The Art of Business Writing
It’s surprisingly easy to get writing work from local businesses.
At least that’s been my experience.
Basically, all you need to do is let businesses know you offer business writing services — and they’ll call.
The main caveat I would offer you is that it’s best to contact business offline, in person — as opposed to just using the Net to attract business.
Of course, you can use the Net if you like.
All I’m saying is that you’ll likely be more successful — and more quickly — if you try to establish personal relationships with business people in your local area — rather than focus on large online corporations that will no doubt already have lots of their own in-house writers.
Now, it’s probable you think that the most glamorous of corporate jobs is either writing their ad copy or their promotional material.
Both are considered the most prestigious and influential of all corporate writing gigs — which is why these gigs are usually so well paid.
However, I’ve found that most companies, especially the larger ones, are very loathe to sub-contract this kind of work to what they perceive as novice writers.
The big ad agencies and their in-house stable of writers will beat you to this gig every time. When it comes to business writing it’s rare you’ll get to do sexy work right up front.
It’s more likely you’ll be given less prominent work first.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a great job.
When you first approach the corporate world, businesses are much more likely to try you out on less high-profile material like office procedure manuals, inter-departmental communications, and things like corporate reports.
It’s your job to be receptive.
Listen to a client’s needs and zero in on things you can do to help them.
Offer to immortalize their admin procedures or perhaps write a report on improvement ideas that will appeal to middle managers and small business CEOs.
You’ll find that, in many office situations, there are various writing jobs that either they’ve been putting off for years or there are procedures that need to be written down that nobody in the department is quite competent enough to do.
Generally, any kind of corporate work will require you spend some time in the clients’ office, either poring over ancient (and usually very badly written) company literature and interviewing staff about what they do.
It’s important to do this, and not just for PR reasons.
Clients like to see you’re taking an active interest in the inner workings of their company.
But also, you will often need to pick up on the ‘lingo’ and the acronyms peculiar to the company.
Remember though. when invited into a foreign work environment, take your own laptop and avoid using the company’s own computers.
You don’t want your draft files on their servers — and you’ll want them to pay for your final product!
Here’s some advice about pricing.
Of all the things I’ve learned about offering writing services, this one next fact is probably the most important.
And that is, having a leaflet with your rates on it is a sure-fire way to destroy any chance of getting any work! I’ve seen literally dozens of aspiring freelancers do this and fail, usually before they even begin.
To me, the reasons are obvious.
First of all, it’s impossible to quantify what a client wants before you speak to them.
They often don’t know themselves.
Plus, you’ll find that, rather than offering specific services, coming up with solutions that involve writing can, in itself, become a substantial part of your service.
Secondly, charging by the hour for writing jobs will seem like an expensive option for most companies.
For instance, my going rate was about $197 an hour for corporate work.
This is actually quite low but if I put this figure on a leaflet I knew for sure that I’d never have gotten any work.
Because, to your average office department manager, changing almost twice what they earn themselves will seem like an outrage.
The average manager will look at the “per hour” figure and, without context, is already reeling at the thought of trying to get the budgeting department to authorize the expense.
So, don’t talk about the pricing of your services AT ALL until they’ve asked you to quote for a particular job.
And then only quote them in writing — never just off the top of your head.
Here’s a tip:
Don’t charge a business client for your first meeting.
Much better to talk to a new client for free — for as long as they want.
Let the client decide what needs to be done.
If necessary, help them conceptualize their requirements.
Talk things through with them.
Then say you’ll be in touch…
Then, explain to them — in a letter or email — what you believe they need to do, based on your first meeting.
Let them respond to you.
Then, come back with a quote for a job.
I’ve found this approach works best when you give two or three options in your quotation.
First, give an option where you’ll do the basic work for a set amount.
Second, give an option where you will do the job more thoroughly (giving examples of the extra work you will put in) for a higher price.
Third, suggest a third option where you quote for the full on, ultra-cool service you’re prepared to offer for quite a high price — usually at least double the figure in the first quote.
My experience is that, once it’s all in black and white, the client will nine times out of ten go for the most expensive option.
I guess the reason is, by the time your quotation has been finalized and absorbed and the client has grown to trust you, he or she is satisfied that you will do a good job tailored to their specific requirements, even though they may often end up paying more for your services than all those writers who posted hourly rates in their pre-priced leaflets.
Remember too that your price quotation is not just a letter detailing your proposed service.
It is ideally an exercise in great copywriting that will skillfully lead your client into making the right decision.
When someone confirms they want you to carry out the work, NEVER take a verbal order as sufficient authorization.
Always require a manager’s signature or instruction in writing before you proceed with any work.
This is vitally important for when it comes to getting paid later on.
You need to be business-like.
Not only in your manner but with the appearance of your documents, and especially in your accounting and admin practices.
Keep neat and clean records of everything in separate files for each client.
You’ll be surprised how often clients come back after a few months and ask to see copies of your work or request you resubmit invoices and statements of account.
Also make sure that all invoices relate back to the original authorized quotation.
As an aside, there’s no need to rush out and buy a smart suit for meetings with corporate clients.
I’ve found that business people are often suspicious of you if you are too smart or you wear expensive ties.
I think they prefer that a professional writer is a more casual beast and not the traditional suit-wearing, gray-socked animal they’re used to seeing around the office.
If at all possible, ask for some upfront money.
Say, ten percent of the final fee.
Call it a ‘good faith bond’ that you will provide an invoice for before you start any work.
You’ll find the companies most reluctant to provide money up front are also the ones that have the most difficulty paying the final account.
Asking for an upfront fee can be a good indicator as to how smoothly your relationship with the company will go.
If I don’t receive the upfront fee, I invariably don’t start the work.
It’s too much of a risk.
When you visit on office, it’s oftentimes difficult to know just how far up the food chain is the person you’re dealing with.
Sometimes you find out you’ve been liaising with someone who is not actually authorized to spend money, even though they promised they would ‘sort something out’ for you.
Be careful in this regard.
Remember it’s okay to start small.
Contacting local charities, schools, and community organizations and asking if they’d like help writing their newsletters etc., can be a good way of building a portfolio and ‘getting your foot in the door’.
Most work comes from referrals in this business, so you can never have too many people saying good things about you!