AI has its place in the world, but will it take over your freelance work? We don’t think so.
There are actually ways you can use AI tools to improve your offering and make more bank. Learn how to stay ahead of this fast-moving trend.
+ “Even with that AI-generated art piece, there had to be some human thought behind it.” –MK
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+ “My stance on them is that they’re not at the point yet where they’re going to replace a really talented writer.”—KM
Kaleigh: If you’re in the freelance space what do we think about these tools that use AI or that basically are trying to like eat our lunch, right? They’re trying to take the place of freelancers. Is that true (first of all)? And second of all, what do we need to know about them? How do we need to be thinking about them and what’s their place overall in this landscape?
So I think we should start by talking about our personal experiences trying some of these [tools]. One example of this is… I use Grammarly Premium on a regular basis just because it speeds up my editing process. I know that’s not considered a fancy new tool, but there are also tools like Writer, and there’s Copy.ai. So a lot of the experience I have is using tools within that writing sphere.
My stance on them is that they’re not at the point yet where they’re going to replace a really talented writer. One of the questions we got was related to this. And the question was, “How do you develop your point of view and taste and win clients through that above all else, given that generative AI is about to kind of make just the standard content/design (whatever it is) meaningless or take it off the table as far as work goes?”
That’s something to think about. How can you position yourself as somebody with really great taste or really great specialized skills that go above and beyond what AI and tools like that can offer? What’s your take on that?
Michael: Yeah, I think that’s a great entry into this topic because we can speculate and say that AI tools are a bit off from impacting a freelancer or an artist’s job. But we’ve even seen recently, what was it like, uh, two weeks ago? The AI generated work, Théâtre D’opéra Spatial. It just took the first place [prize as a digital art piece] in a digital category at the Colorado State Fair.
Photo editing tools. If you’re a photographer, a marketer, or a designer, they’ve been using AI. Those automatically generate to fix your photos. We’ve been seeing those AI works for a while now. Even in that space, there’s still demand for photographers, for designers even using those tools.
So, my take on it is that even with that AI-generated art piece, there had to be some human thought behind it. I think Jarvis AI also has AI-generated art. So there has to be some human input into the AI. So do I think that they’re gonna take us over soon? No. But maybe there are ways that we can work with these AI tools to make our work more efficient or better. And maybe save some money along the side.
So Kaleigh, in your line of work, what have you tried and what has worked or failed?
+ “In one sentence, I’d say, don’t let the AI scare you. Yes, sure, an AI can…generate pretty things, but they still have yet…to develop a point of view.”—MK
Kaleigh: I’ve experimented with some of the AI-powered copywriting tools just to see what they’re about.
My take on them is that they can be used as a jumping-off point if you’re feeling stuck. If you have writer’s block, if you’re feeling like you want some ideas and you don’t have anybody else around to bounce ideas off of, this is an option that can make that easier.
However, I will say, that it’s not at the point yet where it can do what I would consider the level of work that I’m doing. It doesn’t have the subject matter expertise. It doesn’t have the connections to industry experts where external points of view can be pulled in. It doesn’t have the categorical knowledge to where making references to other contexts that make sense, synthesizing data. So it’s not gonna do a deep dive in regard to content right now.
And that’s something that I can still bring to the table, and I think that’s something that I really talk about in the value-oriented conversations—when we’re talking about pricing or when I’m trying to win a client—is talking about those value ads that I bring to the table. Which kind of distinguish me from an AI-powered tool that’s maybe cheaper and can push things out at scale faster than I could as an individual, but the quality of work is totally different and the frame of reference is totally different.
And I know that this has been a hot topic lately cuz with things like DALL-E, artists specifically are feeling like, “Oh my gosh, there’s not gonna be any use for me anymore. Because what these tools are kicking out is so incredible.”
So what would you say to an artist or a graphic designer or somebody in that field who’s feeling that way? What are your thoughts right now? Do you have any words of wisdom?
Michael: In one sentence, I’d say, don’t let the AI scare you. Yes, sure, an AI can pump out or generate (which I guess [is] the term to use these days) pretty things, but they still have yet, in my opinion, to develop (like you said) a point of view. AI can’t develop a point of view yet. They still need you to go in there.
For example, I had a small stint as a freelance photographer a long time ago. Even in editing photos and everything, and the people they could have went to just an AI-generated tool. They could have just went to Lightroom or whatever and just let it happen on its own. But the people whose photos I was editing came to me because I had a dark and moody style. It was a style that was kind of popular maybe like 10 years [ago] almost at this point.
