Great Writing Niches: How to Get Government Contracts

Do you think it’s too much of a hassle to try to win a freelance writing contract from a government agency? Many writers never look at this very lucrative niche…which is one of the reasons you should.

It’s a great time to look at this opportunity, too, as many municipalities are downsizing staff and outsourcing more.

I recently landed my first government contract rewriting two large annual reports for a regional transit agency. It paid five figures. I’m here to tell you this is a sector worth checking out.

When most writers think “government contract,” they’re thinking federal government. The process of qualifying to bid on government contracts is a bit onerous, though the Obama administration has recently taken steps to streamline it. And Allena Tapia, the freelance writing expert on About.com, has written a whole guide on how to register as a federal contractor. So really, there’s no excuse anymore.

There’s also a common misconception that if you’re not located in Washington D.C., you won’t find any gigs. In fact, our government has branch offices and military bases just about everywhere you look. Once you’re registered as a contractor, you can set up keyword alerts on websites that track government opportunities, so you know when there is a gig you might be a fit for, and could put in a bid.

Beyond the federal government, there is plenty of opportunity in state, county, city, and other local and regional agencies. As it turned out, my first agency found me through some online searching, and reached out to me.

They then held my hand through the whole bid process, helping me understand what they needed to see and giving me an idea of their budget so my bid wasn’t totally out of the park.

Here are my tips for how writers can break into government contracting, and succeed at these gigs:

  1. SEO the crap out of your LinkedIn profile. I can’t stress enough how many big companies and government agencies are looking for freelance writers through LinkedIn. Completely fill out your profile, add your Skills (thanks to Susan Johnston for turning me on to this tip!), and cram your bio with every type of writing phrase a prospect might be searching on to find a writer like you.
  2. Have a rockin’ writer website. The woman who hired me for an agency gig picked up the phone after being impressed with what she found on my writer site — namely, lots of clips, a listing of awards, and testimonials.
  3. Get your business house in order. You will usually need a registered business name (even if it’s just Mary Smith Writer) and state license number, a federal tax ID number, and for federal gigs, a Dun & Bradstreet or D-U-N-S number. In other words, you need to smell legit.
  4. Have a track record. Writers who have been freelancing for several years will have an advantage over newbies. These are probably not the gigs you’re going to get off the bat, unless you have a personal connection at an agency.
  5. Know other writers. The volume of work required and deadline for the project mandated that I subcontract out about half the work — it was just not going to be possible for me to write it all myself on their timeline. I networked madly and went through a half-dozen writers before finding one who was available, could come on-site for at least one day and who had the expertise needed. I also had to refer them other writers, as government contracts need to be competitively bid, and they hadn’t been able to find anyone else on their own! So I got to encourage a few writer-friends to bid against me. Sort of an interesting dynamic. But if I hadn’t known anyone to send them so they would have multiple bids, the contract might have been withdrawn.
  6. Have business insurance. This was a requirement of my contract. I had to add the agency’s name to a rider on my policy for the duration of the work. Luckily for me, I had recently written about why home-based business owners need business insurance and learned I needed this coverage, so I was in the process of obtaining a policy when my prospect called me. I was able to get the policy in place and add them. I had the strong sense we couldn’t move forward without this.
  7. Prepare to hurry up and wait. This is government. It moves slowly. Be clear about the deadlines you have and how much time you need to get things done. My contract had a drop-dead date — the reports needed to be presented at a board meeting on a set date. Turned out, the agency couldn’t get some portions of the work back to us in time and ended up having to do some of their own rewrites. So we got paid some for not rewriting, since it was a set-hour contract. Works for me.
  8. Expect snags. My experience was that the person who spearheaded our project was very enthusiastic about bringing in outside writers. Others at the agency whose input we needed were not so game. I had one source I was steered to tell me flat-out he was unwilling to share a single thing about what his division was doing. Just stay professional as the surprises unfold, and report problems to the person who is playing the lead role. Ask them how to proceed, and let them whip their people into shape.
  9. Speak truth to power. If the many cooks seem to be spoiling the soup, speak up. You were brought in for your writing expertise. If the message or tone are wandering off track, it’s your job to fix it. This is your writing sample in the end, so keep advocating for what would make it great.
  10. Get referred and rehired. Once you’ve done one government contract, be sure to keep that relationship. Most agencies have dealings with many other agencies in their region. Let them know you’d appreciate a referral to any other government bodies looking to hire a freelance writer. Also, clear a prominent spot on your writer site for your government clips.

Have questions about writing for the government? Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

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16 comments on “Great Writing Niches: How to Get Government Contracts
  1. Diane Rose says:

    Another plus for freelance writers: Some government contracts are “set aside” (reserved) for small businesses, minority-owned and women-owned businesses, and veteran- and SDV (service-disabled veteran-owned)-owned businesses.

  2. Wow, this looks hugely helpful. With my background of nearly 19 years in state and federal government, this is a natural writing niche for me.

