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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Overlooked Niche, Take Two: Getting Started in Business Writing

Recently I talked about how writing for businesses and corporations is an often overlooked freelance niche. Now let's talk about how to approach potential clients. 
If you want to write for businesses, you'll probably have to cold-call to get started. Identify potential clients, research their companies, and find out who hires freelancers or writers--and then reach out to that person. 
            After you’ve introduced yourself to a potential client, ask whether you can meet in person or send samples of your work. Be prepared to quote an hourly rate, as most corporate clients pay per hour or per project instead of per word. Experienced copywriters charge hourly rates of $100-150 and up, depending on their expertise. Starting out, I’d suggest $50 to $75/hour as a fair rate for new writers, assuming you have some experience.
What do corporate and business clients want? First, they want you to understand their business. That means you should know what they sell, who their competition is, and how they position themselves. Before you make a cold call, you should have done some research on the company so you’re not stuck if the person you’re calling asks what you can do for them. The more specific an answer you can give the better (e.g., when contacting a sporting goods manufacturer, “I noticed you have an online newsletter for customers, and I write articles about sports and fitness”). You want to make the most positive, memorable first impression you can make.
Still, though, the background is only the beginning. When working with a corporate, business, or nonprofit client, you’ll need to question the person hiring you so you can deliver what he wants. You should know what type of product or service the client provides, and plan to ask questions like:
·       How is your product or service different than that of your competitors?
·       What features and benefits does your product or service offer? Which ones would you like to highlight?
·       Who are your customers? Can you describe them for me?
·       What is the purpose for the piece I’m writing? (For example, a newsletter’s purpose might be to build brand loyalty; the purpose of an advertisement in local media might be to attract new customers.)
·       Who is the audience for this particular piece? The audience may be the company’s current customers, or it may be a different group of people.
·       What kind of call to action would you like to make? The call to action is what spurs readers/viewers/listeners to do something, whether it’s to pick up the phone to call and order or to visit a website. 
·       What message do you want the audience to remember?
Use these questions as a starting point and remember that the more you know about your client, the better you can serve him. I wrote a lot of brochures for small businesses when I started freelancing, and I made sure that I understood each business and what it did before I started a draft. I often had to remind clients that their potential and current clients cared more about what the company could do for them (i.e., provide gorgeous landscaping that would increase their homes’ value, add beauty, and make their neighbors envious) than the company’s bragging rights to how many years they’ve been in business.
Formats may vary, but writing for business clients isn't that different than writing for magazine or book publishers. Research your subject. Keep your audience in mind. Give your client what he or she wants. Do that and you can add copywriting and business writing to your writer’s resume—and boost your freelance income as a result.


  1. Kelly, thank you for these wonderful tips on how to get started. I am a widley published freelancer who has never tackled this market, but I am interested.

  2. Newsletter, brochures--these business products make sense. But what else do copywriters for businesses offer? My fear of starting this road is that I'm not really sure what I can bring to the table.

  3. If I offered my services for writing brochures, or newsletter copy, would the client expect me to also put it together? I don't have the software to design these items (although I've considered offering doing newsletters for clients using an online service like MailChimp). Or would it make sense to network with designers that I could recommend to the potential client.

  4. My pleasure, Linda. Glad you found it helpful. Eliana, copywriters can do just about anything for corporate clients--web copy. white papers, blogs, articles for trade magazines, press releases, basically any kind of work that the company needs. Once you know something about your client, you're in a good position to do other kinds of work for the company and can become the "go-to" person as far as writing goes. Make sense?

  5. Carol, I only do the writing side of things, so yes, you can work with designers, etc. Sometimes the company will have a designer it already uses, or you can suggest your own.