Is comparison crippling your copywriting success?
This post was written by TCCS member, Erin Huckle
A friend of mine has a print on her wall that states, “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
The first time I saw it I literally stopped in my tracks. It was one of those “Aha!” moments that have stayed with me ever since.
And in the six months since starting my own copywriting business, I’ve had to remind myself of its truth – over and over and over again.
Despite working in copywriting and communications for 15 years, I still find myself second-guessing my skills and value while looking on in awe at other freelance copywriters who seem to have their stuff together.
After spending time researching and writing this blog post I still don’t know whether comparisonitis is a real word.
But mention it to most freelancers, business owners, and humans in general, and you get a knowing nod in response.
It’s a thing. A very real thing.
Block out the noise
Sydney copywriter Angela Denly wisely reminded me that most of what we see on social media is smoke and mirrors.
“People don’t talk about the clients they don’t wow on their socials,” she said. “You never see the full picture. Stay in your lane, and focus on what you do well and who you do it for. Everything else is just noise.” – Angela Denly
And she’s right. It really is just noise.
But imposter syndrome, comparisonitis, or “the compulsion to compare one’s accomplishments to another’s” is still a real struggle for most freelancers and small business owners.
The thing is, a little competition is healthy.
Sometimes it’s just what we need to give ourselves a much-needed kick up the butt.
The problem comes when we’re so busy looking at what everyone else is doing that we forget to focus on our own success.
So how can we overcome crippling imposter syndrome, and perhaps even use it to our advantage?
Remember where you are in your journey
Yes, I’ve used the word ‘journey’. But stay with me, because there’s nothing to gain from comparing the start of your journey with someone else’s middle or end.
If you’re just starting out as a copywriter (or on any kind of career path) you won’t have a portfolio of client work, pages of glowing testimonials to scroll through, or a chock-a-block pipeline of work.
But you’ll probably have a hunger to succeed and a fresh approach, along with a willingness to learn and adapt.
Or maybe you’ve been a copywriter for a long time but new to the world of self-employment and riding the feast-and-famine tides of freelancing (like me).
Copywriter Caitlin Wright had been a successful journalist for many years before transitioning to copywriting. But she says she still deals with comparisonitis all the time.
“I wonder whether I’m pricing right, whether I know enough, and whether I’m a good enough writer. But I have a different experience and am in a different stage to every other copywriter out there. No-one is the same, so I shouldn’t be in a race with anyone else.” – Caitlin Wright
Don’t let comparison be your excuse
After reading about another person’s big client win, glowing customer review, or blog about their busy work calendar, it’s easy to feel deflated and have a sense of “Why even bother?”
But don’t let comparison be your excuse to stop trying.
Just like procrastination, comparison can be an easy way to self-sabotage your own business success and let the productivity wheels fall off your business.
Productivity queen Faye Hollands from Busy Business Women, says no-one is immune to comparisonitis. It’s just part and parcel of being your own boss.
“You can’t use comparisonitis as an excuse not to step up, take action and do your thing,” she says. “If you’re serious about running your own show then being productive is a critical element to success. And that won’t happen when you’re wasting time worrying about what other people are doing.
“So put the blinkers on and forget about everyone else. Just focus on what you do brilliantly and find the clients who love you for you, because there’s genuinely a space for you in business if you do great work.” – Faye Hollands
Make it your secret power
Break out the red cape and put your undies on over your pants. It’s time to turn that comparisonitis into your superpower.
If you’re focusing on certain people or competitors, in particular, use this as an opportunity to learn.
Perhaps it’s someone from a Facebook group you admire, or a business you’ve been a fan of for a while. Try reaching out to them for advice. But keep it specific.
You might ask them how they decided on a niche, their top tip for finding new clients, or how they keep motivated.
Most people are happy to answer these kinds of questions. And you’ll be building your own network in the process.
Legal writer, a former lawyer, and SEO copywriter Kate Crocker says connecting with experienced copywriters is an opportunity to improve.
“Focus on the learning, not the comparison,” she says. “There are plenty of people in the Clever Copywriting Community who are more experienced than me. But when they talk about their experiences, I learn something.”
