. Claire Brown Agency was born, and I was winging it. 

Final time-skip to July 2022. I completely rebranded and switched niches. It took me some time, but I finally feel like I’ve settled into my space here in the copyediting world. But along the way, I experienced a lot of disappointment and A LOT of trial and error. And I’m still learning more every day! If you’re new to starting out your business, I want to help you save some time by diving into 4 major mistakes I made when first starting my business and what you should do instead to avoid making them.

Mistake #1 – Playing it “safe” with my chosen niche

When I first started my business, I didn’t give a lot of thought to my niche. My background is in science; I have a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and a master’s degree in pharmaceutical nanotechnology. It seemed like a no-brainer to focus on health sciences as my niche, and that’s as deeply as I thought about that.

I began to reach out to researchers and other scientific writers, mainly focusing on researchers, professors, and other scientific professionals that write research articles. I had read a lot of scientific articles and did see a need for editing services for scientific professionals, but what I didn’t think about was the stigma surrounding scientific writing.

If you’re not familiar with the world of academic writing, it’s a very prestigious process. And honestly, it should be because so. much. work. goes into performing the research, writing about it in a manuscript, and getting it published. The process can take years, so it should be a special process. But what I didn’t think about is the fact that, since it’s so prestigious, scientists are very picky about who gets to be a part of the process.

And I didn’t know how to earn their trust (see mistakes #2 and #3 for more on that). 

So in July 2022, I decided to rebrand. At first, I thought I just wanted to target health science copywriters and other medical writers, but the more I actually did in-depth research into the world of copywriting, the more I came across the same problem. Copywriters, no matter their niche, didn’t have enough time. They wanted more free time to do other things (whether that was take on more clients, find a better work-life balance, or just take a freaking break). 

And I knew I could help. I wanted to help. So, I rebranded, refocused, reflected, and now I’m certain that I’m in the right niche and helping the right people.

If I could offer one piece of advice to beginning business owners, it’s to do your research before you start your business. Know your market, and you won’t waste your valuable time like I did!

Mistake #2 – Sending out an unpersonalized email sequence as my opening cold email

In the beginning, my lead generation tactics were doodoo. I went for quantity over quality and started compiling thousands (yes, literally THOUSANDS) of professors’ and researchers’ email addresses. Then, to make my life easier, I decided to add them to an email list on MailChimp. I sent so many unpersonalized email sequences as my opening cold email.

And I probably ended up in so many trash cans and spam folders. I cringe just thinking about it, and if you were personally victimized by an early Claire Brown Agency cold email, I apologize. 

As you can guess, I didn’t get a lot of traction. I thought I was doing a good thing by giving people the option to unsubscribe, but I realize now that emails, especially cold emails, need to be personalized. I wonder what would have happened if I had taken the time to email my LinkedIn connections from my own email account and really curate my emails to individuals.

Now, I’m not saying that a baseline amount of automation is bad. It definitely isn’t, and it can save you a lot of time. (Otherwise, you’ll be busy drafting and sending emails 24/7). But there has to be a balance. And you have to make sure that the copy in your emails is curated to your ideal client (see mistake #3 for more on that).

So my suggestion? Write a somewhat personalized email sent from your own email account (as opposed to an email generator database like MailChimp), and save email lists for those who willingly subscribe and want to receive your emails. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble, and you’ll end up in far fewer trash cans and spam folders!

Mistake #3 – Focusing my website and marketing materials on me instead of my clients

At first, I made the rookie-est mistake of all the rookie mistakes. I thought my clients wanted to hear about me. I thought that, in order to earn their trust, they needed to know all about me. So all of my website copy and all of my marketing material was focused on who I was, what I did, and what I could offer.

Me, me, me, me, me! The thing is, my clients don’t care about me. Not a lot, anyway. It’s true that to be successful as a freelancer, you have to establish credibility with your clients. But a little “me” goes a looooong way. Deep down, your clients want to know that you understand their needs and can help them with their problems.

After this revelation, I completely revamped my website copy. I changed the way I worded my marketing materials. I focused on the main goal of my company (see mistake #4). And so far, I’ve been successful!

So I suggest focusing on your clients instead of yourself. They want to know that you understand their pain points and that you’re providing a solution for them. You’ll connect with a lot more potential clients that way, and you’ll earn their trust in the meantime!

Mistake #4 – Not defining a clear “why”

This mistake goes hand-in-hand with mistake #3, but I’ve come to learn its importance on its own, so I think it deserves its own point here. I’ve already talked about how my website and marketing materials were all focused on me, but I realized that all of my reasons for even starting a business in the first place were “me” motivated.

I started a business because I wanted to make more money. I wanted to have more freedom. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to eventually leave my 9-5 job. I think these are all valid reasons to start a business, but it has to be deeper than that.

When I reevaluated my business, I also reevaluated my reasoning behind starting my business, and I realized that I wanted to start my business to truly help people. And suddenly, my business-motivating, life-changing “why” was born: to help copywriters and content creators save their precious time by providing start-to-finish editing services – because your time IS precious.

The point of having a clearly defined “why” is to keep you motivated in all you do. See, when I didn’t immediately achieve my me-focused whys, I got discouraged and unmotivated. Now that I’ve clearly defined my “why,” I make sure that everything I do (marketing, social media, website, emails, blog posts) reflects that reason. If my goal is truly to help people (which it is), I strive to do that in everything I do related to my business. And my business and I are much better off because of it.

So, my suggestion for business owners? Make sure you have a clearly defined “why.” Know your externally motivated reason for running your own business, then center everything you do around that reason! You’ll be surprised how easy it is to stay motivated when you have your clients’ needs as your main motivator.

Let’s recap…

  • Do research into your chosen niche – know your clients’ pain points and how you can solve their problems
  • Send out a somewhat personalized email (from your personal email address) as your initial cold open email – save email lists for willing subscribers
  • Focus your website and marketing materials on your clients, not yourself – let your clients know that you understand their pain points and have found the solution
  • Define your “why” and then center everything you do around that reason – it’ll keep you motivated to helping your clients solve their problems instead of focusing on yourself
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