But I had a good style in that sense and people would come to me [and] be like, “Can you edit this photo to make it look more like this?” And I think that applies to a lot of different areas. In design, they’re coming to you because you have a specific design [style]. If you’re an artist, they’re coming to you because they’re looking to buy a specific style of art.
Even with the NFTs—NFTs are like riddled with the AI-generated art and some of them are really cool. And these artists behind the AI-generated art have created great things. But there are also people like Reylarsdam, who is an NFT artist, and he has such a wild, crazy style. He became really popular over the past NFT boom because of his unique style that cannot be generated by an AI and can only come from his brain and his experience and his thoughts.
That’s how I see AI in general. Yes, even in terms of content, you can use the best [tools] (you know, Co-Write by writer is one of the best tools out there, it’s also wildly expensive), you can use it, but it’ll never give you the interview sources. It can’t interview someone to add credibility to your article. You’re the only person that could find an example that’s a fresh new example. Only you can go and search people’s product pages, or softwares and try the software and then talk about it in an article. An AI can’t do that.
It may be able to spit out a definition for, “what is a card reader?” Or “what is marketing?” Or “what is design?” Sure, it could spit something out like that. (I don’t think [it] takes much brain power to define what marketing is anyway.) But if you’re gonna create something that’s unique and different and special to you.
AIs aren’t that scary. So like you were saying, I think they can fit into a freelance business if you want it to. But I, at the end of the day, people are gonna come to you for your perspective and your style of work and the things that you do.
+ “I think there’s never been a stronger case for really specializing and focusing on one super narrow area that you devote your knowledge and your research to.” —KM
Kaleigh: Yeah, and I think that this makes a really strong case for a couple of things. Number one, specialization. Being the go-to person for a very specific type of service for a very specific type of client. That specialization and that kind of niching down for subject matter expertise makes you more valuable as a go-to really well-versed person in a very specific type of work.
I think there’s never been a stronger case for really specializing and focusing on one super narrow area that you devote your knowledge and your research to. I think it also makes a case for people on the design side of things, really developing a signature style or becoming known for a specific type of artistry.
Again, this is a type of specialization. For example [if] you had a business in town [and] you wanted to get the wall painted, you could hire somebody who [simply] frames themself as an artist. You don’t really know what their area of specialization is.
But if you want the really, really great person, you’re gonna hire a muralist with a body of work who’s done beautiful murals that are in the style or type of mural that you want on your building. So having a really curated portfolio, and again, specializing, niching down, developing deep subject matter expertise. I feel is the way to distinguish yourself from these tools.
I would go on to say that AI-powered tools can also be an advantage. Like you said, you can use them within your own business. Now they might be cost prohibitive, so [you] might not be at the point in time where it’s something that’s affordable for your business, but if you find tools that make it easier for you to outsource rote tasks that you find really tedious, then that’s a way for you to become more efficient. So you could use them to your advantage.
Michael: Totally. And like you were saying, they can even be a jump-off point. You do briefs for your writers [and] you could use an AI tool to give you that jump-off point, and then you can flush out the brief. So maybe it saves you a half hour or 45 minutes.
There are plenty of tools out there that can round up that data and spit it out really quick, and that’s where I think AI’s really come into play. Bloomberg uses cyborg technology to spit out financial reports and the Associated Press does the same thing, but they’re not using AIs to write all of their newsworthy content.
Yes, those [financial reports] are important things, but it’s just a data roundup. They don’t need you or me or someone else in there being like, “And today Coca-Cola reports, blah, blah, blah.” They could just get the data to come through an AI and it saves them time.
That’s where I think these AI tools really come into play in creative industries. Again, like you’re saying, if it’s just data that you need, why go out searching for yourself? Why go out searching for all of it by yourself, if you could just have an AI rip through the internet in five minutes and spit that data out to you that you need?
Kaleigh: Yeah, definitely. Don’t work harder, work smarter. You could use it to your advantage.
I think the other thing to think about here is we’re in a really interesting time right now, so even in the context of web design, you have no-code tools. You have these drag-and-drop website builders where people are like, “I don’t need to hire a designer. I can do this myself.” Again, this is a moment where that specialization [gives] a stronger case for being hired over somebody, just building it themselves.
For example, Paul Jarvis (who I used to host this podcast with) he specialized on a very specific type of web design style for yoga instructors. That was kind of his niche there for a while. So people came to know him as the guy who builds websites for high-end yoga professionals. That’s so specific, it’s so granular, but it’s easy to remember—it’s sticky. And I think when people want something very specific are willing to invest in a really high-quality product, they wanna go to that go-to person.
