We have another fantastic guest post today, and if you’ve been considering a career in commercial writing, you need to sign up for Peter’s insightful emails.
Make a handsome living as a “commercial” writer
(AND with time left over for a life!)
By Peter Bowerman
Read a blog post some time back written by a freelancer “holding court” for plenty of adoring readers, enamored with the fact that he’d earned over $50K freelancing the prior year. Sure, he was writing articles 8-10 hours a day, non-stop, most days of the week, but hey, if that’s what it took, these acolytes were ready to sign on. Really?
How about a different vision—one with fewer hours and higher income?
A tri-fold sales brochure (~9 hours): $1200. A two-page sales flyer (~6 hours): $850. An eight-page corporate image brochure (~22 hours): $2800. Three direct mail postcards for a college (~13 hours): $1800. Editing of web site copy (~8 hours): $1100. A 12-page marketing brochure for a global materials handling firm (~45 hours): $5000. Crafting of short, two-line sales “blurbs” for supermarket displays (~47 hours): $5600.
All are projects in my portfolio and all are examples of the lucrative—and surprisingly accessible—world of “commercial” writing. And let’s not forget the lifestyle: work at home, rise when you want, take off when you want, earn $50-$125+/hour, work in your sweats. Hey, we’re writers. It’s a lifestyle form-fitted to us, right?
For the past 20 years—and even more so recently—thanks to downsizing and outsourcing, companies everywhere are doing more with less. For many firms, that means turning to well-paid freelancers to write their marketing brochures, ad copy, newsletters, direct mail campaigns, case studies, web content, and much more.
Clients tell me all the time how hard it is to find smart, competent, reliable writers who “get it.” Might that be you? But it gets better…
Given the times, many companies that formerly hired tony ad agencies and design firms are ditching them in favor of more cost-effective freelancers (especially talented designer/writer teams), and discovering they often get better work at far less cost.
“How Good Do I Have to Be?”
Fact: no one’ll pay you $50-$125+ an hour if you’re mediocre. But, fields such as healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, high-tech, and others, have ongoing needs for writing that doesn’t have to brilliant, just clear, concise and coherent.
Start studying your junk mail, the newsletter inserts in your utility bills, the rack brochures at your bank. Could you write that? I’m guessing yes.
Learning to Love S&M (sales and marketing…)
Yes, above all else, this business is a sales and marketing venture. But, it’s not about being slick and pushy. That never works. It’s about matching your skills to a client’s needs. And I promise, the good clients will be happy you found them.
Get comfortable with some basic sales and marketing principles, and you’ll set yourself apart from most writers. AND be able to talk intelligently—and write for—just about any client. Principles like:
- Audience: Understanding who you’re writing to and trying to “reach,” and what language and issues will resonate with them
- Features/Benefits Equation: Focusing on what’s important to readers, NOT talking about your product, service or company. And…
- USP (Unique Selling Proposition): Figuring out what you/your client does better than the competition, and highlighting that in marketing materials
Plenty of Work
The sheer volume of potential work is mind-blowing:
- B2C (business-to-consumer): ads, direct mail, newsletters, brochures, web sites, and countless other project types
- B2B (business-to-business): all the writing created by businesses to market to other businesses – absolutely huge. And finally…
- Internal communications: everything a company creates to communicate with their employees: newsletters, web sites, training programs, policy manuals, benefits guides, and more. Much of it is outsourced.
Now, in addition to the huge volume of work within big firms, imagine the vast number of smaller firms (50-200+ employees) with many of the same needs. Yet, these smaller entities are less likely to have the in-house staff to execute them (often because they know external resources exist!), but they DO have the money to pay for it.
Landing the Work
Given how important writing is to their businesses, these companies expect to hear from writers, yet, many of my clients tell me they don’t. Reach them by cold calling, direct mail, networking groups, social media sites like LinkedIn and others, by tapping your contact base, or ideally, some combination of all the above. Leverage past industry experience and contacts, and get started by pursuing work in that arena.
While still working at another job, build a portfolio of samples: projects you’ve done in current/former jobs; pro bono work for charities and start-ups; or just create a portfolio of corporate-type samples from scratch. Perhaps you team up with a graphic designer also starting out, so you both end up with samples. Then load them up to a web site. Visit www.writeinc.biz, (then Portfolio) to get an idea of project types.
The Adult Conversation
Starting a commercial writing business is no “get-rich-quick” deal. Your mother was right: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Building a commercial writing business is hard work, takes time, and the clients aren’t hanging out on job boards. But, know that, 1) there IS a need for good writing in business; 2) hiring freelancers over full-timers makes sound economic sense for most companies, and finally; 3) if you’re a good writer (not brilliant, just good), you can find your place in this field.
A decent-sounding writing income is no prize if it means being glued to your computer for most of your waking hours. Commercial writing is a better way. It’s no slam-dunk, but it’s a bona fide opportunity. As you read this, thousands of writers are landing countless, high-paying writing jobs. Why not you?
Have you ever pursued commercial writing to any extent?
If so, what was your experience with it?
If not, what’s kept you from checking it out?
Any questions about the field?
Love to write but hate to starve? Visit www.wellfedwriter.com for a free report, ezine and blog on lucrative “commercial” freelancing. All written by Peter Bowerman, veteran commercial freelancer, writing/publishing coach, and the author of the three award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles, the self-published how-to “standards” on lucrative commercial freelancing. He chronicled his self-publishing success (currently, 70,000 copies of his books in print and a full-time living since 2001) in the award-winning 2007 release (and its 2014 update), The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. www.wellfedsp.com. A popular speaker on writing and publishing, he is a professional coach for commercial freelancing and self-publishing ventures.
© Copyright 2014, Peter Bowerman. All Rights Reserved
Big thanks to Peter for sharing this excellent information. Check out his site to see how he can help you, and watch for another guest post next week.
Appreciate the opportunity to share what I’ve been doing for 20 years (this month, in fact!).
But, know that I was making fees like the ones I discuss in the piece, within a few years of starting. It’s a pretty great life, but not out of reach of anyone who wants it badly enough. Thanks again!
P.S. The income noted in the title ($75K) is actually conservative for someone who’s well established, but you start throwing around numbers like $100-$200K and people think it’s hype. I just got a note from a commercial freelancer who’s been on his own for five years. He DOES have an established niche (which always makes it easier to land more business), and he said things are insane right now. He projects well over $150K this year.
I just came across your book a few weeks ago. I am transitioning into freelance writing (2 clients, whoo!) and was researching resources that could be useful. Amongst the praise for the book a common criticism I came across is that it’s a little outdated in its approach to online writing. All my writing at this point is for an online audience – would you mind commenting on that?
Thanks in advance and thanks for this post!
Jason, I was just in Victoria this weekend and I wish I’d come across your site earlier as I am both looking to connect with established freelance writers, and I was at RRU discussing the Professional Writing program with an advisor. Would you mind if I shoot you an email with some questions regarding your experience?
Good morning Elena – feel free to email me with your questions about RRU. Are you considering the two-day course in April, or the Professional Communications program itself?
just sending you an email, thanks for the quick response!
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