Are you looking to ditch the low-paid writing gigs and move up to lucrative freelance writing work? About five years ago, I was that writer.
I’d spent 12 years as a staff journalist, was freelancing for regional and national magazines and trade publications. I was doing OK, but I was looking to grow my income.
I had the dim sense that businesses paid well for copywriting, but I didn’t know squat about how that worked.
One major negative: As a reporter, I’d come to view marketing writing as nothing less than the Dark Side of the Force. Eeew! Didn’t those writers have to take a shower after they wrote that crap? I couldn’t imagine myself as a business writer.
Then, I got a chance to do a little business writing and made a discovery: It was fun! And paid great.
How business writing changed my life
That was the beginning of a whole new phase of my career. The first year I had a big business client, I earned so much more, I was able to take my family of five on an Alaska cruise. My eyes were opened to how the well-heeled freelance writers lived.
In the past few years, I’ve written for several Fortune 500 companies, loved every minute of it, and never felt dirty once. I quickly raised my rates from around $65 an hour and was soon billing at $95 an hour.
Here are some tips out of my break-in experience on how to get going as a business writer:
My first client was a bootstrapping local startup that I’d covered once as a reporter. I knew how their call-center software business worked, and they wanted me to write blog posts and articles for their website.
These assignments were similar to the articles I’d been writing for local magazines and trade publications. They handed me all the sources, and paid $700 per article. I felt like a prospector hitting a gold vein.
That startup was client one. My second client was a global insurance consultancy, where I billed $2,000 a month or more every month for more than two years.
My in? My dad sold insurance, so I had a general idea what it was. They were so excited to get someone who knew the difference between term and whole life!
Takeaway: Don’t think you have to toil in the mines for decades to move up — once you’ve got a few samples, pitch companies where you have some knowledge, and go for it.
Rather than worrying about all the stuff I didn’t know about copywriting, I adopted this approach: A client would ask me to write something I’d never done before. I’d nod my head, say, “Sure,” and then start asking questions.
Why did they want this piece? Who was the audience? I took lots of notes. Then, I told their story in their voice. Listen closely, and the company will tell you everything you need to know to deliver a piece they’ll love.
Many new writers imagine they’re supposed to spin straw into gold with whatever initial scraps of information the company tosses them. That doesn’t work. Instead, I asked to interview more people on their team. I asked to interview their customers.
I found out what they liked and didn’t like in their marketing, and checked out the competitors’ sites they envied. I read research papers about trends in their industry to understand the context of my piece. It might be an extra hour or two you spend, but it’s worth it. That background really pays off in more sophisticated copy.
Write concisely and conversationally.
One of the big reasons companies hire pro writers is that they have trouble summing things up — they know too much about their business. They also tend to write like stiff robots.
Use contractions, shorten up your sentences, and cut to the chase. Clients will be blown away.
Learn new formats.
Once you’ve got in the door writing informational Web content or advertorial articles, look for opportunities to write higher-value projects. Once a company knows you, they’re often happy to take a flier and give you your first clip in a new area.
That’s how I wrote my first special report, white paper, press release, and case study — clients who were impressed with my blogging or Web content needed more sophisticated marketing pieces, and let me write them.
Get referrals and testimonials.
Once you’ve got a business client, make sure the whole world knows about it. Get a nice testimonial on your writer website and on LinkedIn, and ask if they’d refer you if they hear of any colleagues who need a writer.
Make your clients more money.
It’s worth noting that I built my business-writing business without breaking into the area that’s the most reliable high payer — writing persuasive copy. Everything I wrote was informational content!
If you can write sales copy, your earning potential is truly unlimited. Businesses may tighten their belts, but they never cut the writing that leads directly to more sales.
Have you broken into business writing? Leave a comment and tell us how you did it.