Some people are really hesitant to specialize and to niche down because they feel like it limits their opportunity. But I would argue that I think it opens more doors because then people are able to refer projects more easily because they know you’re the go-to person for that one specific thing.
So in my case, for example, people come to me through referrals because they know that I’m the go-to or one of the go-to people for e-commerce platform-related content specializing in SEO and super long-form, evergreen, super well-researched [articles that have] external sources tied in.
So what can you do to make your offering a little bit tighter and how can you make it more specific and what things can you do to really distinguish yourself and stand out in this increasingly crowded marketplace of people who are doing freelance work?
I wanted to ask you, are there things that you have done to make your business offerings more specific and tailored to like a more specialized demographic of clients? Is that something that’s evolved over time with your business?
Michael: Of course. Yeah. I mean eventually. I used to write about everything and then it slowly started coming down to then I write about software. And then it started coming down to, I write about e-commerce topics and now it’s come down to the point where I’m almost doing just refreshing content, building those types of systems for enterprise companies, and that’s actually become…my niche hasn’t even become a type of client [or] whatever industry they’re in, it’s become [fulfilling] a specific need that they [have].
It’s naturally evolved into that based off of where I saw economic opportunity, what I liked doing, and what the trend was really talking about. And there was so much conversation about content refreshing in general, just across the board: in Twitter conversations, LinkedIn, I saw it in people’s newsletters starting to talk about it, but no one was really doing it.
That’s how I found my niche into there. And we obviously use AI tools. I mean, I don’t use AI writers. I’ve tried them. Um, they’re not that great, but you know, there are so many tools, like Clearscope that have AI inside of them that help spit out the data that you need to make these refreshers more effective.
Even in the sense of drag-and-drop, I think GoDaddy now has an AI [that] will just build your website based on what you put into it. You just input some stuff and they spit out an entire website for you. Even on top of that, and you see it in Shopify experts, when you go through those types of marketplaces.
Businesses that use those AIs still need customization on top of it. And that’s where I think, especially in the case of web design (maybe even in Paul’s case, if he was still operating as a designer now), maybe people come to me and be like, “Ugh, I did this AI-generated site, but I need more. It still doesn’t speak to me. I love the way that you do things. Can you build on top of this? Or can you fix this?”
It makes a full circle into saying, people are gonna come to you still for your perspective on things and your style and your personality too. AIs don’t have a personality, but Kaleigh has a personality, Mike has a personality, Paul has a personality. And through the ways that you get yourself out there and talk about yourself, people learn that personality and then they may decide to work with you.
+ “Just remember to look at AIs as [able to] synthesize and spit data out, but they’ll never have your beautiful and unique brain.” —MK
Kaleigh: Yeah, so I think the bottom line here is, don’t be afraid of the tools. Don’t think that they’re gonna take your job. I don’t think we’re at that place yet. I think staying well versed on how they work, and how they can maybe complement the services you already have.
But I think you also brought up an interesting point about how you need to listen to what your clients are talking about. Or maybe do some customer research and figure out what are the gaps right now in the market that maybe I could fill with a new service or a more specific offering that’s gonna address a need that exists within the clients that you work with.
For you, it was content refreshing, for me, I was hearing a lot about people who had podcasts who wanted them turned into not just show notes, but kind of like a narrative-style blog post recap. So that was a product-type service that I started putting together with Content Remix.
Again, you have to be listening and this is something that AI can’t do. AI can’t listen and spot those gaps and then present a really valuable offer to those clients who need that type of service. You have to be aware of what’s happening in your space. You have to ask questions and be curious and then step in with offerings that are best suited.
Any parting wisdom on this particular topic that maybe we haven’t touched on yet?
Michael: Just remember to look at AIs as [able to] synthesize and spit data out, but they’ll never have your beautiful and unique brain.
Kaleigh: Yeah. One final question for you (sort of out there), but are you personally afraid of artificial intelligence replacing human beings?
Because I am. Have you seen those videos of the robots like doing somersaults and jumping? I’m terrified.
Michael: I’m not terrified. I mean, I think we’ll be long gone before that actually could happen.
Kaleigh: I hope so. I’m scared. I’m scared of the robots.
Michael: Well, remember, they’ll never have your beautiful brain unless they extract it from you and put it into an AI, which, I don’t know, could happen.
Kaleigh: Or we could have like an Ex-Machina situation, right? Where they become sentient. We’re getting a little off topic here, but I’m just saying, I don’t know, the future it freaks me out.
Michael: But it leaves us with something to think about.
Kaleigh: Anyways, parting thought. Give you nightmares. Be afraid.
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