    In terms of being able to suggest other writers, would using the Writers Den and LinkedIn be good ways to find and contact some with the right experience, if need be?
    Madeleine Kolb recently posted..Elder abuse in the news. Again

    • Carol Tice says:

      Maybe FWD…or your existing network of writers. I reached out to writers I already knew very well. None were available, but one of them was able to refer me to another writer she trusted.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Wow…guess I’m surprised you’re not working this niche already! There are a lot of online job boards where you can look for opportunities, and then you can network to learn about local/state type opportunities. In my state apparently the governor has recently issued a decree that all documents need to be restated in plain language. Great opportunity for writers.

  3. Ahlam says:

    A lot of non-profits are also gearing up to apply for grants, which means grant proposal writing. The opportunities are there, we just have to go after them (yes, easier said than done–but well worth it).
    Ahlam recently posted..“The Art of Influence” – Chris Widener

  4. I’ve never considered this market – I’ve just always assumed that it would be too bureaucratic a process for freelancers to endure. I’m in Canada, so there may even be MORE opportunity – I’ll have to look into it. Thanks!
    Ruth – Freelance Writing Blog recently posted..Why Bloggers Should Dumb Down Their Copy & 7 Ways to Do It

    • Carol Tice says:

      I have one mentee who has done very well writing for NIH and other healthcare-related federal agencies. Sometimes networking with bigger contractors can be a way to get in without the paperwork — I think he’s a subcontractor with them, so the bigger company does all the red tape and you just get the gig.

  5. Klara says:

    It seems to be very hard to win a freelance writing contract from a government agency. I know, it is because of the stronger security rules. Here, in Europe, there are much more ways to build up a connection with someone from the government. For example, i have some friends from the university, who work nowadays as an assistant in the Parlament of the European Union. They could make an appointment for me with their bosses, maybe in their lunch break. Those people are quite friendly, not so introverted.
    Klara recently posted..Fettabsaugen: neue Techniken

    • Carol Tice says:

      You bring up a great point — this is one market niche that’s available WHEREVER YOU LIVE. There is government everywhere! And if you start reaching out, you may find you know people who work for some branch of government and could introduce you around.

  6. The tips you shared may apply to our setup here. Indeed getting a writing contract with the government is one great niche that I need to try participating. Here in the Philippines, the challenge to win a government contract is so stiff because you are competing with the academe-based research institutes. For all the successes that MALW is reaping, it looks like one option I must take is to migrate to where the great freelance opportunities are. Thank you for these new insights. :)
    Jonan Castillon recently posted..Blog About Your Life Now!

    • Jonan,

      I’m Italian and freelance writing here is… well, pretty unknown and very low-paid when you find some. Still, I work from home to get my opportunities, and home is in Italy. There is no need to emigrate, you can get in touch with prospects online. :) Or traditionally by mail if you wish to write for a magazine that only accepts mail submissions. Just don’t give up and follow Carol’s and other freelancers’ advice to success.

      Good luck!
      ~ Luana S.
      Luana Spinetti recently posted..‘Love Can Be Heavy’ at TheSexCipher.com

      • Well said Luana. Thank you for your encouragement. I do get some invitation to write from the US but through Carol’s site and from attending her webinars, I have learned how to bargain for better rate and refuse when we don’t agree with the rate. Well, I am always hopeful to get my first real break. Meanwhile, I will just continue honing my skills. Blessings to you!
        Jonan Castillon recently posted..The Day I Let Go of Ted

  7. Excellent resource. I’ll certainly follow up on this area. Thank you for posting this. Thou art the bomb.

  8. I’m revisiting this post while I tie up all of my own loose ends in preparation for bidding on contracts. I’m ready to go and understand how to use Fed Biz Opps to search for federal opportunities, but I have one big question: What’s the best way to search for state, city and local government contracts, other than figuring it out location by location? I know there are paid services that will search contracts databases nationwide and send email alerts when relevant keywords come up, but has anyone tried that, and is it worth it? They cost several hundred dollars. I don’t really want to be limited to my hometown or the 3 or 4 cities/states I have time to regularly search.
    Kimberly Rotter recently posted..The Truth About Getting Pregnant Over 40

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s been a while since I did this actively…the company I know that compiles many opportunity types is based here in Seattle, Onvia. Looks like you can do a free trial on theirs…possibly you could bounce from trial to trial for a while, trying the various services?

      I think if you want a ton of data from many government agencies at all levels, it’s likely you’ll have to pay for it…do some research and find the best deal.

      Another way I know many writers go about it is to study jobs awarded and try to connect with the agencies they see winning the bids. Then you just try to get some sub work on contracts they win, which saves you having to go through the qualifying process.

      Hope that helps!

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  1. [...] Great Writing Niches: How to Get Government Contracts Do you think it’s too much of a hassle to try to win a freelance writing contract from a government agency? Source: http://www.makealivingwriting.com [...]

  2. [...] 1.       I’m with the government, and I’m here to help. This could be you! [...]

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