“I also occasionally touch base with the more experienced group members to ask for advice. And every single time their advice and the background to their advice (for example, what they’re experiencing in their own lives) has provided context and stopped all those negative feelings that maybe I’m not good enough, working hard enough or smart enough.” – Kate Crocker
By being brave and reaching out to those you admire, you might find they too have struggles they’ve overcome and daily doubts to deal with. We’re all only human after all.
Give yourself permission to fail
It’s pretty well accepted that the road to success is usually littered with a few failures along the way.
No-one leads a business life walking paths paved with gold and lit by five-star reviews all the way.
But the comparison trap can mean we forget it’s okay to fail and learn from those experiences.
Rather than focusing on everyone else’s (apparent) success, take a moment to wonder at their failures.
If you do hit a rocky patch on your business road, ask yourself what you could do differently next time, or be brave and share your mistakes with people you trust.
Define your own success
What does success mean to you?
When comparisonitis is getting you down, it’s a good question to ask yourself.
Are you hoping for 100,000 Instagram followers and your name up in lights?
Is success a monetary thing?
Or is it more about living the life you choose on your own terms?
Our glorious Clever Copywriting School leader Kate Toon recently pondered the definition of success on an episode of her Kate Toon Podcast with guest Stevie Dillon from Stevie Says Social. Both agreed that it can be pretty intangible and that getting the things you thought you wanted doesn’t always make you feel like a success.
Barossa-based copywriter Angela Pickett says following the mantra ‘define your own success’ has helped give her perspective when it comes to the slippery slope of comparison.
“Not only in the Clever Copywriting Community, but also when I see colleagues in my previous life (I was a diplomat) getting great postings, or friends enjoying luxury holidays because they’ve succeeded in their corporate career. I know I’m really lucky to be creating something on my own terms that suit my family and fits with my other goals, even though it can be easy to lose sight of that.” – Angela Pickett
Sometimes it’s hard to have confidence in our own accomplishments. In the world of freelancing and small business, you’re probably never going to feel like you’re there yet – wherever ‘there’ is.
Marketing copywriter Rashida Tayabali says she dealt with imposter syndrome by not looking at what others are doing.
“I focused on honing my craft and running my business how I felt it should be run. I also stopped comparing their successes to mine, and basically stopped looking over my shoulder. When things get me down I tell myself I will get to things when I get to them, and that there’s enough work to go around.” – Rashida Tayabali
This message of ‘There’s enough work to go around’ is a good one.
Sometimes it’s easy to think there are too many copywriters and not enough clients.
But rather than being disheartened by the full client books of your competitors, take heart in the fact they found the right networks and niches to build a successful business, and that there will always be room for good copywriters and savvy business operators.
Copywriter Claudia Bouma made the mistake of looking at other copywriters’ websites and felt like an imposter when she first started out, even though she’d been a widely published travel writer at that point.
She uses it as a motivation to upskill and improve.
“The one thing I lacked was SEO knowledge and experience,” she says. “I jumped into problem-solving mode, signed up to Kate’s Recipe for SEO Success course and got stuck into writing Google-friendly copy. Today I struggle on and off with comparisonitis, but then I look back and realise how far I’ve come. I read my testimonials and remember these wise words: ‘Just be yourself – everybody else is taken’.” – Claudia Bouma
Comparisonitis is everywhere
Of course, comparisonitis isn’t unique to the copywriting profession.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Olga Lavalle says comparisonitis comes from the theory of Social Comparison, and she comes across it with her clients on a daily basis.
“With comparisonitis, people are making assumptions about other people, and believing those assumptions to be true,” she says. “As a result, it can lead to negative self-talk and seeing yourself as a failure.
“My advice? Stop comparing yourself to something you believe is true and wasting time focusing on someone else’s life. Focus on yourself and remember your own talents, and celebrate your own achievements no matter how big or small.” – Dr. Olga Lavalle
So take a moment to think about the things you’re proud of.
Celebrate the little victories, and don’t dwell on the failures.
Riding this rollercoaster of self-employment is unpredictable, and we’re all in it together.
Don’t let comparison steal your joy.
Over to you
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Erin Huckle is a copywriter and PR consultant who helps creative, ethical, and innovative businesses find the right words.
When not tapping away at her laptop, you’ll find her wrangling three small humans on the beaches of Wollongong, or trail-running in the wilderness for some much-needed ‘me’ time.