A Guest Article by Peter Bowerman
So, you wanna be a writer, huh? Do you enjoy starving? I mean, that is the cliché, right? Well, yeah, I suppose so, but not so fast. Love to write? But love to eat, too? AND buy a house? AND take some nice vacations? AND fund a retirement plan? AND live life on your schedule and your terms? No, you’re not crazy. There is an arena of writing where all that’s possible.
Welcome to the world of “commercial writing.” We’re talking about writing for businesses, large and small – from five-man shops to Fortune 500 companies. Things like marketing brochures, ad copy, newsletters, direct mail campaigns, video scripts, Web content, sales sheets, speeches, annual reports, case studies, executive profiles, and much more. And for hourly rates that range from $50 to $125+.
A six-page low-tech marketing brochure: $2500. A 12-page piece for a heavy equipment manufacturer: $4500. A mission statement for a telecommunications firm: $750. A “naming” project for a new company: $1000. The list goes on and on.
Why Go “Commercial”?
For the last decade, downsizing and outsourcing have sculpted the corporate American landscape. Companies of all sizes are doing more with less. As a result, many rely heavily on well-paid freelancers to handle jobs like these. You DO have to be a good writer but brilliance is not required. Start noticing the writing around you: the direct mail postcards sent to you, the newsletters in your gas bill or frequent flyer statement, the rack brochures at the bank, the car brochures at a dealership, etc. Someone’s writing all these and it might just be a freelancer. Could you write at that level? I’m guessing you could.
Who Will Hire You?
There are two main groups of prospects: End Users (EUs) and Middlemen (MM). EUs are the corporations, large and small that will be the end-users of the writing. For starters, approach “MarCom” (marketing communications), also known as Corporate Communications. No “MarCom” (often the case in smaller firms)? Try marketing, sales, or finally, HR.
A manager with a huge telecommunications firm told me once, “Most people would assume that a company of our size would do the bulk of our writing in-house, and they’d be wrong. My writing needs these days are pretty steady, and I pay anywhere from $65-85/hour, depending on the writer’s experience.”
MM are companies hired by EUs to execute their projects: advertising agencies, graphic design firms, marketing companies, PR firms and event production companies, to name the key ones. Few of these entities staff writing talent, preferring instead to hire the right talent for a specific job, and only when needed.
Who to Contact?
For all the above MM clients, contact CDs (Creative Directors – often hard to reach), ACDs (Assistant CDs – easier), AEs (Account Executives), PMs (Project Managers). Find them through the actual category listing in the Yellow Pages or through an annual business listing publication.
Building a Portfolio
In the beginning, you may not have much to show a prospective client. Start with any projects you may have done in any of your jobs: a marketing manual, press release, newsletter, sales sheet, speech, article, etc. Try doing some pro bono work for a charity or start-up firm, or team up with a graphic designer in the same boat, and approach those same type entities together. The best part? All this can be done while you’re employed elsewhere.
Yes, this business IS a sales and marketing venture. But, don’t freak. Marketing isn’t some lofty science understood only by Harvard MBAs. And it’s NOT about being a slick, pushy salesperson. Marketing is simply letting your market know you’re out there, consistently, and in a variety of ways that cut through the clutter. And remember: you and your writing ability are the products, and if you believe in both, it’s a far easier “sell.” Most importantly, good writing skills are at a premium.
Caveat: This is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme. You’re not likely to land BIG juicy projects right out of the gate. I didn’t. But I built it steadily. If you have no portfolio, you’ll have to build one. But as writing fields go, it’s one of the most accessible and lucrative out there. Who says you can’t have your writing career and eat, too?
Peter Bowerman, a commercial freelancer, business coach and columnist based in Atlanta, is the author of The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less (Fanove, 2000), a how-to “standard” in the field of commercial writing, as well as a new companion volume, The Well-Fed Writer: Back For Seconds (Fanove, 2004). Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at www.wellfedwriter.com. There are some great resources there too.